Movie Details

The RED KEBAYA

Latiff, a famous but lonely photographer who was orphaned since he was a small child, sets out on an expedition to photograph abandoned houses around Malaysia. On his journey, he is haunted by images and sounds that reminds him of his traumatic childhood. At one particular house on the island of Penang, he is transported back through time to witness the shocking events that took place in the house over 50 years ago. Through his experience, Latiff understands the tragic circumstances that led to him being orphaned and also finds an old friend.

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Genre: Drama
Running Time: NA
Distributor:
Cast: Vanida Imran
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Review
Writer: Pairamaporn Buranakol

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Watch this if you liked: Sleeping Dictionary, Puteri Gunung Ledang

The movie is set partially during the British colonisation of Malaya about 50 years ago, about an Englishman who is trapped in a controlled and stifling marriage with his xenophobic wife. When the wife, Davinia (Samantha Schubert), briefly leaves Malaya for England, John Reynolds (Bob Mercer), becomes involved with a beautiful joget dancer, named Azizah (Vanidah Imran) - until a tragedy occurs, leaving a young orphan in its wake.

To be honest, before this movie, I had no idea who Bob Mercer was; but after watching him flex his acting chops in "The Red Kebaya"; I have to admit they chose the right man for the role of John Reynolds. He looked to be the perfect, drooling Englishman lusting after the local girl, yet seemed so spineless earlier when he was controlled by Davinia. I cheered silently when he finally stood up to her. Also, most of his dialogue was in Malay, which sounded stiff at first but he does brush it up better near the end of the film.

However, Samantha Schubert stole the limelight as the detestable Davinia Reynolds, portraying a woman who obviously was a born and bred city woman, forced to adapt to the local culture and her mosquito-infested surroundings. Snobbish, nasty, and downright condescending to the locals - Schubert 's portrayal gave us someone to truly detest in the movie.

Ramli Hassan is perhaps a little too stiff in his role as the famous photographer, Latiff, who experiences flashbacks of the occurrence in the Reynolds' home. Still, I have to give credit to him because it's not easy transitioning from stage to film-making, and being both a producer and actor in this film. However, he he gives his best effort.

For the supporting cast, Elaine Daly was a delight to watch as the joget dancer - jealous, whiny, and annoyingly manja. The iconic Patrick Teoh may have had a small role as the antique thrift shop owner, but his presence was more felt than any of the other actors on stage. Also look out for a great scene at an ais kacang stall when Jo Kukuthas, who plays the cook, and Sham Suder Binwani who acts as the butler, encounter Davinia after they were released from being in service to the Reynolds.

However, the plot was still weak in most parts - especially the flow between the apparent flashbacks which Latiff encounters back into the past. The movie does not go into the science of this, leaving you wondering if you're supposed to have a suspension of disbelief akin to watching a theatrical play.

With actors coming from a theatrical background, their habit of over-dramatising reactions and emotions and projecting their voice to live audiences seems to make it hard for them to act naturally in the film.

However, credit must be given to the costume designer who designed the beautiful kebayas worn in the film - silky, flowing lines which highlight the curves of the female body yet leaving no visual display of skin.

The final question here is: how far have we come to handle interracial relationships over the last 5 decades? Had this movie been showcased 30 years ago in this country, we would have had a riot. Perhaps we are more than ready to take that step into being more broad-minded in accepting a film like this, a tale of following your heart - or lust - and shoving aside the rigid thinking of yesteryears.

Overall, this is a film not to be missed if you enjoy period films about life when Malaysia was known as 'Malaya' - and if you don't jump to conclusions about the theme of the film.

Cinema Online, 23 September 2008
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Classification
Effective 15 July 2011
G - Suitable for all ages
PG - Suitable for all ages, but parents should provide guidance to their young
PG13 - Suitable for persons aged 13 and above, but parental guidance is advised for children below 13
NC16 - Suitable for persons aged 16 years and above
M18 - Suitable for persons aged 18 years and above
R21 - Restricted to persons aged 21 and above only
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