Demystifying the Equivocation in Edmund Yeo’s Triad of Short Films

Malaysian filmmaker Edmund Yeo’s series of short films – Inhalation, Exhalation, and Kingyo – is a triad of recherché stories, invigorated by an enigmatic method of story-telling that vouchsafes an idiosyncratic brand of filmmaking, subsequently bestowing a solitary trait to each film. Akin to a Venn’s diagram, all the three films prevail discreetly, while collectively apportioning the 2-characters attribute, which remains the only common trait among the three. Inhalation and Kingyo share ‘love’ -or the lack of it – to thrust the narrative, while Kingyo shares death – and the repercussions that follow – with Exhalation. The third duad, Inhalation, and Exhalation, apart from being eponymous to the process they cumulatively contribute to, breathing, -the most vital sign of physical life – the two films collectively reflect the three facets, namely love, life, and death.

Yeo’s no philosopher. His films hold a mirror, and bespeak life, in all its mundanity and monotony. These films exhibit no zeal in metamorphosing into credos that aspire to be life-affirmative. That’s the point, they are mere reflections of humdrum people, like you and me. There is a lofty peril of misapprehending these films as lackadaisical in construction, as they may feel slightly desultory and abstruse at times, especially when contemplated with an eye for scrutiny. However, seeking the meaning for the films – where the intricacy lies in lucid reality – is a gratifying process that molds itself. 

From a viewpoint, these films are so slight and subtle that it’s onerous to dissect them, and from the other end, perhaps there is no exigency for the anatomy because the viewer’s first-hand reaction is the only substantial explanation. The first feeling that strikes you, is all you want to know; let it be regarding the oscillation between black & white and color in Exhalation, or the arcane ending of Kingyo. The instantaneous reaction audibly and elegantly summarizes the upshot. Yeo’s modus operandi is evident in all the three films, which let us peep into the minds of characters, predominantly two in each film, and pursue them through the cloaking time. Mind, I repeat, not the soul; foraying into the minds is no teeny-weeny exploit, in light of the minuscule runtime and minimalistic stories the characters emanate from.

Posters of the films in discussion

Inhalation is about a young couple with contrasting ideologies, that asserts them farther from one another, physically and mentally. She is driven by the need for a better life, while he stresses on extracting the best out of the existing life, instead of swedging for a different life, in the pretext of aim and objective

Kingyo, meaning goldfish in Japanese, is a dialogue between a young woman and her former college professor, converging at a point long past their romantic relationship, that is symbolized by a pair of goldfish. 

At the focal point of Exhalation is a young woman, who returns to her native place after learning about the demise of her ex-classmate. Although the friend who accompanies the protagonist is the second character, the dead classmate,  – who exists only in her memory, never to be seen on screen – is equally crucial in navigating the character through dream-like, recondite episodes of the story.

Through these three films, there is a deep understanding of life, what comprises it, and what exists beyond, for those surrounding the dead. The thought of swapping the titles, Inhalation and Exhalation, is intriguing. Reciprocation of the titles would befit the respective stories than their existing titles. Allow me to simplify, Exhalation is a repertoire of individuals’ responses to the death of someone they all know. One feels sad, one acknowledges and moves on, and one commits to suicide. Through the film, characters continually suspire the information as they keep learning it. Not once do they lighten the burden off their chest; in other words, they keep suffusing themselves with information and never extricate it. The title Inhalation would have beautifully complemented the burgeoning pressure.

Likewise, the core conflict of Inhalation is the clash of beliefs, not faith-based, but life-based. The divergence of tenets ramifies into verbose arguments. The man channelizes his anger on the woman in the form of a wordy catharsis, and that makes Inhalation an exhalation of exasperation.

However, Kingyo would remain untouched. Like the only enduring symbol of the bond between its two leads, the film is the midpoint of Inhalation and Exhalation.

Betwixt love and death, there exists heartbreak, and the three films collectively summon this facet, as much as they do individually.

***

Fun fact: Edmund Yeo made these films a decade ago, when he was in his mid-20s.

The shorts are now available to stream on Mubi library and his official webiste.

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