Director: Aaron Wilson
Screenwriter: Aaron Wilson
Morning Tzu-Yi Mo
Runtime: 84 mins
Australian release date: 24 April 2014
In this mainly two-hander feature film debut Canopy, Aaron Wilson (whose filmography features short films and documentaries) skilfully succeeds in taking us on a journey into the dark heart of the Singaporean jungle in February 1942, just before the capture of that ill-fated city by the Japanese army. The film opens with a long aerial shot above a canopy of trees shrouded in the sound of distant artillery fire. As the camera descends, we hear the voices of unseen Japanese troops apparently searching for someone along a river bank. A young Australian pilot fighter, Jim (Khan Chittenden), is caught in a tree, hanging from his parachute, having been shot down by the enemy.
From then on we become Jim’s silent companions, captive to his feelings of dread as he navigates his way through the dense, swampy, dangerous terrain aided only by a compass, which gives him a sense of direction, but no way of knowing what route to take to avoid the Japanese. Stefan Duscio’s prowling camera contributes to a feeling of claustrophobia and the power of the jungle is cleverly heightened by the intense sound effects provided by Sound Designers Nic Buchanan and Rodney Lowe. We are constantly aware of the drone of insects, the screeching of birds, the distant explosion of bombs and the occasional burst of not so distant small arms fire. The sparing use of brooding background music by Sound Producer Les Molnar adds to the sense of fear, creating a very tense 84 minutes. Almost wordless, the film is not unlike a silent thriller, with the lack of dialogue adding to the suspense.
Jim literally bumps into Seng (Morning Tzu-Yi Mo, a well-known Taiwanese actor), a Singapore-Chinese resistance fighter, also desperately trying to find his way out from under the verdant canopy. The men establish a bond, despite their lack of a common language, united by their shared vulnerability - the camaraderie helps to override their feeling of isolation as the two men begin to place their trust and hope in one another. According to Canopy’s Singaporean Co-Producer, Mabelyn Ow, this relationship is echoed in the real world; she states that, “…like the characters Jim and Seng, Australia and Singapore are different, yet the same, linked by shared history and experiences of human struggle and suffering during the Japanese Invasion of Singapore in 1942.”
The genesis of this film began when Director Wilson and Producer Katrina Fleming were working in Singapore on their short film, Wind, in 2006 and came into contact with local families living with the legacy of WWII. As both filmmakers came from families that were affected by Australia’s involvement in the conflict in South-East Asia it was only natural that this would cause them to ask, “What was it like being in the war?” Canopy is the result of their search for the answer to that question. While not as epic as many other war movies, it manages in some ways to create a more intimate and gut-wrenching effect that stays with you after you leave the cinema. The film has been exposed widely on the international festival circuit and should garner a decent audience here in Australia, too, certainly from older Australians. It opens close to Anzac Day, so it’s perfectly primed to attract attention from those who are interested in the legacy of war… lest we forget.