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Having missed this TV mini-series when it was first broadcast in 2001 on the ABC, I was glad to see that it was out on DVD.  Changi is very loosely based on the events that occurred in and around this specific POW camp of World War II with its attention squarely centred on the lives of the Australian contingent housed within.  But even with the tragic subject material at hand this is not your typical Saving Private Ryan affair ... it's actually hard to define what this show typifies unless you appreciate what it's like to be an Australian through and through ... the direction taken by the producers was somewhat in the vein of Gallipoli whereby drama and sorrow is prevelant but that it also has a continual element of Aussie humour being laid on thick and fast.  Since I've never gone to war or met death at every turn in my life I cannot honestly say how I would react to such bleak situations, however since I've lived all my life in Australia I can confidently say that Changi clearly characterises and identifies the spirit of an Aussie - to take the piss out of anyone and anything.  Admittedly, the style of humour here is completely at odds with what may be our natural drive to take such drastic events like this seriously, but it wasn't meant to be a factual documentary of what happened in these camps.  Rather we get to look at these times through rose-coloured glasses and I'm sure that this is how some of these former prisoners would rather recall their days back then.

Changi was one of the many POW camps in which our captured allied defence force personnel ended up after Singapore fell to Japan in 1942 during World War II ... these men sufferred indescribably under the hands of their Japanese captors and were predominantly not shown any mercy by them.  The Japanese military code regarded a warrior who surrended to the enemy as beneath contempt and it was from this line of thinking that General Tojo had ordered harsher treatment of these prisoners.  Of the 22,000 Aussies who fell into Japanese hands, 35% of them died from neglect and ill-treatment with thousands more dying in the post-war years from their physical and mental sufferings - this was the highest ratio of all within any national group, with the British at an equally horrendous 25% of their men perishing.  I've brought up these startling statistics because the fact that a soldier of Japan was posted to a POW camp is a sign that they had failed somewhere in the past.  With this in mind, they had an extremely distorted view on the value of their prisoners as expendable assets rather than human beings, to which they enacted these said attrocities so they could establish inferiority as well as instilling a warped sense of duty into the prisoners themselves.  Typically, many of the Japanese soldiers developed varying degrees of internal conflict in which they handled it very differently and individually to each other.  Ultimately, historical documents note that Australians out-suffered and out-endured any other nationality as POW's of the Japanese.

I can immediately feel for the people who survived these terrible times, so Changi may well seem a bit disrespectful in some ways, if not become distressing to those who lived through it all, but this film is meant as a tribute to the determination of the men who did all they could to survive and help everyone around them cope ... something that we as civilians wouldn't comprehend unless faced with the same situation.  Understandably, critics have also bagged this show for its seeming "shallowness" and I'd be the first to say that this is not the kind of film that should be used as reference material for a school's next foray into wartime study class.  And for this reason, I thoroughly recommend another film called To End All Wars which is the most honest account I've ever seen of the events that took place within these Japanese POW camps, whereby it truly presents an even-sided portrayal of the thoughts and motivations from both parties - the title of this movie is so deserving as noone I'm sure will remain unaffected by it, and it will also be my very next DVD for review here.

Even though Changi concentrates a lot on the "piss-taking" aspect of life within, it is just as deliberate in portraying the harshness, viciousness and malevolence that these prisoners were exposed to by their captors (albeit in a limited viewpoint considering what really happened).  However, any outside issues regarding the tragic loss of life on the Burmese Railway (or Bermuda Track) and the abuse suffered by female detainees from many cultures (the so-called "comfort women" in reluctant service for the Japanese) are only ever briefly touched upon in this mini-series, but these topics have already been the subject of other well-made films.  Also, the Japanese actors here were obviously very willing to be a part of this peculiar project since not only do they depict the sadistic prison facilitators but are also involved in the really bizarre dream sequences of the prisoners, so they must have trusted the producers' judgement implicitly in what they wanted on film.  With over 100 speaking roles and some really complex interplay between the actors over numerous location shoots, it must have made for some deft organisation to pull it all off with enough seamlessness for the storyline onscreen.

