Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 6:30 PM
Center for Korean Studies Auditorium
Malaysia (2009, 120 min)
Malay, Tamil, English w/English subtitles
Director: Yasmin Ahmad
Writer: Yasmin Ahmad
Cast: Mahesh Jug al Kishor, Pamela Chong, Kahoe Hon, Mohd Syafie Naswip, Adibah Noor, Sukania Venugopal, Mei Ling Tan, Harith Iskandar, Ida Nerina, Mislina Mustaffa, Jacklyn Victor
Movies and TV shows about the high school experience often share a handful of common themes and story-lines. From young love, to clique clashes, to teachers both good and bad… it seems teenagers experience the same highs and lows regardless of geography. Which brings us to that venerable Malaysian high school institution… the talent show. Students and teachers vie for spots in the annual show, and while some of the latter provide comic relief in their auditions two students in particular have more serious intentions and talents. Hafiz (Mohamed Syafie Naswip) sings and plays guitar all while pining secretly for Melur (Pamela Chong Ven Teen) who sings and plays piano. Sitting between them is Hafiz’ good friend Mahesh (Mahesh Jugal Kishor), a deaf Indian assigned to escort Melur back and forth to practice sessions. Hafiz likes Melur. Melur like Mahesh. And now we have a Malaysian love triangle… Toss in some quirky family members, some tragedy both sudden and overdue, and some serious commentary on religious differences and you have one of 2009’s best films.
Plot specifics are best experienced first-hand as you watch and savor the film, but know that this isn’t simply a light piece of teen escapism. There are plenty of laughs to be sure, but there’s also some heavy emotions. A death leads to strong commentary on the wasteful ridiculousness of fighting over religious, cultural, and social differences. Those differences also play into a painful clash between two of the families over a budding romance as well as some biting comments about class distinctions. And a second death leads to a final scene that’s as emotional as it is beautiful.
Writer/director Yasmin Ahmad has crafted a shining look at friendship, family, and first love that speaks beyond cultural and geographic boundaries. She uses universal tools to accomplish this feat including traditional story lines, comedy, and some brilliantly written and performed songs. It’s a Malaysian “Glee” of sorts (but more realistic) as the music cuts to the heart of things with both lyrics and melody.
Ahmad’s perfect balance of comedy and heart may rely on fewer laughs than the typical John Hughes film, but the balance still feels right. She captures a specific time in everyone’s life where limitless possibility first meets harsh reality, and she shows with beauty and grace that the appearance of one doesn’t have to mean the death of the other. These kids may live thousands of miles away from the world we know, but their pains, triumphs, tears, and laughs are as easily recognizable as our own. -Rob Hunter, filmschoolrejects.com
Note: This film is not currently available for purchase with English subtitles.