ReviewWriter: Casey LeeWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"The Apple of My Eye" and "Cape No. 7".
After having two dips into the horror realm, Singaporean director Chai Yee Wai's third feature moves to a subject close to his heart, which are Singaporean folk songs, otherwise known as 'Xin Yao' that actually has more swing in its tune rather than the traditional connotations that the word folk songs normally implies.
Jia Ming (Daren Tan) is the son of a proprietor of a live-band cafe, the 'Meng Chuan' (literally translated as 'Dream Boat'), that has fallen on hard times in the 90's. After bumping into May (Julie Tan) from a 'Xin Yao' singing competition, Jia Ming and his well-rounded group of friends decide to take on a bet against May and her attractive twin friends (Hayley Woo and Jayley Woo) that the girls would be able revive the cafe's business with their dazzling performance. As the relationship between the members of this newly joined circle of friends slowly blossoms, all is not what it seems when May is found to be leaving the country for a better future, and her mother (Sue Tan) is adamant in making sure that her daughter's future is secure, while Jia Ming's own seems bleak.
Set in the 90's, "That Girl In Pinafore" aims to be more than just Chai's affectionate homage to 'Xin Yao' by adding a dash of nostalgia for anyone who spent their growing years listening to cassette tapes, making nervous phone calls to girlfriends through a fixed (and expensive) phone lines, and beeping pagers was the closest thing to having a cellphone. "That Girl In Pinafore" looked like it fits into a mold of retelling the good times with a definitive genre of music that has the makings for a winning combination.
However a winning formula doesn't make a sure win if not done with some finesse and unfortunately Chai has little grip on using nostalgia in his storytelling, which turns the walk down memory lane often times feel more embarrassing than reminiscent. Chai's tone also feels awkward at times when the slapstick comedy feels more of a result of happenstance than being well timed, and the development of the plot is interrupted by the unnatural insertion of musical montages that doesn't connect the dots, which makes them feel all the more forced as though it was trying to advertise something.
The lackluster romance between Jia Ming and May, which takes precedence over the more interesting ones started by their respective posies, also fall into the trap of being almost fairy-tale like with some pretty far-fetched developments that draws it towards the pit of cliches to make it very hard to be attached to. This is made even worse that Julie Tan seems to have more chemistry brewing with her disapproving mother (played by an admirable Sue Tan, who is easily the strongest and most serious performer in the cast), than with her leading man, which can be faulted by the failure of the make-up to hide his older features unsuited for a late teen.
Numerous writing issues aside (like why the heck does the story open at an airport?), the only thing that could be more wrong than the cross-dressing males (guess who the 'girl' is in the title) is also the glaring technical faults; the editing and transition between scenes seems to have a disrespect for continuity (May's breakdown, for example) and the boring camera works during the musical numbers dampens the enjoyment of the swinging rhythm and tunes, which means that "That Girl In Pinafore" never succeeds in meeting the expectations on both fronts.
All in all, the long list of executive producers and brand logos from the credit rolls of "That Girl In Pinafore" should have already tipped you off that it is more interested in being one extended music video after another, with the barest essentials of a story to actually make it last for the nearly two hour runtime. "That Girl In Pinafore" deserves the sinking reception of the 'Dream Boat', even with the cajoling by a potential cast, but the most devoted fan will die out from the low quality of storytelling. Cinema Online, 26 November 2013