The Series
All of these 6 one-hour long episodes are cleverly constructed as to provide a romanticised gateway into the memories of both the younger and now older men, whereby their stories are told within flashback (and sometimes another flashback from that as well) with their minds continually playing little tricks on them as they remember events triggered by different stimuli around them.  It should be noted that these events which we witness are "remembered" rather than "experienced" by the men who have filtered down their memories through decades of sobering realisation, if not acceptance, of their experiences half a century ago.  I have come out of this a slightly wiser person, to realise that our older generation has a lifetime of experience that can be handed down to us if only we'd listen, and it also makes me appreciate that they probably only have little more than the recollection of younger days to keep them company in their twilight years.  Full credit to the director Kate Woods & Co for their unique approach to this material - it may not be conventional, but it certainly is credible to watch.

Episode 1: Seeing Is Believing
David Collins (Matthew Newton & Charles 'Bud' Tingwell) transports us to the opening events of when he and his mates were captured and held inside Changi.  The prisoners are introduced to the camp leader who has the unfortunate name of Lieutenant Aso (Gotaro Tsunashima), also affectionally known as 'Assh*le'.  Throughout this term of incarceration, Colonel Rowdy Lawson (Geoff Morrell) keeps morale up by mixing discipline with a much-needed release of tension.  After the war, David was always unable to talk about his ordeals as a prisoner to his wife, then and now, with his long-forgotten memories starting to flood back whilst he recovers from an eye operation as an old man, drawing a similar parallel from when he was temporarily blinded in the POW camp.

Episode 2: Gordon's Will
Gordon Yates (Anthony Hayes & Frank Wilson) shows his defiance towards the Japanese by refusing to salute them after having witnessed past activities that were enacted by the enemy before he was captured.  This then creates an instant battle of wills when Aso becomes determined to break this man's spirit by forcing him to stand on a crate until Gordon salutes, but no amount of torture will break his resolve.  Through this unjust form of punishment the bond between his mates matures to what is called the "Secret 9" in which they vow that after the war they will meet with each other every nine years - this is what keeps them going through all their hardship in the POW camp.  Now as an old man, Gordon relives this event after he has a heart stroke whilst dealing with his unappreciative son, but Gordon is made of strong stuff and will not give up the ghost that easily.

Episode 3: Private Bill
Bill Dwyer (Leon Ford & Terry Norris) is now a professor of Maths & Science from which his inspiration was fueled by a fellow inmate within Changi.  On Bill's retirement day at the University he's approached by a young female student who says that her grandmother once knew him from the war-days, bringing back thoughts of his short-lived romance with this lady before he went off to Singapore.  From here, Bill remembers when Tom, the ever-budding pianist and visual artist, is recruited by Aso to do a portrait of the commander Colonel Nakamura (Shingo Misawa) in commemoration of a visit from one of the heads of the Japanese Imperial Forces.  However, the "Secret 9" has other plans for this event and they decide on rocking the boat a little bit, although their idea ends up as a kind of retro-retribution for a future unforseen tragedy that takes place after they set their plans in motion.

Episode 4: Curley
John 'Curley' Foster (Mark Priestley & Slim DeGrey) discovers through one of the rare postal services in Changi that he became a father some years ago.  But for all this happiness he becomes a lot more brazen towards his captors and decides to risk stealing supplies until he is finally discovered.  His punishment is to go into solitary confinement and treated like a dog, as he slowly regresses back to the good and bad times of his younger days.

Episode 5: Eddie's Birthday
Eddie (Stephen Curry & Bill Kerr) relives the pain he experienced from a wretched tooth infection in which he further remembers his mother slowly dying from a terminal disease.  At the time of his incarceration, the Japanese were starting to see that not everything is going well for the war effort ... for some of them the truth cannot be ignored whereas others are convinced that this line of thinking is the reason they are failing, therefore the ever-faithful ones are refusing any acknowledgement of the possibility that they may well lose the war.

Episode 6: Pacifying The Angels
Tom (Matthew Whittet & Desmond Kelly) prepares himself in his retirement home for when his old war-mates come along to take him away to the RSL and celebrate their long-awaited "Secret 9" reunion.  Along the way, he relives the events leading up to their last days at Changi when "The Bomb" is dropped on Hiroshima.  Chaos at the POW camp slowly but surely builds up to a nightmare climax in which not everyone survives.

