Director: Tan Boon Huat
Cast: Aniu, Joyce Cheng, Marcus Chin, Elvis Chin, Hong Kuo Juey
Runtime: 1 hr 31 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures & Clover Films
Opening Day: 30 January 2014
Synopsis: HUAT AH! HUAT AH! HUAT is an inspirational comedy for audiences of all ages. The film tells the story of Ah Huat, a youth who strives for success but never goes against his motto of “being honest”. Ah Huat reflects the typical Malaysian Chinese who treats everyone with kindness and sincerity.
Aniu reprises the role of the simple-minded but likeable kampung boy in his latest ‘Huat Ah! Huat Ah! Huat’, which immediately recalls his filmmaking debut ‘Ice Kachang Puppy Love’. Indeed, there are many similarities between the two movies - and we’re not just talking about the nature of the character which Aniu plays. Co-scripted by Aniu himself together with director Tan Boon Huat and Ho Liu Fong, it is at its heart also a love story built around one young man’s attempt to convey his love to his long-time crush.
That person here, as the title pointedly suggests, is Ah Huat, an autistic lad who may be 26 years old but possesses the naiveté of a child. The extended opening prologue establishes his guileless nature with some of the best scenes of the movie, as Ah Huat repeatedly falls out of favour with the village fruit stall owner Ah Kun (Sam Chong) by being too honest with the quality of the latter’s fruits with his customers. But Ah Huat isn’t just the village idiot; as an assistant with Ah Kun, he reveals a savant sense of smell that is able to tell the difference between a rotting mango and one that has worms inside.
It isn’t the only gift Ah Huat is blessed with though; the most significant of that is a little magical ability called a ‘tornado’ hand, which literally means that he can create a mini ‘tornado’ with the swirl of his right hand. That special ability finally comes in handy when he is thought how to make coffee from a mysterious old man, in which his swirl becomes critical in achieving a perfectly balanced brew. Almost instantly, Ah Huat goes from pariah to celebrity - not only are the people in his village amazed by his coffee-making skills, others from around Malaysia also flock to his nondescript village just to get a taste of his coffee.
And yet Ah Huat has but two motivations in his life - first, to win the heart of the girl of his dreams, a nerdy fishmonger woman named Xiao Ping (Cheng); and second, to take care of his grandfather Da Chai (Marcus Chin), especially so when he accidentally hears that the latter is ill. To earn money for both, he accepts fellow villager turned businessman Paul’s (Elvis Chin) proposal to set up a high-class barista in Kuala Lumpur - but as you might expect, things can only start to go downhill for Ah Huat from then on.
Yes, if it isn’t yet clear enough, there is a point the filmmakers are trying to make here about being honest and appreciating the simpler things in life (like family and loved ones) as opposed to choosing the unscrupulous route and letting money rule over everything else. Ah Huat is the perfect embodiment of the former, with his business partners turned enemies Paul and a greedy investor Madam Tsunami (Joanne Kam) the exact polar opposites the film wants to make a lesson out of. As well-intentioned as that may be, the thinly written script hardly fleshes out the film’s central theme enough to truly resonate.
Ditto for the love story between Ah Huat and Xiao Ping, which never quite convinces its audience exactly whether and why the two would share a mutual attraction - even if both find solace in being ostracised by their fellow villagers at one point. On the other hand, the film squanders the opportunity of finding poignancy in Ah Huat’s relationship with his grandfather - despite a good setup which emphasises the depth of Da Cai’s paternal love for Ah Huat, there isn’t a satisfying end to the melodramatic twist. Indeed, it is a pity really that the most fully formed relationship in the story is that between Ah Huat and Ah Kun in the first half hour of the movie, after which everything else simply becomes lamentably underdeveloped.
As with ‘Ice Kachang’, Aniu also relies on musical interludes and a fair bit of CGI to lend his film a whimsical touch from start to finish. Those who like his hit ‘Look over here, girl across the street’ (literally translated from 對面的女孩看過來) will similarly appreciate the song-and-dance sequences under Aniu’s direction here, which retains the same folkish nature. And yet, one wishes that Aniu and his director Tan had dared to keep the proceedings a little more realistic now and then - in particular, Aniu’s incredible ability for creating a mini-tornado with his hand while in a shallow pool proves a little too incredulous to be swept up in. One also wishes that there could be a deeper dramatic angle to the film, which overplays the humour especially towards the end.
Yet Aniu remains an agreeable lead throughout the film, even if - as you can probably tell - he isn’t exactly the most good-looking actor around. He shares a nice chemistry with three of his younger co-stars - Vernique Lin, Tee Jing Chen and Bosvin Chen - who play Lin Lin, Jeremy and Sup Kambing respectively, and we might add more so than he does with his female co-star Joyce Cheng. The supporting acts are surprisingly well played, from Marcus Chin to Sam Chong to Ramasundran as the neighbourhood kopitiam owner who takes Ah Huat in to KK Wong as the village bully named Fei Yong Jun.
A final word of caution - those expecting big laughs should probably avoid ‘Huat Ah! Huat Ah! Huat’, as even the best material here is only gently amusing. The only thing it has going for it is a genuine down-to-earth feel-good quality, that is likely to make the older generation among us reminisce about a time when life was simpler and less hectic - but even at a mere 91 minutes, it feels longer than it should primarily because it simply isn’t quite engaging. And if it isn’t obvious enough, the movie is also in itself the biggest product placement - after all, the name of the character and his coffee brewing skills is ultimately an advertisement for the film’s main sponsor, Ah Huat White Coffee, even though the subtle irony between the film’s anti-commercialisation message and the fact that you can get the sponsor’s coffee sachets in any nearby supermarket is probably unintended.
(A down-to-earth feel-good vibe cannot quite compensate for a lack of laughs, a lack of chemistry between Aniu and his co-star Joyce Cheng, and most of all an increasingly haphazardly plotted story that hardly engages)
Review by Gabriel Chong