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Sepet (Chinese Eye)

Posted by martinteller on June 16, 2013

Ah Loong (Choo Seong Ng) is a Chinese young man, involved with gangsters in his job selling bootleg VCDs on the street.  Orked (Sharifah Amani) is a Malaysian young woman, about to graduate high school.  Orked stops at Ah Loong’s stall looking for films starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, and the two feel a mutual attraction.

As I learned in The Big Durian, Malaysia has a complex cultural makeup, with a population consisting of Indians, Chinese and native Malays.  While Durian director Amir Muhammad took a quirky documentary approach to discussing the cultural clash, Sepet director Yasmin Ahmad takes the romcom approach.  For the younger generation, interracial dating is not taboo.  They have a more enlightened cultural outlook.  Orked likes the movies of John Woo, Ah Loong dances to Malay music.  But prejudices do exist, as does resistance from one’s peers and family.  Ah Loong calls himself “Jason” out of a self-consciousness about his Chinese identity.  Orked parries racial slurs from her classmates.

But more than a message film about racial tolerance, it’s a sweet romantic comedy in the vein of John Hughes.  Ng and Amani are both attractive and utterly charming.  Their courtship is very endearing and they make a couple that’s easy to root for.  The awkward first date, the fumbled romantic gestures, Ah Loong’s jealousy when Orked hits it off so easily with his best friend Keong (Linus Chang).  These aren’t especially original takes on romance, but they’re executed very well.  A lot of the movie is really funny, especially the wonderful scenes featuring Orked’s parents (Ida Nerina, Harith Iskander) and housekeeper Yam (Adibah Noor).  The splendid performances give the film a lot of heart and humor.

Unfortunately, Ahmad drops a big drama bomb in the third act.  This is where adherence to romcom conventions lets the viewer down.  Something has to threaten the couple staying together, and the obstacle presented here comes off as a little too convenient and false.  It’s not implausible at all, it just feels too much like a plot device.

However, Ahmad turns it around with an enigmatic conclusion that can be interpreted a number of ways, depending on your disposition.  Tragically, Ahmad died at age 51 of a brain hemorrhage.  In her short life, she only directed six films.  I intend to check out more, starting with the two follow-ups to this one, Gubra and Mukhsin.  Rating: Very Good (88)


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