Dir/scr: Yasmin Ahmad.Malay. 2004.104mins
While it may be foolhardyto doubt the power of love to sell cinema tickets around the world, it isunlikely that star-crossed Malaysian tearjerker Sepet will enjoy muchgood fortune beyond home.
Yasmin Ahmad's saga, whichupdates Romeo & Juliet to a modern south-east Asian locale, hascarried some weight at the home box-office, where it has enjoyed strongbusiness since late February especially as a date option for teenage audiences.But it is too modest and naive to resonate in the global marketplace, despiteforthcoming international outings like the San Francisco International FilmFestival, which begins next month.
Ah Loong (Ng) is awell-mannered young Chinese boy in Malaya who has adopted the name of Jason. Workingas an illegal street trader he meets movie buff Malaysian girl Orked (Amani)who likes the films of Wong Kar-wai and thinks that John Woo's Hollywood outputpales next to his earlier work. It is a case of love at first sight as theyhold each other's gaze, the soundtrack goes mute and the world literally standsstill.
A tentative romanceblossoms as they go on a first date and Jason finds himself completely smitten.The subsequent relationship is complicated by the concerns of their peers aboutthe social and cultural issues that may divide them, by Orked's inability toexpress the full depth of her feelings and by Jason's involvement with agangster's sister who becomes pregnant with his child.
Sepet is a film that wears itsheart on its sleeve as the poetic, lovestruck Jason openly ponders the questionof how long it takes to fall in love. It also wears its agenda in an obviousmanner as characters debate whether a Chinese boy and a Malaysian girl couldever find true happiness together and how different cultures can find commonground in the language of love.
There is a very distantwhisper of the kind of concerns that have fuelled the films of Spike Lee butthe heavyhanded approach makes this an anaemic affair compared to theincendiary passion of a Do The Right Thing or a Jungle Fever.Comic relief, mostly supplied by Orked's benevolent, understanding parents,also feels laboured.
Sincere, straightforwardperformances from the two leads make the tale palatable and incurable romanticsmight even find themselves engaged by the vicissitudes of their doomed romance.The tragic finale tugs at the heartstrings but its impact is undermined by abizarre denouement in which it appears that the couple's love endures evenbeyond the grave.
Prod cos: MHz Film, Grand Brilliance
Int'l sales: MHz Film
Exec prod/cine: Keong Low
Prod des: Ujang & Odeng
Main cast: Choo Seong Ng, Sharifah Amani, Linus Chang