Friday, April 16, 2010


It has been nearly 17 years since I watched a new Malay movie (my mum bought me some P Ramlee movies a few years back) and I was very surprised to see a Malay movie for sale at JB Hifi. Mind you, I paid $28.95 for the DVD, so I was hoping that it would be good and I was not TOTALLY disappointed.

BTW, if you are wondering what a KEBAYA is, it is a traditional figure hugging blouse, worn with a sarong, by women in the South-East Asia region, namely in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Burma, Singapore, southern Thailand and some parts of Cambodia. It is sometimes made from sheer material (with intricate embroidery), with a chemise style lining beneath. It can also be short, stopping at the hips (see picture below), or long, usually stopping at mid thigh.

The movie is a Malaysian period drama set in the 1950s and is directed by Oliver Knott and produced by Andre Berly and Ramli Hassan. In summary, the story begins in the present day, with Latiff (Ramli Hassan, who is also the producer) a famous but lonely photographer who was orphaned as a child. He decides to photograph abandoned houses around Malaysia as his latest project and on his journey, he is haunted by images of places, children, people and a red kebaya that that he cannot comprehend. His journey takes him to the island of Penang and one day, he ‘sees’ the red kebaya in an antique shop window. As he enters the shop to inquire about the dress, he has a sense of ‘déjà vu’ when he meets the shop owner; but is told that he is mistaken - there is no red dress in the window. Latiff then sees a photograph of a house in the shop and is mesmerised by his find. He inquires about the location of the house and decides to visit it; finding it to be derelict, on the foothill of the famous Penang Hill.

Latiff finds himself transported to the past and witnesses events that occurred in the house. In his flashback, Latiff is transported to the time when the British were still in Malaya (Malaya gained its independence in 1957 and became known as Malaysia in 1963). He sees an Englishman, John Reynolds (Bob Mercer), who is trapped in a stifling marriage with his xenophobic wife. When his wife, Davinia (Samantha Schubert), briefly leaves Malaya for England, John becomes involved with a beautiful joget (a type of dance popular in Malaya until the early 70s) escort dancer, named Azizah (Vanidah Imran) who also has a young son. For the first time in a very long time, John finds happiness in his life with Azizah and her son - until a tragedy occurs.

Through this experience, Latiff comes to understand the significance of the Red Kebaya in his visions. I would not say that it was an excellent movie but it has a great storyline and would have been a better movie if it was executed properly. In my opinion, Ramli Latiff was a bit stiff in his role, maybe because of the language – he tried too hard to articulate his speech; in other words, to speak the queen’s English. Vanidah played her part pretty well but I believe that her role should have been made slightly more coy when she meets Mr Reynolds (Bob Mercer) again for the second time; noting that she is supposed to be playing a simple and demure woman, who only becomes an escort dancer in order to provide for her young son.

Bob Mercer got better in his acting as his role progressed but I think it was part of the role he played. However, Samantha Schubert stole the limelight as the detestable Davinia Reynolds, portraying a woman who obviously did not like the ‘colonies’ and found the locals to be beneath her. She played the part of a woman scorned to perfection. My main grievance was with regards to the role of Patrick Teoh, the antique shop owner. I believe the director should have introduced his role better in the movie. I could not connect to the significance of his presence in the movie.
Having said this, would I watch this movie again? For sure. And I would recommend you do too if you enjoy period films. The movie does give you a sense of nostalgia.

My rating: 3 Stars


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