Tuesday, October 20, 2009

[TIFF 2009 Review] At the End of Daybreak (心魔)


After watching this film, I'm convinced that Ho Yuhang is creating some exciting Malaysian cinema that should be paid attention to. I cannot attest to having seen all his movies made thus far, but At The End of Daybreak is something that leaps at you, grabs your attention and makes it hard to shake off. It builds up superbly from a seemingly morose introduction where we follow the misadventures of Tuck Chai (Chui Tien You looking like a mature version of Ng Choo Seong's Jason from Yasmin Ahmad's Sepet) and a young girl Ying, to a crescendo as their irresponsible actions soon spiral into something beyond either of their control.

The introduction is not for the squeamish, as Yuhang firmly roots the camera, and the audience in watching Tuck Chai get rid of vermin through the pouring of boiling water on a rat confined in a cage. It's something of a premonition of things to come where a trapped creature can find no escape from the consequence that follow, with the Chinese title probably more apt in summarizing what it's going to be all about – that devil of a guilt conscious stemming from the heart.

To be honest, and no disrespect, there were some shades of Sepet's Jason in Tuck Chai, with his love for his alcoholic mom (played by Wai Ying Hong) being the relationship centerpiece of the film, having his dad walk out of the family to be with his mother's sister because of money. Staying with his mom isn't without problems. On one hand he gets frustrated with his mom's drinking patterns, and on the other cannot deny his protective, filial duties to ensure that she gets home safely after each drinking binge, only to finally let loose toward the end which some would think of it as violent, but I'd call it tough love instead.

So what does he do in his spare time to release his pent up frustrations? He gets hooked up with the underaged girl Ying (Ng Meng Hui), where they meet at a hotel for frequent trysts. Ng plays Ying with alarming nonchalance, whose falling grades are a result of truants, and is of really foul character, gossiping about others, stealing, and basically an indifferent attitude adopted without display of common courtesy. I suppose Tuck Chai would have thought that someone like her would be easy come easy go, until of course the shit hits the fan and they have to face the consequences from parents.

Yuhang had lined the parents and families up for comparison and parallels, where the broken family seemed to be genuinely closer knit with the single mom being self-sacrificing, than the complete family which is all successful gloss on the surface, hiding their greed and dishonorable behaviour within. Wai Ying Hong as the single mother having to bring up a son on her own, showed great emotional depth in having to grapple with shame, the bottle, and telling jokes (seriously, I cracked up). The chemistry between Wai and Chui Tien You was excellent as well, especially in the many scenes where Tuck Chai orders his mom, almost like a given too in attitude, to beg for leniency on his behalf, something a little out of character, but only goes to show his bleak desperation in not knowing what to do and who to turn to. If there's one lesson to take away from this, to paraphrase one of the characters, it's to solve one's own problems and to eat one's own shit, especially something which the consequences are known, but yet one continued to pursue.

As a Malaysian film, the beauty comes from the languages that get incorporated into it, with the mix-mash of languages coming off as poetry to the ears, reflective of the multi-racial society that Malaysia is. I cannot imagine should something like this be filmed in Singapore, how much restrictive and less genuine the film would feel in its dialogues, and I think its something that our filmmakers here have to unfortunately grapple with, which as a result more than always make our films pass off as coming from a homogeneous society instead of our inherent richness in diversity. Food for thought to whoever's reading this with control, to watch this film and see what I mean, since a moving picture is worth more than a thousand words.

Then there are the cameo appearances which were fun to spot to provide that lift in the film's darkest hour. I think that's Yeo Yann Yann in a very short appearance in the thick of the night, but Yasmin Ahmad's role is something that you won't miss, given the very close up of her cheery face, chewing on a banana, looking pregnant, and making a comment on undies. Yasmin had a more serious role in Yuhang's earlier film Rain Dogs, but I believe she's more or less herself in his jovial, short stint here.

At the End of Daybreak sizzles, especially when things start to pick up pace heading toward an explosive, shocking finale. Definitely a recommend on my list should you have the chance to watch it.

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