A deceased boom mic operator visits old haunts in Royston Tan’s meditative drama.

“Was it worth it?”

Arguably one of the most common goofs seen in films, other than basic continuity errors, is seeing a member of the film crew in frame. It’s a popular enough gag that a visible boom mic has become something of an icon of shoddy filmmaking. Boom operators are a vital aspect of the filmmaking process, but they should always be heard – never seen. So it’s quite fitting and ironically humorous that the lead character in Royston Tan’s 24 is not an actor, but a real-life boom mic operator, albeit one who’s just died.

James Choong plays the fictionalised, deceased version of himself who goes from seemingly random scene to random scene recording the surrounding audio. Huh, normally I’d have a lot more to say at this point in the review, but that’s really it. 24 moments, all wildly different from one another, where James is largely ignored – as any good mic operator should. Only three people ever see him: a graveyard attendant, his own son and finally a mortician. The first happens early in enough in the film that you might be forgiven for thinking that James will be a present, active member in his environment, but the more the story goes on the more you realise that James in death is as unseen as he was in life.

Visually 24 may as well be a photo book. There is very limited camera movement whatsoever (often none at all), with figures standing either stock still or doing the bare minimum to go from one part of the frame to the other. This limited approach the cinematic storytelling works in its favour. All the key information is on the screen, and these shots, still as they are provide all the necessary context for us to piece together what’s being heard off-screen. It’s never always clear what it’s all leading to, but in a vacuum each scene is its own little piece of performance art.

How does it all come together? It’s hard to say. As 24 doesn’t follow any particular story, its primary way of grabbing you is through its immersive nature. This is a film that should be seen on a massive screen, with a full surround sound system. It’s basically one of those pieces of modern art that needs its own room, disguised as a feature film, and its cryptic nature allows the viewer to maybe project their own experiences and memories into it.

It’s not always clear how the scenes he’s recording are a part of his life, or how they will help him achieve the peace he lacks. In an easier film, James would have visited scenes much more explicitly related to his own life, but Tan chose the more complicated path. The spellbinding scenes certainly feel like someone’s memory, and like such memories we might not be privy to the particulars that make that particular moment memorable.

There’s a larger story at play here, but it barely factors in – in fact, it’s only really made clear when the film has maybe 15 minutes left – and 24 is better off for it. You could watch any one of the titular 24 scenes out of context and be equally transfixed in them, mesmerised by the action, absorbed fully by the soundscape and their silent, near-universally ignored lead character. As a piece of cinema, it’s wholly unique and transfixing while never overstaying its welcome. If you can find a good place to screen it, it’s worth it to just switch off from the noisy world of the living, and join the hypnotic calmness of the deceased.

Verdict: Equally serene and enigmatic, 24 is all substance hidden in layers and layers of style.

Overall entertainment: 7/10
Violence: 0/10
Sex: Roughly 1 minute of hardcore gay sex/10
Singing: Plenty!
Best song: Don’t Switch the Light on During Our Nuptial Night
Favourite scene: The mortician, for sure

24 (2021)
Malay, Thai

Director: Royston Tan
Writer: Royston Tan


James Choong – James Choong

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