HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART 陌生人

I was very interested in watching the local film HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART when it was at the theaters last month. I was intrigued by its trailer, and I was curious to see what these new filmmakers Felix Tan (the director) and co. could come up with. The film is from Lim Kok Wing University's newly set-up Film and Television Academy.




I couldn't catch it. My initial plans to watch it during its last day in cinemas didn't work out because I attended the launching ceremony of the GUA website instead.

However, I managed to acquire myself a copy of the film and watch it yesterday.

I have seen numerous awful films this year. Some for failing to sustain my interest, some for earning my ire because of their sheer pretentiousness, some just fail at a narrative level or technical level thus hindering my experience of the film.

I'm not going to disguise this with a negative review filled with sarcastic hyperbolic praises like I did with my popular THE 3RD GENERATION film review. HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART is a travesty. An excruciatingly horrible film that made me feel... violated after its viewing. In fact, I fell into a pool of depression so deep that it bordered on tendencies of self-mutilation.

Throughout the course of the film, I groaned repeatedly: "Uh oh... I hope the filmmakers won't mess things up by doing THAT in the scene. AARGH, they did! *smacks palm in forehead*".

Often I try not to be too hard on a local film since I myself am in the industry, and the local film industry is much too small for me to go around ripping fellow filmmakers apart with harsh reviews that can be easily misinterpreted as personal attacks. I mean, whoever I have panned now, I might end up working with in the future, and I wouldn't want something like "YOU BASTARD, I'M NOT GOING TO WORK WITH YOU BECAUSE YOU DISSED ME ON YOUR BLOG!" to happen to me.

But in the case of HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART, it's like watching a train wreck as the film went on, I just couldn't turn away from it, from the groan-inducing mistakes that sunk the film to abysmal depths, to some eye-rollingly pretentious and overindulgent (and head-scratching) stylistic choices made by the filmmakers.

Obviously not wanting to associate themselves with the other arthouse fare by the likes of James Lee and Tan Chui Mui, which are often accused by the mainstream audiences for being too plodding, slow-paced and minimalistic, the filmmakers of HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART opted to do everything the complete opposite by trying to throw in lots of MONTAGE SEQUENCES into the film, accompanied by some supposedly stylish visual effects and show-offy camerawork designed to perhaps engage and awe the audiences while enhancing the storytelling.

But more isn't necessarily better, and the techniques employed merely betray its amateurish feel, making it seem more like a student film (and really not the best ones) than the works of professionals. (although I'm assuming that the majority of the crew members are still students)

Now, montage sequences are also stuff that I often use in my own works. Even my 15-minute short film, Girl Disconnected, had a number of montage sequence itself that may or may not garner the audience reaction and effect I hoped, like here ("It's just a random scene of a woman frolicking by the beach, so drawn out!"), or here ("It's just Justin and the previous woman, walking through a sea of balloons, so cheesy!"), or here (" It's just a scene of pedo Justin looking at little girls dancing while angsting about a girl he didn't get to... touch! Bah-inducing!").

So, at the risk of having a case of a pot calling a kettle black, I have to point out that I find the montage sequences, especially the night club one near the opening of the film totally drawn out, cheesily choreographed and bah-inducing. Why were everyone dancing as if it were the 70s? Retro night? Why are there so many cringey shots of people staring and waving at the camera in the nightclub during the montage? Aaaaaaahhh!

I have tried to look past several of its (possibly fatal) technical flaws, like the horrible sound mixing (background sound changes when there is a cut in a scene... why not layer an entire ambiance track to camouflage the jarring sound?), the few instances of crossing the line (the 180 degree rule broken)... among others. But er, well, it's really hard to look past them when they are constantly slapping me in my face, daring me NOT to write about them in a review.

Now, addressing the story... which I shall copy and paste from another site: Fang (Gai Yew Lan), a woman from Mainland China comes to Malaysia to look for her daughter who has been tricked into prostitution by a local syndicate. She meets a wild young man named Li (Gabe Ng) and asks him to help her find her daughter. Despite the many trials and setbacks of locating Fang's daughter, the odd duo manage to bond and foster familial ties with each other. Could have worked, but Mio miglior nemico, Il this ain't.

One thing, I don't understand the need of having Fang be a woman from China when she is being played by Gai Yew Lan, a veteran local actress. Hard for me to believe in her character when Fang speaks Mandarin like a Malaysian instead of someone from Mainland China, and then, there's also a problem of her looking too aloof and calculative instead of being a poor village bumpkin which I assume is the filmmaker's intention. Gai Yew Lan is not a bad actress, but she may have been miscasted. I can't see the point of having her be a woman from Mainland China when the character could have just been someone from a rural area, some village at north Malaysia or something.

As for Gabe Ng's Li. His swaggering gangster character is a caricature that seems to carry the traits of, well, gangster characters from HONG KONG films. Featuring cliches like dyed hair, immaculately dressed with Nicholas Tse-like mannerisms, I see more a guy playing a gangster based on Hong Kong films than actually believing that he's really a gangster (or a con man, or a pimp etc. which he's supposed to be in the film). He is just as badly-written as my cookie-cutter artist characters from my discarded KL RHYTHM short film project, which I really discarded because of my inability to write the characters well enough.

When the primary characters have ended up feeling so artificial, the dynamics are gone, the film's credibility is lost in its entirety. (Also, the film's is set in Johor during the second half, but I exclaimed when I saw shots of shop lots and the KFC located just outside my house.)

I was taken out of the film, and can only view it from a distance, which is definitely not the intended effect of a film like this.

Being supportive of Malaysian films is often encouraged, and prayed for. Watching a local film due to nationalistic pride is all right, but to merely accept a film due to nationalistic pride whilst opting for silence instead of providing honest criticism is a disservice to the filmmakers, in my opinion. I thought the film was awful, I can't just smile and say that this is a good film merely because it comes from my own country and I have to respect the efforts of the filmmakers, the film IS awful, but hey, at least I'm spending my time saying WHY I think it's awful, right?