Much of this movie happens in a language that will scare a whole lot of good ‘ol Americans. I don’t mean Chinese. It’s the language of silence. The setting takes place in a tiny fishing village in Malaysia. There are smoke stacks beyond the trees and garbage collects on the shore, but the village itself is trapped in time, its residents occupied by the day-to-day tasks of catching, gutting and drying fish.
In this quiet, structured setting, the simplest dialog can cast deep foreboding. In its first scene, a young man, Ah Fei (Ernest Chong), is with his father, Ah Kau (Chung Kok-keong). Ah Fei asks his father if the old man will die soon. Ah Kau’s response is simple: yes, he will die soon.
Director Woo Ming-jin (Monday Morning Glory, The Elephant and the Sea) here deserves credit for giving his characters time to reveal themselves. One of the movie’s funniest scenes comes when Ah Kau visits the woman he has loved for decades, Ai Ling . What starts off as an honest confession of unrequited love turns abruptly when we find out that Ai Ling is still married to another man. The two then turn to discuss whether Ah Kau will outlive Ai Ling’s husband.
Still, for its careful pacing and simple-yet-beautiful style, this movie will not turn a box-office hit. This was never more apparent then when, after watching Woman on Fire at the Los Angeles Film Festival, I walked into my next screening: Cane Toads: The Conquest in 3D. I’m not making a judgement about either movie–simply commenting on the things people tend to spend their money on. On a related note, I’d like to point out that Woman on Fire contains the more graphic depiction of a decapitated frog.
That’s too bad (about the movie’s commercial success, not the dead frog). Woman on Fire Looks for Water can be riveting, especially in its depiction of young love between Ah Fei and Lily (Foo Fei-ling). Their interaction manages to be both charming and uncomfortable, always pure, but with the implication that such love rarely stands still. Woo Ming-jin said in an early interview that his film is primarily about longing. With longing comes regret, and at the core of this movie is the tragedy that Ah Fei might be on his way to becoming just like his father.
If you live in Los Angeles, you have a chance to watch Woman on Fire Looks for Water on Sunday, 1:45pm at the LA Film Festival. I recommend it, but just make sure to go with the right expectations, which can be summed up as such: Jerrica Lai gives a great performance as a character that is the exact opposite of her last major role.
And let us know how you liked it!
The LA Film Fest is this weekend, and we’ve got five pairs of movie ticket vouchers, which includes lounge day passes for you and your guest, to give away to Audrey readers!
Yes, I know, they’re screening The Twilight Saga: Eclipse at the festival. But there’s plenty of Asian love at this film festival, too, so if you’re around, check it out. Some highlights include:
On May 12, 2008 at 14:28, the Great Sichuan Earthquake rocked China, claiming the lives of more than 68,000 people. Ten days later, filmmaker Du Haibin was there, camera in hand. The result is a film that won the Best Documentary Award at the 2009 Venice International Film Festival. Du not only covers the immediate aftermath, but also the government response and the fate of the survivors seven months later. Going beyond the whitewashed official visits portrayed in mainstream media, 1428 gives the audience a raw look at the reality of today’s Beichuan, the town most severely hit, where Lunar New Year’s is celebrated with a never-ending parade of tourists buying DVDs of the most horrific scenes, souvenir albums of corpses being pulled out of the ruins, and photo taking.
What’s interesting about this story of unrequited love is that it’s the directorial debut of Korean film critic-turned-auteur Jung Sung-il. The storyline is simple enough: A heartsick music teacher, recently dumped by his married lover, finds himself drawn to a young woman living in her own romantic purgatory. What makes Jung’s subversively funny Café Noir a fascinating, ambitious piece of art are all the references to Goethe, Dostoyevsky, leftist politics, Bollywood, Christianity and, of course, the last decade of Korean cinema.
Isao Yukisada’s stylish and subversive drama follows four twenty-somethings in a small Tokyo apartment. The motley crew don’t really know much about each other, but they tolerate each other as they go through the daily pressures or work, love and play. But strange things are going on, including a serial killer on the loose, as the film’s sitcom feel turns sinister. Yukisada is expected to attend the screening.
Woman on Fire Looks for Water
Korean director Woo Ming Jin captures the meditative rhythms of life in a small Malaysian fishing village, as he follows father and son and their respective heartache. Ah Fei is in love with Lily, but he can’t capture her heart selling frogs from the river. Meanwhile, Ah Fei’s equally heartsick father, worried that death is near, sets off to a neighboring village to pursue a long lost love.
Called a cross between “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and The Fugitive,” Yoshihiro Nakamura’s serio-comic thriller follows easygoing Aoyagi as he tries to clear his name when he is framed for the Prime Minister’s assassination. The film’s already a major hit in its native Japan.
Based on a real life case, Liu Jie’s film puts a spotlight on China’s past. A by-the-book judge invokes an almost-obsolete law and sentences a car thief to death. The thief attempts to make amends, offering to donate his kidney to a powerful businessman if it will mitigate his sentence.
The Wolf Knife (World Premiere)
Japanese American Laurel Nakadate’s stunning, low-budget feature follows two teenage girls on a road trip, but instead of the journey, it’s the girls’ conflicted relationship that is the focus of this stylish film.
Where Are You Taking Me? (North American Premiere)
Japanese filmmaker Kimi Takesue reveals the many faces and facets of Uganda, from a high society wedding to a center for former child soldiers. Takesue is expected to attend the screening.
The Wheeler Boys
Filipino American auteur Philip G. Flores’ directorial debut, The Wheeler Boys, captures small town life as a young boy struggles to accept some disturbing revelations about the older brother he idolizes.
So just comment below by tomorrow, June 15 at 11 am, and we’ll pick five lucky winners! Good luck!