Thursday, May 26, 2005

Film Review: Sepet

Well I finally watched Sepet. Thanks to my cousin for sending the video over.

When I was in Malaysia, I was caught up with the
Sepet hype. The media was still talking about it. Malaysian blogs were raving about it. Being an ignorant bastard, I had no clue what the heck they were talking about because I have never heard of this thing called Sepet.

The film deals with the subject of interracial relationship between a poor non-religious Chinese boy who happens to write poetry and loves Malay films, and a middle class Malay girl who happens to love Chinese and Japanese films.

I have read somewhere that the Malaysian government wanted to ban this film. Obviously they did not. I am not sure if there are any substance in this rumour. Anyone who has a URL link to an official news piece then please post it in the comments area. If the ban rumour is true, it only proved what a backward country Malaysia is.

Was the subject of interracial relationship so taboo that it managed to court such controversy? I needed to find out. So after watching Liverpool beat AC Milan I flick PowerDVD on and started watching.

** possible spoilers ahead **

started with a sequence that pretty much sums up what this film would be. The pretence of being philosophical. The scene where the protagonist was communicating with his mother in Chinese while she replies in Malay was all so fake. There is an explanation for this, but was pretty unsatisfying. It was as though the auteur thought that such a scene would appeal to the arthouse community.

"Not all Chinese men cheat and not all Malay men are lazy."

And then there was the content. Was the early scene in the snooker bar really necessary? Personally I did not see how it would contribute to the narrative by showing an apparent idiot (who can't act) messing with 'Jimmy'. The filmmaker probably wanted to introduce the antagonist early on and the whole sequence ended up an utter mess.

"My father named me after this Chinese kung fu master, but he never taught me kung fu."

Then there is this major scene where Jason, the protagonist, meets 'Orked' for the first time. It will cause gooseflesh when you watch it the first time. Can humans actually communicate like that? I do not know. Sure it is love at first sight...but that doesn't make the whole scene any less scary.

"They make the best French fries..."

One thing the film got right is the highlighting of Malaysia's obsession with fast food. You got that right. They had their first date in a fast food eatery. Complete with a 'waiter' and short discussion of chips. The scene was excruciating to watch that I did not know whether to cry or laugh.

"I know you like movies..."
"I do? How do you know?"

"Because you bought my videos..."

By the middle of the film I was tired. Tired of picking flaws. I was very dissapointed. Perhaps I really wanted to like it. I would be lying if I said I didn't. The ending itself to put it mildly was farcical.

The acting was god awful that I forgave George Lucas for Samuel L. Jackson's performance in
Star Wars Episode III. I have never heard more forced dialogues in any films. Even if the accent were faithful the fakeness in the dialogue is so apparent down to the forced "lahs".

Despite my peeves there were a couple of funny moments. I truly enjoyed those scenes where Orked's mum and sister were bickering with her dad. And that was it really. Maybe the filmmakers should have made a film on how the parents met instead. That would be a story.

The fact that by the end of the film I did not notice anyting controversial about it again proved that how living in London has skewed my mind. Here interracial and interfaith relations are the norm. In the end however, I believed the film gained notoriety not because of great (it isn't) filmmaking but because the filmmakers dared to tackle the subject. Which is commendable. But it is still a bad film.


Recommended films on interracial relations:

Japanese Story (2003, Sue Brooks)
Ae Fond Kiss
(2004, Ken Loach)


Kat said...

I watched it a few weeks ago and I do agree with you. It's such a weird film and the dialogues gave me goosebumps(not in a good way). I thought that I was just being too cynical about the whole romance thing, but now I finally found someone that agrees with me!

wil@theblackjournal said...

Hmm...I nvr got around to watching this. I kinda think the concept of the story is pretty unique though. It's good that Malaysia has been producing a lot of movies as of late...however bad it might be... it's a start..

Jon said...

Kat, great to see someone else who has the same opinion. I just think that it is all hyped up.

Wil, yes the subject matter is unique. But it is just so awful I can't bear to watch it a second time.

Cherry said...

Watched it 3 times.

My favourite dialogue -

"...but sorry to say ah, the eyes is a little bit the sepet."

Jon said...

