Reel Asian 2008: Flower in the Pocket

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Flower in the Pocket is the story of two brothers, Li Ohm (Wong Zi Jiang) and Li Ah (Lim Ming Wei), who are left to fend for themselves for the most part. Their own father Sui (James Lee) spends most of his time refurbishing mannequins and keeping his distance from others, even declining invitations to parties/weddings to go out and meet other women. It is unclear why their mother is not there or if she is alive anymore. What is clear enough is that Li Ohm and Li Ah look out for each other and carry the burden of life and its struggles as bravely as they can.

Flower in the Pocket plays at 6:00pm on Saturday November 15th as part of the Reel Asian Film Festival.

Apart from having a father who is hardly present in their lives they are also Chinese living in Malaysia. The eldest brother, Li Ah, can speak Malay but Li Ohm cannot and relies on another student to translate his teacher's instructions to him. Later in the film they befriend a Malaysian Muslim girl Ayu. Or better yet, she befriends them, thrusting herself into their lives. She introduces herself by throwing a dead fish into the river the boys are fishing in and diving in after it then presenting it to them as a gift. They allow Ayu and her mother to fawn over them and feed them, perhaps helping fill that void left by their own mother. But whatever cultural differences there are between these young friends they are merely observations rather than obstacles to overcome.

Liew Seng Tat's approach to the direction is simple. The camera rarely moves allowing the action on the screen to tell the story further emphasizing each character's emotions and reactions in the film. His static camera work is as much a tool to tell the story as other directors would use as much camera work as possible to mask that they don't have one. And there is a noticeable absence of score in the film as well. Rather than attribute this to the small budget and tight shooting schedule in this case it works remarkably well again allowing what is happening on the screen to evoke emotion and response. Liew Seng Tat lets his story and script do the talking.

Wong Zi Jiang and Lim Ming Wei are truly exceptional as the brothers. They are so natural on screen it hardly seems like they are acting. Credit to Liew Seng Tat for getting such a natural performance of of each of these young actors. And a credit to them as well because they are the focus of this story and so much is expected of them to pull it off and allow the viewer to connect with them.

The final scene in the film has the father learning how to swim from his co-worker and then giving the same lesson to his sons. Perhaps not so much that they're going to take a trip to the pool or the ocean but perhaps to symbolize their unwillingness to allow themselves to drown anymore in pity and sorrow. As long as you can keep your head above the water then you're safe. But it could also indicate a newfound togetherness in this trio; that perhaps now they're all in this together. No one has to go about this alone any more.

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