Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ice Kacang Puppy Love (初恋红豆冰) : A Review


"First love is like drinking ice kacang during a hot weather. 
It's so cold it numb your tongue but before you get to taste 
the sweetness of the syrup, it has already melted in your mouth." 


Botak in Ice Kacang Puppy Love (2010)


I wouldn't say I am a avid fan when it comes to movie, that I cannot recall when was my last time seeing a movie in the cinema. In fact this is the first movie review I am gonna do in my blog, mainly because it was a movie that I feel it has a special connection to me personally. I have always keep a special liking for good local movies but as a matter of fact, it is not easy to find them.

I grew up watching P. Ramlee's black and white films and I gotta say I enjoyed them a lot. "Pendekar Bujang Lapok", "Nujum Pak Belalang", and "Madu Tiga" were among my favourite films. Give me any of them now and I wouldn't mind watching them over and over again. His works were original and humourous, and the messages conveyed in the films is something most films nowadays lack. Fast forward a few decades later, I have not seen many movies produced locally that has that "umpph" effect, besides Yasmin Ahmad's works, such as "Sepet".

That was until I watched "Ice Kacang Puppy Love" (初恋红豆冰).

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The film is one of the four films shown at the 11th NHK Asian Film Festival in Shibuya, Tokyo this year. First held in 1995, there has been only one other occasion where a Malaysian film was shown in this film festival - "Jogho" in 1997. Perhaps it was due to the fact that it was a Tuesday, that there were only around fifty people there for the film that evening. Besides the two of us, there rest were media representatives, film critics and the member of the public, all Japanese.

The low turnout for the film on that evening didn't really pull our spirit down, though initially Kai Cung was a bit paranoid. When we were queuing up to enter the hall, he said to me, "How if when we entered inside, they show us the movie using just a big-screen TV?" Haha! I know that's quite a stupid question, that I assured him that it surely would be something more decent that just a TV set lol!

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Botak and Fighting Fish, in the ferry on the way to Penang Island.

The Movie:

This movie is a local production, released on April 15, 2010. It is a directorial debut for Ah Niu, who co-written and took the lead role in the movie as well. Ah Niu is a Malaysian singer who sang the famous song - 对面的女孩看过来. It was a hit song back in the 1990s and I'm sure most of us, including the non-Chinese community and our counterparts in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are familiar with it. However, he seemed to disappear from the industry for some time after releasing that son.

That, was until this movie came to cinema early this year.

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Botak, attempting to fight off the bullies who were harassing Fighting Fish>

The Story:

Set in the late 1980s in Tronoh, a small town in Perak, the story evolves largely around a group of high school friends, featuring conflicts of love and relationship from Botak (Ah Niu, 阿牛), the 20-year-old plus timid, quiet but talented young lad, Fighting Fish (Angelica Lee Sin Jie, 李心潔), who receives her name due to her fierce, combative nature who fights off bullies, the annoying bully Malinfan (Gary Chaw, 曹格), his sister Iced Barley (Fish Leong, 梁静茹), the slacky Prince Charming (Victor Wong Ping Guan, 黄品冠), and Botak's fat sister (Lim Ching Miau).

The story is largely based on Ah Niu's personal childhood experiences, where he grew up in Penang. It has a simple plot that centres around complicated relationships, first love, and crushes among these kids in a small town. At the same time, the plot subs into family conflicts, pursuing dreams, and most importantly, growing up.

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Fighting Fish has not seen her dad since she was small, hence she grew up fighting off bullies which gave her a fierce and combative nature.

The Review:

This movie is very familiar, nothing extraordinary. However, what made it stands out among most of other local movies is because of its rural Malaysia setting, its pleasant nostalgic tone and the cast of several popular singers.  Ah Niu's cast is mainly comprises Malaysian singers who had gained international fame that even non-fans of the stars like me can enjoy the relaxing atmosphere, agreeable comedy and winning emotions.

I would say this movie marked the beginning of a new level of movie-making in the country. Credits should be given to Ah Niu, who placed a lot of effort in an attempt to revive the Malaysia movie industry. Perhaps "simplicity" is the essence in this movie, as audience can easily relate their own experience and instantly feel intact. Everyone, you and me, have their very own story of their first love, crushes and puppy love, and this movie brings back all those memories.

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I am sure most of us grew up playing buah guli.

The movie is fresh and pure, yet at the same time nostalgic as we get caught in between the atmosphere and the style of living in the 80s. Playing bakuli (buah guli or marbles), masak-masak (cooking) and fighting fish, using colour pencils to draw on walls were stuff most of us, if not all used to do during our younger days. It was Ah Niu's dream to showcase all this simple stuff and also our beautiful country into a movie, and I gotta say he has done that brilliantly.

