In the run-up to the announcement of the nominees for the 2014 Best Animated Short Film, Toonzone is taking a look at some of the shortlisted candidates for the category. Out of the ten shortlisted films, three to five candidates will be nominated.
Jonathan Ng’s “Requiem for Romance” grabbed my attention almost immediately with its strikingly beautiful backgrounds crafted from running paint, and for the clever ways it uses a break-up call as soundtrack for a kung-fu battle. However, I was fully sold once Ng namechecked Te Wei as an influence for the “ink-and-paint” style animation in the production notes. I’ve loved Te Wei’s work since discovering it on a trip to China several years ago, so it was cool just to find someone else in the larger American animation community who knows who he is and is expanding on his groundbreaking work.
“Requiem for Romance” is fascinating in the way it takes two stories over-done to the point of cliche and freshens up both simply by mixing them together. Individually, neither story can claim to be terribly original, but juxtaposing them together makes both much more interesting and compelling to watch. I love how the action choreography flows along with the conversation, like in the way swords are drawn to match a heavy emotional beat in the conversation, and how the physical distance between the man and the woman in their fight aliggns with their emotional distance from each other in the conversation. The on-screen characters don’t speak to each other directly, but their body language is expressive enough that they don’t need to. I’d even guess that the short would still be fraught with many of the same emotions without any dialogue at all.
The full short is embedded above, though Ng warns that might be taken down at a later date (perhaps if it gets some kind of larger distribution deal, which I think it most definitely deserves). Ng also gave us permission to embed this “making of” video, which is also worth watching.
According to Ng’s production notes, it took a lot of experimentation to figure out how to film the flowing paint backgrounds, and they add a fascinating element of randomness in a tightly controlled medium like animation. At least in theory, nothing happens on screen that an animator doesn’t control, so it’s an impressive achievement that Ng could integrate these essentially random backgrounds into the film so tightly. For example, there’s a moment in the middle of the short where the flowing background is integrated perfectly with a sudden shower in the foreground, which in turn evokes the scene in Casablanca when raindrops smear the ink of a letter as Rick reads it. Also keep an eye for the moment near the end of the film when the background becomes a flowing river underneath a bridge. It’s a beautiful artistic flourish where knowing a little bit of how challenging it was to do makes the achievement even more remarkable.
I also have to give props to Shannon Kook-Chun and Meilie Ng as the two star-crossed lovers, since their performances are definitely major reasons why the short works as well as it does. The breakup call is uncomfortably familiar territory for anyone who’s reached dating age, and these two actors make the emotional stress of the moment believable and truly palpable.
I suppose the highest compliment I can pay to “Requiem for Romance” is that I got the same electric charge by watching it that I got all those years ago when I discovered the Shanghai Animation Film Studio’s work while channel surfing in Xi’an. I have the same sense of wonder at both the technical prowess on display, the innovative exploitation of animation as a medium, and the skill at telling an old a story in an exciting new way. You can visit Jonathan Ng’s official website for more information about his work (including a tantalizing look at his next film, “Legend of Cloud and Phoenix”); the store offers up “Requiem for Romance” DVDs and prints.