A MONSTER CALLS – the story of a son and grief

by Ruby Chingu

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What is it all about? 

The story of a son and grief.

Prior to watching the movie, I had no clue what A Monster Calls is all about. A friend wanted to watch it and out of boredom, I tagged along with him. What I did not expect was to almost bawl my eyes out, crying and had tears streaming down my cheeks by one and half hour into the movie.

It struck a terribly personal chord within me, the movie, this supposedly children’s movie about imaginary monster and fairy tales.

Oh, children films. I look down on you no more.

It tells the tale of Conor, a young boy whose mother is dying of a terminal disease. To say that his life is pathetic is an understatement. Our Connor has no friends, gets bullied in school, teachers do not give a shit about him and has a strained relationship with his grandmother, a strict blunt elderly woman. Worse, he has been suffering bouts of insomnia or sleep deprivation – he would be visited by the same nightmare each time he closes his eyes. He finds solace in drawing (don’t they all?) dark figures and characters, living in his own world.

In front of his house was a gigantic yew tree, an ancient tree located at the top of the hill. One fated night, the tree turned into a monster (more like a walking wooden figurine, to be honest), came to his house and declared (in his commanding Liam Neeson voice) that he would be paying Connor four visits – he would also be telling Connor three tales and wanted the latter to tell him the fourth tale. After a few times dismissing this experience as a delusion, Connor began to accept it as a reality. Now, the stories told by the monster – I initially thought it would be the usual good vs bad lot – prove to be so much more than that. Each of the stories were of good characters who ended up doing evil things. They were of death, power, retribution, faith and so on. That the line that separates both good and evil is indeed blurry after all, showing us how complex humans can be.

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I was mind blown right away.

The climax of the story is when it was Connor’s turn to tell the fourth tale. I was a bit confused at first – now why would the monster want Connor to do that? What tale was he talking about? Only when Connor finally confessed it that I was like – whoahhh! Damn!! This is dark shit! But beautifully written shit! But dark, nonetheless.

Clue – All of Connor’s struggles go back to the most important person in his life.

Why I love the movie –

  1. Writing, pace and overall tone

The director did not shy away from making the film dark right away. Despite it being a children’s film, there was no effort to make it all rainbows and unicorn, as if saying – some childhood can be dark and this is one of it. Dark does not mean bad, though. Dark means reality, strength and character.

The shots of the vast English countryside contributed greatly to the mood. The music is often dramatic and stretched, an indication of Connor’s heightened emotions as his mother was nearing her death.

2. Acting 

Connor is played by a young actor, Lewis MacDougall, who is so on my radar. Lewis’s big intense eyes expressed the conflicts he kept suppressed in him so well that he needed no words to convey what he felt. Connor’s life is all about being someone he is not out of necessity. Connor is a young boy in need of his mother’s love yet he has to wake up every morning, prepares his own breakfast, does the family laundry and takes care of his own self while his mother is fighting cancer. He also pretends to be calm – at school, he barely says a word. Yet deep inside was a boiling heart filled with rage, grief and sadness.

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And the mother – the spiritual core of the story, I’d say – is none other than Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, Star Wars – Rogue One). The final scene where she looked at the monster in the eyes as her son hugged her on her deathbed is profound. That was when my heart screamed, “you can see him! You know him! Good God, did you send him?”

3. Grief, Bereavement, Loss, Acceptance and Strength

Watching this film in the cinema was indeed an emotional journey for me. It wrecked me and, I’m quite sure, other audiences who have experienced loss. Connor was the avatar used by the director to relate to us these emotions that bind us together. With his mother battling cancer, he is not only robbed of his guardian but also his childhood, sense of security, happiness and trust (for he has an asshole father who left his mother and visits him only a few times a year). However, at the end of the movie, Connor learnt to accept all of these struggles instead of fighting against or denying them.

I believe that the monster is a form of his mother – a being created by her to help him deal with her pending death and the guilt that comes with the desire for all of his sufferings to end. In a way, his mother is telling him, “It is alright to want the pain to be over, Connor.”

Deep, people, so deep.

