Thursday, March 29, 2007

Review: Mukhsin

My Name Is Mukhsin

Mukhsin is a beautiful movie about a first love story. Everyone probably has one, and this is writer-director Yasmin Ahmad's story of hers, with a boy called Mukhsin. We know that her movies have been semi-autobiographical of sorts, having scenes drawn upon her personal experiences, and it is indeed this sharing and translating of these emotions to the big screen, that has her films always exude a warm sincerity and honesty. Mukhsin is no different, and probably the most polished and confident work to date (though I must add, as a personal bias, that Sepet still has a special place in my heart).

Our favourite family is back - Pak Atan, Mak Inom, Orked and Kak Yam, though this time, we go back to when Orked is age 10. The characters are all younger from the movies we've journeyed with them, from Rabun to Gubra, and here, Sharifah Amani's sisters Sharifah Aryana and Sharifah Aleya take on the roles of Orked and Mak Inom respectively, which perhaps accounted for their excellent chemistry together on screen, nevermind that they are not playing sibling roles. The only constant it seems is Kak Yam, played by Adibah Noor, and even Pak Atan has hair on his head!

Through Mukshin the movie, we come full circle with the characters, and the world that Yasmin has introduced us to. We come to learn of and understand the family a little bit more, set in the days when they're still living in their kampung (revisited back in Rabun), where Orked attends a Chinese school, and packs some serious combination of punches (and you wonder about that burst of energy in Gubra, well, she had it in her since young!). The perennial tomboy and doted child of the family, she prefers playing with the boys in games, rather than mindless "masak-masak" with the girls, and favourite outings include going with the family to football matches.

The arrival of a boy called Mukhsin (Mohd Syafie Naswip) to the village provides a cool peer for Orked to hang out and do stuff with - cycling through the villages, climbing trees, flying kites. And as what is desired to be explored, the crossing of that line between friendship and romance, both beautiful emotions.

Mukhsin does have its cheeky moments which liven up the story, and bring about laughter, because some of the incidents, we would have experienced it ourselves, and sometimes serve as a throwback to our own recollection of childhood. In short, those scenes screamed "fun"! We observe the life in a typical kampung, where some neighbours are very nice, while others, the nosy parkers and rumour mongers, spreading ill gossip stemming from envy. There are 2 additional family dynamics seen, one from an immediate neighbour, and the other from Mukhsin's own, both of which serve as adequate subplots, and contrast to Orked's own.

As always, Yasmin's movies are filled with excellent music, and for Mukhsin, it has something special, the song "Hujan" as penned by her father, as well as "Ne Me Quitte Pas", aptly used in the movie

Given that the Yasmin's movies to date have been centred around the same characters, the beauty of it is that you can watch them as stand alone, or when watched and pieced together, makes a compelling family drama dealing with separate themes and universal issues like interracial romance, love, and forgiveness. Fans will definitely see the many links in Mukhsin back to the earlier movies, while new audiences will surely be curious to find out certain whys and significance of recurring characters or events, like that pudgy boy who steals glances at Orked.

And speaking of whys, parts of Mukhsin too is curiously open, which probably is distinctive of Yasmin's style, or deliberately left as such. I thought that as a story about childhood, recollected from memory, then there are details which will be left out for sure. And subtly, I felt that Mukhsin exhibited this perfectly, with not so detailed details, and the focus on what can be remembered in significant episodes between the two.

Another highly recommended movie, and a rare one that I feel is suitable for all ages - bring along your kid brother or sister! I will be watching it again when I'm back in Singapore, so in the meantime, if you've already watched Mukhsin, please share your thoughts with me?

I have a personal thought which contains spoilers, so for those who do not wish to know why two particular scenes struck me, you can stop reading now. I was on the set of Mukhsin, and watching this particular scene played out in narrative order, I felt, and I could be wrong, that it was almost like a surreal sense of things to come for Orked, that both she and Mukhsin had somehow crossed a barrier of time on their cycling trip, and looked at what their future held - that she was with Jason, living the good life in the kampung, that her first love Mukhsin would not be the one she would end up with, as mentioned in the epilogue. Then again Yasmin could have enjoyed, and fans all around would have given an arm or leg to see Orked and Jason together again - though not necessary as the characters, just Sharifah Amani and Ng Choo Seong in the same cinematic frame, akin to many other cast from the earlier movies, returning as different characters in this movie. Curiously though, Sharifah Amani's character did address Ng Choo Seong as Jason, and a subtle indirect reference to (motor)bike riding. One wonders.

