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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Yasmin Ahmad's heartwarming and wonderfully-acted 'Mukhsin'

Mukhsin poster

Saw yesterday with Kannan Thiagarajan (director of the telemovie I'm working on as assistant director... to make things simpler, he's my current boss) and award-winning filmmaker Woo Ming Jin. Sorry, I just need to name drop :D MUKHSIN is the latest movie of Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad's semi-autobiographical series that feature the character Orked. Basically, what she's doing now is rather similar to what Francois Truffaut did back then with the Antoine Doinel character. However, while Antoine Doinel was played only by the actor Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud, from a child in 400 BLOWS to an adult on the verge of middle age in LOVE ON THE RUN, Orked, who was played by Sharifah Amani in the first two films, is played by Sharifah Aryana (Sharifah Amani's younger sister) this time. And this movie is about young 10-year-old Orked's prepubescent first romance during her school holidays with Mukhsin, a boy two years older than her.

(Quick recap to the uninitiated:

The first movie in the series, SEPET, which I reviewed here two years ago, is about 17-year-old Orked's interracial tragic romance with Jason, a Chinese boy.

The second movie, GUBRA, has Orked as a fully-grown married woman. Despite her seemingly blissful marriage, Jason remains an unresolved plot strand in her life. Until one day, she meets Alan, the elder brother of Jason... I never reviewed GUBRA last year because I watched it in on a plane and it didn't come with subtitles, and my rapidly declining Malay skills left me entirely clueless during the second story of the film)

In my SEPET review, I mentioned that I liked the film, and thought it was a good sign for Malaysian cinema in the future, but found it entirely difficult to get into the central romance between Orked and Jason, it may have to do with personal tastes, it might also have to do with the lack of restraint used by Yasmin to portray this romance. I thought it would have worked better if certain scenes were more understated and less melodramatic or sentimental. Some things are usually better left unsaid, otherwise they end up wince-inducing.

GUBRA is less about romance, and more about Orked picking up some pieces of her life. Unfortunately, as enjoyable and engaging as it was to me, where I felt Yasmin Ahmad's storytelling skills have developed further compared to her debut, there were still parts that border on melodrama that left me slightly turned off. Strangely, I realized that as interesting a character Orked is, I can never seem to feel much for her, and my feelings were reinforced in this movie, where I ended up feeling more moved by one simple scene that resolved the substory between Jason's parents, than anything else that happened to her.

Perhaps the character of Orked can only be appreciated by me in small doses, good thing that's what happened in MUKHSIN (since the young girl here alternates between being cute, precocious and sometimes really annoying). The avalanche of first love prior to the dawning of adolescence, the confusion that comes between two young children tiptoeing awkwardly between the line of friendship and romance. There is cuteness in their innocence, and their carefree existence made me envious. It is an unsentimental portrayal of young puppy love, and the relationship between Orked and Mukhsin is light and gentle like a breeze. This time, the movie does not jam emotions down my throat, forcing me to root for these two to be together, no more over-the-top histrionics, everything is more naturalistic and genuine. A tainted soul like I will find it hard to feel for this bittersweet (almost) romance, yet it will be more difficult for me not to appreciate it.

I tried to remember what was I like during my last three years in primary school. There was gradual interest in certain female classmates, aye, but whatever feelings that were forming within my heart would quickly be denied and suppressed, and things that could have felt better if spoken out were left unsaid. And with that, my memories of primary school, funny as they were, have always been tainted by slight regret. But then, I was just a plump oversized class clown back then, never taken that seriously by classmates of the opposite sex, whatever that made me as cool as I am now, as in, my wit, my creativity, my intellect, my artistry, my ego, my... shamelessness, they were just things that were developed over the years in high school and university.

Oh, oops, too much about myself.

Back to the movie.

So, like previous Yasmin Ahmad films, what I love most in this film is still the portrayal of family relationships and friendships instead of the romance. I like its wry sense of humour and the fact that it doesn't seem to take itself as seriously as the previous two films. The Kampung lifestyle. The clashing between the modern Western-influenced values (Orked's family), where they have no reservations in displaying their affections for one another in public, and the more rigid, conservative Malay values (the majority of the villagers, like this busybody bitch of a neighbour who makes snide remarks about Orked's family all the time). There is joy in this film, there is poetry too. This film is multi-layered, its characters never mere caricatures (said busybody bitch of a neighbour will earn just as much sympathy as ire from audiences as the film progresses)

Acting is fabulous. Mohd Syafie Naswip as Mukhsin, the aforementioned Sharifah Aryana, and then Sharifah Aleya (Sharifah Amani and Aryana's eldest sister) and Irwan Iskandar as Orked's parents. Definitely Adibah Noor as well. I want to give kudos to the actor who played Hussein, Mukhsin's brother, and also the actress who played Mukhsin's aunt. I don't have their names (sorry, anyone mind helping me out?), I thought they were great.

There are also numerous cameos of main actors from previous movies (won't reveal who, but by saying 'main actors', I think I've pretty much given everything away).

It is not perfect, but its restraint and subtlety (I hate using the same word more than once in a post, but well...) make this, to me, Yasmin Ahmad's best film thus far.

So, Yasmin, any plans in bringing an old Orked for a cyberpunk sci-fi epic?

Other MUKHSIN reviews worth reading are Pinkpau's and YTSL's. There might be others worth reading too, but I am unable to recommend them because I didn't read them, so, feel free to post the URLs to other MUKHSIN reviews here if you want to.

By the way, I recommend BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (read my review here ) to anyone looking for something like this that comes from Hollywood. :D I know there's this other really highly-rated film called LITTLE MANHATTAN which is about prepubescent first love as well, saw it on DVD once, never bought it, kinda regretful now.

MUKHSIN trailer

P.S. Anyone else besides me who believed that the Chinese kid looking at Orked in her school was Jason?