Monday, December 18, 2006

LOVE CONQUERS ALL: A Promising Debut

Cast: Coral Ong Li Whei, Stephen Chua Jyh Shyan, Leong Jiun Jiun and Ho Chi Lai
Director: Tan Chui Mui
Time: 90 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)
The Movie Poster
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? "Love Conquers All" sounds a rather clich├ęd title for a quaint little love story set in a small town near Kuala Lumpur. This debut feature, by Malaysia's youngest female director Tan Chui Mui, 28, is basically about a relationship love born out of boredom and loneliness, but it later develops into a tale of stoic self-sacrifice and resignation.
Yes, we have seen many movies about young girls falling into the clutches of seedy, dashing men, but not one like this in which the girl apparently knows where she is heading - and yet succumbs to it.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Set sometime in the Eighties (when the cell phone had not yet made an appearance) "Love Conquers All" is the story of Ah Ping (Coral Ong Li Whei) who arrives in Kuala Lumpur from her hometown in Penang to work at her aunt's 'mixed rice' stall. Bored and alone in a strange place, Ah Ping meets the predatory John (Stephen Chua Jyh Shyan) and finds herself attracted to him despite having a boyfriend back home whom she phones everyday. There is obviously something sinister in John's intentions for Ah Ping but she finds herself mysteriously drawn to him, both physically and emotionally.
John has divulged to Ah Ping the tactics of his cousin, a pimp who preys on lonely women, but she either chooses to ignore it or feel that it could not happen to her. The surprise twist in the movie is how she reacts to it when it does. If there is a message or warning in the story, it is very much left to the viewer to figure out.

HIGHLIGHTS & LOWLIGHTS: Shot in low-budget (RM100,000) DV format, the movie has the feel of a local documentary - with many self-indulgent and repetitive shots of Tan's favourite hometown landscapes (like the coconut tree scene). As usual with limited budget productions, a large part of the narrative happens offscreen and the viewer is left to fill in the gaps. Tan's helming is unimpressive and uninspired and the background noises on the soundtrack can be rather irritating.
However, viewer interest is largely sustained by the engaging 'love tussle' which is attributable to Carol Ong's performance as a woman desperate for romance and attention. Stephen Chua is suitably deceitful and menacing as the mysterious suitor but his performance seems devoid of the charm and passion required of a courtier.
The subplot, about the puppy love Ah Ping's little cousin (Leong Jiun Jiun) has for a pen-pal, sometimes threatens to upstage the main plot, thanks to Leong's heart-warming performance. The nicely developed subplot is supposed to be a contrast to Ah Ping's more 'adult' romance but it also gives an engaging insight into the lifestyle of a Chinese family in Malaysia.

THE LOWDOWN: Technical glitches aside, "Love Conquers All" is nevertheless a promising effort by Tan, who evidently has a flair for delving into feminine issues. We await her next feature, "Living Quietly", about the problems of elderly folks.


At 3:19 pm, Anonymous Jerry said...

Mui's films have always been plagued by bad sound.

wonder if she will ever improves.


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