Sunday, January 16, 2005

BKKIFF 2005 review: The Beautiful Washing Machine

  • Written and directed by James Lee
  • Starring Loh Bok Lai, Len Siew Mee
  • Reviewed at the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival
  • Rating: 4/5
I had heard good things about this film by James Lee, set in Malaysia. But after it was all over, I kind of wondered what all the fuss was about. Perhaps I should have stayed for the Q&A with the producer, but I didn't, as I was in a rush to get to another film at the festival. Had I stayed, I would have learned more about indie filmmaking in Malaysia.

My first reaction to this quiet, meditative film is that it was cute. It's about a guy, a bespectacled cubicle drone who has just lost his girlfriend. She's either taken all his possessions, or maybe he was such a shit that he made her do all the housechores. Whatever, he's in the market for a new washing machine. He settles for a second-hand machine, a green, front-loading Electrolux. He gets it and sits around watching the clothes go around.

A single guy, he has no clue how to get by in life. At the supermarket, he has to follow a single woman around, buying what she buys. Some stuff here, some stuff there, a 2-liter bottle of Sarsi. He's so clueless, he even follows her into the sanitary napkin aisle and actually picks up a pack of Tampax but throws it back on the shelf.

At home, the machine seems to have a mind of its own. One day, it simply stops mid cycle. There was no warranty from the store and the company that makes the machine says it's obsolete. An electrician comes over to fix it, but it works just fine.

Then one night, out of nowhere, a woman appears. She's crouched down by the machine slurping noodles and the noises of her rustling in the kitchen/utility room wake the guy up.

He promptly starts ordering her around. Do this, do that, mop the floor, wash the clothes, make me dinner. She has to handwash the clothes because the machine is still broken. He takes her out and gets her a sexy short dress, and that's all she's allowed to wear.

What happens next is even weirder, and I don't really want to go into it.

On that trip to the supermarket, another character is introduced - an old man whose has an oblique connection to the young loser.

The last half of the film focuses on him. He has the same kind of washing machine and by a twist of fate, the girl - did I mention she doesn't speak at all? - ends up with him. The old man's daughter is very suspicious. And the old man's son takes a liking to the girl.

I guess this movie is making a statement about the role and the repression of women in society, especially Asian society? I guess there are guys out there who would dream of a mute woman who was fairly attractive, put up no fuss or fight and did all the housework. The only thing missing, I guess, was that she should turn into a pizza after sex - for the total misogynist!

But it all went over my head at first. A couple of weeks later, I began to appreciate the film.

The first guy - the young loser - was a horrible character. I didn't like him at all. And the old man had some weird traits that were just laughable. Won't say too much about them, though. I supposed I'll really come to appreciate this movie if my washing machine starts acting up. But then, I have a manual washer and don't mind doing my own chores.

An anomaly at this film festival showing: during the grocery store scene, some random music by a boy band kicked in at ear-bleeding levels. Some people thought it was part of the movie, but I knew something was wrong. It didn't match the tone of the film, even if the song - crap that it was - seemed to go with the scene. It wasn't until dialogue started up (subtitles but the crap boyband sounds were still coming out) that the projectionist realized something was wrong with the soundtrack. They had to start the film over again. Very embarrassing, as the producer of the film was present at the screening.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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