The ending too links back to Sepet perfectly, though somehow that bit of narration at the end touched me. It's bittersweet, that while you lose something/someone, Love will always be kind and offer that second chance to you. I guess I didn't do justice to that scene here, you have to watch it to understand and feel why.

Review: The Pye-Dog (野良犬) (World Premiere)

I'm Your Benefactor

The Pye-Dog, produced by Teddy Robin and written and directed by Derek Kwok, contained all the necessary ingredients for a story of friendship and camaraderie between a man and a boy. Both orphans, they bond together through school, but a secret one of them has of his true intentions threaten that established friendship, with a questioning of loyalties.

Eason Chan plays Dui, an orphan with a creative mind, brought up with incredible smarts for fixing and assembling things. Taken in by the thugs (Eric Tsang in a role with long shoulder length hair), he's assigned to find and kidnap the child of the hitman who tried to bump off their leader, in a revenge mission. Given little leads except for the school and name of the hitman, he's packed off to the school in disguise as a janitor, and through the course of his investigations, gets to know an unusual teacher, Miss Cheung (Gia Lin), who is more than meets the eye.

Wen Jun Hui plays Lam Chi Wang, whose father (George Lam in a comeback role) has left the family, and whose mother committed suicide. Living with his grandma, he has taken a vow of silence, refusing to utter a word, but only hums music. We do hear him talk though, but it's through narration, as we listen in to his thoughts.

Told in distinct chapters as outlined by the intertitles, you might already realise from the onset what Fate has in store for our new found friends. Dui takes it upon himself to care for Chi Wang, and is faced with the dilemma of forgoing gratitude towards a benefactor's assistance when he's down and out, for newer bonds where he's looked up to.

With little dialogue, Wen Jun Hui put on a credible, likeable performance as a boy who's reintroduced to a father he never knew, and an attachment to a new surrogate dad Dui. Eason Chan surprisingly gave a convincing, dramatic show as a boy who never grew up, maturing as the story develops. It's refreshing too to witness the return of George Lam after a long hiatus, and even though he comes in about midway through the movie.

While Pye-Dog doesn't offer any particular "wow" factor, this movie is well shot and well acted, featuring a good balance of performances between veterans and pop idols.

Red Carpet: The Pye-Dog

Fans of Eason Chan gathered at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre to welcome his arrival for the World Premiere screening of The Pye-Dog. Producer Teddy Robin, and veterans George Lam and Siu Yam Yam were also present at the Red Carpet, as they shared a moment with the press and fans.

Director Derek Kwok actually wore a T-shirt that said "Full House", reflecting his hopes that this evening's screening will be a sell out. It indeed was, as the vocal supporters of Eason ensured that. Given that it is actually his directorial debut (similar to Yau Nai-Hoi of Eye in the Sky, he too is an accomplished scriptwriter making that cross to directing), you can no doubt feel his anxiousness.

Eason stated that the movie had been completed for some time, made over a year ago, and it was his privilege to be able to work with a great team, and called upon everyone to appreciate the movie's beauty as we enjoy the story.

Gia Lin shared that she had been in a number of movie, but this one ranked as her favourite in her current filmography, while Siu Yam Yam revealed that she liked working with both George and Eason, and managed to learn a lot from them. She got involved in the movie when she received a call from producer Teddy Robin, asking if she would like to sing together with both of them i the movie, but whet our appetites when she said it's not what we think it is, and we have to watch the movie to find out just what it was.

George Lam was all praises for the director, whom he said was extremely hardworking, and got involved in the project as it presented him an opportunity to reminisce the working experience with Teddy Robin, even though they happen to be on different sides of the screen. Let's hope that one day we do see the duo onscreen together in the same movie!

More Pictures and Video to come soon!

Text: Stefan
Photos: Stefan
Video: CK Yip

Review: Dog Bite Dog (Gau Ngao Gau)


First things first, Edison Chen did a fantastic, believable job as a Cambodian hit-man, born and bred in the dumps and a gladiatorial ring, where he honed his craft of savage battery in order to survive, living on the mantra of kill or be killed. In a role that had little dialogue, or at least a few lines in Cambodian/Thai, his performance is compelling, probably what should have been in the Jet Li vehicle Danny the Dog, where a man is bred for the sole purpose of fighting, and on someone else's leash.

Like Danny the Dog, the much talked about bare knuckle fight sequences are not choreographed stylistically, but rather designed as normal, brutal fisticuffs, where everything goes. This probably brought a sense of realism and grit when you see the characters slug it out at each other's throats, in defending their own lives while taking it away from others. It's a grim, gritty and dark movie both literally and figuratively, and this sets it apart from the usual run off the mill cop thriller production.

