The tragedy of our lives is that we have little control over it. Things can happen at random, and our whole life changes for better or for worse. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we cannot get out of thecurrent situation. It tends to make us desperate, we pine for an amazing home or the security of a good bank balance. Released in 2007, and directed by Woo Ming Jin, “The Elephant and The Sea” portrays this concept in a poignant manner.
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The movie opens with a woman talking on her phone, complaining about her car getting a punctured tyre. Soon, the mechanics arrive to repair her car. The mechanics, Yun Ding (played by Berg Lee Seng Wan) and Long Chai (Cheong Wai Loon) are also good friends. The pair throw sharp objects on the road and this leads to any vehicle passing this stretch of the road to get a puncture. They do this quite often until their lives are turned upside down when the sea retreats. This results in fish being left behind on the beaches. Anyone who consumes these fish dies within a matter of hours.
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Long Chai dies after consuming these fish and leaves behind a bereaved family, a mother, and a sister. Yun is also affected by the death of his friend. We are soon introduced to the other main character, Ah Ngau (played by Chung Kok Keung). He is a fisherman and comes home to find that his wife of eight years is dead and his home quarantined. He lives for the next few days in a shelter. Yun tries various ways to make money, even resorting to reading the numbers off the body of a fish, since he is told that the fish brings luck. Meanwhile, he becomes a driver where he takes people to and from a brothel. His desperation to make money even leads him to sell the sister of Long Chai to the brothel. Ah finds release in visiting prostitutes. When he first visits the brothel, he asks for a woman working there and is told that she is not available, indicating he has been coming here for a while.
There are several points about this movie which are worth highlighting. The most striking feature is the distinct lack of emotions in the characters. It is as if they are just going through the motions of this travesty we call life. There is little sentimentality in them. They are doing whatever they can to survive. The movie is summed up best in the scene when Yun wins the lottery. The first thing he does is buy a dress for Long Chai's sister and invites her to a movie. Instead of taking her to the movie, he sells her to the brothel and is told by the brothel keeper, that if she is good and she agrees to stay there, he will get five hundred dollars a month. He soon feels guilty about it and brings her back. They both sit on the beach and he tries to kiss her, but is slapped away. She tells him that if he can swim to an island back while carrying a heavy rock, she will do everything he asks her to do. He fails to do so and collapses on the beach exhausted. The reason this scene is important is due to its symbolism; the struggle of person's struggle against the reality they have been born into.
From a more technical perspective, the direction is decent. The camera work has an almost hand-held camera feel to it. This works for the movie since it is gritty and raw. The colours are drab and this too works well with the idea the movie is trying to project. The acting though is passable at best. The lack of emotions required, though might have constrained what the actors could have showcased.
Woo Ming Jin grew up fishing near mining ponds and he loves the ocean and the fish and everything related to them. Hence, the river is such an important part of this story. The appeal of this movie lies in its ability to force the audience to contemplate. To question how privileged they are and while the director may not intend it, it does have socialist undertones. The lack of money, the unfulfilled lives, these are uncomfortable topics. In a way, the audience cannot escape feeling desperate. Overall, it a good movie and an excellent gateway to Malaysian cinema.