野蠻人入侵Directed by Tan Chui Mui
Cast: Bront Palarae, James Lee, Pete Teo, Tan Chui Mui
Jury Grand Prix, 2021 Shanghai International Film Festival
“Every generation, civilization is invaded by barbarians.” Apparently, Hannah Arendt said this about children.
And so, Malaysian filmmaker Tan Chui Mui makes a personal film inspired by her experience juggling parenting and work. Tan—on triple duty as writer, director, and lead—plays semi-retired actress and divorced single mom Moon, who now has an opportunity to make a comeback with a favorite director-collaborator. She must, however, commit to grueling martial arts training for a film in which she will perform her own stunts.
The protagonist’s name pays homage to Hong Kong actress and stunt performer Moon Lee. As much as this film is a shapeshifter (much like Moon herself), it is a multilayered and beguiling look at motherhood, especially the loss of a sense of self and control of one’s body. Through martial arts, Moon transforms her mind, body, and spirit—learning about who she is, with clues from a cryptic monk outside the gym where she trains. Just as Moon completes training for the film, her son Yu Zhou is kidnapped, and she loses her identity and memory as she fights to re-find herself and get him back.
Or does she? The film twists and parries around the real, planting misdirection and cinephile Easter eggs, creating a strange and delightful behind-the-scenes adventure into independent filmmaking in Malaysia today.