Monthly Archives: March 2015
Last week I caught “Chappie” in one of the cinemas in Aeon Mall here in Phnom Penh. The cinema complex in the mall was nice; reminding me of the cinema complexes in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. There were plenty of snack choices and the toilets were immaculately clean. The audience was a good mix of Khmer–mostly young people, and foreigners like me. The screen was big enough but the seat was uncomfortable because it kept on reclining. I tried another seat but it was the same.
Anyway, “Chappie” is the third feature film of Neill Blomkamp, who first directed the awesome “District 9” and then the slightly un-even “Elysium”. I surmised that this film is the last in a trilogy of films that tackled alienation, other-ness, and segregation.
In “District 9” there were real aliens, but the way the government treated them was not that different from the way some governments treat their migrant populations. And while there were no extra-terrestrials in “Elysium”, the disparity between those who have and those who don’t are spectacularly presented as the affluent few living a life of luxury literally above the rest of the populace who languishes in a wasteland of a world.
Here in “Chappie”, Neill Blomkamp turns inward and attempts a discourse at what makes us human. Although one can argue that this discourse can also be about the impact of big business on our lives, and what happens to us when big decisions are being made by business conglomerates and are purely based on ensuring that profits will be made. At its core, “Chappie” makes a case at how great we can become if we choose to be, and how destructive we can also be if we become cavalier.
Great performances all around, although I missed Blomkamp favorite Sharlto Copely’s face (we only get his voice and motion-capture). Hugh Jackman’s mullet brought me back to the guys I adored in the 80s. Sigourney Weaver’s presence alone added gravitas to the proceedings. I also loved this South African singer-rapper, whom I mistook for Lady Gaga. She was great as Chappie’s mother figure.
Dev Patel as Deon was compelling as the hero of this film. He was the sole lucid presence in this film and he carried it well. By the way, even if I love Neill Blomkamp’s films, I’d never want to be a hero in any of them. Why? Just look at what happened to them: Wikus (District 9) became an alien-hybrid, Max (Elysium) became a human flash drive, and Deon’s consciousness was downloaded into a robot. Neill Blomkamp demands a lot from his heroes, so there. Enough said.
That was another reason why I see connections between the three films. One other similar thread that runs through the films are its open endings. His films almost always starts with a question of “What if?” The movie tries to answer this question in all sorts of bombastic, incredible, and sometimes funny manner and by the end of the film, the question has become “What now?”
“Chappie” is a must-see!
It has been two weeks since my return to my adopted city and I can say that this return is both strange and bittersweet. Strange because the city had changed a lot in the few years of my absence. I saw it the moment I arrived, on the drive from the airport to my hotel. The new fly-over, and another currently being built, the towering buildings rising amidst their more humble neighbors, and the traffic that choked the roads with SUVs, tuktuks and motorcycles.
When I last saw Cambodia in 2011, there were only a couple of malls in Phnom Penh, and no cinema that showed English movies. Now there are at least 3 new malls, each with its own number of cinemas that could rival the best cinemas in Bangkok, Kulala Lumpur, and Manila. On my first Sunday here, I watched “Chappie” in one of the cinemas of Aeon Mall. It reminded me of the cinemas in Bangkok and Makati, though I must say that the seats were a tad uncomfortable.
And because there are now malls, there are now more shopping options for Cambodians. Many foreign brands are now available here. From the high-end to the more affordable ones. Some even from the Philippines like Penshoppe. Going around the mall, one could marvel at how far Cambodia has come economically.
However, as soon as one steps out of the mall and goes around the more modest corners of the city, one cannot help but wonder how inclusive this new economic growth really is. Whether this new affluence is a bubble or not is a matter of debate. One that I wouldn’t want to be involved in. After all, even my own government is bragging our economy’s supposed robust growth and this growth seems felt by only by a small part of the population.
This could be the bittersweet part of my return but there is also another reason why I am feeling this way. One of the people who had been very kind to me in my last 6+ months here in Cambodia in 2010 is returning to the Philippines for good. One other friend has returned to Australia while another, whom I cherish like the brother I wished I had is moving to Uganda in 3 months. The Cambodia veterans are beginning to leave one by one.
I was fortunate to be able to attend her send-off party, wherein I saw almost all the people I knew from way back in one fell swoop. However, on her date of departure, I wasn’t able to see her off because I was in the province doing field work. And because I’m in the office 5 days a week, I try to fill my weekends with meet-ups with friends. Just a few moments ago, I was arranging another breakfast meeting with friends and I realized that I seemed to be setting these appointments in a panic mode.
Well, it’s because of this sinking feeling that it will be a long time before I see them again. This makes me sad, even if I am confident that our friendship will weather this distance as it has for years now. My assignment will bring me back to Cambodia a few more times in the next two years, but it won’t be the same without these people.
So while I can, I am trying to mint new memories I can keep in the pockets of my mind and heart. To tide me over in my lonely times.