‘The Journey’ is a must-watch Chinese New Year film of 2014, it’s Malaysian and yet better than the rest
Malaysia’s beloved brilliant filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad (Sepet) may have gone, but after yet another great piece by Chiu Keng Guan, the locals may soon realise that he’s also a gem in our film industry. Through his latest work, Chiu steps out of box from his previous great Chinese New Year films Woohoo! (2010) and Great Day (2011) to reflect on Malaysian Chinese traditional customs, typical ego and the progressive nature of the younger generation.
The Journey is a sincere, heartwarming and relatable film that touches on general local issues such as cultural differences, compromise, mutual acceptance, language barrier, old friendship and of course, family. Ah Bee (Joanna Yew Hong Im) returns to Malaysia from England with her Caucasian fiance, Benji (Ben Andrew Pfeiffer) for the first time since young to pay her father, Chuan (Lee Sai Peng), and to hopefully receive his blessing for the marriage. The young couple find it more difficult than initially expected to please the stubborn Chuan, who’s old-fashioned and conservative, strict with Chinese traditional customs.
Screenwriter Ryon Lee and director Chiu captured all issues mentioned while facing them straight-on with answers, convincingly conveying all the right messages that may change the stubborn mindset of the old and young target audience. The cinematography is so beautiful that it even made me wonder for a while if it’s really filmed in Malaysia. The light humour cracked me up in several scenes although some parts are overly slapstick. The dialogues may be a bit too cheesy at times but it works, particularly towards the end where it’s undeniably moving. They did, however, neglect on developing the relationship between the couple Ah Bee and Benji, but perhaps never intended to do so as it’s not a romance flick. It’s also a bit strange to not see Chuan distributing “ang pao’s” (red packets) to people other than his own daughter.
All three of the main cast are first-time feature film actors did quite well. Lee Sai Peng’s grumpy-faced role Uncle Chuan didn’t require much but it’s the most natural and realistic performance out of the three. Miss Astro Chinese International Pageant 2007 Joanna Yew Hong Im’s performance is passable but her role Ah Bee could’ve been better written as her mix of Chinese and English dialogues are annoyingly pretentious. Her on-screen chemistry with Australian stage actor Ben Andrew Pfeiffer also seems restricted by the script. Pfeiffer’s over-theatrical performance may make his character Benji seem like a mentally challenged and highly impatient white fellow at the beginning, but as the story progresses, Pfeiffer’s fully dedicated performance along with the warm Caucasian charm makes Benji a very likable character. It would definitely further contribute to our local girls’ crave for a Caucasian lover. He does need to work on his fake British accent though.
EDIT: Apparently, I’ve gotten the wrong info from some of the local media (which were likely provided by the distributor of the film). Pfeiffer actually comes from British heritage and the accent he was working on was from a more subtle region. He has 28 years experience in theatre, film and TV.
I would love to see director Chiu to attempt to make a multilingual or a non-Chinese-focused film next. We all know he can truly make great Chinese family drama comedies and now, it’s time to go beyond that in order to make even greater masterpieces that would go down in Malaysian film history.
What I would’ve named the film: “Ang Moh the Mat Salleh: Tolerating Old Chinese Folks”
Censorship in Malaysia: A very clean family film for the festive season.
Second opinion: “I kinda liked it… I mean liked it lah,” said my girlfriend who’s a fan of director Chiu’s previous works.
Verdict: Perhaps the best CNY film of the year although not as good as his previous two. Far more meaningful and refreshing than the foreign Chinese movies released this festive season. Even non-Malaysians can enjoy and relate to it.
Rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Comedy, family, drama
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Chiu Keng Guan
Writer: Ryon Lee
Cast: Ben Andrew Pfeiffer, Lee Sai Peng, Joanne Yew Hong Im
Malaysia Release Date: January 30th 2014
Local Distributor: MM2 Entertainment Sdn Bhd
Studio(s): Woohoo Productions