Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Journey (一路有你): When West Meets East and Love Collides

I had my initial misgivings when my mum first asked our whole family to watch this movie, and after watching the trailer to see what the movie was about. I was afraid that a movie about a Westerner getting married to an Asian would be full of cliches and stereotypes (not to mention about the danger of it bordering on racism or cultural superiority), and we already have a lot of movies glorifying white dudes as the best mate candidates already in the market.

While some stereotypes are still portrayed on screen, the movie manages to juggle it delicately without going into much of a cultural comparison, and giving a beautiful movie that focuses on strengths rather than weaknesses as a final product.


Source: Colourless Opinion


Set against the various scenic backdrop in Malaysia that makes you wonder if it's really shot in Malaysia, the film features the misty tea plantations on Cameron Highlands, the seaside wooden houses in Penang, the vast rice fields in Kedah and the cultural scenes in various part of Malaysia. It almost looks like a tourism promotion video itself with its beautifully framed shots, and it does a great job at depicting the lives of different people in different places, all of them tied together by a single Chinese tradition which is the wedding dinner.


The film tells the story about Benji, a carefree typical Westerner who hates conservative values, and Chuan, his soon to be father in law who values tradition above everything else, having to come together for the sake of Bee, Benji's fiancee and Chuan's daughter, whom I felt was poorly casted due to her heavy accented Malaysian English that doesn't seem to suggest that she spent the majority of her life in the UK. Naturally, chaos ensues as both the men's values collide against each other, and they have to learn to accept each other for the sake of the wedding. The film focuses on how the son in law bonds with the father in law despite existing language and cultural barriers, and it puts it creatively in the form of  the Chinese tradition of having to send wedding invitations by hand.

The pair meets a lot of different situation along their journey (hence the film's English title), and they learn and grow from each other's characters and strengths, while accepting each other's flaws at the same time.


Source: Film Biz Asia


For a movie that focuses mostly on the relationship between an outgoing white man and a stoic traditional Chinese man, I must say that the chemistry between the both was quite impressive. Both the actors Ben Pfeiffer and Sai Peng Lee manages to carry their characters convincingly, portraying the barrier among them and their personal struggle as they journey across Malaysia in a manner that we could all relate to. Nothing feels forced or fake in their portrayal, and there were numerous funny and as well as heartfelt moments as the two men try to bond for the sake of the wedding. It was definitely entertaining to watch them both react to each other.

There are also numerous other relationships explored in the film, such as Chuan's relationship with his classmates and the classmates relationships with their family, each of them portraying the dynamics of a family relationship in different ways. The film aims to portray how we are in fact one big family connected to each other, which I must say was done pretty decently cause it left a warm fuzzy feeling in me by the end of the movie.

The only relationship that I felt was sadly underdeveloped was Benji's and Bee's relationship, whom I felt was strangely lacking in chemistry (although they were supposed to be married to each other). It might have been the way they communicated, it felt as if they were just reading out lines instead of talking to each other. The dynamics of their relationship were also inconsistent, with one moment arguing then becoming lovey dovey again the next, which I felt was due to the insufficient screen time that they got due to the focus being on Chuan and Benji instead.


Source: Colourless Opinion


The film also manages to tackle many questions eloquently and light-heartedly too, such as the role of tradition in today's world, the role of a father and a husband, and how a marriage between two people fall into the bigger picture of the family. I personally find it heartwarming to see how the film comes to a conclusion to all the question it raised. I won't spoil the ending for you, but trust me that it is not disappointing.

The film also manages to portray several sub-themes along the way, such as interracial love relationships, highlighting the relationship that Chuan had when he was young with Fatimah, a Malay girl. It was interesting to see how his relationship sort of relates back to his daughter's, in fact a lot of relationships in the film are reflective of each other. In the end, I loved the message given by the film that sort of says there is no perfect relationship in this world, and the only perfect one that exist is the one that you choose to accept.

However, the only one thing that still bothered me was how the film still proved one of my misgivings, and that the idea that white guys are still the best husband candidates out there. It seemed to give the idea that as long as you send your white boyfriend to live with your dad, he will undergo a complete transformation, becoming a caring husband and a loving dad while still maintaining his romantic traits and such. 


not to mention Singaporean girls too, if they watch this movie (Source: Colourless Opinion)


Of course, that's my jealous cells speaking, cause I can never beat white guys when it comes to the love competition. Maybe we should go the other way around and go after white girls instead? And wondering if we could do an inverse movie instead where an Asian guy learns about the white culture when he wants to marry his blonde girlfriend.

Still, The Journey (一路有你) is by far the best Chinese New Year movie that I have watched so far in so many years, it's cinematography, plot and acting (with a little complaint on Joanne Yew's acting only) far outshining its foreign counterparts such as Hello Babies and The Monkey King. It's great to see the standard of Malaysian cinema rising, and for this movie alone, I would give it a 9/10.


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