Flower in the Pocket
On the surface, Flower in the Pocket foregrounds a poor dysfunctional Chinese family of a father (Sui) and his two boys (Ma Li Ah and Ma Li Ohm), and their day-to-day survival. However, Director Liew Seng Tat, skilfully uses the sympathy we have for the family and a dash of humour, to masks other deeper societal issues, which allows his local film to address a universal audience.
As a Singaporean, the first thing that stood out for me was the multi-racial elements of the film, language being the most prominent one. Liew brilliantly infused five different languages in his film: Mandarin, Malay, English, Hokkien and Cantonese. Out of the five, only Mandarin and Malay were delivered well.
Yet, although the air-time given to the dialects were short and the English used was humourously horrible, the apt usage of these languages is a peek into the way of communication between Malaysians. However, this in turn caused the acting to be rather stiff because it seemed that they were just reciting lines on cue.
There is also a subtle subversion of classes embedded in the film seen in a scene when Sui visits the doctor due to an unexplained illness. The portrayal of the doctor as a highly naive character, speaking in horrible English, and constantly having to harp on the fact that he is the “Doctor”, causes a breakdown of the idea that doctors have a certain authority. Not to mention, a breakout in laughter as well.
Another issue that I felt Liew wanted to raise was that of family and happiness. Do you need a perfect family to be happy? Liew contrasts the main family, all males, of Sui, Li Ah and Li Ohm with the family of females, Atan, her mother and her grandmother.
Sui’s family is seen as dysfunctional and helpless as seen from the state of the house, which is in a mess, and the way Sui interacts with his children. On the other hand, Atan’s home is an orderly one which celebrates love resulting in a positive relationship between the family members. It is the latter family that has the ‘better life’.
Here I would like to add that by focusing on domestic life, the film raises questions about the importance of women as essential to the domestic sphere. The Malay women in the film embody the characteristics of independence and strength in a society that perhaps is more restrictive of their culture.
However, as the film progresses on, we see that even happiness can be found in a dysfunctional family, although the external expression of it may be different. Sui’s family might be a sad sight to look at however the love between father and sons is subtle. It was only when a major crisis happened that we see the fighting spirit of this seemingly pathetic character.
This idea of companionship, or rather the lack of it, runs throughout the film. We see the single parent, Sui, unable to provide his children with the company and love they need because he himself does not know how it feels like to be given it.
Hence he turns to his work – making mannequins, as a form of companionship and a displacement of inner needs. The male desire of a female companion is seen as Sui goes about trying to make the perfect female mannequin based on the descriptions told to him by his married colleague.
One important character in the show is, surprisingly, the puppy that Li Ah and Li Ohm adopts. Naming the puppy Happy signifies what the boys perhaps seek in their childhood. Moreover, the puppy being female could imply that having a “woman” around could bring happiness. As we watch on and discover how much trouble the boys get into because of the puppy, it is eventually put back on the streets by Sui.
I feel that it is through this puppy that Sui realises that he has to stop living in his world of isolation and start being a father to his children. In that way, the director communicates a certain kind of poignant happiness about the importance of family.
Perhaps what is more important is how, as a family, are you going to rise out from the difficulties that you face. Life may not be what you hope for it to be after that, but like Sui, all we need to do is open our hearts a little more in order to see the love being given to us, even if it is as simple as a flower.