Thursday, September 06, 2007

[7th Asian Film Symposium] Love Conquers All

First, a public service announcement.

The 7th edition of the Asian Film Symposium started this evening, with the Opening Film, Malaysian filmmaker Tan Chui Mui's award winning Love Conquers All, screened to a full house at The PIcturehouse. Director Tan Chui Mui was present to grace the occasion, and for the Q&A session after the screening.

Over the next few days, be prepared for some cutting edge shorts from around the region - Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, and even Australia. Best of all, the screenings are held over the weekends, and in the evenings, so film fans who want to sample a selection of what's out there, or who could possibly be the next big filmmaker to keep tabs on, wouldn't want to miss these sessions. Best of all, a forum on the Asian Film Festival Circuit will be held this Saturday afternoon at 4pm at the Substation Theatre, with the forum topic on the Asian Film Festival Circuit. Admission to the forum is free with registration at

For ticketing details and screening schedules, click on this link.

As part of the Substation's 17th Birthday bash. the SeptFest2007, a whole slew of events, of which the Asian Film Symposium is a part of, takes place this very month. From live performances to painting and multimedia exhibitions, there surely must be something that appeals to you. Best yet, and keep your fingers crossed for the approval from the authorities, is a big event called the Tunnel Party. More details of SeptFest2007 can be found here. Bookmark it!


After the credits rolled, almost everyone adjourned to the Picturehouse lounge area for a Q&A session with Love Conquers All director Tan Chui Mui. Spotted in the crowd were local filmmakers like Wee Li Lin (Gone Shopping), Leonard Lai (The High Cost of Living), Sun Koh, Tan Pin Pin (Invisible City), and actress Mindee Ong (881) too!

Naturally, those who wish to know nothing about the film prior to watching it, should skip the following (spoiler alert) points which Chui Mui shared with us this evening.

  • She liked the first and last scenes. After all, those were the scenes she first had in mind and wrote about.

  • The inspiration for the movie came from a news report about a boy who cheated a girl into prostitution.

  • There were 5 cuts made in its commercial release in Malaysia. The obvious ones were of course the foreplay between Ping and John, Ping and her first customer, John kissing Ping at the phone booth, and what was curious enough, was John's calling out at a kampung "assalamualaykum" (peace be upon you), which was substituted with a *beep* sound, making it sound like he was calling out a vulgarity.

  • The Indian Man at the beginning of the scene was styled after Gandhi, metaphorically with the shifting of seats with Ping, to convey the thought that while there are other important issues to talk about, this is what Chui Mui wanted to focus on.

  • The pen pal scene was actually shot with a small fat boy in the role, but it was eventually edited out.

  • Although the DP was James Lee, himself an accomplished director (in the same production house), Chui Mui said that his professionalism meant that he won't provide his directorial opinions to Chui Mui unless when asked.

  • Being a low budget production, Chui Mui didn't even have a monitor to view/review scenes.

Wherefore Art Thou?

You stupid girl
All you had you wasted

- Garbage, Stupid Girl

Love is mysterious. Love is blind. But does Love conquer all? Only if you allow it to.

Writer-director Tan Chui Mui's Love Conquers All talks a lot about that emotion, one which sometimes, or most times, leads us along an irrational path. We're consumed by passion and blinded by sweet actions which hide unseen motives that are out to destroy us.

Ah Ping (Coral Ong) is a simple girl, wide-eyed and naive, who uprooted herself from family and boyfriend to live with relatives in the big capital city. While the rationale for migration isn't clear, what's understandable is the feeling of loneliness, in which frequent calls are made back home from a telephone booth. It is there where she meets John (Stephen Chua), a mysterious stalker who tries his darn best to get to know her, and to get close to her. It's a typical love-hate hard-to-get games that people play, one that you soon sit up and wonder as the games get more dangerous, whether she'll relent and hand over control. Balancing Ah Ping and John's story, is that of Ping's niece Mei (Leong Jiun Jiun), a bespectacled young girl who's experiencing puppy love with an unseen pen-pal.

There are a lot of other types of love that get mentioned in parts, and in certain moments in the movie, as if to possibly try and cover the entire spectrum. The innocence of first love amongst children in a rather old-fashioned pen-pal manner, the power play between stalker and prey, the long distance relationship which hinges on whatever quality time and available loose change allow, coupled with fleeting "I love yous" over the telephone line, the motherly love that always gets so harshly brushed aside, that yet continues to be so unconditionally given, the sisterly bonds over ice cream and lollies, the kind samaritan makcik who provides a meal to hungry lost souls, and of course, the 100% cheesy, cliched romance productions that television churns day in day out, painting that perfect rose tinted presumptions of what love is about.

But what I thought interesting was how it actually put Ping in negative light, what with her deception, and may I add, naiveness to fall for the obvious, even with red warning lights flashing. Here's someone who cannot decide firmly, being wishy washy with perhaps some coy pretense. Somehow a crucial plot development was revealed early, and maybe mentioned quite casually and probably in jest for that scene, but it led the way to some expectations on how the narrative will develop, providing a roadmap which I felt was leading too much of the way. However, on hindsight, it did allow us to sympathize with Ping at certain moments, and even as much as to root for her to wake up her ideas and not go down the forbidden path. There's some astute observations that Chui Mui provided as well in the exchange of predator-prey roles amongst the courting lovers, making you ponder about who's playing who, and for what purpose and ends.

The ending does serve to confuse a little, and might be unsatisfying for those looking for clear answers. There's this sadness behind the smile, and I think what will eventually happen to Ping, was already foretold, and not necessary to be played out, though we still, silently, wish that she'll snap out of it. You cannot deny that this movie will provoke a response from you, whether it's out of sympathy for the characters, or to berate them on their foolishness. Ain't love grand?

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