Sweet but fleeting ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sweet but fleeting

Ice Kacang Puppy Love
My rating:

One of the hazards of being both a film critic and a voracious reader of film reviews is that sometimes you read a review that says everything you wanted to say about a movie. LoveHKFilm's review of Ice Kacang Puppy Love is one of them; I'm hard-pressed now to think of things to say about it that their reviewer Kozo didn't already mention. So here's my attempt at a review that's a little more than just "I agree with Kozo completely."

But seriously, he's right. This is a charming and highly likable film, and a terrific debut for its writer-director.

Botak (Aniu), the son of a small-town coffeeshop owner, narrates the lives, loves and longings of his group of childhood friends. Malinfan (Gary Chaw) is the local bully, and Barley Peng (Fish Leong) is his silent sister who has a crush on Botak. Prince Charming (Victor Wong) keeps himself looking good and pines after Barley Peng, but is oblivious to Botak's chubby sister's (Lim Ching Miau) secret affections. Botak's older brother (Yi Jet Qi) thinks he can run a better coffeeshop than their father, with whom he is constantly at odds. But foremost in Botak's heart is his cousin Fighting Fish (Angelica Lee), who came to live with them when her mother (Angela Chan) fled her abusive husband (Eric Moo). As befits her nickname, Fighting Fish is tough and pugnacious, but she also hides a secret longing to see her father again. And while Botak struggles to reveal his feelings to her, their lives - youngsters and adults alike - are changing all around them.

It may be a little racist to say this, but this film, plus Woohoo! from earlier this year, is a clear sign that the local Chinese filmmaking scene is miles ahead of their Malay counterparts. (Especially after the last Malay movie I watched.) Similar to the Astro-produced CNY movie, Ice Kacang Puppy Love boasts a star-studded cast of popular Malaysian stars, most of whom are Taiwan-based music artistes making their acting debuts. As is popstar-turned-first-time-film-director Aniu; and if, as you've said in interviews, your music career was a sidetrack to your first ambition of making movies, then welcome home, buddy. Your filmmaking career is off to a stellar start.

Which is not to say that it's a perfect film, though. It's a coming-of-age comedy-drama, and it's an often uneasy mix of the two genres and tones. The convoluted love polygon between the neighbourhood kids works well when it's played for laughs, but not when it attempts to turn serious; the audience at my viewing tittered during scenes that were meant to be affecting. The central relationship between Botak and Fighting Fish is also lacking in chemistry, and Botak himself is an often annoyingly passive main character. Granted that this movie is in that rare category of movies in which the POV character and the protagonist are not the same - the latter would be Fighting Fish, really - but I did wish the fella would do something to affect the story.

And the story could've used some tightening up too. If there is a theme to it, it is that life must move forward - even in this sleepy town, where childhood nicknames can last a lifetime. Several characters have dreams and ambitions that they can only fulfill by looking to the future instead of the past; but these folks are so mired in their childish squabbles - youngsters and adults alike - that it'll take some hard-learned lessons before they realize it. Yes, this is weighty stuff, and Aniu really deserves kudos for tackling such ambitious subject matter, but he also could've handled it better. Subplots about Prince Charming's musical leanings, Botak's artistic talent, and Botak's brother's aspirations (is he supposed to be handicapped? It's very unclear) are sadly underdeveloped.

Yes, it could've been better, but it's still pretty good as it is. And it owes most of its success to its cast, who are terrifically fun and charming. Aniu makes the most of their limited thespian skills, and wisely gives Angelica Lee - the most accomplished actor among them - the bulk of the dramatic heavy lifting. Even though they are all too old to play teenagers, their sheer likability helps them pull off their performances; this band of internationally-famous Malaysians are close friends in real life, and their camaraderie shows onscreen. Angela Chan also holds her own in her scenes with Lee, and it's a pleasure to see this former '90s HVD TV serial star work again. And special mention goes to Lim Ching Miau, who is unjustly unfeatured in the film's poster; she actually gets the film's funniest line of dialogue, and it isn't even in Mandarin.

I haven't even mentioned the nostalgia value of its small-town setting. No, I didn't play guli, or fighting fish, or that ridiculous lottery in which dreams dictated the numbers you bought; but I still remember such things from my childhood. And if I can, I believe they can still strike a chord in today's internet/Astro/PS3 age. Its current massive box-office haul is proof of that, though it's a shame that cinemas are only screening it in their smallest halls. (And reserving their biggest halls for shitty Malay movies, baaarsket.) Congrats to Aniu on this deserved success, and let's see more movies from you! Maybe even ones in which the super-cute Fish Leong actually gets to speak.

Expectations: that is a fine-looking trailer


Em said...

I so agree with u on the funniest line of the movie, even the second and third funniest parts were from her too! And i must say that the indian roti seller is really eye catching throughout the whole movie ;)

profwacko said...

forgive my noobness, this movie english sub right?? coz some of local movies especially malays doesnt have english sub.

TMBF said...

Yes, there are in fact both English and BM subtitles. :)

chicnchomel said...

i must watch this...thanks for the review