I have posted about Seng Tat's victory for FLOWER IN THE POCKET at the PUSAN FILM FESTIVAL last month, and I finally got to catch the film at its press screening yesterday. It's hard to review a film properly when you know the filmmaker personally, lauding it too much will make it seem as if you're being nice to a friend, dissing it will mean that you are self-consciously trying to avoid the former.
FLOWER IN THE POCKET is the story of two little boys, Li Ah (Lim Ming Wei) and Li Ohm (Wong Zi Jiang) who are often left alone by their workaholic father, Sui (JAMES LEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). So they live in their own world, wandering around after school. They seldom see their father, often falling asleep before he returns, and then going to school early in the morning when their father is still asleep. There is no actual interaction between father and sons until the second third of the film.
This is really a story of parental neglect, but without being judgemental or overly sentimental. There is no Hollywood cliche that this father is abusive and drunk, Sui is just someone who has retreated into an emotional shell after the loss of his wife (not sure whether she died or left him), preferring to spend an entire day making mannequins than meeting new girls. While his randy co-worker (a very funny Azman Hassan, who was in both productions i worked in this year!) constantly talks about his newly wed sex life, Sui remains stoic and silent.
Sui has a scare when he has this strange malady of having water bleeding out from his heart (or nipple, according to another review) which led to a tremendously funny clinic scene. I wish the film had more of the doctor character, hell, I wish there's a spin-off for the doctor character.
Malaysian independent films are often regarded as slow and boring, inaccessible and self-indulgent, but I can assure you that FLOWER IN THE POCKET is possibly the funniest film I've ever seen from the Malaysian New Wave! Apart from the aforementioned clinic scene and Sui's co-worker, there are also several other comedic moments, like the two brothers bullying a kindergarten kid, or a Malay tomboy Atan/Ayu's attempts to befriend them, or the nostalgic classroom scenes (funny to see this film a day after writing this post about my own memories of primary school life)
The little boys are happy with their lives, they love their father despite his constant absence, even trying to concoct dinner for him (a mixture of rice, water, ketchup...) before they go to sleep. But what they lack in life is the most apparent when they were brought home by their new friend Atan/ Ayu, and meets her doting mother (a wonderful Mislina, who was in the previous production I worked on, 'CINTA TIGA SEGI', and the upcoming 'KURUS'). Despite also living with a single parent, Ayu's home life is a major contrast to the two boys'. Interestingly, I found out from Twitch's FLOWER IN THE POCKET review that Ayu's grandmother is played by Yasmin Ahmad's mom, Mak Inom!
Things make a serious turn halfway through the film, where the little boys' carefree daily lives seem more poignant when you realize how withdrawn their father really was from them. There is reconciliation towards the end, but played with understated subtlety, no 'big' Hollywood moments where father realizes his folly, just an unforeseen circumstance that forces Sui to reevaluate his relationship with his son. Much have been said about the little kids' performances in the film, but man, James Lee definitely rocked here!
(I'm now inspired to become an actor myself! Currently accepting acting offers!)
Will be talking about two censored scenes in my next entry. If you are too impatient for that, you can actually view my latest uploaded video below the comments section right now.