There were several scenes which came from his personal experience, and it was through this movie he expresses his love for those stuff. Take one example: when he was young, his father used to take him to coffee shop and every time his father get him a cup of milo, his father would pour the milo onto the plate for him, which can be seen in the movie.

It didn't for once make me feel that I was seeing this movie in Tokyo on that evening, when I watch those scenes that made me reminisce my childhood memories and miss home even more.

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Mom says it brings bad karma to keep fighting fish, but it was a common thing for kids to play with them few decades back, isn't it?

Watching this movie made me realised that our parents, back in the olden days didn't need Facebook or Twitter. They spent their time playing simple stuff like buah guli and masak-masak. Did playing with those so-called traditional and ketinggalan zaman (outdated) games make them less competent than the current generations? I don't think so because our parents still grew up becoming successful teachers, lawyers, and doctors.

I am not against technology, but what I am trying to say is that we, including me, should spend less time on online networking sites communicating with virtual friends all the time. Be less of a potato couch and go out to socialise, in a real world.

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Special mention to Angela Chan, who plays Fighting Fish's mother. There is a real chemistry between them and her über pity character is cleverly portrayed in the movie.

A common problem that we often find in most Malaysian films is bad acting.

However, it was hardly the case in this movie. The lead actress was the award-winning Angelica Lee, who has won numerous Best Actress awards like the Golden Horse Awards, Hong Kong Film Festival. She is among the very few Asian artists to be awarded as Berlin Film Festival Best Newcomer Awards in 2004 for her role in Betelnut Beauty.

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An Alor Setar kid, who made her name in Taiwan, Angelica Lee was the movie anchor who gave a stellar performance in this movie.

As a childhood friend of Ah Niu, the thirty-four-year-old Angelica might be regarded a little too old for her role as a young girl in her twenties, but all credit to her for her great acting as a strong and compelling performance in the movie.

Perhaps it was a smart move to take in a number of popular singers turned actors/actresses such as Fish Leong, Victor Wong and Gary Chaw into the casting because their presence would certainly be one of the factors that would attract fans to watch their idols on the big screen.

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I only knew they were Victor Wong and Gary Chaw after seeing the credits part at the ending of the movie.

Putting fame aside, credit should be given to them for them for putting up a good performance. They didn't let their images as singers influence their acting and they gave an all-out performance.

Forgive me for my lack of knowledge and ignorance about those stars, but I only got to know who's who in the movie after I finished watching the film. What else can I say; they never looked like singers at all and they took up their roles convincingly.

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Botak's fat sister, telling Iced Barley how much she love Prince Charming.

One of the main elements of the movie is the funny scenes in between, which weren't done excessively and not in a idiotic way that would make the fool of the audience. Of the many funny lines in the movie, most of them came from Botak's fat sister, who was unjustly unfeatured in the movie poster. I believe she got the funniest lines in the movie, and they are not even in Mandarin.

The roti man too, who appeared a few times in the movie never failed to made me laugh, especially during the scene where he almost knock into Botak's fat sister, who was crossing the road in a hurry. The exchanges between the two was very Malaysian. "Eh, you buta-kah?" he shouted to her. Straight away, she replied the roti man, "Apa buta? You-lah buta. Wa ini besar pun lu tarak nampak kah?!"

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Dinosaur and Fried Chicken, who had their share of funny moments too.

However, the line that I remember most and find it most humourous was when Botak's fat sister had a date with Prince Charming under a tree. Her scary make-up, meant to impress Prince Charming (although in the end, it scared people away lol!) was already funny enough, but I will always remember what she told Prince Charming.

"白白没有毛的. 好像白切鸡这样. Geram nia!" ("Skin so fair, some more no hair one. Like poached chicken only!" Cannot tahan-lah!) 

 Haha! Classic line!

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Besides ice kacang, iced barley, (the drink, not the character) appeared quite many times in the film, as seen here.

Just like the title of the movie, the dialogue, like ice kacang, is naturally flavoured.  Although most of the script was in Southest-Asian-accented Mandarin, there are a host of other dialects like Hokkien, Hakka and Cantonese, and languages that include Malay and Tamil. The fact that these dialects and languages are found in our daily live helped us to connect closely to the movie, as if we are inside it.

I think what makes this movie successful is the fact that we all able to relate ourselves into the movie. That, I believe, is one of the most important ingredients in producing quality movie. We have seen other movies, like "Sepet", that took a similar approach and most of them received great reviews not only in the local market, but in the international arena as well.

