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Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I woke up from my beauty nap yesterday and saw messages on MSN from Suanie asking whether I would like to attend the preview of Love Conquers All, the feature-length debut of Malaysian female director Tan Chui Mui, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last year when she was at a seminar with director James Lee and my dad in the Sin Chew Jit Poh (the country's leading Chinese newspaper) discussion about the Malaysian indie filmmaking scene.

My dad (a film critic who goes by the pseudonym of 杨剑) was initially invited to an earlier preview last month but had to decline because he was going to visit me in Perth (and watch the premiere of my own short, Girl Disconnected), and alas he wasn't invited to this preview. Oops, sorry, dad! Haha!

I said yes to Suanie without thought. The son has to go in his father's place. And why deny myself the opportunity to support a local indie film and also understand more about the progress of our indie filmmaking scene during my absence?

So while I was in the car with Suanie, I made a few predictions about the film based on the filmmaking style I had observed from Tan Chui Mui's award-winning short film, A Tree At Tanjung Malim (I got the DVD from the aforementioned seminar).

1) The film would be a slice-of-life film that focuses more on atmosphere and mood than narrative and drama.
2) Because of (1), the film would be pretty slow-paced. Long uninterrupted takes would be used.
3) The odds of it actually having background music would be fairly low too. It'll probably be music-less, like the Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardene's L'Enfant.
4) There would be shots of swaying trees to create the meditative mood.
5) The film would be fairly ambiguous so that viewers, after viewing the film, would need to provide their own reading and interpretation of it.

[I was rather sure about (5) because I've met James Lee (who served as cinematographer in this film, and I've also blogged about another earlier seminar he had last July) at numerous occasions with my dad, and upon viewing his film, The Beautiful Washing Machine, I've tried to ask him about some of the unresolved loose ends and he merely asked me to interpret it myself (and to his amusement, my interpretation of the film involved time-traveling, genies, incest and all kinds of crazy stuff that you would expect from someone with my mind).]

Outside the cinema, Suanie introduced herself as 'Suanie of Suanie Dot Net' to the Public Relations Officer of Da Huang Pictures (a production company that holds the works of James Lee, Amir Muhammad, Tan Chui Mui and Ho Yuhang, who were all involved in this film, Amir being the producer, and Ho Yuhang being the editor), a lady named Shermaine, and was given the pamphlets and passes to the preview.

I myself resisted the urge to introduce myself as 'Edmund Yeo AKA The Great Swifty of Swifty Writing Dot Blogspot Dot Com' because it was quite a mouthful, and it sounded as silly as 'only Eragon, whose name sounds like Aragorn, can save the world of Alagaesia from the clutches of evil King Galbatorix with the aid of the majestic dragon Saphira.' So I merely flashed my cluelessly winning smile and followed Suanie into the theaters.

Film synopsis from the pamphlet given to me:
A special gaze on an ordinary love story... that is director Tan Chui Mui's gaze on the subtle emotions of love. Ah Ping (Coral Ong Li Whei) has moved to Kuala Lumpur from Penang and works at her aunt's restaurant. She frequently calls her boyfriend (Stephen Chua Jyh Shyan) in Penang to overcome her loneliness in the strange city. When she starts dating the persistent John she begins to experience subtle emotional changes.

From this moment onwards, director Tan Chui Mui starts analyzing Ah Ping's complicated psyche. Even after Ah Ping falls in love with John, she still calls her boyfriend and tells him - in front of John - that she loves him. Is love merely an expedient means for Ah Ping to overcome her loneliness?

To express such subtle and complicated moments, Tan Chui Mui embeds the painful depictions of Ah Ping's loneliness throughout the film. Ah Ping's non-expressiveness has an appealing, listless quality that one sometimes senses in a late afternoon. Can Aping overcome all things through love? The film's final twist makes us aware of its paradoxical title. The debut piece by a female director is remarkable in its portrayal of the peculiar flow of hushed emotions.
As I sat through the film, I grew increasingly satisfied that the earlier predictions I made in Suanie's car were correct. This film would be a slice-of-life film, and for me, the film's biggest appeal was its accurate depiction of Malaysian everyday life. The streetside mamak stalls (Indian restaurants opened for 24 hours), the 'economical rice' stall (a 20+ Chinese dishes were displayed for customers to choose for their rice), the guy who would interrupt you in a restaurant to sell you lottery tickets, the pasar malams (the night markets where lots of stalls were set up to sell cheap wares, clothings, food etc.), a Chinese family sitting together watching soap opera, a mom helping her young daughter with her homework.

It was Kuala Lumpur of the 80s 90s (Tan Chui Mui pointed that out to me in an email a day after this review was written), before the advent of mobile phones, computers and Internet, when all distant phone calls were made through public phones, and a young girl would check her mailbox everyday for a letter from a pen pal. Portrayed for what it really is, without being romanticized at all for Movieland.

The lack of music heightened its realism, the slight sepia tint increased its nostalgic feel ("Oooh, did they use the 'White Light Diffusion' option for the Magic Bullet-Add On on Adobe Premiere Pro?" came my first geeky filmmaker thought). Unfortunately, this was still a film that demanded great patience as it was told in a very detached style where you wouldn't really necessarily care about the main characters enough to want to follow them through the film, or feel bad as things took a turn for the worse. Moving at a slow pace with some shots one would complain of being overindulgent, with some slight blunders in the sound mixing, and the unnecessary (to me anyway) use of shaky cam at certain scenes did somehow dilute what I think the film could have been.

I have no complaints about the acting, and the film did have its moments that made me smile, and chuckle even (the laughably horrible TV show they were watching, John's early attempts to win Ah Ping's affections by following her through the night market, and appearing in every single frame of the scene, in the background). Yet when John divulged the tactics of his cousin, a pimp who preyed on lonely women, and then we see them being used on Ah Ping, one could watch with growing horror at the way she reacted to them. Was it stoic acceptance and self-sacrifice? Or was she just an idiot? It's open for interpretation, if audiences hadn't felt indifferent by then.

However, like film critic Lim Chang Moh, I felt that the subplot about Ah Ping's lonely little cousin (Leong Jiun Jiun) and her pen pal was gradually becoming more interesting than the main plot thanks to the chemistry displayed between the little girl and her mother (the subplot's also about a mother and daughter's failure to communicate). Yes, this film was somewhat overindulgent, and yes, it has some technical shortcomings, and yes, it's not my cup of tea. But since it's being released on the 21st of December with the blockbusters Curse of the Golden Flower (directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Chow Yun Fat, Gong Li and Jay Chou) and Confession of Pain (directed by Infernal Affairs duo Andrew Lau / Alan Mak, starring Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Shu Qi), you can always choose to view this if you're looking for an entirely different experience for Christmas. Whatever I meant is up to you to interpret.

Tan Chui Mui's blog is here. It's in Chinese.

Another 'Love Conquers All' review (by Lim Chang Moh) is here. He gave it two and a half out of four stars.

Love Conquers All official site is here.


Suanie's review of the film where she listed out what she liked and didn't like about it.

Patrick's brutally honest feelings about the film, he pulled no punches.

The following are its trailers.

Love Conquers All Trailer 1

Love Conquers All Trailer 2