Intended to "give voice to the voiceless", according to its twentysomething director Royston Tan, 15 offers up a frenetic and hyper-stylised portrait of a quintet of profoundly disaffected suburban Singaporean teenagers. Utilising an entirely non-professional cast, and drawing on their real-life experiences, it carries echoes of Larry Clark's Kids in its fearless depiction of truanting, bullying, body-piercing, self-harming, porn-watching, drug-smuggling, prostitution, and HIV-infection.
Other filmmakers might have used this raw material to make a gritty, quasi-documentary study of teen outsiders. Tan's background though lies in music videos and he peppers his story with animated sequences, sloganeering captions ("The world's most lethal drug - DESPAIR"), and quick-fire editing, getting his characters to rap about gang violence in front of the camera. There's an underlying purpose however to all these attention-grabbing visual flourishes - they give us a sense of how these skinny misfits perceive themselves to be tough-guy players in some live-action game.
"THIS IS A TOUGH WATCH AT TIMES"
Not only are parents and authority figures almost entirely absent in 15, but so are female teenagers. Tan chooses to concentrate on the emotionally intimate friendships that exist between the 'problem' boys, who defiantly refuse to conform to conventional society. Beneath their swaggering bravado and their cherished tattoos, what's revealed is their vulnerability and frailty, and their reliance on one another for support in an uncaring adult world. This is a tough watch at times, yet there's a strain of black humour to 15, particularly in the search by Shaun and Erick to find a suitable building from which their pal Armani can commit suicide.
In Mandarin with English subtitles.