ReviewWriter: Ezekiel Lee Zhiang YangWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"The Mission", "Help Me Eros"
With a strong undercurrent of how unfulfilling life truly is, ebbing away from watery themes of entrapment, burden and convalescence - Woo Ming Jin, a Malaysian without fake accents, has shot a world class art film that is at once outstanding among his peers.
Perhaps next time when he decides not to treat fellow New Wave indie auteurs to some ikan bakar
(he seems to hold some intense views on tropical fish), Woo could explain how he staged "Elephant" with such inviting aplomb, despite a subject matter so quaint and quiet. The guys at Variety may have drawn parallels between Woo and his half-hero Tsai Ming Liang (similar content and style) but it appears that Woo has a more consistent, industry-friendly understanding of how to sell an art movie - or perhaps that is the work of producer Edmund Yeo, who is responsible for this 96-minute version with tighter scenes and more music?
In any case, "The Elephant And The Sea" needs relatively little work for either purpose; foreign award consideration or local release red tape. This is because the meditative fishing village caper has solid story concept and movie logic, making it that much easier to edit and re-brand. In it, we see the baby-faced Berg Lee impressively playing a provincial lan chai
(by the way, where is Stephen Chua?) who loses his sidekick to a mysterious water-related endemic. Parallel to that is the plight of a widower played by Chung Kok Keung, who visits whores to forget his poor wife, now housed in a biscuit tin for an urn. The two never cross paths in the movie but the duality of their destiny is gorgeously conceived.
If there is something worth admiring about Woo, it would be the conscious effort he puts in to never get overly self-indulgent with show-off shots. An art movie paced properly will find converts; and "Elephant" has enough amusing captures (a Komodo dragon, a "4-D" flowerhorn fish and a boy in a bear trap) to remind us of Herzog-type projections that entertain simply because they are so darn interesting. These sequences remove the glare of the contrived performances from some of the lesser characters in the film who are obviously not actors.
Perhaps something bleaker would have tickled the fancy of this reviewer to five-star favouritism but Woo can stand proud in having made this fine effort - although he probably wished we could see this on 35mm. "Elephant" swam a sea of surrealism and came out on the other side solid. It stopped short of preachy redemption and settled for convalescence. As for me, I'll be waiting for the director's cut to see if there are more shots of Tan Chui Mui in a green bikini.Cinema Online, 23 September 2008