Sometime back Ms. Shermaine of Da Huang Pictures e-mailed and invited me to the preview screening of Love Conquers All, the debut feature film of Tan Chui Mui, who at 28 years old is the youngest female director in Malaysia.
Unfortunately the preview screening was on a working afternoon, and I regretfully declined. The whole world was disappointed by my no-show (haha) but Ms. Shermaine told me that there would be another preview screening the following week at night. Of course I said I’d go. By the way to the production houses who want to pre-screen your movies AND invite meh, why not hold the preview screenings at night? I can’t even begin to describe the awesomeness of after-office hours.
I brought Swifty, and he being jobless at the moment already reviewed the movie here.
Sometime in the 80s, AH PING (Coral Ong Li Whei) leaves Penang for Kuala Lumpur to help her aunt HONG JIE (Ho Chi Lai) at the latter’s stall selling economy rice. She is lonely in the city, she stares into emptiness a lot, she has a great friendship with Hong Jie’s daughter, her little cousin MEI (Leong Jiun Jiun). She also calls home to her mother and her boyfriend at a public telephone (yes, difficult concept to grasp but remember, this is set in the 80s). That is where she meets JOHN (Stephen Chua Jyh Shyan), who unrelentingly stalks and tries to befriend Ah Ping, and eventually succeeded through a great show of blind persistence.
Once during the course of the courtship, John described to Ah Ping his cousin’s bad-ass tactics to lure women into prostitution. During this part, John said in Mandarin, ‘ai ke yi gai bian yi ge ren‘. The English subtitle for this line was ‘love conquers all’. I guess the accurate translation of this line, ‘love can change a person’ does not sound as good and catchy as ‘love conquers all’. But observing the true meaning of this line that is the title of the movie helped me understand a lot (later on).
You would have thought that with John’s prophecy that pretty chicks are easier to be duped into prostitution, PLUS his descriptive series of actions that a pimp would take to ‘influence’ the pretty chicks to selling their bodies, WOULD flash serious warning signs to Ah Ping, right? I consoled myself that this was the 80s where the lack of information led to some women being
stupid noble trying to save the ones you love. So yes, love does conquers all, it just doesn’t lead to the Cinderella story that we all so hope for.
Or maybe Ah Ping more than knew what was coming, but was resigned to it anyway. Can you blame her life choices? I don’t know, it’s up to you to decipher and decide, but I was pretty upset by it lah.
Since the development of Ah Ping and John’s story would not be enough to fill out 90 minutes, there is a mini story involving little lonely Mei and Hong Jie. Well it could have been only Mei’s story but I found the relationship between Hong Jie and Mei rather touching. There was a scene where Hong Jie watches her daughter do her homework, and the moment was quite powerful to me. It told me of Hong Jie’s hidden feelings — helplessness, frustrations, overwhelming love for Mei, all rolled into one, and it was only Hong Jie looking at Mei for a long time! Well, that left a strong impression.
That said, I felt that Hong Jie and Mei’s story and performances could easily upstage Ah Ping’s self-discovery and journey, and Ah Ping and John.
What I liked:
- The simplicity of the story that does not disguise itself other than a very ordinary love story
- Good acting from most of the main cast
- Lovely, light moments that made me cackle out loud
- Pretty accurate depiction of everyday life, for example the Indian lottery man who comes by your table when you are having your meal
- It’s very Malaysian.
What I did not like:
- Constant shaky camera movements that gave me quite a headache. I don’t see why a low budget arty movie cannot be NOT shaky
- Too many scenery shots (and repeated too!) for the longest times. I grew up in a kampung, I know what coconut trees look like, but I guess all the kampung scenes are for the benefits of the Western audience/market
- Open-to-interpretation movies, period. For the same reason, the ending of Yasmin Ahmad’s GUBRA was a bit wtf for me. Maybe the problem is me. Yeap, it’s me. I don’t like to do too much thinking
- Or MAYBE the reason is because I’ve watched too many of these kinds of interpretative films, both local and foreign, and that is why sometimes I fully appreciate no-brainer movies such as ‘Snakes On A Plane’.
What I did not understand:
- Why was John’s greeting of ‘Assalamualaikum’ beeped out?
Maybe some people who know and understand more about indie movies can provide a better perspective. Oh wait, they did! Check out the Jury Statement of the New Current Awards in the 11th Pusan International Film Festival:
“This film is using a known cinematic language in a nice way telling the life of a village girl who is going to a big city to work and face the reality and the morality of our time.”
Nice. By the way, this movie won the FIPRESCI Award (Prize of the International Film Critics), and shares the New Currents Award (Best New Asian Filmmaker of the Year) with Chinese director Yang Heng’s ‘Betelnut’ at the 11th Pusan International Film Festival in Korea.
It was also featured in the recent Tokyo International Film Festival, competing in the ‘Winds of Asia’ Category. I don’t know if it won, doesn’t seem to be much info on that.
LOVE CONQUERS ALL was written and directed by Tan Chui Mui and produced by Amir Muhammad. It opens in GSC Midvalley, GSC 1Utama and GSC Gurney Plaza on the 21st December 2006 (this Thursday). Catch it if you want something different, catch it if you want to keep track of Tan Chui Mui’s directing career which can only get better in the future, and catch it because Leong Jiun Jiun who plays Mei can beat Jay Chou’s stoic acting in ‘Curse of the Golden Flower’ anytime.