Red Dragonflies

It’s been a long road for Red Dragonflies. A year after claiming the Special Jury Prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival, we’re finally getting a chance to see Liao Jiekai’s debut feature for ourselves.
Two narratives run side by side in Red Dragonflies. In one, three Junior College students, Rachel (Oon Yee Jeng), Tien (Yeo Shang Xuan) and Jun (Ong Kuan Loong), explore the forest along an abandoned railway track. In the other, an older Rachel (Ng Xuan Ming) returns from New York and reconnects with an older Tien (Jason Hui). One might call it a simple story of nostalgia and fading youth, but that would be underestimating its depth.
More than anything else, Red Dragonflies feels like a documentary—a documentary which charts a side of Singapore most of us don’t know about; a side that is vanishing. Its actors are, in essence, playing themselves, and as they explore this realm in a series of raw, wavering tracking shots, we explore with them. The lack of music heightens the natural, organic feel of the film, allowing the sounds of our landscape to take center stage—the bustle of a pasar malam, the sizzle of meat on a barbecue, the buzz of insects, the laughter of children playing and the drone of traffic. There is something inherently poetic about a film with no boundaries and with its many, many long takes and its casual flitting between narratives, Red Dragonflies becomes the cinematic equivalent of free verse.
This film was never meant to entertain—yes, it’s an arthouse flick—but it serves a far more important purpose. The film’s quiet strength emerges slowly, trickling and pooling as the days go by until you begin to find beauty in the ordinary and appreciate it while you can. Nostalgia is at its heart, but in the end, the old becomes a memento. It’s something we can always think about, something we can return to in some way, but inevitably, we have to move forward. Red Dragonflies is a film you shouldn’t miss for the world.