There was one scene when Fighting Fish was at the bus station with her mother. They were waiting to board the bus to Singapore, where there was a background voice of the bus conductor shouting "Taiping! Taiping! Naik bas sekarang!" That, made me missed my hometown and I felt like boarding that bus right at that moment. Only if I could.

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Botak, being giving a warning by Fighting Fish's long lost dad at the jetty.

Towards the ending part of the movie, Fighting Fish, accompanied by Botak went to Penang to look for her long-lost father. The scene was shot in Clan Jetties in Weld Quay, Penang. I was there once before, almost two years ago. Therefore, seeing the scene being shot at that place gave me the feeling of "Oh yes, I was there. I was standing right on that wooden platform before!" It made me feel like I was in the movie as well.

Anyway, I am not sure which part of the jetties that they did the shooting because the background and the sea looked really beautiful, much better than the one I went before.

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Malinfan went to get new fish everytime he lost the battle with Fighting Fish. Too bad he was cheated by the fish shop fella all the time haha!

Another positive point I have to mention is the great cinematography to keep audience at the edge of their seats. Each scenes are captured in a very unique angle, pinned together with background buildings and scenery captured so beautifully, that you feel as though you're looking at a piece of beautiful drawing of a photographer's masterpiece, only that they are moving in motion. The sound editing deserves a special mention as well, one of the best in local film. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the sound was edited in Thailand.

I also gotta praise Ah Niu for being sensitive towards the minutest thing in the movie. For example, as the movie was set in the late 1980s, the notes used by the gamblers were old Malaysian notes. I am not sure if they were genuine ones as the colour looked fake; I am guessing that they printed out those notes haha! Another scene was also at the jetty village, where a group of policemen did a raid on the gamblers. Again, the uniform the policemen wore was from the olden days - light blue shirt and a yellowish brown long pants with black shoes.

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Not many director managed to direct and starred in a movie at the same time, but Ah Niu took up the multi-roles very well.

Last but not least, I love the whole idea of childhood's puppy love being narrated through the memory of a grown up Botak and his ending line: "First love is like drinking ice kacang during a hot weather. It's so cold it numb your tongue but before you get to taste the sweetness of the syrup, it has already melted in your mouth". Indeed, that's how puppy love is like to all of us. The feeling struck us in our puberty, it was as exciting as the ice numbing the tongue but too brief it ended too soon before you even know what true love is. But first love always stays in our memory, you'll never forget.

The overall tone of the movie is idealised, the ending is both simple and very moving, with a neat coda. All in all, it was a bittersweet story ought to be enjoyed by all Malaysians. It was filmed in a way so nostalgically beautiful and stories told as though you lived in. It is indeed a great local production, not to be missed.

One of the best Malaysian film I'd ever watched.

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After years of practising, Botak still couldn't master the correct way to prepare a cup of coffee from his elder brother, Radio.


Only If:

I feel it will be a little biased if I were to say this movie was perfect, without any flaws. I don't intend to spoil the rave reviews this movie had received, but as much as I love this movie, there are several nits I feel to pick at.

The ending to the story was somewhat quiet predictable. The girl was leaving to somewhere far away; the guy who has kept his feeling for that girl finally decided that it was his final chance to confess, hence he rushed to the bus station in an attempt to express his feeling and at the same time hoping that she won't leave. He had with him, a packet of ice kacang and the unread love letter.

It was during this point in the movie I asked myself, will that scene happen? At the same time, I was hoping that it won't happen. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Halfway through his journey to the bus station, the guy was knocked down by a vehicle. Then, a second one by a bus at the bus station. That accident incident is that scene I meant.

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The kids in the movie did alright, but not extraordinary.

Doesn't this part sound very familiar? You will notice the resemblance if you had watched Yasmin's "Sepet". A mere coincidence, some might say. Anyway, the only difference is that the guy in this movie didn't die, and got to meet the girl at the bus station.

Another part that I feel could be further improved would be the children casting. I gotta say in some parts, the acting of the young characters were quite rigid and unnatural. It was as if listening to them pouring every lines out from the script they have memorised beforehand. My two suggestions to make those scenes less awkward would be; they could have either looked for kids with more natural talent in acting, or brush up the acting skills of kids they got.

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Botak, now grown longer hair and his girlfriend, in the finale of the movie.

Besides that, I feel the movie doesn't make justice to the diversity we have in our country. I'm referring to the finale of the movie, where Botak was at a pedestrian crossing at a traffic light junction with his girlfriend. What I noticed about the people walking around that area was they were all Chinese.

I am not trying to sound racist here, but they could have gotten several Malays and Indians as passer-by in that scene as well to balance things up. Wouldn't that make a much better portrayal of Malaysians?

