Following the aimless lives of a handful of patrons that have spent years living in an old hotel, “Mah Lian Hotel” offers insight into two patrons struggling with a repetitious lifestyle.
“Mah Lian Hotel” is one of those productions that thrives on its minimalist approach in regards to dialogue and presentation. Where this approach finds the most success is in establishing a narrative. The disjointed thoughts of the patrons reflect a sort of longing for something better than the lives they have found themselves in. These reflections become focused on the repetitious nature of their existence and their hopes in a life outside of the hotel. Each thought is generally met with a pause, reflecting exhausted ruminations played out through years of repetitive routine. The way language is handled in an exhausted and labored approach showcases an understanding of dialogue delivery being able to frame a lot of backstory.
Where the production begins to fall apart is in the technical presentation, largely within the treatment of audio. To the film’s credit, it is scored wonderfully, with a minimalist and atmospheric electronic vibe that compliments the gritty visuals. Unfortunately, the production contains numerous awkward cuts, which normally transition into harsh background noise that sounds like metal in a dryer. This gives the impression that the entire film was shot in the ramshackle hotel. However, with some shots being just focused on the performers’ faces, a second, less noisy location could have been utilized. The production also contains some voice over, or scenes with no dialogue that still contain a large degree of background noise, which could have been softened with the use of noise reduction in audio editing, or more constant use of music. Unfortunately, the amount of unnecessary noise becomes a consistent annoyance.
The visual presentation, outside of a few well chosen stock footage shots is of drastically low quality. This effect is heightened by a lot of uncomplimentary camera work, which gives the impression of shooting in tight quarters, as actors are often awkwardly framed close together when they are in the same scene. However, that is not to say that there is not a degree of charm in this approach, since the contrast between the stock footage, which also appears aged at times, gives a nice stylistic vibe and the close quarters do feel reflective of the introverted and tragic life of the inhabitants of the hotel. The only complete let down in the production comes with the subtitles. Unfortunately, they also suffer from low quality and even using the yellow tint, occasionally become lost in over saturated colors. There is also an abundant overuse of ellipses that feels unnecessary to the point of annoyance. In spite of the low quality visuals, director Loong Wah is able to make the most of budgetary restraints to give some stylistic charm to the production.
“Mah Lian Hotel” is an interesting look at the lives of a few wandering souls looking for purpose in life, which also contains an admirable approach in creating an atmosphere on obvious budget restrictions. Unfortunately, the limitations drag down the production too much, and will make it excruciating for many. Personally, having watched many low budget, grainy, subtitled films, I have gained an appreciation and ability to overlook such shortcomings. Unfortunately, certain choices (particularly in audio presentation) are too crude to allow me to embrace the film entirely. It is apparent that director Loong Wah has potential to become a stronger creative voice with more experience, and I look forward to seeing him being able to refine his work in future productions.