Ah Niu Vs Tender Grass
Besides film distribution, one of the newest kid on the block, Clover Films, is into film production as well, and rarely do you have a local company do both. In recent years it had made a number of co-productions with various companies from across the Causeway, with a regional cast to boot too. Other than Romancing in Thin Air, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu and Love (Ai) which will be released next week, its The Wedding Diary joins a crowded Valentine's Day lineup of films on offer for dates (after postponing from its initial Nov 2011 release). Reuniting with Malaysian singer Ah Niu, whose debut feature film Ice Kacang Puppy Love was released by Clover Films a few years back, The Wedding Diary turned out to be a rather delightful, light-hearted romp that deals with what everyone in this region would have experienced one way or another,the logistical nightmare of a Chinese wedding.
For the Chinese, the traditions and customs (that you can get a glimpse of in the film) of what would be a significant milestone in life, somehow got pared down to very plain economic terms given our increased cost of living in recent times. The anecdotes here may be nothing you've not already heard before, but got compiled and summarized in comic, kitschy terms through the use of animation, as we witness Ah Niu's nerdy protagonist Wei Jie getting married to the gorgeous Zhi Xin (Elanne Kwong). Instead of enjoying his moment, he bears a worrisome face, constantly reminiscing just how he got himself into this economic fix, and worried about the bill to pay at the end of the day, made worst by the crashing of a grand crystal chandelier.
The first half of the film was the delightful part, with loads of self-deprecating comedy that suited Ah Niu's laid back, Mr Average tonal delivery really well. Wei Jie recounts the faithful days of his courtship of Zhi Xin starting from their chance meeting, only to realize the slew of problems to come when she's the only daughter of a famously filthy rich real estate agent called Colin Chong (Zhu Houren) and wife (Kara Hui), parents of his lady love who had deceived them that she was pregnant in order to force their hand into allowing her to marry the honest looking Wei Jie.
There's a saying in Mandarin about bamboo or wooden doors that should be facing each other, and that couldn't be more pronounced here, as the scriptwriters took to the field in contrasting and comparing not only the family backgrounds of Wei Jie and Zhi Xin, but took a broad side swipe with the Malaysia and Singapore relations since both parties come from either side of the Causeway. There could be some subtext hidden though not fully exploited for maximum impact, preferring to keep things rather cordial and family friendly. As it turns out, Wei Jie is the son of a fisherman widower in Penang (played by Marcus Chin in one of his best roles yet), and the stage is set for some serious wedding negotiations and post wedding bickering, almost always falling back toward their backgrounds when either side seems to be losing the argument at hand.
I suppose many can empathize with the protagonist, wanting to rely on his own two feet rather than to think of his matrimony as the highway to riches. You know that the plot is lost when a desired simple wedding had to give way to a 100 table wedding banquet in Singapore that Wei Jie has to pay for, and this provides the catalyst to the series of troubles that Wei Jie finds himself getting into and sets him off the wrong foot when he begins to lie to his wife, at times through the no good advice brought about by best friend (Shaun Chen) from trying their luck at the casino, to running away with a bag full of money – this episode proved to be one of the zaniest moments in the film with the involvement of John Cheng parodizing his often played gangster/loan shark role in movies.
The second half seemed to pack a lot more subplots to beef up the drama in the narrative, expanding upon the couple's parents and their love lives, one obviously done as a clear product placement to its watch sponsor. So instead of having just 1 romantic relationship in the film, this one had a total of 3, with Colin Chong and wife having this constant cold war in private, and that of a fisherman harbouring a long held secret behind the ladies watch he always has on his wrist. If anything, this half emphasizes on just what true love is all about, and provides a reflective view for the lead characters in their days-old union, to decide upon which direction they would prefer to have their relationship go toward.
Director Adrian Teh's film has this light hearted feel to what I thought was the irony behind any couple's supposedly happiest day of their lives, brought about by societal pressures in wanting to keep up with the Joneses, and in truth really is a union of not just a couple, but of strangers on both sides of the family who usually call the shots, made worst if they come with acidic tongues in the guise of being well-meant. Both Ah Niu and Elanne Kwong, although an industry veteran but with only bit film roles to her name, shine in their respective roles to make this a funny yet surprisingly poignant film for the Valentine's season. Recommended!