Going into the “Solos” screening late Sunday night, I was hoping the Singaporean feature about a teacher-student affair would have some hot gay sex to keep my interest. Turns out I should have been more specific in my wishes. While there was indeed a lot of graphic sex, some beautifully shot, the movie had little else going for it. The minimal story was lost in a flood of incomprehensible symbolism and the boring everyday minutiae of an elderly woman living alone. Weirdest of all, there is not a single line of dialogue in the film, a choice made in the editing process with awkward and confusing results.
“Solos” is ostensibly the story of a boy (Zihan Loo) having an affair with his teacher (Yu Beng Lim) and the boy’s mother (Guat Kian Goh) coming to terms with the relationship, although it is difficult to tell who the characters are and how they are related to each other without any dialogue. Scenes depicting reality are washed out until they are almost black-and-white, and interspersed with richly colored moments depicting such things as a forest, flowing water, and a dancer (Peishan Chiew).
“Solos'” main gimmick, the lack of dialogue, is its greatest weakness. Most of the awkwardness probably stems from the fact that the film did have dialogue in earlier stages, and many moments stick out as particularly jarring; people answer their phones and just stand there listening without even saying “Hello,” for example. Though there is a lot of emotion in the film, such as the mother wailing as she tears her house apart and a fight between the boy and his lover, it fails to have any impact since there is no context to place such scenes in. The fight, which begins with angry gesticulations, is one of the film’s oddest moments. It seems more like the principals are mute than that the film takes place around and between their conversations.
At its best, “Solos” is fun to look at. A lot of the photography, especially in the brightly colored, surreal moments, is quite artistic. The sex scenes are enjoyable, as are the scenes featuring the dancer. Unfortunately, much of the film follows the mother as she wanders about her cluttered apartment in a slightly see-through house dress watching TV, gutting fish, and trying out her new robo-vacuum. Many of the washed-out scenes look bad, too, with pixilation around the brightest white spots.
“Solos” is a courageous film from Zihan Loo, both for its depiction of homosexuality, illegal in Singapore, and for its unconventional methods, but it suffers from its lack of narrative clarity. Without dialogue or a comprehensible story, “Solos” is nothing more than a series of images; when it looks good, it’s good, when it looks bad, it’s bad, and I didn’t come away from the movie with any more insight than that.