Coming in Waves – Sometime, Sometime

Adi Iskandar considers the ebbs and flows of Jacky Yeap’s feature film debut.

Watching ‘Sometime, Sometime’ by Jacky Yeap can be a discombobulating experience. Though everything appears to be calm on the surface, beneath it lies a number of different, more subjective interpretations which may not necessarily hold as true to the director’s intended vision, but remain pertinent thoughts in my mind all the same.

The film focuses on the teenager Zi Kien (the director himself), his mother Ah Lin (the film’s producer, Tan Chui Mui), and the connection between them. To begin with, their relationship appears to be normal, but the arrival of Mr. Lee (Loh Kok Man) in Ah Lin’s life, as well as his attempts to initiate a more romantic relationship with her, affects Zi Kien’s perspective not just on his relationship with his mother, but also his own sense of self-esteem.

This leads to a phase of mirroring, where Zi Kien attempts to become more ‘adult’ by imitating what he sees around him, including an ill-advised attempt at smoking. A particularly symbolic scene could be seen early in the film, with the purchase of oversized clothes signifying how he is not quite ready to make that generational leap just yet.

Having said that, in a way this is not an uncommon thing, given the universality of school leavers wanting to grow up (too) quickly. In fact, such mirroring is a key factor for the maturing of many into young adults, prior to finding their own ways in the world. This places ‘Sometime, Sometime’ as an interesting coming-of-age story.

However, there is also a disconnect between the expectations I have of such a phenomenon and what I am seeing on screen, with a more Oedipean analysis crucial to our discussion. That complex contextualises a telling scene, where Zi Kien tails her own mother into a hotel room with another man. Following them (without being noticed) all the way to their room, he disturbs them by knocking on their door, before running away to hide.

As interesting as that is in its own right, Chui Mui’s Ah Lin also undergoes a metamorphosis along similar lines. In parts of the story she mirrors her son’s voyeuristic endeavours, displaying some territorial tendencies with Xue Ting (Jia Ern Yap), a girl Zi Kien later grows closer to. In terms of the narrative, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the shifting envy dynamic keeps things interesting for the audience.

Additionally, this could also have something to do with her own coming-of-age journey; after passing out drunk from a night out, she cuts her hair the next day, analysing herself in the mirror as she does so. This moment of self-reflection perhaps highlights a desire for her to be young again. Thus, her competing for her son’s attention perhaps has as much to do with her sense of self-esteem as anything else.

I don’t blame her for this, for being a single parent in the 21st century is no joke. Both homemaker and bread winner, she earns her keep by working at a department store. Though she is shown at times to be bored out of her mind (perhaps dissatisfied with this brand of dead-end capitalism?), she persists in making ends meet, and it is an emancipation I can respect.

The duality of her role is also seen in her teaching Zi Kien to drive. Usually the prerogative of the father, their presence on screen highlights a certain lack of this figure of male authority. I don’t quite subscribe to that entirely, but certainly many would believe in a hegemonic nuclear family as key in a child’s balanced development, and we can perhaps therefore read this as conditioning not just Zi Kien’s hostility against Mr. Lee, but also in his desire to become more adult.

It should be noted that what we see on screen is a natural extension of an off-screen mentorship between Chui Mui (now positioning herself as a leading light for younger filmmakers in Malaysia) and Jacky, a participant of the Next New Wave filmmaking programme Chui Mui initiated a few years ago (other noted alumni include Lim Han Loong and the film’s cinematographer, Chloe Yap Mun Ee).

That programme’s name is inspired by Chui Mui being a part of the Malaysian New Wave movement, a group of filmmakers rising to prominence in the early 2000s with their digital filmmaking endeavours. In more recent years, the likes of James Lee, Liew Seng Tat and Amir Muhammad have attained mainstream film success of their own, and I think ‘Sometime, Sometime’ (originally released in 2020) pairs well with Chui Mui’s own critically-acclaimed ‘Barbarian Invasion’ (screened in cinemas this year).

An homage of sorts could be found in Zi Kien’s own experiments with a mini DV camera (with Zi Kien playing a character called Jacky). This meta-narrative and technology is similar to what Chui Mui was working with at the start of her career. The film also touches on some socio-economic issues (including a lament about the lack of parking space for families living in high-density flats), but by and large it remains firmly fixed on our own characters’ trials and tribulations.

Overall, ‘Sometime, Sometime’ is a fine feature debut for Jacky. Perhaps at times there is a discord between my own perceptions and the film’s expectations (it’s difficult to really believe Chui Mui would look like the mother of a secondary school graduate), and a narrative shift in the middle of the film may not sit well with many. All the same, it remains an interesting film to watch, especially when contextualised with extra-diegetic factors.

‘Sometime, Sometime’ was screened at the 16th Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival. Further discussions of the Malaysian New Wave can be found in episodes 10 and 18 of the podcast.

Featured image credit: Stat News

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