Last week, UNMC’s School of Modern Languages and Cultures had the pleasure of welcoming one of Malaysia’s most prominent, independent filmmakers; James Lee. Being a student in film and an overall film fanatic, I was excited to meet and interview the Ipoh-born director before the screening of his new independent feature If It’s Not Now, Then When?, right here on campus. During my sit-down with him, he often spoke of how people ‘probably won’t like’ his new creation for various reasons. However, I had decided to judge that for myself and let the film speak for itself. And my God, did it speak!
If It’s Not Now, Then When? tells the story of a family of three; a mother, a daughter, and a son (who, interestingly enough, are rarely seen together at the same time throughout the film), each struggling with challenges they face following the death of the husband and father of the family. The mother (played by Pearlly Chua) seeks refuge outside of the household, often meeting and jogging with her lover at a park, and away from her children who are desperately seeking her love and attention. The daughter (played by Tan Bee Hung) tries with great strength to find sanctuary in the relationship she has with her married boss, who couldn’t care less and falls asleep while she gently massages his shoulders. How sad! On the other hand, the son (played, brilliantly if I may add, by Kenny Gan) is dealing with a woman who adores him, but he doesn’t love in return, while living a sort of ‘double-life’ as an electronics thief. The film continues to follow these characters as they struggle to find themselves and the compassion they yearn for with the ones they love in a world that doesn’t understand them. For the sake of not giving away too much, I will say that, by the end of the film, the characters do find their own havens, but definitely not in any way that one could imagine!
I’m going to jump ahead to the obvious and say that, contrary to Lee’s beliefs, I absolutely loved this film! The way in which the characters are portrayed within each of their own challenging situations is done so realistically, it hurts to see how the events unravel. Throughout the film, the calmness of the characters still reflected on their conflicting and despairing interiors. The performances were ones to truly applaud! Also, the limited use of music and color, the conversational dialogues, and the use of ‘mobile’ or ‘documentary style’ shooting made the film feel more real than anything, hence, immediately eliciting sympathy and understanding from the audience towards the characters’ lives. And that ending! It has been a while since I’ve seen a film end so surprisingly, and this one did not disappoint. Although (thinking about it now), there were some pretty veiled foreshadowing samples as to what the ending would hold, but that still does not change the element of surprise, especially since it is one that we would all never dream of thinking of (it’s a pretty taboo subject). Because of that, I can now kind of understand why Lee mentioned people may not fancy this film. Fun fact: after the screening, Lee revealed that the ending was actually completely improvised by the performers! That on its own leaves me even more speechless!
I was extremely grateful to have been given the chance to meet James Lee and watch this film and would like to take this opportunity to thank him and SMLC for bringing this event to UNMC. And for all of you who are looking to watch something away from the usual CGI masturbation and back into the real world, I highly recommend If It’s Not Now, Then When?.