By Benjamin McKay
Monday evening’s screening of recent Malaysian short films largely confirmed the talent and richness to be found in the work of some of our leading independent filmmakers. Organised by Kelab Seni Filem Malaysia and hosted by the irrepressibly witty Amir Muhammad, these screenings are now firmly a part of the local film scene and attracted a full house.
Of particular charm was Woo Ming Jin’s Blue Roof (15 min), a short film outtake from his recent tele-movie Cinta Tiga Segi. This finely shot film is a lovely rumination on entrapment and the evident pathos of stifling routine. The film ends with a quirkily disturbing and unexpected twist that brought a finessed sense of closure to this quite impressive work.
Popular with the audience was the witty homage to the style and excess of Gus Van Sant, Liew Seng Tat’s Daughters (10 min). A delightfully shot and tightly constructed work that revels in its pleasurable gaze on tudungs and baju kurungs — all shimmering in the breeze as a small flotilla of mock-rempit-style Malay girls form a posse on bikes and head off up a hill toward a nicely camp and amusing sense of girl empowerment played to the dulcet tones of Terang Bulan. The scene where a meat cleaver was drawn from beneath the folds of a baju kurung was hilariously disturbing and a lovely take on Van Sant.
Akashdeep Singh’s three-minute essay seen from the perspective of a disabled pigeon was an interesting and provocative film. At the Q&A after the screenings it provoked some debate among certain members of the audience that only reveals that many people still can not make critical distinctions between what is a film, and what is video art. I largely think that the director has, given his material, succeeded where others might have failed.
Impressively shot, but lacking much of a sense of having reached a point was Margaret Bong’s experimental and visually charged dream work, Retrace (5 min). Also advertised as being an experimental film was Tan Chui Mui’s Cannes residency film, Nobody’s Girlfriend (30 min), a film that left me rather disappointed. It was not ultimately very experimental and the conceit of playing the script back to back in gender reversal was ultimately marred by cloyingly irritating performances, poor sound and an awkward and clumsy pretentiousness. This is a shame and I only hope that this is a brief aberration in Tan Chui Mui’s otherwise marvellous film career.
I save the very best for last.
Ho Yuhang’s As I Lay Dying (10 min) is almost emblematic of all of the wonderful possibilities for poetic and narrative mastery in the short-film form. This beautiful film about the feverish anxiety and fears of childhood sees the director harnessing the close-up with evident technical as well as creative exuberance. Yuhang has executed this work with delicate precision. I look forward to seeing this film again and again for it is certainly an impressive addition to the growing and important body of work by Malaysia’s fine young independent filmmakers.
First Published: 24.01.2008 on Kakiseni