Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Story Of Southern Islet (2020) Film Review
The Story Of Southern Islet
Reviewed by: Mateusz Tarwacki
Childhood memories are something not entirely tangible, they change their shape with the passage of time, they can get blurred, or suddenly disappear and reappear. They are a magical source of nostalgia, elusive, semi-unknown, living their own lives. The Story Of Southern Islet, the debut of Keat Aun Chong, is built on such memories.
The film by the Malaysian director cannot be defined by genre or narrative. It is like a spiritual journey into the past, built of elements that give the impression of non-linear and often scary child-like feelings, full of ghosts and monsters who influence reality. The whole thing is connected by the main storyline: Yan (Jojo Goh) is looking for a cure for her seriously ill husband, Cheong (Season Chee).
Chong captivates the viewers with a myth-like story in which ghosts and beings from the spiritual world take on not always friendly physical forms, as if they came straight out of the shadow-play repeated several times in the film. As if the struggle for the life of a sick man was not only a struggle against time, but also a clash with a cruel fate that can only be inverted by an appropriate ritual. Full of shamanic themes characteristic of Malaysian spirituality, the picture seems fresh and attractive to a Western viewer, at least on a visual level.
Although The Story Of Southern Islet undoubtedly attracts with its remarkable aesthetics, especially beautiful slow shots, emphasising the magical, mysterious atmosphere, it is an hermetic film. One can feel the tensions present in the film – for example, the fact that the action is set on the border between Thailand and Malaysia, and local deities and cultures, completely foreign to the viewers, are richly represented on the screen. Without knowing the history and realities of life in Malaysia, it is impossible to fully appreciate Chong's debut.
The Malaysian artist is able to use the advantages of his young gaze – he has managed to keep a child in him, and he is able to look at the world with a child's curiosity. In seeking new means of expression, there is no fear nor embarrassment in him. Even if hermetic in its nature, The Story Of Southern Islet is a clear sign of Asian cinema's emerging new talent.Reviewed on: 13 Aug 2021