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That's the Way I Like It

The growing pains of a country in transition are often the defining moments in a culture's evolution. When British rule in Singapore came to an end in 1965, the nation had, for the first time, an opportunity to define what it meant to be Singaporean. As is often the case however, the transition and changes being made were slow and substantially conservative.

In director Glen Goei's debut feature, "That's The Way I Like It," he explores this period through the eyes of his semi-autobiographical protagonist Hock (Adrian Pang). Without identity, living a boring existence as a market boy and living at home, Hock finds solace one night when he and a group of friends happen upon the new John Travolta epic "Saturday Night Fever."

Blown away by the charisma Travolta exudes, Hock finds himself longing to boogie all night long. With the aid of his friend Mei (Medaline Tan), Hock enrolls in a disco class. Overwhelmed by how much he enjoys disco dancing, as well as a desire to enroll in a big money disco contest, Hock quickly transforms himself into a smooth-talking, dancing fool.

Complicating things however are Hock's home life and the increasingly-strange relationship between he and his beautiful dancing partner Mei. With his family torn by an unexpected surprise, Hock further estranges himself from Mei by falling in love with another dancer in his class. Though he and Mei seem obvious for one another, as fate would have it, Hock doesn't have a clue.

Director Goei does an admirable job of pulling together a host of conventional stories--maintaining their innocent charm--without ever coming across as contrived or gratuitous. While there is nothing groundbreaking in this '70s homage, Goei's subdued direction allows his performers (most of whom had never acted before) to develop their characters according to their acting strengths.

Perhaps the most appealing feature of Goei's direction is his dedication to keeping things fun. While there are some darker elements to his film, the strains of countless disco standards and the overall sunny disposition of Hock and his friends keeps the story moving and grooving all the way to its dance finale.

Medaline Tan proves to be that rare breed of actor: one who excels despite having no formal training. Her charm and exuberance gives the pivotal role of Mei an innocence and vulnerability that make her instantly real and convincing. Goei proves very capable of keeping a story on its feet and should be a filmmaker to watch in the coming years.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for momentary language and some violence.

'That's the Way I Like It'

Adrian Pang: Ah Hock

Pam Oei: Mui

Caleb Goh: Ah Beng/Leslie

Anna Belle Francis: Julie

Pierre Png: Richard A

Miramax Films presentation. Writer-director Glen Goei. Producers Goei, Jeffrey Chiang, Tan Chih Chong. Cinematographer Brian Breheny. Editor Jane Moran. Music Guy Gross. Costumes Ashley Aeria. Production designer Laurence Eastwood. Art director Andy Heng. Set decorator Mimi Hockman. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.