Edison plays a hired gun from Cambodia, who becomes a fugitive in Hong Kong, on the run from the cops as his pickup had gone awry. Leading the chase is the team led by Cheung Siu-Fai, who has to contend with maverick member Inspector Ti (Sam Lee), who's inclusion and acceptance in the team had to do with the sins of his father. So begins a cat and mouse game in the dark shades and shadows of the seedier looking side of Hong Kong.

The story itself works on multiple levels, especially in the character studies of the hitman, and the cop. On opposite sides of the law, we see within each character not the black and white, but the shades of grey. With the hitman, we see his caring side when he got hooked up and developed feelings of love for a girl (Pei Pei), bringing about a sense of maturity, tenderness, and revealing a heart of gold. The cop, with questionable tactics and attitudes, makes you wonder how one would buckle when willing to do anything it takes to get the job done. There are many interesting moments of moral questioning, on how anti-hero, despicable strategies are adopted. You'll ask, what makes a man, and what makes a beast, and if we have the tendency to switch sides depending on circumstances - do we have that dark inner streak in all of us, transforming from man to dog, and dog to man?

Dog Bite Dog grips you from the start and never lets go until the end, though there are points mid way through that seemed to drag, especially on its tender moments, and it suffered too from not knowing when to end. If I should pick a favourite scene, then it must be the one in the market food centre - extremely well controlled and delivered, a suspenseful edge of your seat moment. Listen out for the musical score too, and you're not dreaming if you hear growls of dogs.

Highly recommended, especially if you think that you've seen about almost everything from the cop thriller genre.

Red Carpet: Whispers and Moans

You would expect that a film festival in Hong Kong would have at least a Hong Kong movie making its world premiere. This year, there are a few, from Yau Nai-hoi's Eye in the Sky making it as an Opening Film, to Billy Chung's Undercover (coverage coming soon) and this year's HKIFF Director in Focus Herman Yau having not one but two movies making their world premieres.

Whispers and Moans is the first of these two (the other being A Mob Story), and the Red Carpet was a highlight given the number in its ensemble cast turning up to grace the occasion, as well as support from fellow actors such as Nick Cheung and Ada Chan.

Here's the pictorial from the event, for your viewing pleasure!

Pictures Coming Up Real Soon!

Text: Stefan
Pictures: Lokman / Stefan

Red Carpet: Ming Ming

While waiting for the arrival of the cast and crew of Ming Ming, the trailer and music from the movie filled the air, and there was something distinct and peculiar about the movie, especially its very sexy looking cinematography from what can be seen in the trailer.

Director Susie Au introduced Ming Ming as a pop film, complete with animated sequences, telling a love story in a fantasy premise. It's meshed with different styles and narrates in a non-conventional manner, to hopefully provide a fresh and different approach for the audience.

Anthony Wong, who collaborated with Veronica Lee on the music, added that the soundtrack combines many elements from rock, classical and electronica, while for Veronica, it's her first time composing music for a big movie.

Zhou Xun shared that she enjoyed the experience of playing 2 roles in the same movie, while Daniel Wu highlighted that it as a very fresh movie, and it indeed was rare as a gathering of talented people in their respective fields. Moreover, the way that the movie was shot made everybody look very sexy!

Photos and Videos to come soon! Do Check Back!

Text: Stefan
Pictures: Lokman, Stefan
Video: CK Yip

Review: Whispers and Moans (性工作者十日談) (World Premiere)

A Good Meal After A Hard Night's Work

Director Herman Yau has achieved a cult following thanks to films like The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome which will forever be synonymous with him. However, it must be noted that his filmography goes beyond these cult classics and exploitation of gore and sexual violence. In his previous movie On The Edge, it presented a decent aftermath of sorts into a popular sub genre of Hong Kong crime thrillers - that of undercover cops (thanks to the wildly popular Infernal Affairs movies) and a take on their story after a successful sting.

In Whispers and Moans, Herman Yau turns the spotlight on the Hong Kong sex industry. Easy fodder for a Category III movie, but Herman had other plans, instead of the usual cheap skin flicks that come to mind. Based on a book by co-writer Yang Yee-shan, which contains true life accounts of workers from the industry, Herman has weaved them into a coherent narrative, spanning 10 days in which frank discussions and observations of the industry are played out - as per the Chinese title of the movie, literally translated as "10 Days of Conversations with Sex Workers".

With a title like that, and the group in focus, it is without a doubt that most stars conscious of their image will naturally shun roles. However, Athena Chu Yan and Candice Yu On On provide the much needed veteran star power to the movie, acting as nightclub "mamasans" to relatively fresh faced actresses, most of whom are taking on their maiden roles in this movie.

