Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Failing Eyesight

More than three months ago now, Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad prematurely passed away at the age of 51 years. At the recently concluded Tokyo International Film Festival, Yasmin was posthumously given a special award. Here in 'Asia's World City', the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival also had a tribute to Yasmin -- albeit one that was much more low-key.

For one thing, the In Memory of Yasmin Ahmad programme consisted of just two films; with one of them, Talentime, having previously had its Hong Kong premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. For another, from what I observed and otherwise gathered, the screenings of both those selections were disappointingly sparsely attended.

To some extent, however, all this didn't matter so much to me as that I finally got the chance two evenings ago by way of the film festival to view Yasmin's first film. A made-for-television work, Rabun (AKA My Failing Eyesight) was made on a low budget and in just seven days. At the same time, it's pretty obvious that it was made with love and care. (On a technical note, Yasmin insisted on shooting on film even when it had been commissioned for television.)

Ho Yuhang served as its assistant director for -- and also has a significant on screen role in -- the work. Before the screening of Rabun that I attended, he shared some information about the movie -- including the loving post-retirement couple at the heart of it being very much modelled on Yasmin's own parents. (Among other things, like them, the couple in the movie have a daughter named Orked, often act very playful as well as lovey-dovey with each other -- and have a multi-cultural ethos, outlook and ways that many people find ever so hard to emulate or even deal with.)

Rabun derives its name from the lead male character having failing eyesight (but otherwise being healthy). Rather than this being treated as a tragedy, however, it becomes an opportunity to show how his wife is happy to be with him -- in sickness as well as in health -- along with how the couple possess an upbeat "life goes on and should be led happily" approach and very much retain a sense of fun as they age.

As might be expected of a debut movie, Rabun is not technically perfect. (In particular, I thought the cinematography could have been better -- and Keong Low did go on to do much better in later Yasmin Ahmad films.) But wonder of wonders: so much that made that made Yasmin Ahmad's films so distinctive and special turned out to already be there right from the start...

In particular, I think of the humane qualities along with the humour, colorful characters and daring -- by Malaysian standards, and in a Malaysian context -- socio-cultural commentary along with inversion of all manner of stereotypes. And of course the ability to emotionally touch, affect and impact... much so that post viewing the movie, it took quite a great effort on my part to refrain from breaking down and bawling on the MTR home from the cinema upon recalling certain voiced sentiments in Rabun that got me thinking that Yasmin might well have had some inkling that she would die earlier in life than many might expect and, also, when thinking of the great loss for Malaysia and Malaysian cinema that has resulted from her passing.

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