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SFS Talkies @ The Picturehouse - The Elephant and the Sea (Followed by a post-screening discussion with the director)

What Set in a coastal village in northern Malaysia, The Elephant and the Sea is a film about the lives of two individuals after a mysterious water-borne disease strikes the area.
When 20 December 2008 (Saturday), 1pm
Where The Picturehouse
5th Floor The Cathay
2 Handy Road, Singapore 229233
(Near Dhoby Ghaut MRT station)
Admission

Free admission but members only -- flash your membership card to go in. You may bring up to 2 guests if you hold a SFS Reel membership card. Non-members may sign up online or at the door -- we will issue membership on the spot. No tickets will be sold. Free seating.

 

"..One of the most resonant expressions of the strife and misfortune experienced by southeast Asia's rural poor, but framed by an exceptionally developed--some would say demanding--aesthetic that stresses visuals over polemics." - Variety

Awards
Best Film - Lisbon Village Film Festival 2008
Special Jury Prize - Torino International Film Festival 2007
Best Director Award - Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival 2007
Critics Award - Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival 2007
Best Director - Diba Barcelona Film Festival, Spain 2008

The Elephant and the Sea follows the lives of two individuals in the aftermath of a water borne disease that strikes their fishing village.

A week after the disease takes the life of his wife, Ah Ngau, a fisherman by trade, is sent home with $300 in aid from the government and a cardboard box of useless “donations” from the public. Instead of grieving for his wife, Ah Ngau appears to have found a new sense of freedom, meeting a prostitute and experiencing a long delayed sexual awakening.

Refusing to enter his house, Ah Ngau takes off on his boat, and wanders into the forest, arriving at a waterfall where he witnesses a man jumping off the edge.  

Yun Ding makes a living doing an assortment of odd jobs, following his “big brother” Long Chai around. Mostly they cheat and hustle their way around, living off the naiveté of the public. When Long Chai succumbs to the disease, Ding has to make it on his own. But can a person with no direction in his life find something to hold on to?

Superstitiously believing that a flowerhorn fish (“Lucky Buddha” fish) is his ticket to financial freedom, Ding is convinced the fish will win him a fortune through the local 4-Digit lottery.

When Long Chai’s reticent sister Su Ling develops a crush on him, Ding uses it to his advantage, further plunging his character into a dark hole. For Ding, redemption is only a small step away, but it will always be a step in the other direction.


DIRECTOR’S NOTE

I wrote The Elephant and the Sea as a personal reflection of the county I knew growing up. In 1999, an epidemic called Japanese Enchiphilitis struck my hometown of Ipoh, and wiped out the pig farming industry. It also killed over a hundred people. Many families, including my own, stopped eating pork for more than 6 months even after the epidemic was gone. This outbreak was a precursor to the SARS and bird flu virus that is looming over the region now.

The Elephant and the Sea to me is a film about emotional paralysis. Both Ah Ngau, the fisherman, and Yun Ding, the drifter, are everyday people on the peripheral of society. They belong to a group that has been left behind when the first world mentality took over the region. When we built the tallest building in the world, and became a host to an F-1 racing event, the country’s image in the eyes of the world changed, but for these people, nothing has changed. They still go out fishing in rivers that have suffered steadily decreasing fish stocks. They still hope for a way out of their rut through superstitious beliefs (like finding winning lottery numbers on a fish), though these superstitions may have been manufactured by their own opportunistic countrymen.

Even as they stumble through life, they get little help from others. The government, while on the surface appears to be sympathetic to their plight, offer only superficial help, while the public uses a donation drive to unload their trash and unwanted belongings. (This actually happened in Malaysia after the tsunami broke where many people “donated” their trash and useless items to the victims, from used underwear to old trophies and computer parts- until the government asked them to stop their “goodwill”.)

To me, the film and its characters have an equilibrium that is constantly rocked. Just like the Ying and Yang of Buddhism, both Ding and Ah Ngau will pay for the consequences of their actions. When Ding suddenly finds fishes flopping on the beach (the impetus which sets off the whole film), the assumption is that they have been struck by good fortune, but of course he soon realizes it is actually the opposite.

The Elephant and the Sea is a small film with universal themes that are familiar to us. The people in the film, just like many in real life, are “stuck” at a juncture in their lives, not smart enough to know the answers to solve their predicaments, yet the inherent inertia that is life will spur them on. Good or bad, life will go on.  

 

WOO MING JIN’s BIOGRAPHY

Writer/Director

Born on 5 August 1976 in the Malaysian town of Ipoh, Woo Ming Jin received a scholarship from San Diego State University to study film and television production in 1999. While studying, he made several short films and music videos that have screened in international festivals. His works have won numerous awards, including a student EMMY award.

Since returning to Malaysia, Ming Jin has directed television shows, commercials, and worked on other independent films, including being the director of photography for Amir Muhammad’s The Big Durian (Sundance 2004). He has also made several short films, most notably Love for Dogs, which screened in various festivals, including the Rotterdam International Film Festival 2005.

Ming Jin’s debut feature film Monday Morning Glory premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and was invited to the Berlin International Film Festival, the first Malaysian film selected in the last 10 years. It was also selected to the Pusan International Film Festival, Tokyo International Film Festival, and Locarno International Film Festival, among others.

Ming Jin’s second film, The Elephant and The Sea, hailed by US Variety magazine as a “Brilliant, striking new voice on the East Asian scene…”, has five awards and been selected to screen in more than 30 film festivals worldwide, including the Rotterdam, Los Angeles, Seattle, Hong Kong, Vancouver, Torino, and Karlovy Vary Film Festivals.

Ming Jin is currently working on a new film, and developing several projects with co -productions in the US and Korea.