dir: Ho Yuhang
As I was saying to a friend, Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country but the Malaysian society is in fact very fragmented. Although we are made to believe that we are one nation, the three main races do not, in reality, mixes that well. Sometimes, it is a wonder to me on how these people can live in the same country, see each other daily at work and still know so little about each other.
SANCTUARY takes a look at the lives of a Malaysian Chinese family. It is popular myth that the Chinese in Malaysia is wealthy which is a basis for the New Economic Policy for weath distribution. I for one could not agree with this as I see with my own eyes how poor many Chinese family can be, and I come from one of these poor families. SANCTUARY put that on the big screen for all to see.
The story centers around a brother and a sister. The brother is a job hopper who can never find a permanent job and also sucks at gambling at the pool table. The sister works in a photocopy shop, that is evidently pirating textbooks. The grandpa lives in an old folks home, prefering to stay there to take care of another old woman instead of coming home to stay with his grandchildren. In fact, he seemed very much happy and contented playing and attending to the dog compared to with his grandchildren. The kiddo’s dad is dead, having been stupid and committed suicide. The connecting theme of these characters is that they are struggling to find their own sanctuary, a place where they can find peace, love and quietude. But can they find it? For me, I don’t think they can. In fact, I think they are doomed.
Throughout the movie, we see the characters looking for their sanctuary; the brother’s attempt to move to a motel is fruitless as the sound from the construction drilling annoyed him, the grandpa’s only peace is to look after the sick old woman but that soon has to come to an end, the sister’s solace in her brother turned out to have a dangerous romantic turn, well even the dead is not at peace as we still hear the construction drilling sound when the brother and sister visits their parents at the cemetery. So finally, where do they go? Maybe they are as doomed as their father. We see the number 4 appear at least three times in the movie. Number 4, in chinese, is synonymous with death. Is this their destiny?
The camera work is one of raw realism. Often times, on handheld, the camera follows the character and thus we always see the back of the character’s head. This technique gives us the feeling of watching the character from behind, seeing what he is seeing, and sometimes, a feeling of peeking into their lives, which indeed is what we are doing. In a scene in the cemetery, the camera went behind the joss sticks that and I get a feeling that I am the parents looking at my kiddos but can do nothing to help them find solace and peace and love. It is a very sad feeling. We see that the characters gets glimpses of richness, of what is “good” in the world via a radio commercial but all these seem so unreachable for the characters. For them, material comfort and cosmetic beauty will never be within their reach in this lifetime. But still, it challenges, even if one achieves material comfort and beauty, is that really a true sanctuary? If not, what is?
This seemingly “slow” movie is not for those who watches only INDIANA JONES and SPIDERMAN movies because this film is truly beyond them. It is beyond mass popcorn entertainment but if one has the patience to watch, feel for the characters and reflect, then the journey will be very rewarding.