First Takes - 'Tak Doc Cheng' by Mohd Suffian


Tak Doc Cheng is quite a flagship film of the Malay Filmamker's Society. It has been screened several times at various events. I got to understand why at First Takes. Though I am not familiar with the 'Bujang Lapok' series, I know that it involves 3 men who get up to different antics, often off-tangent, enough to cpature the imagination of the audience. Tak Doc Cheng carries a bit of that spirit of Malay men sticking their fingers into a different pie. The manner is largely 'blokish', with a tinge of simpleton's comedy and even a dash of wit at the end.
I don't deny it rests on a certain tried and tested formula, men from one culture try their hands at something of another bculture and we end up with a comedy of errors. In this case, it is the world of the traditional Chinese lion dance. The lion dance seems like a serious art/dance form that speaks of a lot of discipline and regime. So it is refershing to see how other cultures can take the mickey our of a tradition spanning thousands of years. In short, it's got a lot to do with the hip protusion. At least, that's what our 2 leads get out of watching other do the lion dance.
Chancing upon an a flyer advertising a lion dance competition, they decide to take the plunge. After being rejected from a troupe, they do not relent to their circumstances and continue pulling out all stops to succeeding. In a scene at the void deck (which represented some form of a comfort zone), the boys recreate with they observed from their Chinese counterparts in the dance, to hilarious effect. This is really where we get a first glimpse of the director's straight-talking, instinctive style of telling a joke. No pretensions, just good old physical comedy, involving the hips! Basically the boys cannot get rid of the R & B and the Hip-Hop out of the footwork. So you can pretty much imagine the mise-en-scene.

Determined to win, they seek out a veteran who is now wheelchair-bound. And the veteran asked them what they already know about lion dance. So they get their feet and as expected, the audience roars in laughter again. Unfortunately, what followed was much predictability in the plot because if you watched enough Kung Fu movies, it follows this thread of development - veteran master who is crippled imparts his skill to unlikely disciples who surprise him with the ability to learn. Then, the good and the bad meet at duel and the battle begins. Without pictueresque mountains and lakes and only the backdrop of the HDB void deck, they boys drill themselves. Later they even got a Indonesian guy who had an acrobatic butt to be the rear of the lion.
While, it was really looking at a formulaic joke stretched too far, I guess the ending saved it nicely. The twist, a very unexpected one, was a chocolate sauce oozing out of a chocolate fondant cake when you dug to the end. The best part was it was probably a very relevant twist within the thematic boundaries of the film that served to reinforce its message even further. I do not deny that many of the Malay short films tend to falter in terms of production value and look but this piece clearly shows something many of the Malay films have, which is straight-talking sincerity. And in the case of Tak Doc Cheng, the wittiness of the ending made me forget the generally mediocre visuals of the film.

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