Tuesday, February 28, 2006

[DVD] Sepet (2004)

Sepet Poster

I've always been unable to answer confidently when someone asks me what my favourite movie is. You're learning it here first, I've found it. It is Sepet. I love this movie to bits. And I find it so unforgivable to have missed it when it was released on the big screen locally. But the question would be, why Sepet?

You'd know by now I'm a sucker for a good old fashioned romance. Sepet is one of those classic romances, with a contemporary touch, and a realistic take on love, life, relationships at all levels. It is honest, sincere storytelling, and having it ring so close to home, with a multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-lingual take, just makes it endearing. It's not a Malay film, or Chinese film, but it's a Malaysian film, one in which a person like me, from across the Causeway, can and will definitely enjoy.

Director Yasmin Ahmad has crafted two charismatic leads, in Jason (Ng Choo Seong), the pirated VCD peddler with a penchant for poetry, and Orked (Sharifah Amani) the student. One's Chinese, the other's Malay, and Yasmin has weaved a loving story between the two, sans all misconstrued prejudices. We're drawn into their love at the start of their budding relationship from their chance encounter when Orked patronizes Jason's stall in a busy market street, and witness them grow in their affection for each other.

The diverse family backgrounds are highlighted from the beginning. We see Jason reciting poetry so lovingly to his Peranakan mother (played by Tan Mei Ling). He seemed closer to her than his father, and we learn that all is not too well between the squabbling parents. In a dinner scene with his family, we learn that his brother (later played by Alan Yun in Gubra) had married a Singaporean, and the relationship with the in-laws are not that cordial too.

Contrasted with Orked's family, the loving parents portrayed by Ida Nerina and Harith Iskander, who share many a scene expressing their love (which had irked Malaysian censors), and with a housemaid Yam (played by Adibah Noor) adding to the comical close knit ties within their family.

But, cliche as I may sound, love knows no bounds. Sans race, sans religion, sans family backgrounds, love will find a way. We follow their courtship, and it isn't that these obvious differences are swept beneath the carpet. No, they were brought out, and we realize the challenges that lie ahead if our couple were to be together, and to challenge these misconceptions.

But in typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loves-girl, boy-loses-girl fashion, we see how their relationship loses ground when Jason confesses to Orked to have impregnated another girl. To be "fair", he did the deed before he became committed to Orked, but felt that sense of responsibility to take care of the other. It's somewhat depressing, knowing that he and Orked are a match made, but events that transpired before meeting your soul mate, came back to haunt. I thought deeply about this, and was wondering if there was any possibility about reconciliation and forgiveness. Sometimes there will be, sometimes there will be not, but sometimes they may come too little too late. And from what Yasmin told us, I understood the ending, why it ended the way it ended, drawn from her personal experience, and the emotions I felt.

But therein lies a higher objective, which I thought was a respectable Wow moment. With the way it ended, I felt that yes, I believe that Yasmin has achieved with most audiences (unless you're on the road to no redemption) throwing away any deep sense of prejudice, to want the two leads to be together, after the fact that is akin to riding on a ferris wheel to the top, enjoying the sights, and then being thrown over. It dawned upon me the power of her story, simply told.

The movie's also peppered with plenty of movie references and subtle jokes, besides the obvious ones which you laugh out loud. There are digs at society, and some events will make you ponder, like how Orked managed to get a scholarship with 5As, when Jason actually scored 7, and got none (hey, VCD peddler also got the smarts, ok!)

The chemistry between the leads is so believable, that you cannot help but fall in love with both. Jason is the atypical sam-seng boy with dyed hair, dances a quirky dance, filial son, with a heart of gold. You might presume that Orked is the demure pint-sized girl next door, but inside, she packs quite an opinionated punch, which works in her favour when battling against prejudices. And the two of them put together, genuinely make a cute couple.

The musical selection is beautiful, and I was initially surprised that Sam Hui songs were used throughout the movie. They were the evergreens in Hong Kong Pop, and contributed effectively to the mood of the movie. The cinematography too emulates picturesque moments when the leads are together, be it sharing a meal or conversation in a fast food restaurant, or sitting at a pier or a bus stop to wait out the rain. Things and situations associated with budding love.

There are tonnes of films out there which are loud, brash, and easily forgotten once the lights come on. I've come to appreciate smaller films which are intricately crafted, a simple story with layered complexity, and something which can endure the test of time. A story that comes straight from the heart. I believe Sepet is one of them. I like.

Code 3 DVD contains behind the scenes footage (though I had hoped it could have more), and the trailer. How I'd wish there would be a director and casts commentary. :-)

P.S. here's a link to a brilliant writeup I found, which includes the titles of the Sam Hui songs used in the movie.

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