National Spotlight: Malaysia
Malaysian-born Tsai Ming-liang may have settled in Taiwan, but his torch is carried in his homeland by James Lee, the prolific filmmaker who rose to prominence via his acclaimed shorts such as Room to Let and Ah Yu’s Story. The Beautiful Washing Machine, his fourth feature, was made with a nearly non-existent budget. That didn’t stop FIPRESCI member Nenad Dukic from proclaiming that “The Beautiful Washing Machine seems to confirm once again that films of exceptional quality are no longer the privilege of only large and famous Asian filmmaking countries”. Indeed, the film would go on to win the prestigious Golden Kinaree for best ASEAN film at the Bangkok Film Festival.
Gleefully laced with black humour, the film first follows hapless young Teoh, who is unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend and is left without the ability to clean his clothes. Upon purchasing a second-hand washing machine at a local appliance store, the temperamental device becomes the start of many multi-charactered misadventures involving all manners of dirty laundry.
Plumbing the lives of Chinese Malaysians and their ironically repressed anxieties, Lee’s deliberately long, slow takes exemplifies the innovative new force that goes beyond the skin-deep beauty of filmmaking. With the ever-modernising Kuala Lumpur as a setting, love is just another fleeting stain upon memory that disappears with a good rinse and spin.
James Lee was born in 1973 in Ipoh, Malaysia. A self-taught filmmaker, in 2001 he directed his first fiction film Snipers, followed by Ah Beng Returns, a highly stylized experimental film, and the acclaimed Room to Let. He founded Doghouse73 Pictures, an independent DV-filmmaking outfit that has produced award- winning features such as Amir Muhammad’s The Big Durian and Ho Yuhang’s Sanctuary. The Beautiful Washing Machine is his fourth DV-feature.