The title may say it all, but the reality of love is much more elusive, much like the film itself. Ah Peng is a girl from Penang who comes to Kuala Lumpur to work at her aunt’s food stall. neither naïve nor sophisticated, she is very much an ordinary girl, with a boyfriend back home whom she calls every night at a neighborhood public telephone booth. But one day, during one of her phone conversations, a man named John eavesdrops on her and later introduces himself to her, despite knowing full well that she is in a relationship. She ignores him at first, but every day she returns to call at that telephone booth, and every day he returns, waiting for her. Soon, his charm and his persistence begin to win her over until one day he disappears. meanwhile, the aunt has a daughter named Mei, whom Ah Peng treats like her real little sister. Mei has her own love story with a mysterious pen pal that acts to as a sweet counterpoint to Ah Peng’s doomed romance.
Like Breaking the Waves, Love Conquers All challenges us to believe in the purity of love. Unlike Lars von Trier’s film, however, director Tan Chui Mui does not give us an easy answer; no bells chime from heaven. The film plays out elliptically, leaving us to believe either in the folly of Ah Peng’s love or the strength of her belief. Neither a cautionary tale, nor a romance, the film lets us conclude the moral of the story ourselves. But the strength of the filmmaking is clear, from the uniformly understated yet realistic performances by everyone in the cast to the subtle mastery of the mise-en-scène, shot using digital technology.
Malaysia’s independent film industry continues to produce some of the best and brightest new filmmakers in Asia, and the remarkable Love Conquers All (produced by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Amir Muhammad) is a testament to this fact. This directorial debut from 29-year-old Tan Chui Mui has already won the coveted Tiger Award from Rotterdam, as well as the new Currents Award and FIPRESCI Prize in the Pusan and the golden Digital Award at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, among others. She has also been selected to participate in Cannes’ Residency Programme. Without a doubt, she is one talent to watch.
– Raymond Phathanavirangoon