Director: Han Yew Kwang
Screenplay: Han Yew Kwang
Cast: Yeo Yann Yann, Julian Hee, Lee Chau Min, Marcus Chin, Catherine Sng, Alaric Tay, Oon Shu Ann
Running Length: 85 minutes
Synopsis: Three different stories revolving around condoms unfold on Valentine’s Day: in Balloons, the elderly Hua (Catherine Sng) considers divorcing her husband Niu (Marcus Chin) for his acts of infidelity with a prostitute; in Plumber, journalist Bao Ling (Yeo Yann Yann) hallucinates about a durian-flavoured condom coming to life (Lee Chau Min) and encouraging her to hook up with any man, including a plumber (Julian Hee) whom Bao Ling contacts out of desperation; and finally in Nightmare, condom-hating womanizer Adam Kok’s (Alaric Tay) fantasy with a Japanese AV actress Kawaii Momoko (Ong Shu Ann) comes to life, but at the same time he finds a condom attached to his genitals that he simply can’t remove.
Review: In a society as straight-laced as Singapore, a homegrown sex comedy is almost unheard of, so kudos to Han Yew Kwang for successfully bringing Rubbers to fruition. Boasting three non-intersecting storylines, the film is perhaps a little too ambitious in scope, and really may have fared better if Yew Kwang did not attempt to inject the film with so many disparate tonal styles and plotlines. Simply put, the contrasting styles of the three segments – realism (Balloons), magical realism (Plumber) and absurdist (Nightmare) – do not mesh that well together, especially when intercut with each other.
The good thing about Rubbers is that it does deliver the goods as a sex comedy. There are a handful of laugh-out-loud moments, although some of it does feel a little juvenile (most of which coming from Nightmare). What’s more impressive is that there are actually some tender scenes in the film that manage to elevate it to more than just a crass sex comedy, particularly in Balloons and in the denouement of Plumber. Yew Kwang has also successfully replicated the look and feel of a number of different genres of film in Rubbers, and the one I was most impressed with was a note-perfect “Asian horror” sequence that stars the director himself.
While Yann Yann is definitely the most high-profile actor in the cast, her performance is somewhat of a mixed bag, as her portrayal of Bao Ling ends up feeling a bit too caricaturish and scenery-chewing at times, which is somewhat exacerbated by the virtual non-acting of Julian Hee and the extremely out-of-place performance of Chau Min as the durian condom (to be fair, anyone would have been out of place in that rather thankless role). The other two pairings fare much better – Shu Ann steals the limelight in almost every scene she is in, and shares a great chemistry with Alaric, while Catherine and Marcus both hold their own, especially in a pivotal scene near the end of their tale.
Despite the R21 rating that Rubbers has received, apart from a few suggestive sequences and a number of cuss words, the film is actually visually rather PG, with nary any nudity or even implied sexual activity. It’s also an extremely localized film, with a lot of colloquialisms and Singapore-specific humour that will likely limit the film’s accessibility outside of its home nation. Though Rubbers is a somewhat uneven attempt, it works well as a palate cleanser amidst the heavier-hitting action blockbusters that are currently populating the cinemas, especially for audiences who are looking for a more light-hearted cinematic experience.
Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)