 RATING: 4/5

Because it deserves it. It is a great watch. It teaches me to not underestimate the experiences of a child and the power of everything between good and evil.

This Thing about Unilateral Conversions in Malaysia

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by Ruby Gege

I am personally very disappointed today. Over an issue that has been dragged on for years. It should have been solved, could have been solved years before but I’m not sure what was stopping the proper parties from reaching a solution. The solution is clear – it is there, it can provide for a finality in the dispute.

However, due to the fears of offending certain factions of the Malaysian society, the proper parties have somehow intelligently avoided from showing their stances. They need to give a solution. They don’t really want to – I know. It is a difficult thing, indeed. Who wants to be stuck in the middle of that dilemma that involves two faiths of two different persons – the mother and the father?

Unilateral conversions of children have been a major issue in Malaysia and most of the time, the stories had a tragic backdrop to them. Father and mother were a non-Muslim married couple with children. Years later, the marriage turned sour. Father converted to Islam and applied for divorce from the Syariah Court. At the same time, he also converted their children without the consent of the mother, changing their religions to Islam. I don’t think he bothered to ask the children what they think. What more the mother. Then, since the children were supposedly of the same religion with the father, the father was granted custody order. Thus, to him, the children belonged to him.

Based on a number of famous cases in Malaysia, one can safely assume that the mother is always the victim to this one-sided proceedings. The father converted to Islam without telling her, applied for divorce from Syariah Court (which decisions bind only Muslims) without consulting her and converted her children without her knowledge. She was half the unit that gave birth to the children. She was half the unit that raised them. Yet, when it comes to cases such as this, her importance was discarded. Her role as the mother – notwithstanding the religion she subscribed to – was diminished. By whom – the husband, the judiciary or the whole system that seems to be treating her unfairly?

Yes, ‘fairness’ is the main issue here. Is it fair to the mother? I prefer to use the word ‘mother’ here in light of the frequency of the cases which involves the mother not having knowledge of their husbands’ act in converting the children and having them deprived from her. If one is to read all the stories in the newspaper and also the case reports, one could very well conclude that it is not. It is not fair. Nevertheless, in situations like this, most people would react with… “What can we do? What to do? The father has the right to act as such anyway. The mother has the order of the civil court, the father the Syariah court. Both have orders. Both have the rights. So what can we do? How can we favour the mother over the father? We don’t have a right to tear away the children from the father as well.”

For the public, they can say such thing, considering they are the public. As for the proper parties who are entrusted by the public to ensure fairness, I do hope that they would display more determination in this matter. Referring to a number of news for the past few days, many significant leaders have suggested solutions which, in my humble opinion, stray from the clear-cut solutions we have in mind. Instead of offering solutions to solve problems, the suggestions lead to more waiting and confusion.

The suggestion that has triggered this post and the one I personally find most disappointing is that the interfaith custody battle should be determined by the Federal Court. Now, I disagree with such view purely from the technical angle. It is already very costly to hire a lawyer and wait for the case to go to court. After having the relief of bringing the case to the attention of the High Court (which is established by the Federal Constitution which happens to be THE SUPREME LAW OF THE LAND) and obtaining an order, the mother or aggrieved party was then told something similar to this effect – “yeah, sorry, I know you spent so many time and energy to gain your son’s custody. But guess what? The High Court order is not good enough. Now, you have to re-hire your lawyers, spend more money, time and energy and witness the continuation of this case.” Problem is, as a normal insignificant citizen, I don’t see any end to the continuation. I can’t. And I am forever a skeptic as to the Federal Court’s ability to solve the matter further.  

We need a solution. That is clear enough. We also need a determination and finality in that solution. Any so-called solution that proves to drag the matter further, causing more suffering to the parties. We are in dire need of fairness and justice in that solution. From what I observe, all eyes are on the Federal Court now. I did not really take the suggestion seriously when it was mentioned by the Prime Minister. Then, a few minutes ago, the Attorney-General suggested the same thing. And I was a bit surprised. I asked myself – is that it? Is that the solution we have been seeking for? Really?

But then… what about the mothers who have been separated from their children?

What about their children’s happiness? What about fairness?

It seems like my disappointment remains… for now.

