Wednesday, December 06, 2006


First impressions are important. The subsequent impressions work on heightening that first impressions. Sometimes, first impressions can be wrong if a lot of factors that affects the mood of the day. Yesterday, my mood was good. I went to watch LOVE CONQUERS ALL with my students.

Let me first congratulate Mui again for her winnings for her film* LOVE CONQUERS ALL. Beneath this line is my brutally honest feelings about the film and this is solely my readings into the film and the nature of international film festivals.

I was intrigued by the opening of the film. Framed and shot in a long take, the seated protagonist in a moving and bumpy bus with an old Indian man by her side. The old man changes seat with her and slowly breaks down in tears. Where is Mui situating the protagonist in this scene? That she is unaffected by the world surrounding her, which would be what really happened later in the story. That is the main problem of the story.

Once she reaches her aunt's restaurant stall, we are introduced to the main supporting protagonist which is a parallel to the protagonist's existence, her young cousin. The two stories will form the yin and yang of the film. One is about a cynical look into adult relationship, the other being the naive, optimistic and fantasy-like young relationship with a boy we never met.

For a good part of the story, we see the protagonist walking through morning market, night market, making phone calls to her mother and boyfriend with this other man stalking her. From the get-go, there is something wrong with the man. His outlook gave away how this man will situate himself in the story and later, he will tell the story of a boyfriend that pimps his girlfriend and there, lies the biggest flaw of the film( It depends on how one wants to see that as an advantage or as a flaw but I see it as one big cocked-out). The rest of the story after that moulds after that story. I can see that Mui is approaching a post modernistic structure to the film, yet she subverts the very structure that she was adhering to. For instance, the man is far too obvious in his outlook where we the audience are fairly certain that he has a problem or he will cause a problem. Foretelling a story ahead of time is a danger but given to a more matured and assured director, this gimmick can be pulled off but not Mui. Not yet. Is Ah Ping the protagonist, a human being or a zombie trudging through?

Based upon my understanding, Ah Ping is the victim in the film. She is somewhat fated to live the way that she live and being used by John, the man and because of love, she trudges along like an undead for the man. Initially during the so-called courtship, Ah Ping seems to be in control and John was seen to be our "man's best friend", following her with the tongue lapping away. Once John had her in the car, the control shifted and everything changes after that. Mui got away with it because she is a woman directing a film about a woman who is a victim. What happens if the work is directed by a man?

That is where the larger problem lies. The film maybe directed by a woman but the people surrounding the making of the film are men and how does it then one make the film out? I see the film as a carbon copy of Amir Muhammad, James Lee and Ho Yu Hang. There are traces of their aesthetics everywhere in the film. The question now is, where is the voice of Mui? She may have negotiated through their aesthetics with a woman's sensitivities but nonetheless, she is essentially plagiarizing their aesthetics. If in fact, the international film festivals are skewing towards this sort of storytelling aesthetics as the dominant part of Malaysian cinema, then we are not going to be able to sustain a brighter Malaysian cinema in the future. Why? Is the ability to bore the audience to death a talent? Is the ability to plagiarize a talent?

The parallel story might be the "hope" of the story but let us see how the young girl treats her mother. She treats the mother more of an irritant and we see how much the mother cares for the daughter by trying to reach out to her, even trying to do her homework. So the "hope" of the film lies on a selfish girl who does not seem to appreciate the mother's love. Mui got away with it because she is a woman. Simply put.

Mui is an intelligent and sensitive woman. It is time for her to break away from the parochial view of telling stories, liberate herself away from the influences of the names stated above and elevate herself as a storyteller that has her own voice.

With the current state where Malaysia is hailed as one of the bright spots in the region for films, I see it more as a fad than anything else. If the international jury keep on looking for this type of works and not opening up to other modes that can be offered by other Malaysian filmmakers, I see the failing of Malaysian cinema in the international arena in two years.

*the term is a misnomer as the story was shot on miniDV but since everybody seems to be using this term as an understanding, let me succumb myself to the masses.