The movie looks at the lives and problems faced amongst the ensemble characters, with the difficulties on the jobs ranging from customers who demand everything including the kitchen sink, to stiff competition faced from the Mainlanders, who are willing to do more for less. Taking 10 days to weave the stories together (hence the title), each lady in the movie have their own problems to grapple with, however these problems are nothing new.

You have a drug abuser, a mother who's afraid of transmitting diseases to her child, a bargirl who's reluctant about her job, and who realises she cannot lead a normal working hours life, a professional who buries her resentment deep inside her heart, cheating boyfriends and husbands, and the list goes on. We also observe the other spectrum, with gigolos, bisexuals and transsexuals too, and the prejudice they face in today's society.

It's easy to sit through the movie as these stories are often heard about in the news, or as portrayed in various other movies. You might think there is nothing new on offer, but Whispers and Moans has a character in a rights movement worker, who serves as a mouthpiece for policies such as to raise the professionalism of these workers, with the hope of raising their level of self-respect, using the argument that it's a job, and one, if in the industry, should do their utmost best, just like in any other profession, in any other industry.

It is highly unlikely that this movie will be played in local (Singapore) cinemas, as it's quite topical and unless distributors realize that while the focus is on the sex industry in Hong Kong, the issues discussed here are probably quite universal amongst the workers in the industry.


Director Herman Yau and the cast of Whispers and Moans were in attendance of the World Premiere screening. As an introduction, Herman thanked the actors, as he mentioned that as society is generally conservative, many would have concerns about their image if they take on the roles in the movie. He's happy to say that all of them have healthy images, despite their roles in the film.

Athena Chu confessed that she was attracted to the project because of the title, and that the title presented certain preconceived notions about the ideas of the movie. Playing a character faced with multiple pressures in life, she said that she had learnt a lot, and that even included learning how to use super foul language. She also hoped that the audience can feel and sympathise with the workers in the sex industry, and thanked fellow cast members.

Candice Yu also thanked everyone for the support given to the film, and to Herman Yau. She stated that everyone was very professional during filming, and that her role had given her an opportunity to be vastly different from her usual polite and pretty roles. She mentioned that many probably despise sex workers, but we have to realize that they have background stories, and reasons to do what they have to.

And the rest of the cast shared about their experiences, most being their first feature film, and one to be featured in a festival. To most, this film had changed their perspective and viewpoints, and that this is a part of society that they will never visit should they not have done the movie. The sets used in the movie were real locations - every house, every room, and almost all had to swear and use foul language that they will rarely use in real life, so to do that in the confines of a movie was an experience in itself.

Herman Yau was paid a tribute by the HKIFF, for his great professionalism, and personality. His output is tremendous, and is ever ready with a camera to shoot a film. It was brought to the attention of the audience that Herman frequently is willing to assist the Festival without payment, such as speaking in lectures in the universities, and often goes well prepared with clips from his movies. Moreover, he's always very punctual in his appointments, and this tribute was met with thunderous applause from everyone present in the auditorium.

Question and Answer Session

Athena Chu had clarified about her role in the movie, in response to a question about her burning incense and using vulgarities, that although everyone knows she's a devout Christian, she's just portraying a character in the film.

Director Herman Yau stated that there are very few who are able to plan their future movies, whether be it in the film industry here and overseas. As a professional, he used to have plans, but realise now that it's difficult as there are many external factors and circumstances which influence those plans. He also added that no film is really reflecting reality 100%, even documentaries, when asked about his material research for the movie. The rights movement worker in the story was created with the intent to have a gulf between her and the sex workers, just like how some who want to help others, often have that bridge of understanding to cross, despite having the best of intentions, and often those whom they want to help, will also cast that frequent eye of suspicion.

The northern New Territories was used as a locale because of its historical distinction currently known as an area with family crises. Herman was also asked if he's moving away from the cult movie genre to make more movies about reality, to which he explained that his ideal would be to make any film using any style. He used to watch a lot of movies, and usually tests himself if he can find ways to emulate them. What we've seen to date are only those he has made, and he has a lot of other plans which have not been made at all. He stated that he doesn't want to stick to any particular genre.

Given the titillating title, there was a distinct lack of sex scenes in the movie. Herman clarified that people tend to think of the bed when they think about sex workers, and that there are many ways to look at the different facets of their lives, not just the sex part. So it was a deliberate and rational choice made to not show those scenes, but to focus on the other problematic issues that they face in their lives.