Flower in the Pocket (Director: Liew Seng Tat): Just before the screening, I overheard someone praising the Malaysian filmmakers’ ability to tell interesting stories on miniscule budgets and then when the film was introduced, it was revealed that this film was made for US$10,000-$15,000. After seeing this, I can concur with that judgement. In his directorial debut, director Liew Seng Tat weaves a remarkably rich and evocative portrait of an unusual family with an unexplained core of pain. When the film begins we meet Ma Li Ahn and Ma Li Ohm, two young Chinese-speaking brothers living in Kuala Lumpur. We observe their impish play and their difficulties at school, and how they depend on one another. When they do finally get home, the older boy, who appears to be about 9, makes three bowls of soup. The boys eat theirs, and leave the other bowl covered up as they head off to bed.
Later that night, their father Siu comes home. A single father, he works as a mannequin maker, and seems profoundly cut off from human contact, even contact with his own sons. Remarkably, father and sons aren’t even in the same frame for almost an hour. But the boys are resourceful and have each other. They seem to be happy. When they meet the tomboyish Ayu, she takes them home to meet her mother, who feeds them like the almost-feral creatures they resemble. It’s only at this point that the audience realizes how neglected the boys are.
Their father isn’t exactly uncaring, but he almost seems incapable of expressing love. Only later do we get a hint of the wound at the heart of the family, when Siu takes an old photo of a couple out of a shoebox, tears it in two, and tries to swallow the half with the woman’s picture. I assume this is the boys’ mother, but they never seem to ask for her. All this would seem unbearably sad except for the wonderfully impish performances of the brothers. As well, near the end, Siu seems to be making an effort to reconnect with the world, and most importantly, with his sons. There is also a good amount of humour in the film, some of it bordering on the zany.
I believe this may have been my first experience watching a film from Malaysia, and it was enlightening to observe just how multi-racial and multi-lingual a place like Kuala Lumpur is. With so many different cultures clashing, there is plenty of room for misunderstandings, many of which the director plays for laughs. But it’s also a place where people can fall through the cracks, and the scenes where the younger boy struggles in school because he can’t understand the Malay language point out that without family or friends, the modern multicultural city can be a scary place for children.