Review: Setting Moon // 孟 (2019)

The film sets itself in a darkened river enclosure, evoking a sense of the foreign and the mystical. Its grayscale palette is a hint at either a flashback, a dream or the afterlife. A tiny wooden boat glides into frame revealing a mother and daughter having a normal conversation in a strange context. They are talking about making a journey to somewhere and there is an ominous feeling about it, largely attributable to the dramatic setting that would hardly look out of place in a wuxia flick.

Yet the dialogue between them, delivered in an earnest and colloquial Malaysian Mandarin, is as ordinary as a tea-time tête-à-tête, traversing memories of child birth, youth and first love. Like any mother would, the older lady recalls vividly the physical trial of delivery while the daughter tries to etch every precious inch of the account into the recesses of her mind and heart. Precious because the conversation hints at an impending farewell. 


It soon becomes apparent this film is about a daughter’s sending off of her mother, with its gravity downplayed and transposed into a kind of rites-of-passage rather than a moment of reckoning. At times, one could be not be entirely sure if the pair was going on a hike. But towards the end, moments when the mother looked back forlornly at her daughter in poetically-framed wide shots drive home the point that this is goodbye.


Director Chan Teik Quan makes an interesting choice in departing from a more realist grip on the event of death towards something more spiritual and meditative. The film is like the dream one hopes to wake up from the morning after the funeral. While the poetic take in this afterlife transition serve to nullify the morbidity of death, nothing in it takes away the sadness of parting. If funeral companies wanted to take their services to the next level, a video clip like this featuring an AI-reconstructed moving image of the deceased in an imagined afterlife would be the gold class memento we could all opt for.  


This short film won the Jury’s Choice and People’s Choice at the Kancil 666 Young Director’s Challenge in Malaysia and has been screened at several film festivals, including the recent Minikino Film Week in Indonesia.


Review by Jeremy Sing

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