Not as great as the previous day ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Not as great as the previous day

Great Day
My rating:

I really liked last year's Woohoo! Wait, did I say "really liked"? Three-and-a-half stars means I liked it, but not so much really liked it. But despite its shortcomings, I have been looking back on it quite fondly. It's the first local Chinese-language movie in a long, long time, and very likely the most successful too, garnering RM4 million at the box-office in its limited run. It was also very successful at turning its target audience of MyFM listeners and Wah Lai Toi watchers into a ready and eager market for local films. So yes, I liked it for being a landmark in Malaysian cinema perhaps even more than as a film, and I was eagerly anticipating director Chiu Keng Guan's follow-up. I would've watched it on its opening day if I didn't have such a backlog of movies to review, just so I could spread the word and get even more people watching it.

It's too bad that I can't see myself doing too much proselytizing this time. It's just not as good as Woohoo!

Uncle Lim (Lim Yew Beng) and Uncle Lam (Tam Yee Swee) are two constantly-bickering residents of an old folk's home in Perlis, and one of their biggest points of contention is who has the more successful and loving children. Uncle Lim ropes in Uncle Lam on his scheme to sneak out of the home and visit their children in KL, but the latter balks, and Uncle Lim ends up hitching a ride with Ah Hock (Jack Lim) and his son Ah Boy (Tan Hau Yen). When he meets his children, he learns many things that they've been keeping from him; his daughter Feng Jiao (Vivian Tok) is divorced, his granddaughter Joey (Crystal Lee) is neglected by her overworked mother, and his son Ah Di (Royce Tan) has lost his bank manager job. Meanwhile, Ah Hock's aged mother (Yap Ah Lan) is staying with his cousin Dor Hou (Wan Wai Fun) in KL, and her senility makes her a handful for her filial son. Uncle Lim and Ah Hock also go looking for Uncle Lam's son (Gan Jiang Han), a school headmaster - but when they find him, he claims his father is dead.

If there were any justice in the Malaysian film industry, every member of this cast would have long and illustrious film careers. Lim Yew Beng would score at least a nomination for Pelakon Terbaik at the next Festival Filem Malaysia. Vivian Tok would give Adibah Noor a run for her money in "funny fat lady" roles. Jack Lim would be playing good-hearted everyman heroes in half a dozen movies a year (and occasionally getting to stretch his acting chops like he did in Kidnapper). And folks like Tam Yee Swee, Royce Tan and Gan Jiang Han would all be in films by Metrowealth, KRU Studios and Primeworks, who would finally make Malay films with Chinese characters played by Chinese actors for a change... but I digress.

Because just like Woohoo!, Great Day sports the most charming and likable ensemble cast ever assembled in a local film. Almost everyone from that previous movie is back - and seeing as this is a more (melo)dramatic story than an out-and-out comedy, most of them have much greater demands placed on their acting abilities. Vivian Tok and Gan Jiang Han play very different characters than the ones they essayed in Chiu's previous film; Tok especially is very good, proving equally adept at drama as she is at comedy. Jack Lim's and Royce Tan's characters may be virtually the same as Ah Beng and Ah Rain from Woohoo!, but they too display impressive new dimensions here. The newcomers were also terrific, and yes, Lim Yew Beng especially so; he's got all of Uncle Lim's long-suffering years on his weatherbeaten face. Even child actors Crystal Lee and Tan Hau Yen are naturals.

So it's a crying shame that all these actors are ill-served by a messy and unfocused storyline. How does Ah Hock and Uncle Lim find Uncle Lam's son? Because Ah Boy is a student at the younger Lam's school - or is he? And why is Ah Hock the one looking for him, when we've never even seen him speaking to Uncle Lam? For some reason, Uncle Lim thinks he has breast cancer, which is played for laughs - until he sees a doctor about it, and then it's never made clear whether he actually has it or not. And there are so many dramatic conflicts raised, but not explored or paid off; nothing is done regarding Feng Jiao's divorce, or Uncle Lim's disapproval of Ah Di, or even the subplot of Ah Hock and his mother. And Ah Boy virtually disappears halfway through the story. It spends far too much time on cameo characters like Jason Yeoh's "Ultraman" and Feng Jiao's maid Susanti - okay, they were funny, but they were also irrelevant.

Thus when the big tearjerking moments come, they don't work as well as they should; the emotions haven't been earned through effective storytelling. Joey starts off cold towards her grandfather, but he wins her over with a montage - the favoured cinematic technique of lazy directors and screenwriters everywhere. Similarly, when Uncle Lim's children reconcile with him, it feels obligatory and perfunctory. Woohoo! didn't have a very well-structured story either, but at least it had the underdogs-made-good formula to hang onto. This one is more ambitious, but also more all over the place; its more a collection of pleasant scenes than a story that builds to a satisfying ending. If screenwriter Ryon Lee is also the Lee Eng Keong who wrote that previous film, he hasn't improved. He's great at dialogue, great at creating characters and dramatic situations, but lousy at resolving them.

But it is still an immensely charming and quite enjoyable film. And Chiu proves once again to be a canny director of both broad drama and comedy; the jokes are funny and often quite clever. (I especially liked the parody of typical CNY music videos that, to my cooler-than-thou sensibilities, is a subject ripe for parody.) More than anything else it's got going for it is its terrifically winning cast, and since I don't watch Astro's Chinese-language channels - or TV at all, for that matter - I'm not likely to see them anywhere else. So after two movies, Chiu and his Astro financiers are still one of the brightest hopes for our film industry, and the man is still a filmmaker I expect great things from. Here's hoping his next will be truly great.

(Oh, and kudos to TGV Kepong for playing the trailer for No Strings Attached during this screening. Advertising a raunchy adult comedy that has a scene in which Natalie Portman yells "Why can't we just have sex!?" to a cinema hall full of kids and their parents? You guys should be proud of yourselves.)

NEXT REVIEW: Khurafat - Perjanjian Syaitan
Expectations: Syamsul Yusof bikin citer seram? This I gotta see