Film Review: ‘My Daughter’ (2009)5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Director: Charlotte Lim
Cast: Chua Thien See, Fooi Mun Lai, Cheong Hoe Chee, Wen Haur Lam, Eng Kew Kee
Runtime: 76 minutes
Written by Heng Wei Li
Charlotte Lim’s My Daughter is one of a myriad of films that emerged during the 2000s as part of the Malaysian New Wave, wherein a group of young and hungry filmmakers utilised the burgeoning technology of digital cameras. They made narratively experimental works that focused on presenting stories centering on the more downtrodden people of Malaysia. These films include Woo Ming Jin’s The Tiger Factory and Liew Seng Tat’s Flower in the Pocket, with many others consolidating into what can just about be scarcely described as its “canon”.
Even then, My Daughter struck me as a particularly obscure film in an already niche shelf of cinema. This film is, to date, director Charlotte Lim’s only feature-length directing work, which garnered her praise by no less than famed Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. My intention had been to try and understand this movie in relation to her own work and that of her peers, both of which turned up lacking answers. That certainly wasn’t a dealbreaker in any way; my own personal interest in mapping out Malaysian cinema was more than enough incentive for me to check out this film for review.
I am glad to say then that My Daughter provided an intriguing, if not slightly messy experience. Set in one of the more desolate areas of Malacca, the story centres around Faye (Fooi Mun Lai), the daughter of a dysfunctional hairdresser mother (Chua Thien See), as she tries to navigate around her emotionally wrought and immature behaviour, all the while struggling to find a sense of solace amidst her struggles and loneliness.
There are many hallmarks of the Malaysian New Wave present here, for better and worse. From its heavily pixelated digital resolution and spotty sound recording, it is clear that Lim was working with practically no budget, and as such the technical qualities of the film would generally be considered subpar, with some questionable audio mixing that unfortunately detracted me from the film more than I would have liked.
To re-emphasise, however, I completely understand that these films were created out of the love of filmmaking, with any sort of technical standard coming second. To focus on the story itself then, I found it to be a very interesting piece, with themes circling around a continuous cycle of neglect, suffocating isolation, and trauma. It is an unflinchingly pessimistic film in that regard, one that gives little remorse to its characters, which while could be seen as exploitative of the squalor of the poor, could also serve as a wake-up call to help those in need.
The narrative thread that ties everything together revolves around the exploration of the relationship Faye has with her mother, showing how one’s dysfunction affects the other through simple but emotionally draining scenarios. The camera lingers on the two, at times standing still to capture the entirety of a scene, other times going handheld, getting close and personal to their small interactions that reflect on how they treat themselves and the world around them. Fooi Mun Lai and Chua Thien See playing the daughter and mother respectively give a sense of rawness to the material, even if their line deliveries are a bit wooden; once more, I do not count amateurism too much against films like these.
My Daughter is a very emotionally sincere film, one that was able to succeed in telling its story effectively despite its technical qualities. I would not coin it as my favourite of the Malaysian New Wave, but it nonetheless deserves its spot and certainly should be more known. I recommend checking this movie out wherever one can; while its bleak tone and nihilistic characters might be emotionally draining, it serves its intended purpose of portraying dysfunction and how it is navigated through with an undeniable reality.
The film was screened as part of RECIPROCAL 2022, Asian Film Archive (AFA)’s annual collaborative film programme that spotlights the archival collections of AFA and a partnering archive. This year’s inaugural edition, which ran from 1 July to 7 August, saw the AFA and the Thai Film Archive (Public Organization) (TFA) each present a selection of women-oriented stories and works from their collections that interrogate the female representation in film.
This review is published as part of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme.
About the author
Wei Li Heng is an avid lover of films, with a preference for uncovering and writing about obscure and underseen cinema. In particular, he has a penchant for the cinema of East and Southeast Asia. He hopes to discover cinematic gems throughout these local film histories and share them to a wider audience through his writing.