Woman on Fire Looks for Water

His new film is proof positive that Woo Ming-jin (Monday Morning Glory, SFIFF 2005) is one of Malaysia's most exciting filmmakers. Eye-poppingly beautiful from the first frame, Woman on Fire Looks for Water offers a tender meditation on yearning and regret in the story of a father, Ah Kau, and his son, Ah Fei, who live in what looks like the quintessential sleepy riverside village. But like most “sleepy” little villages, this one is full of people struggling hard just to get by. Ah Fei sells frogs, and Ah Kau fishes for a living. Fishing, in fact-or, more specifically, killing fish-defines the village. Woo's unflinching eye treats us to a virtual symphony of fish gutting, fish mulching, frog scissoring and-perhaps his most striking image-a bonfire of goats (not everyone is a fisherman). The bloody work they do contrasts starkly with the tenderness of the story Woo tells. Ah Fei enters his first romance, with local fish-factory girl Lilly, who says she won't marry him unless he makes more money. Ah Kau, meanwhile, fearing his death approaches (a prognosis derived from the destiny line in his palm), attempts to rekindle an old flame-with the one that got away. The film unfolds with quiet, pensive charm, utterly gorgeous even in its vision of death and decay, as the characters-so shyly tentative in their human relationships yet so casually brutal in their work lives-attempt to find some happiness in the midst of the struggle to survive.

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