By now you would have heard that You Mean The World To Me is Malaysia’s first ever Penang Hokkien dialect film.
You may even had read about how it is a semi-autobiographical story about director Saw Teong Hin’s (Puteri Gunung Ledang, Jejak Warriors) family.
Heck, someone might have even told you that world renowned cinematographer Christopher Doyle worked on the film as well.
You might think that knowing all that, and perhaps even having watched the play – which debuted at the George Town Fest a few years back – you would know what to expect when you watched the film version.
You would be wrong.
This is a film that is equal parts moving, challenging, happy, sad and disturbing, all at the same time. It is a film that takes its time to get going, lingering lovingly (and sometimes not so lovingly) on its central characters. And last but not least, it is a film that is not afraid to raise difficult questions and confront the director’s own personal demons.
Sunny (Frederick Lee) is a filmmaker who has fallen unto hard times. He returns to his hometown of Penang to make a movie about his dysfunctional family, a story marked by one particularly traumatising event he witnessed as a child.
That event caused him to bear resentment towards his family, especially his sister, Ah Hoon (Yeo Yann Yann), his mentally challenged elder brother Boy (John Tan) and his mother (Neo Swee Lin).
As he struggles with financial problems as well as his own guilt while making the film, Sunny learns the true value of family and also learns to accept the past.
First of all, don’t worry about the language. Yes, the film is in Penang Hokkien, but is that really so different from watching a film in Cantonese or Mandarin? In fact, the language actually enhances the, err, “Penang-ness” of the movie. And if all else fails, the subtitles are pretty accurate too.
The cinematography by Doyle does the same, treating Penang like one of its characters, lovingly showing it off with splendid wide aerial views, while letting us see other sides of the city we might not have noticed before.
The cast members are also outstanding here, managing to carry Saw’s story through its sometimes painfully depressing arc. It also helped that most of the cast were already in the stage version, so they had the characters down pat already.
Lee portrays admirably well as the onscreen version of Saw, while Tan is frighteningly scary yet vulnerable as Boy. The real star of the show, however, is Neo Swee Lin, who is the central pillar of the story. She is outstanding as the troubled, harried mother of the family, trying her best to keep it together while taking care of three children and a drunkard husband.
You Mean The World To Me can be a little heavy in parts, and the ending does feel a little rushed. But there is a moment of clarity captured in a perfectly executed final twist that is worth waiting for.
Saw has said in a recent interview that this movie is his way of apologising to his late mother and brother for his past mistakes, and honouring their memory. Well, we like to think that they would have been proud to see just what an impressive film he has made out of their story.
You Mean The World To Me
Director: Saw Teong Hin
Cast: Frederick Lee, Neo Swee Lin, Yeo Yann Yann, Chelsia Ng, John Tan, Evan Chia, Sue Tan