Monday, January 22, 2007

Love Conquers All

I did something that I haven't done before for the first time today, which is usually a good thing. I went to the cinema and watched a movie by myself. Which shouldn't be surprising though, considering the movie I intended to watch: Love Conquers All. There are a couple of reviews around the net on it already, so go and check them (Reviews A, B, C, and D) out before reading my own two cents worth. If you can't be bothered reading so many, just read review A and B.

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This gem of a movie was released on 21st December, about a month ago, but I only read about it last week in the newspapers. Directed by a Malaysian, Tan Chui Mui, and winner of the FIPRESCI Award (a prize awarded by international film critics) and the New Currents Award for Best New Asian Filmmaker of the Year at the 11th Pusan International Film Festival, it was movie that I decided I couldn't afford to miss. With its run ending on Wednesday, and GSC Midvalley being the only cinema that was showing it, I had to decide whether to go and catch it alone, or wait till February for it to be released on Astro and run the risk of it being shown after I leave for Melbourne. In the end, I decided to just do it.

To say that I would have regretted not being able to watch this show would be an understatement. It may not have been very exciting, it may have been slow at times, it may not even have a proper ending or resolution, but it was a good show. And it was a good show because it is easily the most thought provoking movie I have seen in ages, and the female lead provides an ideal person for a character study. Also it raises many issues and persoalans, just like a good komsas book :)

I'm just going to do a review with SPOILERS because I don't think anyone is going to watch the movie already, but if you don't want to know the ending please do not read further.

Anyhow, just a brief synopsis of the movie (for those who didn't bother to read any of the reviews ;p): Female lead Ah Ping from Penang comes to KL to live with her aunt who sells Economy Rice at a coffee shop. She calls home every night to her parents and her boyfriend, Chun, from a nearby telephone booth and it is there she meets male lead John, who is a pimp (this is actually only implied). Their relationship develops and eventually she is drawn into prostitution (again, this is implied). There is also a sub story involving Mei (Ah Ping's cousin who's in primary school), but I won't go in to that much, if at all.

Actually, I won't even do a review, since I provided four for you to read already. What I will do, however, is just list down the thoughts that drifted past me as I watched the movie.

So here goes.

I walked into cinema 14 to find a lady sitting there already, one more than I expected to be in the cinema. After some movie trailers and some advertisements, the show began... (my list of things may not make sense, some may not even be relevant, but nevertheless that's what I was thinking at that particular point in the movie).

Edit: This turned out to be longer than I thought, and I too feel its a bit long winded, but I'll keep it this way, because this is exactly what I felt when I was watching the movie.

1) What do you do if you're sitting on a bus and an old man sitting beside you starts crying for no apparent reason? Do you comfort him? Or just look away and pretend you don't know?

2) Ah Ping's aunty allows Ah Ping to take her motorbike and drive Mei back home, even when Ah Ping does not have a licence, although she does admit that she knows how to drive a motorbike. Is the aunty so trusting? Or is she just ignorant about their safety? What if they get caught by the police? Lol, then there wouldn't be any story to tell.

3) Like Suanie in Review B said, "It's very Malaysian."

4) Mei has a picture of Blossom from the Powerpuff Girls on the wall beside her bed :)

5) Ah Ping goes out at night alone regularly to the telephone booth to call back home. Is she not afraid for her safety? Also, this was where she met John. Where everything started.

6) John starts following Ah Ping around. He is seen in the background in the next few scenes. At the wet market when Ah Ping was shopping (he pretended that Ah Ping dropped a bunch of bananas and tried to return it to her, to which she replied "Its not mine, I don't even like bananas, I'm allergic to bananas." I couldn't help but wonder whether that is just the directors subtle hint that she doesn't like any chinese who can't speak chinese, hence the term bananas ;p). At the luk luk store when she was having her dinner (he was beside her eating as well but they did not acknowledge each other). At the phone booth again the next night (he just stood there staring at her). The question is, would you not chase someone who is most definitely stalking you away? Especially when you don't know that person?

7) We see Ah Ping at a pasar malam shopping for a jacket for her boyfriend, with John in the background again. Because she can't be sure of the size, she finally acknowledges John and calls him over and asks him to try the jacket on for her. What??? Why does her boyfriend even need a jacket anyway?

8) Ah Ping uses the chopsticks very well. The Correct Way.

9) Back at the telephone booth again. She's talking to her mum. John is standing right beside her and she's talking like normal. She looks at him and says "What? Can't you see that I'm talking on the phone?" to which he replied "I just want to watch you. I'll be quiet." By now I was really confused with the way she behaved towards him. Perhaps she has some feelings towards him already. Else I can't find any other explanation for her behaviour.

