Sepet (Chinese Eye) (2004)

Today is the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year and I just want to send my love ❤️ out there. So it’s time to look back into my back catalogue of reviews of special films again. This one probably won’t be familiar to the rest of the world except for Asians, but trust me… it is a really good one.

This long wall of text is divided into two sections, which was how it was originally written. It was an impending writing class that caused me to rediscover the magic of this film.


I was preparing my lesson for a P5 class and was to task to make them write an essay based on a motorcycle accident. Boring… Then I started thinking of a suitable clip I could show the kids to start them visualizing a motorcycle accident. I had to be very careful not to show something too graphic. Last year I actually received a complaint for showing a Twilight Zone episode to illustrate how to build suspense and a poor kid had nightmares after that. Then just like that, Yasmin Ahmad’s Sepet (Chinese Eye) blasted into my consciousness.  Sadly I only have a VCD of this moving film. I watched the last 8 minutes to check if it still work and whether it is suitable. It was brilliant – I didn’t notice that the scene with Orked and her parents in the car was done in one single take with traffic ambient noises. That scene by today’s filmmaking standards may look too simplistic but I am very sure so many films pale in comparison with its sheer poignancy and power. Yasmin Ahmad totally let editing take a backseat and let the power flow through their acting. The final shot is ambiguous but doesn’t lack emotional power. It left me stunned. I think I will use this clip to demonstrate to kids that sometimes the bang is not the most important part of the story, it is the characters that make the story powerful. Yasmin Ahmad literally demonstrated it here.

My wife has not seen this yet. Gonna solve that problem soon. Sepet also has hands down one of the best meet cute ever depicted on film IMHO.

Some years ago I gave away all my VCDs (which is in the hundreds) but I kept a few. Thank goodness I had the good sense to hold on to this gem. In 2004 I purposely made a trip to Johor Bahru just to watch this movie because it wasn’t shown in Singapore and I was so glad I did. What a gem! It’s a love story between a Malay girl, Orked from a well to do family and a Chinese boy, Jason Lee Seow Loong (yup, that one – Bruce Lee’s Chinese name) who is a pirate VCD/DVD seller. After watching the movie I swear I started looking at pirate VCD/DVD sellers like real people… anybody, no matter what he or she does for a living, has a story to tell.  Sepet is a simple story of love but the execution is so simple that it feels authentic. All the characters, from the two teenagers in love to their family members and to all the fringe characters are so tenderly portrayed. Everyone has personality. All through the film it feels like I was watching something real. The characters all hailed from all walks of life, race, language and religion. Such a beautiful slice of Malaysian life. I would even hazard to proclaim that director Yasmin Ahmad didn’t just make a love story; she made a film to break down racial barriers. Not only that… She even showed you how you should treat your domestic helper.  Look closely at how Yasmin did it… none of that forced sentimentality at all. The film’s leads are also so well cast.  Especially Sharifah Amani as Orked. She plays her role with such spunkiness and child-like innocence. Ng Choo Seong is great too… capturing a love-smittened guy to a T but his job isn’t really hard because it’s very easy to fall in love with Orked. I was totally connected with them in their journey of first love, breakup and reconciliation. The final act really broke my heart – very powerful but not at all emotionally manipulative. Tonight as I watch this again I discover something I have missed – actually it was my wife who told me that Jason and Orked knew each other since kids because at the end of their first date Jason asked Orked whether her dad was a teacher. Good catch dear.

This is the meet cute. Simple, yet brilliant. If you are a lover of world cinema, there are dialogue throughout the film which made a lot of references to some noteworthy films.

It’s such a shame that Yasmin Ahmad is no longer with us. I love her eye for details. She can distill the essence of a relationship, present it in a scene in an unique way and in so doing point you in the right direction to attain it. Just look at the advertisement she made for our government where during a eulogy a wife proclaims the one thing she will miss most about her husband. I remember it invited a lot of flake (just like all her films) but yet there are many who saw its beauty. I was one of those.

This is another one that never fails to make me tear up. Just 120 seconds long but it will teach you a lesson that can last a lifetime.


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