PAPA, WHERE ARE WE GOING? (Chinese Ver.) – In Love With the Papas

BY RUBY CHINGU 030d7efaa

I am currently head over heels in love with the Chinese adaptation of famous reality show, Appa Eodiga. Despite using the same theme of father-child relationships, the Chinese adaptation was surprisingly very different and refreshing mainly due to the vast cultural differences between the parenting styles exhibited by the South Korean appas and Chinese papas. However, the Chinese ver. has a more varied types of fathers, from the doting to the dictatorial ones.

Their parenting flaws were obvious, which makes the series even more compelling to watch because the fathers have to face the challenges of confronting the problems in the relationship with their child. Their children, raised in mostly affluent families, are spoiled and bratty, though not excessively. I love how despite the flaws, the fathers love their children unconditionally and vice versa. The main point is that they are always seeking to improve their parenting skills and gaining new experiences. The fathers get tired most of the time and learn how to appreciate their wives, the ones who have been raising their children for many years.

Introducing the father-child couples (WARNING, THREE OF THE PAPAS ARE SUPERBLY HOT!!) –

1. JIMMY LIN AND HIS SON, KIMI

D9ED3FC1D03834822FF45CC551AThe dimpled Jimmy Lin was literally every girl’s crush during the late 90s and early 2000s. He’s cute, he’s endearing and he NEVER ages. He’s 40 years old who looks like a 25 years old. Even the way he dresses (T-shirt, jeans, caps) makes it ever harder to believe that he’s actually a doting father to Kimi, who calls him PAPPY (OMG, THAT IS THE CUTEST THING EVERRRRR!!). It is easy to fall in love with Jimmy the father whose parenting style can be categorized as SOFT SOFT SOFT TO THE CORE. He never raises his voice to his boy, always kneeling and squatting to talk to him. He seems to be like an open-minded father who treats his son like a baby. He holds him even when he’s tired and displays an unlimited amount of patience. He killed a spider for him, covered the windows with newspaper and stayed awake a bit later after his son went to sleep to make sure no bugs and insects ever come near him.

MELT, BITCHES, MELT!!

Even though Kimi seems a little spoiled at times, he’s a sweet affectionate child. I mean, who can ever say no to that sparkling eyes? Who can’t help but to protect that precious baby… Hehehe. Jimmy is also the most active dad, being a race car driver/actor and all. He pretty much knows how to do a lot of things and is resourceful. Maybe that’s why Kimi always feels incredibly sheltered and protected around him. Kimi cannot complete his missions UNLESS Jimmy tags along and accompanied him. But then, Kimi’s only four. I’m sure many of us were a lot worse when we were at that age.

2. GUO TAO AND HIS SON, SHITOU (ROCK)

guotao+rockThe tough father Guo Tao is a complete contrast to Jimmy Lin. He is a disciplinarian towards his super active child, Shitou, who is also the big gege (brother) amongst the children. Simply put, Guo Tao is similar to the fathers we know – firm, authoritative and very manly. He tolerates little with Shitou’s tantrums and has made it clear that he expects Shitou to be in his best behaviour. “How old are you now?” he asked. “Six,” his son replied. “Then, why are you behaving like a baby?” At times, he can be super scary. However, he loves his boy dearly and is always worried for him. He is more to the conservative side of parenting.

Shitou is an active child, always running around and leading the other kids even during the time he’s injured. He is also the one who has yet to cry on the show. Sometimes I find his tough act kind of annoying. However, he is indeed the most reliable kid on the show. He is not afraid to face the challenges and does not rely on his father too much. With that strict upbringing, we can easily see that Shitou is the child who has the best ability to adapt himself to multiple situations. Thus, the reason why he’s the favourite amongst the children. He is their reliable big gege!

3. TIAN LIANG AND HIS DAUGHTER, CINDY

Dad18Our next papa is a former Olympic diver turned actor, Tian Liang. He is what I would call a nagging and strict but affectionate father. He is quite strict with his daughter and tries his best to encourage her to overcome challenges. His efforts, however, mostly ended up in her crying for hours long. He is at times helpless, at times anxious and at times very very patient. I particularly love the scene where he nagged at Cindy as they were preparing for bed, advising her calmly that she should not Angela mei-mei if the latter cried. He faced problems getting through to Cindy but we can see the improvements as he deals with his daughter diplomatically. Instead of scolding her, he would try to talk sense into her.

