Director: Chiu Keng Guan
Cast: Ben Andrew Pfeiffer, Lee Sai Peng, Joanne Yew Hong Im
RunTime: 1 hr 42 mins
Released By: MM2 Entertainment & Cathay-Keris Films
Opening Day: 20 March 2014
Synopsis: Uncle Chuan is an old-fashioned and conservative retiree who leads a quiet life in Cameron Highlands. He wants to reunite with his only daughter Ah Bee who is due to return from her studies overseas. But to his horror, Ah Bee brings back an angmo boyfriend, Benji, and they plan to get married. Uncle Chuan strongly opposes to the marriage but his daughter refuses to budge. In the end, Uncle Chuan reluctantly agrees to the marriage, on condition that the wedding ceremony is done in the traditional Chinese way. According to Chinese customs, son-in-law Benji has to deliver the wedding invitation cards together with his future father-in-law. Uncle Chuan wants to invite eleven of his primary school classmates to his daughter’s wedding in person--a promise that he has made to them since young. To complicate matters, these classmates now live all over the Malaysian Peninsula, some in remote places. Benji agrees to the challenging task, but insists that they travel on his somewhat beat-up motorcycle. There begins the journey of a lifetime for a cranky old man and his equally cranky son-in-law.
If there is one thing that Singapore’s ‘Ilo Ilo’ and Malaysia’s ‘The Journey’ have in common, it is that the best stories are those told from the heart and about the family. You would probably have heard about our little film by Anthony Chen that has gone on to win the Best Film at the Golden Horse Awards, but you may also want to take note of Malaysian director Chiu Keng Guan. His third Chinese New Year film after 2010’s ‘Woohoo!’ and 2011’s ‘Great Day’, ‘The Journey’ has won over the hearts of countless of our brothers and sisters across the Causeway, which has since played for over two months to become the highest-grossing local film ever.
In many aspects, life in Singapore and life in Malaysia ain’t that different. Both societies have local issues of cultural differences, generational gaps, and of course familial expectations that confront each and every individual. So you’ll understand the reservations that the strict conservative curmudgeon Uncle Chuan (Lee Sai Peng) has when his daughter, whom he had forced to live with his aunt in England following the death of her mother, returns home with a Caucasian fiancé Benji (Australian actor Ben Andrew Pfeiffer)hoping to receive his blessings for their impending nuptials.
The reservations of course aren’t just Uncle Chuan; his daughter Ah Bee (Joanna Yew) still holds a grudge against her father for sending her away, their relationship broken because of distance, lack of communication and East-West cultural differences after her stay in England. Ah Bee’s resentment of her father only grows deeper at the start when Uncle Chuan is opposed to the marriage due to what he perceives is Ben’s childish behaviour. But upon a close friend is suddenly struck with stroke, he decides to give the ‘ang-moh’ a chance.
Accepting their marriage reluctantly, he has but one condition, that Benji go on a road trip with him to personally deliver their wedding invitation to 11 of his former primary classmates scattered across Peninsular Malaysia. Turns out that the twelve of them had at some point in their childhood each picked an animal in the Chinese zodiac, and the trip also serves as a means for Uncle Chuan to reconnect with the people whom he had lost touch with over the years, with the realisation that life can indeed be both short and unpredictable.
Like ‘Ilo Ilo’, ‘The Journey’ isn’t composed of big moments; rather, screenwriter Ryon Lee looks for gentle unforced humour in real-life situations, mirroring the chuckles and smiles that we have in daily life. Benji’s ‘boo-boos’ along the journey struggling with language and cultural barriers makes for some nicely amusing moments, but underneath the humour, the film goes much deeper to explore the tension between modernism and tradition, especially as the relevance of Chinese customs are constantly being re-evaluated in the face of an increasingly metropolitan society. It’s the same in Singapore as with Malaysia, so even though this isn’t set in our hinterland, you’ll instantly relate to what is being portrayed.
Not just that, Chiu excels in moments of poignancy, and it isn’t an overstatement to say that ‘The Journey’ is one of the most heartwarming movies that we have seen of late. The bonding between father and son-in-law builds to something quite touching towards the end, but more than that, the reconciliation between father and daughter for the years of hurt and misgivings that have been previously ignored is something which you’ll find difficult to hold back your tears from.
For first-time feature film actors, all three of the lead cast have performed beautifully. In particular, Lee Sai Peng’s grumpy Uncle Chuan is an absolute natural, and as the story evolves, you’ll find yourself warming up to his character. Pfeiffer brings a whole lot of charm into the picture, and it isn’t surprising that girls will take very easily to his goofy persona. Lee and Pfeiffer also make a great pair, and you’ll find yourself rooting for the two to embrace each other by the end of the film.
There is indeed a reason why a simple unassuming film like this has gone on to become the most popular local film in Malaysia, and that is evidently clear once you have seen it. In exploring themes of culture, tradition, modernity, family, and reconciliation, ‘The Journey’ proves in its own humble and unpretentious manner that life and love is a journey worth the living and worth the taking. It won’t leave you astounded, but as a feel-good movie, it is a truly a winner.
(A genuine heartfelt winner of a feel-good movie, this Journey is one you wanna take again and again)
Review by Gabriel Chong