All posts by Tan Yuan Ting

The English Surgeon

The English Surgeon was a tastefully executed and informative film which I felt gave its audience a good insight into the otherwise little-known world of neurosurgery.


It was very satisfying aesthetically, as seen from these instances:

  • many wide shots – of the clinic, of the scenery
  • pre-emptive wide, still shots waiting for people to walk towards the camera
  • short, clipped, fast-paced sequences when the medical staff were facing high pressures at work
  • close-up shots of objects
  • a scene which is framed by a keyhole (near the end)


On the audio front, I noticed two instances which were interesting:

  • at the start, there was a wide shot with the sound of bells which continued into the next scene
  • during the choral singing at the church, one voice was singled out although many people were singing at once


The structure of the film was quite chronological in order. It started off slowly with establishing shots, then talked about the stories of many characters before zooming in onto one particular patient’s neurosurgery. Then, it continued on to other characters as well as return to a character established previously – the mother of the girl the surgeon previously operated on.

Choice of patient

I thought the choice of patient the film-makers chose to focus on was interesting and key to the success of the film. He is a brave, calm and humorous character whose surgery went relatively smoothly and seemed to recover quite well after that. I think he represents an ideal type of patient undergoing neurosurgery and gives hope and inspiration to audiences who might be watching the film because they (or their loved ones) are about to undergo neurosurgery.

Imagine if the film-makers had chosen to focus on a depressed, forlorn or screaming, kicking patient whose surgery had failed – that would have aroused feelings of hopelessness and despair in the audience. By choosing a character whose approach to his very risky surgery is cool, calm, collected and light-hearted, this inspires us with regards to the approach we should adopt when facing challenges in life. The success of the surgery and smooth post-surgical recovery of the character also gives the audience, particularly those who may be undergoing neurosurgery soon, hope of the successes of neurosurgery.

Personal reaction to the film

At first, I felt squeamish at the part where the skull of the patient was cut open to reveal the brains inside. Then, I questioned myself as to why I felt this way when brains reside in everyone and are a natural part of the body. Why do I feel disgusted and scared when I see brains and blood but not so when I see – let’s say, a nose? Is it because one resides in the inner part of our bodies, that I’m not used to seeing it, while the other is something external I see on a daily basis? (Is that why people are uncomfortable with nudity as well?) After accepting that brains are just a normal part of our bodies, I felt more comfortable with watching the documentary and looked at the brains more objectively.


One question I have though is how the film-maker(s) managed to get access to the surgery room and even filmed the brains close-up and at different angles, when places like these are supposed to be very sterile to keep risks of contamination as low as possible.

Documentary idea: noticing the invisible

As we go about our daily lives, it is easy to neglect or take for granted many people in our society. This includes the people who provides public service and makes our lives a little better – the cleaners, bus drivers and food vendors, just to name a few. This documentary focuses specifically on the cleaning staff of NTU and how early their day starts before everyone else – making their work to provide a clean environment for us very often going unnoticed. This documentary seeks to document the work of these staff, as well as humanize them by showing the audience a day in the life of a cleaner – their hopes, dreams, daily routines and lifestyle habits.