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Film Scratches: Wonderland of Pain and Survival – Toogie’s Trip to Bukuokuka (2016)

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Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.

A Review by David Finkelstein.

Toogie’s Trip to Bukuokuka is a kind of S/M Alice in Wonderland, a menacingly surreal and fascinating 24 minute film by Singaporean filmmaker Clare Chong. The film opens with a shot of a young woman (the mysterious Jacinda Yee) in front of a gate to a cemetery, smoking a cigarette. The film follows her strange adventures in the land of “the Bukuokuko tribesmen,” guided by a sinister and seductive man in an orange suit (the superbly slimy Colin Cheong). The tribesmen, in “indigenous” costumes and candy-colored body paint, wear loincloths covered with children’s plush toys, and Toogie herself is dressed in a schoolgirl’s uniform. The tribesmen are variously engaged in mutilating and torturing themselves and each other, which the guide says they do for their own pleasure. He constantly feeds her petals from an orange flower, seemingly to keep her drugged and compliant. The film’s imagery uses dream logic to intertwine themes of childhood, abuse, torture, and sexuality.

Toogie2These scenes are intercut with shots of a much younger girl, disturbingly sexualized in a pink wig, who watches Toogie’s adventures and other oddly sexual children’s programming on a TV. Is this Toogie’s childhood self, a victim of abuse, who watches the confused older girl from deep inside her psyche? A third version of this self, intercut with the other two, shows Toogie in a small room papered over with posters for her boyfriend’s band, a kind of shrine to her sexual bondage.

The film is beautifully shot and lit by cinematographer Lloyd Kuh, making this imaginary world both real and unreal at the same time. While the story lacks any conventional logic, it has a tremendous pull at every moment because of the powerful underlying emotional logic, and Chong edits to maximize the quiet build-up of tension and disturbance. Toogie’s Trip is a beautifully imagined, beautifully realized film dream of a disturbing and poignant inner reality.

David Finkelstein is a filmmaker, musician, and critic. For more information on Film Scratches, or to submit an experimental film for review, contact lakeivan@earthlink.net.

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