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Monday, July 25, 2005

SEPET by Yasmin Ahmad, an important film in the Malaysian New Wave

One of the movies I heard most of when I returned to Malaysia had, strangely, been a local film, which is something unheard of considering that at this time of the year, summer Hollywood blockbusters are the ones that rule the box-office. This local film is Yasmin Ahmad's 'Sepet' which had been making waves at some foreign film festivals, and became quite a subject of discussion among Malaysians, not just the Malays, but also many of the Chinese I know. Finally got to watch it during my flight from Malaysia to Perth.

'Sepet' depicts an interracial romance between a Chinese guy and a Malay gal. And being an interracial romance, it obviously shows the complications involved in interracial romance, like the clashing of cultures, the condemnation of narrow-minded friends, the inability of acceptance by parents. Can true love transcend all these barriers?

A pirated VCD seller, Jason's life was changed completely when he was approached by a Malay girl, Orked, searching for Takeshi Kaneshiro films (not Wong Kar Wai films as mentioned in other summaries). However, poor Orked probably wasn't aware of the shitty films Kaneshiro was involved in earlier in his career. And it's a good thing for her too. Contrary to popular belief, Before he was in Chungking Express, Kaneshiro was really in lots and lots of horrible films that defy description, yet amazingly escape my memories. I'm sure he was in some bad films too after his stint with Wong Kar Wai. I don't think Orked would like "House of Flying Daggers" much.

But I've gone off-topic. Anyway, immediately, the sound stopped, and both stared at each other, staring deep into each other's souls, zapzapzap, immediate electricity, love at first sight? So yeap, Jason, who happened to be more sensitive and poetic than he looked, gave Orked a 'Chungking Express' VCD. A smart move, considering that it has a variation of one of my all-time favourite lines.

"A woman says 'Happy Birthday' to me on May 1, 1994. Because of this, I remember this woman. If memory could be canned, I hope this one will never expire. If an expiry date must be added onto it, let it be 10,000 years."

Which is similar to Stephen Chow's famous Chinese Odyssey line below (me paraphrasing):

"There was something special placed before my eyes but I knew not how to cherish it. Words can't describe the regret I felt when she was gone. If I am given the chance to meet the girl again, I want to tell her three simple words, 'I love you'. If my love for her has to have an expiry date, let it be 10,000 years."

Wonderful quotes I used from time to time for my personal love life, which is as equally riveting and angst-filled as the one portrayed in Sepet. Therefore, I didn't really care that much about the relationship between Orked and Jason because I was constantly mumbling "bah, you guys thought you have it bad? wait til you read the story of my life' onto the screen. Despite this, this IS a fine movie, and most people will probably root for the two thanks to the fine acting of the two leads. Likable characters they are, despite their numerous quirks and flaws. They are very easy to relate to by most Malaysians, and some of the dialogue throughout the film will be familiar to most Malaysians as well.

What moved me most, however, are the scenes involving the veteran actors who played Orked's parents and housemaid, and Jason's mom. I am not well-versed enough in the local entertainment scene to know their names, but yes, kudos to them for showing what fine acting is, and remind the disenchanted me that the talent pool in Malaysia isn't really that shallow.

In the end, all I can say is that this is a crowd-pleasing little movie that deserves the accolades it has received and is a good sign that there is still some life left in the Malaysian cinema. It isn't as fast-paced as most people would've liked, with some scenes that really didn't work for me (the first meeting between Jason and Orked... where all sounds ceased and them staring at each other... hm... I would prefer something more natural, like Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson's first meeting at the elevator in 'Lost In Translation'). Most will love some of the more memorable romantic lines like 'you are god's poetry to me', or 'how long do you think it takes to fall in love?' 'one minute. how long did it take for you to fall in love with me?' 'much shorter than that'. Some may remember some random conversation in it, like the theory that Malaysian folk hero Hang Tuah is a Chinese, along with his many many comrades whose name starts with Hang.

Now, speaking of Hang Tuah, if only I can get my perfectly-manicured fingers on the Puteri Gunung Ledang... (a big-budget Malaysian production released last year that fell waaaay short of expectations) What a patriot I have slowly evolved into, by constantly seeking movies by local filmmakers. Ah, just yesterday, I had just finished watching some short films directed by James Lee as well.

Hm, in fact, I wonder whether I should start reviewing the other indie films I saw that was directed by James Lee, Tan Chui Mui and Ho Yuhang? Anyone interested? At least I get to let my oversea buddies a chance to know more about the local indie filmmaking industry. I'll think about that. Yeah.