Even with the use of today's technological methods of filming and producing, Changi is still what I would like to call typically "ABC Quality" as it always seems to have its own unique look about it that can only come from our Australian Broadcasting Corporation.  The resultant DVD of this mini-series is by no means reference quality, but it does the job admirably for all the day, night, indoor & outdoor shots that were filmed.

The darker scenes are typically the worst affected with many of them exhibiting one problem or another such as lack of shadow definition or slightly washed out exposures, but are never a major cause for concern as they are all watchable as a whole.  Grain too tends to show itself more prevalently in these same sequences but it's really only obvious when you pause the image rather than when you let it play through.  Incredibly, there are no detectable compression artifacts present here even though a full 3 hours of varying footage types is contained on each dual-layer DVD.  Colours are suitably earthy in the POW camp scenes and just as gritty in the present day ones, their saturation is limited by the film-stock but any deliberate over-enhancement would have led to alienation of the viewer watching it.  Still with all its faults, it's perfectly viewable.

Essentially, both the 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are the same with the latter one having a bit more "presence" to it.  Dialogue in both soundtracks is on equal footing whereby the English and Japanese speaking parts are clearly audible and even the broken Japanese-English diatrabe is effectively tricky to discern.  The usage of surrounds in each of these mixes is understated even in the finale to which you would expect a little more activity, but overall they do add an air of tension as well as providing ambient environmental mood for the indoor and outdoor scenes.  The subwoofer rarely comes into play and only seems interested in cars zooming off and the occasional thud or thump, it doesn't seem to contribute anything towards the musical score either.

There are no selectable English subtitles to choose from which basically alienates the hard-of-hearing group of people out there, but there are burnt-in English captions for when the Japanese speak in their native tongue.

Just the one which is an audio commentary only found on the very last episode of this series, it involves director Kate Woods (Looking For Alibrandi) and writer John Doyle (aka Roy Slaven from the Roy & H.G. sports-comedy duo).  These two talk more to each other than to any potential audience and are able to cover a lot of detail about all six episodes inside this one hour, they discuss their motivations and inspirations for this series and the rather unique take with the subject, albeit controversial to some.

It might have been nice to be given a small documentary with interviews of cast & crew, maybe some deleted scenes (which probably would've confused us as to their placement in whatever episodes they came from), and maybe even an outtakes/bloopers reel (although this might be pushing the line a little bit too far and it may well have ruined the characterisations, especially from the Japanese actors).

I may not know my war history all that well but I am still an Aussie, so Changi is now amongst my personal Top 10 of Australian film productions alongside the aforementioned Gallipoli, Mad Max 1 & 2 and even Young Einstein ... well, you gotta laugh!  A possible similarity for Changi to any other films would probably be from Band Of Brothers as well as Blackadder IV - you know, the last one set in the trenches of World War I.  And at the risk of sounding like Russell Coight, the cast of Changi is full of colourful larrikins who are very different in personality but all share one common trait - the Aussie trademark wit.  However, you won't see much in the way of the starvation that took place in these camps, nor will you ever get a true sense of the hopelessness felt by these individuals, but you will be drawn into these characters' lives in a very fascinating and unusual way.

When you begin to watch Changi for the first time you'll be forgiven for thinking you've dropped right into a surreal backdrop of South Pacific (in which the prisoners are all fantastic harmonic singers).  But in a way this is to the show's benefit because it makes an honestly genuine attempt at portraying what possibly goes through a prisoner's mind as he tries to deal with the reality of incessant torments from their captors ... the mind's eye attempts to remember all the things about home to help them escape from this torturous existence.  And the more sensitive of our viewers certainly might not appreciate the continual extremes between the humour and disturbing images that this show alternates between, but the same was also said about Peter Jackson's The Frighteners with its quirky mix of ghostly spirits, black humour and twisted serial killers.

If you still feel war dramas aren't your thing then Changi is certainly something different from the norm.  This is definately Aussie filmmaking at its finest ... well, if you believe all that then you probably need a cricket bat shoved up your backside (which is what the characters here were wishing would happen to the Japs, too).