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Nicholas Teo, who did a cameo appearance in the finale of the movie. Not very sure the intention of having him in the movie, but perhaps it was just to attract more fans to watch the movie.

Final Words:

Just like most of the local movies, "Sepet", "Gubra", "Muallaf", and "Gadoh" among the few, which got excellent comments from the public and film critics, but fell short to our government body responsible for the regulation and development of the film industry in Malaysia, "Ice Kacang Puppy Love" was no exception. The authorities decided that the movie will not enjoy entertainment tax rebate as it is classified as, I quote here, "a foreign movie".

Foreign movie my ass. The movie was written, directed and produced by our local boy, starring local talents and filmed in Ipoh, Penang and Kuala Lumpur. And yet, it is categorised as a "foreign movie". The reason is plain and simple - it is just because less than 60% of the movie script is in Bahasa Malaysia. That is how our local authorities value, or should I say, penalise our local product.

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Malinfan, placing a bet with Fighting Fish on a fighting fish fight.

If you are used to watching movies in Japan, you would know that the Japanese audience generally don't express their emotions in the cinema, no matter how funny or scary a movie is. They will just glue themselves on their seat, watch their movie quietly like a dead log. However, when we were watching this movie that evening, it wasn't just two of us who were laughing throughout the movie (although both of us were the loudest I think haha!); the Japanese audience enjoyed the jokes very much and joined us laughing as well.

It is not easy to trigger the Japanese to express their emotions in public, but Ah Niu have successfully done that!

9 comments:

kesenaitsumi89 said...

Nice movies indeed.
totally agreed with you that it is the best local movie.

calvin said...

@ kesenaitsumi89:
yup! i think it was a brilliant movie, especially for a newcomer like ah niu.
here's to more good local movies in the future =)

D-Tourist said...

Just curious... was the movie dubbed in Japanese? if not, how did the japanese manage to catch the jokes in our local language?

calvin said...

@ d-tourist:
nope, it wasn't dubbed in japanese. there were subtitles. but to be honest, some parts doesn't require one to understand the script or read the subtitle because the body language and expressions are already funny enough xD

D-Tourist said...

Ic... i've not watch the movie yet... sounds interesting... must go get it one of this days..

D-Tourist said...

Ic... i've not watch the movie yet... sounds interesting... must go get it one of this days..

calvin said...

@ d-tourist:
yes, you should! i highly recommend you this movie and i believe me, you will love it to bits!

in fact, i am trying to get a dvd of this movie when i'm back =)

kae vin said...

it was one of the best local movie! :)

Let me know the official review of the japanese. Would like to know how they think about this kind of movie.

calvin said...

@ kae vin:
a quick search brought me to these two reviews:

http://ameblo.jp/polichinelle/entry-10686220771.html

http://haziran.exblog.jp/14872354/

i think they are native japanese, and they watched it at the same place as me, in shibuya, tokyo during the asian film festival. since the reviews are in japanese, i will translate some of the main points on the movie by them here.

the first blogger has watched the movie four times before this - 3 times in taipei and once in guangzhou and this is her fifth time. personally, i bet there aren't many malaysians who have watched this movie this many times.

there are several question points she pointed out, which i think i share the same sentiment. just like me, she also didn't realise that botak's elder brother's leg is disabled. however, if we pay attention to the narration in the beginning, then we will realise that it was mentioned.

the conversation between prince charming and botak's brother is quite vague as well. why the brother had the offer letter from the recording company, which was meant for prince charming?

another unclear scene was when malinfan's mom ran away from the coffee shop, when she found out that most of the people had struck the lottery. why did she run away? was it because she tried to get away from paying the winnings to them (since they bought the lottery from her), or she felt she was the only one who didn't buy that number?

one last comment of hers was sweet. she wanted to eat ice kacang but too bad it's not sold in tokyo. hence, she went to get soft cream on her way home after the movie.

besides that, they also noticed the slight difference between the mandarin used in malaysian and mainland china. another thing was why the title of the movie was spelled as "ice kacang", and not "ais kacang".

the second reviewer started his comment by applauding both ah niu and angelica lee for taking up the twenty-something youngster role to great effect, although they are already over their thirties.

he also placed compliment on the short scene after the credits at the end of the movie.

besides that, he also love the unique architecture of the traditional shops and houses, greeneries, beach sandal, drinks with straw inside a plastic bag featured in the movie. he also like the scene when botak's father pour the milo on the plate, something that ah niu's father used to do for him when he was young.

overall, i think the movie received positive reviews from the japanese and hopefully, there will be more local directors who will produce more quality movies in the near future :)