Five directors, one movie. That’s how Cuak weaves the romantic tapestry.
IS she the one, or should you run? This is the story of Adam who suffers from a bad case of wedding jitters. In fact, he experiences more than a fair bit of nervousness before his marriage to Brenda. It all goes to pieces moments at the couple’s akad nikah (solemnisation) ceremony.
With meddlesome friends, insane in-laws, a suspicious stepbrother and unresolved ex-girlfriend issues, it’s no wonder the quirky Adam has second thoughts about his marriage.
That’s the gist of the movie Cuak, a cleverly stitched film that features five directors pulling together and weaving the frantic tale of Adam, played by the animated Ghafir Akbar. His love interest – the headstrong and confident Brenda – is played by the multi-talented Dawn Cheong.
Apart from romance, Cuak, which roughly translates into “second thoughts”, is also filled with action, mystery and drama.
“This film is really an experiment. The idea behind Cuak has been in my mind since 2005. It is about getting very different directors together to tell one story. It’s not an anthology of short films, this is one story,” said Michael Chen, 31, the movie’s producer.
Cuak is a one-of-a-kind movie, indeed. It’s basically five young local directors – Manesh Nesaratnam, Tony Pietra Arjuna, Khairil M Bahar, Shamaine Othman and Lim Benji – on board to take viewers through five different film genres in one movie sitting. The movie was produced by Garang Indie Pictures, the independent arm of Garang Pictures.
“It’s not your standard comedy or love story, it’s a whole mix of different genres,” he added.
Cuak, as the producer proudly mentions, centres on the collaborative approach.
“This approach seems to be working best for indie-feel efforts lately such as the recent Kolumpo and can be seen as far back as Pete Teo’s 15Malaysia.
“Not only are we including several directors, but the actors, scripting and execution with the shooting of a single narrative has brought together quite a diverse bunch of artists to work together.”
But not to worry, Chen assures you that the all five segments will be put together to make one seamless narrative.
“To an audience member, I’m hoping that you won’t even realise that the genres have changed. I’m hoping that you’ll just watch it and you’ll be engaged with the story,” said Chen.
Chen also added that Cuak will resonate with all Malaysians – young and old.
“It’s the same reason why you love watching the late filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad’s movies. People will watch her films and they’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s my story.’”
Khairil also pointed out that Cuak has characters Malaysians would recognise.
“It comes from a very honest place and the characters are people you recognise – they talk like people you know and sound like people you know. I can see people reacting to it because they relate to it. I love that people will comment that the lead is insensitive or the female lead gets angry a lot, because they’re not perfect people,” he said.
Khairil gives an example of his opening scene: “It is very Malaysian because the characters speak in multiple languages in the same sentence. Even if I subtitle it, it will not make sense to somebody who does not speak Malay.”
Here’s the five stories, as told by their respective directors, in Cuak to bring homegrown spark to this year’s Valentine’s Day at the cinemas.
Meet the in-laws
Any impending marriage will sooner or later involve a visit to the in-laws.
Adam discovers how much of a test a visit to the in-laws is, after he meets Brenda’s nymphomaniac aunt (Bernie Chan), penny-pinching mother (Dong Chae Lian) and paranoid father (Patrick Teoh) with his eccentric fortune teller (Kuah Jenhan).
Director of the segment, Manesh Nesaratnam, shot the whole segment in a studio and made the room from scratch.
“I wanted to do a bit of an absurdist, dark comedy. The visuals of Sherlock (television series) and some of Tim Burton’s work is something I wanted to try out in my own piece. I’ve never done anything like this, so it was really like an experiment,” said Manesh.
When asked what was his inspiration behind his segment, the 33-year-old filmmaker revealed that meeting your future in-laws to ask for consent to marry their daughter is a terrifying experience for any guy.
“I just wanted to play with this idea of meeting your crazy in-laws. There are superstitious parents, money-conscious parents, parents who are worried if you’re going to take care of their daughter and if you’re going to be faithful. So, I exaggerated on all these characteristics and that is why I have such crazy characters in my piece,” said Manesh.
“I also played with the idea of a man having to go through a series of tests. Adam had to go through an exterminator test. In the script, Adam had to kill a flying cockroach, a river rat and a lizard,” he said with a laugh.
Director Tony Pietra Arjuna chose to film his segment noir style, told from Adam’s half-brother Mikail’s (Tony Eusoff) point of view.
The story shows how Mikail, an emotionally unstable customs agent, instantly distrusts Brenda and believes that she will betray Adam the way Mikail’s ex-lover betrayed him.
“While the plot is still grounded in the two main characters, which are Adam and Brenda, essentially in my segment, Mikail is the protagonist. But not a favourable one,” said Pietra.
“It’s basically told from Mikail’s point of view. Mikail has marriage issues due to his deep rooted emotional problems, especially where women are concerned. He has never trusted women and has always been betrayed by them. And he feels that his brother is setting himself up for the same fate,” explained the 35-year-old.
Pietra reveals that Mikail’s character has what psychologists call “borderline personality disorder”.
“What I’m hoping is that when people watch this, they have a better understanding of what this condition entails. Find out a little bit more about their problem, don’t cast them out or treat them like a plague,” he said.
The bachelor party
Creative director Khairil M Bahar, 33, envisioned his segment to be about a bunch of friends talking.
“I’ve always been a fan of dialogue with the camera moving constantly. I like those situations where you have a bunch of buddies talking and there are no lies between them,” said Khairil, citing American filmmaker/producer Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma) as one of his inspirations.
Khairil’s segment talks about the seeds of doubt planted in Adam’s head at his bachelor party by his friends as they share their opinions on how much things change when you get married.
In many ways, he drew experience from his own life when filming his segment.
“I would always hang out and play pool with a friend of mine, but after he got married we stopped doing that.”
“It’s totally understandable, we both haven’t got the time to do that anymore. But that was kind of the impetus for my segment,” said Khairil.
Director Lim Benji’s segment is filmed in the found footage genre, where we learn that before Adam was Brenda’s fiance, he was the boyfriend of Brenda’s housemate Nurul (Ani Juliana Ibrahim).
The found footage segment shows Adam documenting a surprise date he had planned for Nurul. Through this blast from the past, we discover how Adam treated relationships in the past.
Lim said that he got the idea for his segment after having dinner with his dad.
“I was actually texting an old flame of mine while we were eating and my dad asked me who I was texting. I told him who it was and how there isn’t anything going on anymore, and he said: “She has a younger sister right? Never mind! Older sister cannot tackle, you tackle the younger sister!”
“And so the first draft of the script essentially told the story of how Adam was initially going out with Brenda’s older sister. But as I had more discussions with my writer, Priya Kulasagaran, the script evolved to Adam’s ex being Brenda’s roommate rather than sister,” said the 29-year-old director.
Cuak is Shamaine Othman’s first directing gig, and her segment is the most naturalistic in comparison with the others. The audience is brought into the couple’s personal space and we see how they function in the relationship.
“My style of writing is that I write what I know. I’ve been in relationships where everything was going fine and then one day you have a discussion or argument which throws everything off balance,” the 30-year-old director. When writing the script for her segment, Shamaine looked at life around her to find inspiration.
“I chose conversion as the topic of the fight because I was in a relationship where the guy would have to convert if he wanted to marry me,” she said “The subject of conversion is close to me because I am the product of mixed parentage so it’s very much part of my life,” added Shamaine.
> Cuak opens at cinemas nationwide on Feb 14.