With her papa in sight, Cindy is an overly-attached daughter who cries at every small things. She can cry endlessly for hours, whining and whining and whining to the extent even I find her annoying. However, when her papa is not around her, she turns into an independent reliable daughter, always excited to complete her missions. She is the best runner and the strongest child who always offers other children to carry their stuffs. This maturity shines only when her papa is not with her. It is quite understandable. Her vulnerabilities are shown only to her father, whom she feels the most safest at. She would always hold hands with the younger Angela, whom she treats like a little sister. Who knew the crybaby can be a protector at times? It’s confusing but I think Cindy is my favourite child, hehehe.

4. ZHANG LIANG AND HIS SON, TIANTIAN

 tumblr_mw9skn9ppY1snerhxo2_1280 The youngest father of the bunch is Zhang Lian, who was born in 1981. Unlike most fathers, Zhang Liang aspired to be a friend to his son, a person that he could talk and pour his heart to. If one looks at his behavior in the show, one could never expect that he’s a top model and the only Chinese male to ever walk on Milan runaways. Hahaha. Why? Because Zhang Liang is a wonderful dad – almost a perfect one. He is the kind of dad children are not afraid of.  However, once his son misbehaved – like throwing sands at the other kid once – he quickly disciplined his child by asking him to apologize. It can be seen that he is very close to his son.

Tiantian is a very well-behaved active boy. Thanks to his father’s supermodel gene, he is also the handsomest one, hehehehe. During the first episode, he cried so much as he had to give up his gadgets like iPods for three days. However, slowly, he learned to adapt to the situations and became a calmer child. Then, Tiantian proves to be a very special kid in one episode where the fathers tested the kids’ honesty and loyalty by asking them to take care of a few chicken eggs. When the eggs were broken deliberately by one of the fathers, Tiantian apologized to his father very sincerely for disappointing him and even telling him that he can hit him. I almost fucking cried when that happened. The other fathers, upon seeing the child’s reaction, were touched as well. Tiantian did not complain, cry or whine. Instead, he accepted the blame like a man and was ready for the consequences. Go, Tiantian!!

5. WANG YUELUN AND HIS DAUGHTER, ANGELA

yuelun+angelaWang Yuelun is a modern father. He works as a director and his daughter, Angela, who is 4 years old. Since he’s a director, Yuelun is a bit shy around cameras. He’s a serious laidback kind of man. He is affectionate towards his daughter but does not spoil her excessively.

Angela is the baby of the show, aside from Kimi. She has this very cute smile and always wears pretty dresses. She loves following her geges and Cindy jiejie (big sister) around. Like other children, she cries all the time, too. But not for long. She’s very bright and cheerful and a complete daddy’s girl.

The show is designed in a way that makes the challenges more obvious. There are genuinely scary moments in the show, where the children get scolded outright or when they are involved in unfortunate incidents. The situations make it more challenging for the father to cope with their roles of calming and comforting the children without their mothers around. Even though their efforts at times seemed imperfect but their sincerity makes the show even more touching. I cried on many scenes where the father, helpless and clueless at the same time, did not give up in trying to support their children in their own ways. Generally, it’s more touching compared to its South Korean counterpart (though I must say at times I cried watching that, too)

The interviews with the fathers, I think, are more candid and of a more serious tone. The fathers would express what they wish for the children to learn and the difficulties in ensuring their children to grow up properly. The children in this show, unlike the Korean ver., would fight and argue openly to the displeasure of their papas. However, one great thing about children is that they make up very quickly and the fight does not last more than a few minutes.

I managed only to find 4 episodes online that have been subbed in English. Am still looking for the rest. There are more than ten episodes in total, I think. However, still, I highly recommend all to watch this show. Observing the differences in parenting styles between South Korean and Chinese dads is revealing and interesting. And always, who does not like cute kids who are always attached to their hero-like papas?