I’ve always been a sucker for Malaysian films, although not wholly with a blind and unconditional kind of love. A selective sucker with standards, that is. But still, I always had a soft spot for anything locally made, always super eager to try out anything that looks promising, and ever patriotically ready to defend them. Before I formally got into studying films though, the latter would happen even if it meant that I had to do some sugarcoating and be in denial about how bad the film actually was.
Not anymore, though. Even if I do still have some biased loyalty towards local films, especially when it’s something fresh and different (read: cool), I’m now tough enough to take off my rose-tinted glasses and join the TBH* bandwagon by keeping it real.
Just by its title, director(s), producers, fresh, experimental and anthological nature (omnibus film, that’s the term for it!), the premise, and most of all the indieness of it all (who the heck are the main cast never seen before lor, low budget, limited release, Garang Pictures et cetera), I desperately wanted to be in love with ‘Cuak’. But I just had to give in to my second (and third, fourth, so on) thoughts. Or really, actually, the opposite lah: whatever instant impressions I had upon watching.
Second Thoughts. That’s the English translation for the movie title, to describe the pre-wedding jitters as the central theme faced by the chief character of the movie, Adam (Ghafir Akbar) who is about to marry Brenda (Dawn Cheong). This issue is the premise that binds the five segments directed by five different directors, which are then combined together in a non-linear structure to make “one seamless narrative”, as boasted by the producer. The narrative jumps from one segment to another and then back again to and fro, in an unidentifiable cinematic timeline, which doesn’t really matter as all that happens lead to the day of the couple’s solemnisation anyway. The film is to be viewed not as an anthology of short films, but as a tale of its own told from five separate perspectives.
If this film was seen in the sense of ‘form over substance’ (I’m patenting this), then it has all my respect, so I hope that is the case: that the creators primarily wanted to experiment with that sort of collaborative approach, and only then came the brainstorm for the common theme that would enable them to implement the collaboration. In that sense, and the freshness of it being a one-of-a-kind breakthrough in our Malaysian cinema (although similar to the concept explored by previous films such as ‘Kolumpo’ and ‘Chow Kit’, by having more than one story and storyteller in a single feature film, the difference being the degree of interdependence between stories), it is a winner indeed.
It’s interesting to note that this film is not only about marriage, but the structure of it itself is a marriage of ideas and forms, and Khairil M. Bahar is the tailor responsible for the holy union of the five stories. Not only is he the director for one of the five segments, but he also came up with the bits and pieces required to sew the stories together. Albeit each of the five segments in ‘Cuak’ naturally having different sentiments and style, and also being of different identifiable genres (dark absurdist comedy, neo-noir, realism), Khairil makes sure that there is rarely a jumpy feel to the cuts and structuring of the narrative. However, the whole quilt of the movie is not altogether seamless as the producer wishfully thinks it to be. The whole movie after all is still a set of short films, each segment having a separate stunted journey of its own, resulting in the characters being underdeveloped across the whole feature-length film.
Of course, it is a complete script, and the characters remain true to their created traits in every segment. However, with the different styles of each segment, Adam and Brenda would naturally show different sides of themselves and their lives. That is the interesting part of having different pairs of eyes looking into the same story of the same people, that you’d get a different view every time. Who’d ever thought that a person, who is just as normally needy and doubtful as anyone could be, also actually has a nutcase brother who’s being hunted by a serial killer? And that this normal pretty girl actually has the weirdest parents and this tendency to pick a fight over stuff as trivial as eggs? The unpredictability and possibility of a story and a person having so many sides to them is intriguing. If every audience member could embrace the analytical excuse of the movie being true to the fluid nature of life by taking the form of an emotional rollercoaster journey of the characters, then only may one agree upon this holy matrimony of a movie.
This film is indeed a representation of another part of Malaysian culture that has rarely been portrayed in our cinemas. However, I don’t believe it is fair to say that it is one of the films that could be used to define the identity of a Malaysian film, or Malaysian culture at that. ‘Cuak’ is a tad bit too subjective and niche to be that. There was a handful of moments in the film on their own that made me silently exclaim, “OMG this is Malaysia”, but as a whole, not quite. So despite presenting such fascinatingly relatable themes (pre-marriage issues, intercultural marriage, Malaysian culture, marriage in general, culture in general, differences, relationships, etc.), a fairly realistic world, and believable characters, not every Malaysian can resonate with this film; some might even be appalled by it. But then again, I’d love to think that that is somehow what this independent and limited-release film is secretly trying to achieve.
It helps that right before I finished writing my thoughts here, I stumbled upon the late Yasmin Ahmad’s musings on “what kind of a film critic are you?” As usual, anything that comes from her would definitely make an impression on me, whether subconsciously or otherwise. In actual fact, I have always empathized with what she had to say about considering the actual expressions in a film first before jumping into analyzing the way they were being expressed. In the case of ‘Cuak’, I beg to differ. I think that the method of delivery in the film (as in the collaboration effort) is more essential to note because that itself on its own is already an expression that the creators wished to convey.
‘Cuak’ is a simple and nonetheless unique, almost revolutionary film that will leave viewers with second thoughts indeed, in a very good way.
* For less slang-savvy readers, TBH: To Be Honest
Featured image credit: TempoSenzaTempo