|Sham moh 2009 Malaysia, South Korea, Hong Kong At the End of Daybreak|
Summary: Based on a true story ripped from the headlines, At the End of Daybreak is a slow-burning crime drama in which no one is innocent. Ho Yuhang, one of Malaysia’s leading independent filmmakers, returns with a sharply critical take on his society. Class divisions, a rigid educational system, parental control and youthful ennui ultimately lead to shocking results.
The film begins with a graphic scene foreshadowing the ill-fated destiny of Ho’s desperate characters. The protagonist is twenty-three-year-old Tuck Chai (Chui Tien You), who lives with his overprotective and alcoholic mother (Wai Ying Hong). Neither intelligent nor ambitious, he works at his mother’s store and hangs out with his equally aimless friends. Tuck Chai is secretly seeing Ying (Ng Meng Hui), a teen who is still at school. The wealthier of the two, Ying is a carefree young girl with no real moral compass – she casually lies, gossips and steals, despite being raised by strict parents. But when birth control is found in her room, she is revealed to be just fifteen, and Tuck Chai is threatened with statutory rape. Thus begins the blackmail and deceit that ultimately spiral out of control.
Gone are the long shots and longer takes synonymous with Ho’s earlier works. His shots are now closer and have more immediacy, even though the director still views his characters from an objective distance. Indeed, one of the film’s most effective scenes is a montage that uses music and clever cutting to delve into Ying’s psyche. But the most emotionally charged moments come from the mother-son interdependency, helped immensely by a commanding performance from Shaw Brothers veteran Wai Ying Hong, also known as Kara Hui. Her character’s genuine love for Tuck Chai and her subsequent desperation when things go wrong make this tale all the more heartbreaking.
Skilfully observing the country’s social reality, At the End of Daybreak represents a vital evolution in the Malaysian New Wave that began over five years ago.