10) Next scene: she's in the car with John. Again, huh??? She asks John to send her home but he just keeps quiet and continues driving. She gets angry and threatens to jump out of the car. She opens the door while the car is moving and looks at him but he ignores her. Furthermore they aren't wearing seatbelts. Tsk tsk. He asks her to be his girl, she calls him an idiot.

11) Continues from 10. He says: "What say we drive until the fuel runs out, wherever we stop we'll marry and have 2 kids. lol. They drive through the night and finally arrive at some kampung area. They stand by the beach and he asks her which house she wants, to which she replies by pointing at a house in the distance. Now, if you were her, shouldn't you be really angry? You just got dragged away without your consent to some far off place. Anyhow he takes her hand (she doesn't resist) and they walk towards that house. His greeting of '
Assalammualaikum' is censored by a beep, and in the next scene we see them having a meal in a Malay lady's house. Free Meal!!??

Perhaps during this previous interchange, we see that Ah Ping is finally accepting John in her life? We see further evidence of this in the coming scenes.

12) She leaves home in the middle of the night to meet John. She is seen crying (no reason given) and finally leans her head on his shoulders. After a while she asks if he is hungry. The next scene shows them at his place and he is cooking Maggi Curry for her. With sausage and fake crab meat.

13) Telephone booth again. She is talking to her boyfriend. This time John is right behind her caressing her and kissing her shoulders, and she's talking to her boyfriend normally and naturally, saying things like "I love you." What??? How can??? Does she not feel anything inside? No guilt?? What the hell....

Do these events ever happen in real life? I suppose they do. Its difficult for me to imagine that a girl or a guy can act in this way. But then again, who am I to judge. Is it not natural for everyone to want someone to be close to them. Especially when they leave home to some faraway place.

14) She even ends up sleeping with him. _|¯|O

15) Events happen and she ends up being dragged into prostitution. I won't go much into this. Basically earlier in the story John tells her the story about his cousin who's a pimp and the tricks he uses to gets a girl to be a prostitute, and Ah Ping falls for the same trick. Either she's just plain dumb or she loves him too much. Either way, I really feel for her boyfriend back in Penang.

16) A final scene of note to me. Ah Ping was praying outside her house and a fat guy with a yellow umbrella walks past and asks "Girl! You praying? Praying is good for you. God will bless you". Somehow I feel there's some symbolism in that scene, but I don't know what it is. :(

17) The show does not provide us with any answers, nor does it give us resolution. Maybe the message here is that 'There isn't any real rights or wrongs. Life goes on. People make decisions like these everyday and its up to them to live with it."

18) Oh ya, being a Malaysian show, there's Mandarin, Cantonese, Bahasa Malaysia, and Hokkien (at least I think that's Hokkien) but I didn't hear a word of English except for the words 'Thank you'. ;p

I truly enjoyed the show, given that its rare for me as a Malaysian to watch something so Malaysian on the big screen. It also opened my eyes to a different culture of Malaysian Chinese, that from not- so-well-off families. It shames me to say this but I'm going to say it anyway. They shop in pasar malams, while I'm so used to Sunway Pyramids and Midvalleys, and I can't even remember the last time I went to the pasar malam. It really makes me appreciate how lucky I am, and that's an understatement. Who am I to judge a girl who's about the same age as I am having to make the choices that she did, having to travel away from home, not to study but to work in an Economy Rice store, while I have the privilege of studying overseas.

I look forward to more Malaysian movies showcasing real Malaysians in their everyday lives, from all the different classes. Something like Singapore's I Not Stupid. I know that there are already some out there, and I would gladly watch them were they easily accessible, but they are not.

They don't even have Love Conquers All on pirated DVD, let alone those lesser known shows. ;p


CY said...

why is it called love conquers all? it seems to me that it is not about how wonderful love is...but rather how love is sometimes evaporated into nothingness in the face of temptation and deminished in the physical absence of the lover. it is so dark and sad :'(

crushedguava said...

its called Love Conquers All because its supposed to show that the girl loves John so much that she's willing to sacrifice so much for him.

but i'm disappointed that she seems to have lost her love for her bf back in penang.

Anonymous said...

wah u can still rmb SOOOO much details after watching a movie!! normally i'd walk out of the cinema prolly rmbr-ing some major 1-2 scenes but not as DETAILEd as u! li hai li hai!!