Cinema review by Subhadra Devan

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Wayang Kids

Directed by Raymond Tan

Starring Eli Shih, Christopher Downs, May Phua, Jocie Kok, Austin Chong, Lorena Gibb

Duration 87 minutes

Rating PG

WAYANG Kids is a simplistic telling, with seriously loud music! The Singapore-China production is about an autistic schoolboy, called Open (martial arts winner Austin Chong’s cinema debut), who loves to draw blue monkeys.

Although teased a lot by others, new female classmate Bao Er (played by newcomer Lorena Gibb) is drawn to his quirky ways.

She loves Chinese opera, and Open’s dad Xiaotian (Eli Shih of Taiwan) teaches that at school.

Dad has to stage a Chinese opera based on the Monkey King and the Journey to the West, and Bao Er signs up for the class which also has three other classmates.

Bao Er discovers Open knows the Monkey King's moves, and the rest is sweet magic on screen.

Wayang Kids is also about learning one’s mother tongue, in this case, Mandarin, friendships and understanding each other.

There are character cliches like parents who look down on those speaking Mandarin as “English is the formal language of Singapore”, and those who see Chinese opera as a futureless path.

But at its heart, Wayang Kids is meant for families and children.

The child actors did well in their portrayal of schoolkids dealing with an autistic peer, and having to learn an old-school art form. They were fun to watch.

Kudos to director Raymond Tan for this bilingual (Mandarin/English) movie that brings forth a love for a traditional performing art form with some examination of autistic abilities.

It reminds me of another Singapore movie, 881 aka the Papaya Sisters, about the getai (Singapore's folk musical theatre/vaudeville form) which is usually performed during the Festival of Hungry Ghosts.

The film, directed by Royston Tan, reportedly repopularised getai in the island republic. It was also a fun watch. So, thank you Singapore for paying some attention to the traditional performing arts.

While I doubt Wayang Kids will make Chinese opera go viral because there is a lot of training and hard work involved over years of dedication, I did enjoy watching its contemporarised offering in the movie.

Sadly, there were just four cinema-goers on a Friday evening for this movie. With a lead character nicknamed Open, it was a subtle call by director Tan, a Pulau Tikus native, for us to be more "open" to all of society.

Wayang Kids is being screened in GSC’s annual month-long campaign for Autism Awareness Month. For every ticket sold, RM1 will go to the National Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom) for its programmes and activities.

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