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Movie Critique: “The Fourth Man” (2023) Directed by Tay Bee Pin
Movie Critique: "The Fourth Man" (2023) Directed by Tay Bee Pin

Movie Critique: “The Fourth Man” (2023) Directed by Tay Bee Pin

“You seem to have a skill with handling knives.”

The concept of online dating nowadays, particularly for middle aged people, is one that has been implemented in cinema, mostly for comedic reasons. Tay Bee Pin, however, takes a somewhat more serious look at it in “The Fourth Man”, while adding a number of other elements in his narrative, in a short that was commissioned by the Singaporean Ministry of Education.

The film opens with a dream-like sequence, where the main character introduces the story through a collection of photos from her past and playing the piano. The scene then transitions to Singapore, accompanied by the song “Que Sera Sera”. We soon learn that the film is about a middle-aged Malaysian banker living in Singapore who goes on a series of blind dates. As the title suggests, the first three dates do not go well for different reasons. However, the fourth date, a butcher by profession, enters the picture and engages in a sincere conversation about pig slaughtering. The dialogue gradually shifts to discussions of literature and philosophy.

Besides the obvious observation made in the prologue, Tay Bee Pin directs a film that depicts modern thinking and the difficulties in relationships caused by financial, family, and societal expectations. The lack of sincerity, driven by practicality, and a “sense” of shame, portrayed through a man who slaughters pigs for a living, may seem overused in cinema but effectively highlights two contrasting lifestyles in Singapore. The film also explores the idea of opposites attracting, although it may seem cliched. However, the analysis of the reading and the contrast between a thoughtful laborer and a shallow financier may be somewhat exaggerated.

Please also take a look at this interview.

However, the contrast between the two main characters, which can also be seen in their physical appearance, adds an element of entertainment to the story. While she maintains a flawless, model-like appearance, he is constantly sweating. This dynamic is reflected in the overall visual style of the short film. Similarly, the depiction of pig butchering, including a powerful black-and-white sequence, adds another layer of depth to the context. This use of varied imagery continues throughout the movie, particularly in darker scenes that give a thriller-like atmosphere. This technique is executed effectively thanks to the exceptional cinematography and use of sound. Additionally, the film serves as a sort of tour guide of the city, but the music video style used for this purpose can feel cliched and cheesy at times.

The editing in the first three dates montage is one of the film’s strongest features. The combination of cinematic elements is perfect and the unexpected ending adds a meta touch that is well worth it.

Cynthia Koh and Lester Lee play their parts with a fitting sense of measure, highlighting the differences of their characters and their chemistry quite eloquently.

Although there are some significant problems, primarily related to the overuse of cliches and an excessive script, “The Fourth Man” is well-crafted, engaging, and effectively conveys its message through an intriguing approach that holds the audience’s attention for the majority of its 25-minute runtime.