‘Aqerat’: A hymn to narrative

NOVEMBER 8 — Edmund Yeo’s Best Director win for Aqerat was well-deserved.

Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way: I’ve known Yeo a long time.  But Yeo is and has always been talented, with the added bonus of being one of the most pragmatic creatives I know.

What sets Yeo apart is his eye for narrative combined with his own personal visual aesthetic. There’s something about the way he uses colour that is dream-like without being distracting.

While his short film Kingyo is my sentimental favourite, Aqerat is perhaps the culmination of years working on various projects, developing his eye as well as perfecting his own brand of storytelling.

His take on the Rohingya issue, through the eyes of a naïve unlikely human trafficker, is an interesting one. Daphne Low as Aqerats main protagonist Hui Ling carries the film well despite its heavy subject matter.

The film is as much about Low’s character’s journey as well as that of the character played by Howard Hon Kahoe (Wei), and how their worlds collide.

In the hands of a clumsier director, Aquerat could have easily devolved into a boy meets girl, love conquers all sappy melodrama.

But the real narrative here belongs to the nature of human suffering. There is a lot of pain here, none of which Yeo milks for entertainment.

Aqerat also interestingly uses both Malay and Mandarin, which adds a different dimension to the film.

Yeo avoids preachiness or heavy-handed moralising though that doesn’t mean it makes the film easy to watch.

It is, after all, a film where suffering is the backdrop. Suffering that is monetised, in the case of the Rohingya and suffering that is abetted in an attempt to escape hardship in the case of Hui Ling.

As dark as the story matter is, there are still moments of, if not brevity, brief insights into the characters who themselves are not caricatures but archetypes.

Yeo’s canvas as far as characters are concerned is full of greys, no simple black and white hero/villain tropes.

The heart of Aqerat is its humanising of the people in it as well as reflections on the nature of humanity ― its propensity towards greed and violence as well as that fleeting but still comforting idea of hope.

Only hope in the end propels the characters forward ― whether it be the refugees or the protagonist. And in times like these, it’s good to take hope wherever you can find it.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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