I’m friends with Khairil M. Bahar. I’m also writing this on a site he is closely affiliated with, a site headed by our beloved leader Kim Jung-Michael, whose bromance with Khai is no closeted secret. I know a few of the cast members of Relationship Status, I got free tickets to its premiere and oh yeah, I got a button badge too.
Anything I write on this movie isn’t going to be worth much; it will have conflict of interest splashed all over it. So I don’t mind if you prefer to read something from someone less biased. Nothing personal, I understand.
The thing about WAMM’s philosophy though, is that if you love it, you make some noise about it. Post, link, record, podcast, etc. So I’m doing this because I really dig Relationship Status: a Khairil M. Bahar flick, not because it’s made by a friend but because it stands on itself pretty darn well.
Flick. A little self-depreciating, almost flippant. The flick of a switch: easy. Yet I know this film took a heck of a lot of effort. Hollywood’s making-of videos give the impression that making movies is a fun, colour-by-numbers exercise but underplays the careful planning and hours of manpower actually required. Even looking from the periphery I could tell this project required dedication from Khai’s small team.
Relationship Status was made on a shoestring budget. The actors were asked in the promo videos, “How did Khai con you into acting in this movie for free?” Well, they weren’t entirely joking.
So could I tell it was made on a low budget? In some ways, yes, I could. The production value and camerawork, while lightyears ahead of Khai’s debut feature-length Ciplak (2007), still had moments which broke the otherwise very polished feel of Relationship Status: bits of odd lighting, shaky shots, less-than-clear sound.
The thing is though, I don’t think any of that mattered, because the film is such a wonderful ride that most people will forgive its shortcomings.
The main storyline revolves around writer Dave (Gavin Yap) and his relationship with his not-quite-girlfriend Anna (Davina Goh). The other story arches, each based on a relationship status option on facebook, deftly weave together a diverse group of urban Malaysians in a way that only those living in our technology saturated age can understand: divergent yet inextricably linked stories. I found the editing particularly clever in criss-crossing the different storylines while driving the main one forward.
As Khai said in an interview (I paraphrase) the relationships and issues in the movie aren’t new but the way in which they come up through social networking is. Relationship Status’s exploration of the effects of social networking on modern day relationships was refreshingly thought-provoking, an honestly, few films (Malaysian or otherwise) manage to keep me thinking after the credits roll.
A few parts seemed a tad repetitive or expository, but whilst not pitch perfect, the script had more depth and hit more high notes than many mainstream Malaysian movies even bother to try for. I particularly like that it was told in way that was both honest in its portrayal of Malaysian life and relatably human in scale. That Khai has written the entire script is commendable.
What shone most though was the restraint displayed in directing the large cast. While some of the acting in Ciplak was borderline over-the-top, the star-studded ensemble in Relationship Status uniformly delivered their performances with great subtlety and weight; I think they were brilliantly cast for their roles. Even the smaller roles and cameos were done in earnest with no hints of nudge-wink-grin acting. Controlled and measured performances are also something I wish I saw more of in our local films.
Davina Goh and Ruzana Ibrahim’s handling of their characters come to mind as particularly mature. Their characters are in a way opposites: one is a young woman averse to commitment to her partner and the other a newly and happily married mother-to-be deeply devoted to her spouse. The moments between their lines—the pauses, the frowns, the expressive gazes—were subtle but striking in how much they silently communicated about their characters.
With so many story arches, tying them together in one broad-stroke ending did prove tricky, and not all them left me satisfied. While most were beautifully and cleverly ended, leaving just enough for the viewer to fill in the blanks of what happens next, I did feel a bit shortchanged when it came to Eugene (Benji Lim) and May’s (Amanda Ang) story arch.
All in all, Relationship Status is brilliant film I not only sincerely recommend but one which I can feel proud of.
(No, nobody paid me to write any of this).
Relationship Status is currently playing at select TGV cinemas. You can also find more information about the movie here, and there are two WAMMCasts on this site related to the movie. Click on “Podcast” on the top of this page to listen to them.