I’m not going to lie, I cried like a baby while watching this film. In Ma, I Love You, Director Chiu Keng Guan delivers a tale of love and sacrifice from the perspective of an overly attached mother.
Minor Spoilers Ahead for ‘Ma, I Love You’
The story follows Bee Ling, (played by Ong Ai Leng) a single mom, and her daughter, Qi Qi (played by Siow Li Xuan). Unsurprisingly, the pair are very close and the movie plays it up by setting them in their small house with only one room. Bee Ling's whole world is Qi Qi and controls almost every aspect of her life.
Bee Ling’s world is turned upside down after Qi Qi’s 18th birthday when she finds out that her daughter has harboured a secret desire to move to France to further her studies and things come to a head when she confronts Qi Qi about her application to study overseas.
Feeling betrayed by the daughter she thought she knew so well, Bee Ling begins to spiral and makes selfish decisions in her attempt to keep her daughter close.
The premise of a loving and overbearing mother is an all-to-familiar experience for us Asians and that’s why I love the fact that the film never goes the hammy TV drama route when portraying this tension.
Director Chiu respects his audience and delivers moments of conflict with authenticity. When Qi Qi tries to apologise to her mother for keeping her dream a secret, Bee Ling doesn’t react. She continues cleaning and ignores her daughter’s cries. Instead of the pair shouting at each other through tears and swelling dramatic music, the scene is quiet, with only the Bee Ling's expression betraying her inner emotions.
Like the stereotypically stoic Asian mom, Bee Ling chooses to swallow her anger instead of expressing her fears of losing her daughter. The inciting incident causes the pair to sleep in separate rooms for the first time as the rift between the pair is introduced.
As the film continues, Bee Ling grows more adamant about preventing her daughter from leaving while Qi Qi doubles down on wanting to leave and explore her independence.
Unlike Director Chiu’s previous outings The Journey and Ola-Bola that relies heavily on its premise and spectacle to sell the movie, Ma, I Love You, is a much smaller film with very few locations to fill in the 110-minute run time.
We largely see only Bee Ling’s seaside hometown, some scenes in LaLaport Bukit Bintang, and Bee Ling’s tiny apartment. The film lives and dies with the performance of its actors and I’m happy to report that Director Chiu has managed to capture believable (and often fantastic) performances from both his leads.
Siow Li Xuan’s Qi Qi portrays a quiet strength that opposes her mom’s loud and brash personality. Qi Qi is fiercely capable and independent but chooses instead to allow her mom to take the reins. In a telling scene, Bee Ling hurts her ankle and is forced to allow her daughter to drive her.
Qi Qi doesn’t even blink at the responsibility and Bee Ling is surprised to know that her daughter drives well. Qi Qi doesn’t burst her mom’s bubble and shrugs it off as just something she can do.
That said, Ong Ai Leng undoubtedly steals the show. Her portrayal of Bee Ling is nuanced and switches from slapstick to subdued at a dime. In the film’s most intimate scenes, we as an audience read her emotions just from her eyes. It’s a masterclass in show don’t tell and it’s why Ma, I Love You never veers into soapy territory.
In a rare turn for Malaysian movies, you learn more about the characters from what they don’t say rather than what they shout across the room. No patented Malaysian shout acting here (which Ola-Bola was sadly a victim of).
The most tear-jerking scene in the third act hit me hard and there was barely any dialogue.
Ma, I Love You is a triumph for not only Malaysian cinema but of films in general. The universal themes of family are explored adeptly by Director Chiu Keng Guan and is easily one of the best films I’ve watched.
In the landscape of high concept and high budget action films like Mat Kilau and Air Force, Ma, I Love You is a refreshingly personal movie that everyone can relate to.
Ma, I Love You premiers in cinemas 22 January 2022
Tue Jan 17 2023