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Dharma Movie Review: 15

"15 is the best film to come out of Singapore in years" -Time (Magazine Review) 

The multiple-award winning film charts the misadventures of five teenagers on the fringe of Singaporean society. Abandoned by the system, they seek answers to their aimless existence among the misfits and outsiders of Singapore’s underclass. A provocative film acted by real street kids, it exposes a gritty side of modern-day Singapore life that many never knew existed. (More details)

This review was written months before 15 was approved for general public screening.

If you observe 24 hours or a complete day in the life of the seemingly most evil person in the world, you might see the sad side of his life, and suddenly realise that his misgivings are forgivable, that he is the person most lacking in love, most deserving of love, in the world, by the same world which forgot him. It is because we see only bits and pieces of a person that we pass judgment unnecessarily, wrongly. No one is absolutely good or evil.

The multiple award-winning 15 portrays the true daily lives of a group of Singaporean 15 year old gangsters. It echoes resoundingly their aimless and neglected worlds, their misunderstood anger, hidden sadness and vulnerable defensiveness. It is a story of misfitting in a system that abandoned them. Rebels with lost causes, foul language is their language, "going" school is skipping school. Self-annihilation and mutilation is their emotional venting tool, drugs and alcohol their hopeless escape. These youths are seen as threats to to our society, which fails to see the reasons that drove them to these activities. Perhaps it is indeed their choice, but is there a choice for them otherwise when they decide to turn over a new leaf?

After the encore screening at the 2003 Singapore International Film Festival, the film-maker Royston Tan stated that Shaun, one of the boys, had decided to return to school... but all the schools' doors that he knocked upon rejected him, ridiculously advising him to undergo a $10K laser tattoo removal treatment before consideration of taking him in. Perhaps this $10K would be better used in a public campaign to laser-remove the shallow notion our society has that pictures on the body equals unpardonable evil. This leads us to wonder how sincere our teachers were when they taught us the cliché of "Appearances are not important" and "Never judge a book by its cover"? How deep is going by face-value implanted in our society? How appalling it is to know that schools seem to care more about reputation than a needy student's plea for education. Have we forsaken the very reason why schools were set up at the first place? Have we stained the noble ideology of our forefathers who built schools to educate all who are willing to learn? It is unthinkable to imagine how any educated person would close door on one who yearns to be educated.

How can we expect unforgiven youths to forgive an unforgiving society? Is the double-standard system not driving these boys to a bottomless pit, to a point of no return that the system itself hypocritically condemned and advised all to avoid? Because of the system's double standards, some are forced to waste their lives away. Such shame it is that life is deadend-ed when it has barely begun! Does the system reduces or reinforces judgementalism? Does it embrace unity in diversity? Does it further ostracises and sustains the curse of social castes? If education begins in school, let us educate NOW! It is never about how many A's students can achieve, for they are our flesh and blood, not a glory scoring board. Education is about imparting wisdom and knowledge to every single student who is willing and able to learn.

An audience member during the Q&A session of the encore screening highlighted the ironic fact that a film that most 15 years olds could and should relate to was not rated for them - a deep pity that our youth cannot learn from it. I agree. What is it about 15 that censorship is trying to protect us from? Is there something we are trying to hide from our own teens? If we cannot show the whole truth (without cuts), how can we truly educate our next generation? This letter sincerely beseeches the censorship board to make the film viewable for our youth - for our better future... of a society that truly loves its young, its forgotten ones.

(15 is now screening in Singapore with 5 minutes' cut. Shaun has secured a place in a school.)

"No being is hopeless. All have perfect Buddha-nature, the ability to become perfect. 
 Let's give all a chance, and another, and another... as long as chances are needed." -Stonepeace logosilent swirl