Do you remember watching the Lord of the Rings films and being completely enamoured with the beauty of the New Zealand countryside?
With rolling hills and lush forests, you might even have forgotten that there was a fantastical plot going on, planning as you were a visit to New Zealand for your next holiday.
It’s much the same when watching The Garden of Evening Mists (TGOEM).
Set in the tranquil wilderness and picturesque tea plantations of Cameron Highlands, this tragic romance of a film is worth watching simply for the beautiful setting.
Slated for release on Jan 16, TGOEM is an adaptation of the award-winning novel of the same name, written by Tan Twan Eng.
Starring Sinje Lee (The Eye), Hiroshi Abe (After the Storm), Sylvia Chang (Love Education) and Julian Sands (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), the film is directed by Tom Shu-Yu Lin and jointly produced by Astro Shaw and HBO Asia.
In a sign that Malaysia’s film industry may just have brighter days ahead, TGOEM premiered at the 24th Busan Film Festival to a sold-out audience, and was screened at the 16th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival.
The film received nine nominations at the 56th Golden Horse Film Festival, and won the award for Best Makeup and Costume Design.
After such a welcoming reception overseas, it is quite likely that Malaysian audiences will fall in love with this Malaysian film made by Malaysians.
So, what is the story about?
It follows the tale of one Teoh Yun Ling, a resentful law graduate who, by the skin of her teeth, survived the Japanese atrocities of the Second World War.
Seeking solace among the vast tea plantations of Cameron Highlands, she comes to find Yugiri, a Japanese garden, and its mysterious owner, Nakamura Aritomo.
With the intention of creating a Japanese garden in memory of her late sister, Teoh takes up an apprenticeship under Nakamura and over time, tender feelings emerge between the two.
As was previously indicated, one of the strongest points of this film is the beautiful setting which will likely start you hatching plans for a drive up to Cameron Highlands.
The excellent cinematography coupled with the lush greenery of the countryside is certain to take your breath away.
With soaring panoramic shots of the endless rows of green tea plants and the wilderness of the mountains, TGOEM is a surprisingly good reminder that Malaysia has its own beauty to admire and be proud of.
In addition, parts of the film are set in the post-war but pre-Merdeka years, and are quite likely to invoke feelings of nostalgia in older audiences.
Being a tragic romance, the quality of the film would ultimately depend on the quality of its characters and how their actors portray them. On this front, TGOEM succeeds with flying colours.
At the forefront of the cast are the two lovebirds, Teoh and Nakamura, played by Sinje Lee and Hiroshi Abe respectively.
The relationship between the two starts off as a realistic slow burn, with the embittered Teoh intrigued by the stoic Nakamura.
But as the film progresses, the façade that Nakamura puts up starts to crack as Teoh shares with him the deeper and darker secrets of her past.
He too has secrets of his own but nonetheless, he becomes increasingly tender with Teoh as he genuinely develops feelings for his apprentice.
But as can be expected, a tragic romance can only have a bittersweet end and the audience will have to hold back tears as secrets are finally revealed and understood.
Special mention has to be given to newcomer Serene Lim, who plays Teoh’s late sister, Yun Hong.
Her character, despite going through what can only be described as mind-breaking torment by her Japanese captors, still puts on a brave face.
A particular scene in which she, during captivity, describes the future Japanese garden she wants once she is free, is likely to bring tears to one’s eyes.
In addition to the good acting, a round of applause ought to be given to Onn San, who scored the film’s soundtrack.
The melodies and tunes throughout the film are masterfully crafted and fit the tone of the scenes to a tee.
With this incredible soundtrack, the emotional impact of the film is greatly heightened and packs a punch to the emotional gut.
With the soaring views of the beautiful Cameron Highlands and a tearjerker of a love story, film aficionados should mark Jan 16 on their calendars to remind themselves to catch this artwork of a movie.