Reunion dinner is important, FYI ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Friday, February 4, 2011

Reunion dinner is important, FYI

My rating:

I was somewhat begrudging about catching this movie, and I don't really have a good reason why. Maybe I'm just biased against Singaporeans Singaporean films; maybe because this one featured Jack Neo in drag, which is not a thing I'm dying to watch. Or maybe because I am firmly in the corner of Chiu Keng Guan and his locally-produced CNY movie, even if it wasn't as good as I hoped. But Homecoming has Aniu and Afdlin Shauki and a couple other Malaysian-born (if Singapore-based) actors, and even a Malaysian director - and thus, I could no longer dismiss it as a movie not under TMBF's purview. But I fully admit I went in biased, and didn't expect it to be better than Great Day.

Well... okay, it is. In certain aspects. But overall, not by much. Yeah yeah, colour me biased.

It is the eve of the Lunar New Year, and every Chinese is preparing for the traditional family reunion dinner. Aunty Karen (Jack Neo) and her son Ah Meng (Aniu) are making the journey from Singapore to KL, where Karen hopes to matchmake her less-than-enthusiastic son with a distant relative. Renowned Western-trained chef Daniel Koh (Mark Lee) is due to prepare a sumptuous dinner for a minister and his family, but his arrogance rubs everyone the wrong way, including his restaurant manager Fei Fei (Jacelyn Tay). Daniel has no time for his daughter Mindy (Koe Yeet), who decides to go to KL on her own to visit her divorced mother - and finds herself traveling with Karen and Ah Meng, who in turn end up reluctantly ferried by taxi driver Zool (Afdlin Shauki). Meanwhile, newlyweds Boon (Huang Wen Hong) and Jamie (Rebecca Lim) are home for the holidays, but struggle with having to tell Boon's parents that they intend to spend the New Year on a holiday in Bali.

Here's the good part: the Karen-Ah Meng segment is wonderful. It has all the movie's funniest scenes, and director Lee Thean-Jeen helms them with perfect comic timing. (In this case, comic timing = throwing a new joke at the audience while they're still laughing at the previous one, which works beautifully.) Ah Meng gets all the snarkiest lines, and his banter with his mother is loads of fun. It also has Afdlin Shauki, who is as effortless as ever in being funny and likable; one of the great things about this CNY Chinese-language movie is how generous with time and affection it is to a Malay character. Not even Great Day or Woohoo! is as 1Malaysia as this (and yes, I am quite loath to say this of a Singaporean co-production). And the storyline is very effectively heartwarming, ending with every character being awesome to each other.

Unfortunately, that's just one-third of the movie. The Chef Daniel story is just annoying, largely due to its portrayal of Chef Daniel. Bad enough he's a pompous, pretentious and mean-tempered jackass, which of course he's meant to be until his inevitable humbling. The problem is that the story itself never treats him as anything more than a joke. He's supposed to be a French-trained master chef? Then why can't he even pronounce the names of his French dishes right? Why does he claim to have studied the culinary arts from Charles de Gaulle and Thierry Henry? And why, when someone speaks to him in actual French, does he not understand a word? Is he a fraud or what? More likely he's just a vehicle for lazy digs at Westernized Chinese, in the laziest-written and dumbest segment of the movie.

The third one isn't much better either. Once again we are invited to shake our heads at the terribly un-Chinese Boon and Jamie and their shocking disrespect for the institution of the New Year reunion dinner. The problem is that the couple seem to be morons who need to have the significance of this and every other Chinese custom explained to them. Which is the problem as a whole with this movie - yes yes, family togetherness and adherence to tradition is important, especially during CNY, like we didn't know that already. The film tells us these things in a heavy-handed and frankly quite patronizing manner. The Karen-Ah Meng story conveys the same thing so much better, by showing its characters demonstrating the importance of family through actions rather than condescending speeches.

So there's little I can say about the cast who aren't Neo, Aniu, Afdlin and Koe Yeet; they're all competent but unremarkable, saddled as they are with storylines that are dull at best, insultingly stupid at worst. (Though there is one funny scene about how calculative Boon's father is with angpows.) The abovementioned four however are terrific. Neo nicely dispelled my fears of watching him in drag; his chemistry with Aniu is great fun to watch, and Aniu in turn proves his versatility by effectively playing a very different role than the one he essayed in his directorial effort. Afdlin is, as mentioned, terrific. And newcomer Koe Yeet is super-cute and has a smile that can melt hearts.

But the rest of the movie simply isn't as good. There are three credited screenwriters here - Philip Lim, Adrian Tan, and the director himself - and I'm almost certain that they each wrote one of the three segments individually. I did say it's slightly better overall than Great Day, and it is, in that it's funnier. And it's got the Chinese New Year spirit all over it, which will probably go down great with folks who want to be reminded of how awesome it is to be Chinese. Me, I could've done without that - and yes, I know I'll probably be accused of being a treacherous banana because of this. But hey, I'm the kind of guy who thinks there's nothing wrong with having French cuisine for reunion dinner.

Expectations: haven't seen a single good review. Then again, when it comes to local films, I trust no-one's views but my own


TMBF said...

BTW, I'm calling dibs on The Treacherous Bananas as a band name.

k0k s3n w4i said...

i refer to myself as a Chinese Blood Traitor.

Sarah said...

I take back my earlier sketicism on local production and Jack Neo's crossing dressing, indeed a very good movie! Btw, anyone remember the name of the French dish?