My Malay is extremely rusty. What does sepet means?

mei xian said...

sepet is just a word that describes chinese eyes.... the acting was weird...but hey, its a good start k.. i mean u can never get this kinda movie here in malaysia...and kinda daring for them to produce this kinda movie...
we're more impressed of the movie being allowed to show in malaysia rather than the acting..thats y alot of ppl went to watch it...

Jon said...

Just because something is different does not mean it is good. Originality for its own sake is pointless.

c0y0t3 said...

Oh dear God....I watched it together with Jon when he brought the VCD to my place for the bank holiday weekend..and...I AM GOBSMACKED!! The first scene made me stunt wide eyed (I thought there were something wrong with my ears or brain cos I had listened to a conversation where two person speak in different languages like a cat and dog!)Secondly, the actors and actress had, unfortunately, a very poor quality performance! I never encountered a 'gangster' looking like as though he wanted to laugh when supposed to be looking fierce on the 'beating up' scene!

I am a very impatient person and watching the movie really made me in need to hold myself from throwing a sizzling hot iron on my own computer !

bottom remark, it gave me a very bad mood the whole day! Not easy to watch at all!

Jon said...

After I watched it for the second time with Jenni, I believed my 3/10 rating was a little too charitable.

2/10 is my new rating.

Ken said...

I just came across your site from google search and I have to disagree with you. Sepet was a beautiful movie and the acting was great. It was as Malaysian as it could ever be. Maybe you live overseas for too long.

Jon said...

Well to each his own. I still think this film is crap. Right there next to Gigli.

Nicole said...

thanx for the review, its glad to knoe tat i am not the only one who didnt like the movie

Anonymous said...

This is the only negative review I have read on 'Sepet'.

Anonymous said...

If the film is that bad as you say... why is it winning BEST FILM awards all over the world and even in Malaysia?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

the judgment of good or bad acting is often placed in relation to "realism" - the more 'realistic' acting is, the better it is.


just as different cultures have different ideologies, so there are different ways of defining what constitutes "realistic". thus, the judgment of a film's acting, be it good or bad, should not be in terms of personal cultural experience, but studied with respect to the function and purpose of the film.

granted, there are glaring disparities in terms of content and character context - why is it that a chinese ah beng speaks english so fluently, and so coincidentally his friend plays the piano?

let's at this point of time acknowledge that a filmmaker has only 2 hrs to put across a point that spans years, generations. interracial relationships in a country which largely does not welcome it (again, understanding practices in relation to the culture in question and not with imposition of personal experience nor perceived superiority).

so, is it very wrong to bring across a topic with exaggerration because there has been too little said before about such issues? ie, because so much filmic productions have been talking about a particular grp, i want to now make a film tt focuses almost exclusively on the 'other' end of the spectrum, for want of better phrasing.

there are countless ways to interpret and understand, and thus appreciate, a film. and much effort and thought is put into each production, so do let's grant the filmmakers that at least. respect enough to give purpose, and motivation, some thought. not just the end product through lenses tinted with personal prejudice, perception, opinion, and experience.

after all, anthropology has existed and survived because it is of worth.


Jon said...

Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately I've not watched Sepet for a VERY long time, hence can't give a valid response any more. :)

I still stand by my initial review, that the film was tediously awful to watch. It may have broken boundaries and I can respect the film maker's vision, though it doesn't make things easier to watch (at least for me). Like Kat, it gave me goosebumps purely from how cheesy I felt.

Anonymous said...

Sepet is an art film who deals with realism issues in Malaysia.

Jon is just the type of guy who knows to talk shit only.. hahaha.

Before complaining and being so "girly" about it, why don't you go and do research about the realism in a film.

better still. Why don't you make a film.. I wonder how it would turn out. ;p

Marnie said...

Well, I pretty much agree with your assessment of the film. I don't know why that anonymous poster was so heated up over the valid points you raised -- but then again, there are those who get childishly infatuated over certain movies and can brook no criticism.

I was born to Malay-Chinese parents, and did not even see anything in "Sepet" which even remotely resembled my own personal experiences growing up in a bi-racial household. The truth is, "Sepet" is a bad film, sloppily written and poorly directed.

I would pick P. Ramlee over Yasmin Ahmad any day.