#LookAtMe (2022) ‘NYAFF’ Review: An Empathetic Drama discussing the issue of Human Rights
#LookAtMe is a 2022 Singaporean film directed by Ken Kwek. Written along with Shane Mardjuki, he puts across the subject of human rights with an empathetic approach. We follow the narrative of twin brothers who go through an emotional turmoil largely as a result of being true to themselves and who they are, which doesn’t sit right with the authorities and those who are in control of the cultural direction that the place moves in. Until then, they lead happy lives with their single mother and rarely have any issues with being their playful and carefree selves. That stays constant until an incident occurs that puts them in a situation that they had hardly anticipated.
The characters of both the brothers are played by Yao (formerly known as Thomas Peng) who is known for his earlier performance in a feature film called Tiong Bahru Social Club. The narrative follows his character (Sean Marzuki) standing up for his gay brother (Ricky Marzuki) after a hateful lecture where a popular televangelist and pastor (played by Adrian Pang) demonizes homosexuality. Being a YouTuber who was trying to gain fame and popularity until then, Sean decides to use his YouTube channel to speak against this harmful preacher. He posts a scathing video criticizing this popular personality and his stance. While he goes viral as he always wished to be as a vlogger, it puts him in a terrible situation with the law and gets him behind the bars.
Through its central pair of characters, #LookAtMe tries to shed light on the conservative lookout towards the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. The heterosexual guy who stands up for his brother not just out of love, and care but also due to a sense of allyship, is subjected to austerities that a criminal with a heinous crime does. He is put through these trials and tribulations as a result of his thoughts and not due to any violent acts like the other criminals in the jail. This emotional conflict at the film’s core makes it an emotionally potent drama that depends on the element of will to stand for something that matters more than yourself.
With his arrest, what starts out as a personal vendetta against him, becomes a big concern throughout the region, ignites a sense of allyship among several residents, and starts off a movement about human rights. His mother (played by Pam Oei) and brother work toward getting justice for him and their battle create a gut-wrenching drama about someone in their disheartening situation. In this battle, the mom’s character never tries to make her sons back down from standing for these issues and stays firm as a supporting pillar – which feels like a refreshing change from the narratives about conservative, unaccepting parents. Her empathy and openness come from a genuine place of understanding than pity, which makes it an admirable outlook to imbibe by all of us.
The director Ken Kwek fuses elements of naturalism along with dramatization that comes across through the hard-hitting sequences inside the jail. While the camera stays moderately distant from the characters in most of the shots, it gets uncomfortably close in several shots from the jail where the long lenses often heighten the impact of the situations that unfold in those scenes. The state of mind of Sean’s character is conveyed through such creative decisions where the low light because of being set in a confined space with limited light, creates a stark contrast with the freshly lit natural exteriors. While this achieves the desired result to heighten the trivialities inside, it also breaks the continuity of what we witness happening on the screen in the entirety of the film.
Through personal narratives, #LookAtMe becomes an admirable work that does not shy away from taking a stance. While it certainly is a brave attempt with a lot of heart, the intent derails from being about the rights in itself to being a vengeance drama as the narrative proceeds. As a result of this, it dulls its impact as it progresses towards the end despite being soul-churning by portraying the harsh realities of these individuals. While having a chance to make a larger statement, the film ends up being a reactionary work, which dulls its overall impact.