JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Rain Dogs (Director: Ho Yuhang) - October 18, 2006
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Rain Dogs

2 2
95 min.

Reviewed at the 2006 Pusan International Film Festival
More than one redeeming quality is required

Tai yang yue (also known in English as Rain Dogs and not in anyway to be confused with Robbie Moffats’s 2004 film of the same) is a sad example of good intentions gone horribly astray. The premise of a young, rural Malaysian coming to Kuala Lumpur to live with his cosmopolitan brother, only to discover life’s tough lessons and morph into a man, never gets out of the narrative starting box. Which is hugely disappointing given that Choon Wai Kuan as Tung captivates the eye and sends pulses racing for all sexualities from the opening frames. He’s born for the big screen but will have to await another outing to fully measure his acting skills: with such a confused and disjointed script (when-in-doubt-leave-the-crucial-moments-to-the-audience becomes predictable and tiresome after the third dose—one for each of the writers Ho Yuhang, Lim Lay-kuen and Too Set-fing) it’s tempting to turn off the sound and the subtitles then just admire the view.

Tung’s brother, Hong (Cheung Wing-Hong, tough-love lite in his brief role) literally gambles his life away at the hands of some illegal snooker-room rivals. This soon after he’s given Tung RM 1,000 “for ma” and sent back home on the bus. Trouble is, his younger brother seems to have lost the guilt money in the bus station washroom so opts to stick around in KL to save, er, face.

Back home, Tung’s mother has made her own deal with the devil, Chat Suk. She sleeps with the parasite who takes her cash and even Hong’s bike—Tung’s only legacy from his elder brother. He took possession of his “ride” following initiation into an eye-for-an-eye vengeance (mostly off screen) orchestrated by some of his brother’s sympathetic chums. The man-boy who’d rather be fishing barfs up his revulsion and motors away. That cues the first helping of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” (Tung’s father died before he knew him), foreshadowing further cliché-filled saccharine moments to come.

Tung opts to leave his mother to her man and soon arrives unannounced on Auntie Min’s doorstep. Also residing in this dysfunctional household is the always-at-sea uncle who swigs copious quarts of Tiger beer and tries to teach his nephew the fine art of self defence. Tung’s love life improves with his not coincidental introduction to Hui and fast-track sister Cui. There’s some hope at this juncture, but the characters and the developing romance are never nurtured or explored with significant screen time.

Metaphorically armed with his uncle’s pistol, Tung finally storms off to his mother’s defence. He pauses on the way for some target practice, unleashes a round in the woods, nervously pees then tosses the loaded weapon into the brush at the first wail of an oh-so-conveniently-nearby police siren. Freud would have loved this scene. No better time than now to slip in another serving of solo classical piano—so at one with troubled youth everywhere.

More close-ups, please.

And so the directionless tale drifts to its end (most certainly not its conclusion). Along the way blackmail, slight fisticuffs and the revelation that Tung is a sleepwalker produce so-what shrugs rather than “aha!” narrative twists.

Finally, director Ho Yuhang outdoes his sugar fetish with a solitary kite being flown in a rainbow-enhanced sky (really!), even as the “Motherless Child” is reprised and the sisters drive out of frame. Rather than empathy for the hapless Tung, we start to wonder what their future will bring. JWR

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