Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Movie Review: The Gathering (同学会)

Previous Review: The Giver
Next Review: The Maze Runner

The Gathering (同学会) is another coming-of-age, romantic drama comedy film that focuses on teen experiences such as first love relationships, fear of the future, studying hard to get in a good university and family issues...a genre that's become all too familiar and it's been done many times before. Some of the recent successful ones are You Are the Apple of My Eye  (那些年,我们一起追的女孩), The Perks of Being a Wallflower or The Spectacular Now. So, is this one as good as the aforementioned films? Well, not quite, some improvements are needed...but it's nearly there. 

First and foremost, I have to say that it's a local Malaysian Chinese production that was filmed entirely in Taipinga heritage town in Northern Perak. I do admit, it's a beautifully shot, well-acted and well-directed film I've seen so far since The Journey (一路有你), another Malaysian film released during the Chinese New Year period earlier this year. The Gathering (同学会) features several landmark spots in Taiping such as Taiping Lake Garden, Maxwell Hill, Perak Museum, Larut Matang Hawker Stall, Taiping Zoo and Night Safari, Taiping main road and of course, Hua Lian High School, where most of the film's scenes were shot. The cinematography was great and it's a marked improvement compared with the romantic drama comedies of the past (for a local Malaysian Chinese production).

The film successfully gives the viewer a nostalgic feeling by capturing some of the highs and lows of growing up during our high school years. As a Malaysian, I have to say that this film felt rather personal and relatable in some parts. The film depicted the Malaysian Chinese culture and tradition rather well, by showing us the strong emphasis on education and the social structure (preference to choose someone of of equal or comparable social status) among the Chinese community.

Despite a few slightly over-the-top scenes (especially certain scenes with the self-proclaimed "school beauty", who's quite annoying), it's rather funny at times and does provide a few small laughs here and there. The Gathering is mostly a character-driven story, so it heavily relies on the performance of its two main leads to carry the film. Thankfully, the two lead actors are great on screen and manage to deliver convincing performances to let us believe that the love chemistry between them is real enough to keep us engaged throughout the film. As the film progresses, it does show that they manage to find a connection in each other.

However, my biggest gripe is that the actors chosen for the film look rather old and mature looking. They look nothing like high school students in real life at all. Moreover, the main lead's love rival, a newly-transferred schoolboy, is introduced rather haphazardly around the halfway mark of the film in an attempt to show a love triangle that isn't fully realized by the end of the film.

Overall, it's still a heartfelt, sweet, gentle and sincere film that's rather affecting at times. It's definitely worth a watch for any Malaysians.

Note: The film's main theme song "Still Thinking Of You" (还是会想你) is fantastic. Be sure to check the music video online in Youtube.

Rating: 7/10

Previous Review: The Giver
Next Review: The Maze Runner

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