Guang 《光》 (2019) – Review

The Low-Down: An adaptation of his personal experience of living with an autistic elder brother, budding filmmaker Quek Shio Chuan’s feature debut has won over a dozen awards at various film festivals. Starring Kyo Chen and Ernest Chong (The Descendant 《香火》) in their breakout performances, Guang, which took over two years to make, is about the tear-jerking struggles of a family grappling with autism and society.

The Story: 27 year-old Wen Guang (Chen) and his brother, Didi (Chong), rehearses bland and obviously scripted lines (for the umpteenth time) to prepare for his interview as a flower shop attendant. With only a script and heavy dependence on his brother, Wen Guang flops the interview. The story follows Wen Guang and Didi as they learn how to help the former find his place in the society, along with some help from a kindhearted Sue Ann (Emily Chan), with whom Wen Guang shares a musical (and emotional) connection.

The Good: The key to Guang’s enjoyment is Quek’s unique directing style underscored by a strange sense of familiarity — the film is one-of-its-kind but presented in a way with which Asian audiences can immediately connect. From the striking visuals of the suburban corners of Kuala Lumpur and the cluttered but cosy home interior to the breathtaking and nostalgic musical score throughout the movie, Quek and crew strike a perfect balance between art and practical storytelling.

The Not-So-Good: There aren’t many problems, but if one really has to nitpick, it’s the performances of everyone else except the main leads. That’s fine, though, since Chen and Chong alone could pretty much bolster the entire film with some help from Chan who is more than just a pretty face and love interest.

Knock-Out Performances: Needless to say, Chen is the key highlight — he goes all the way and beyond to deliver a convincing performance. Chong is equally phenomenal, especially in the emotional second and third acts, making the short but impactful 92-minute runtime an extremely intimate experience. In the post-credits scene, looking at Chen and Quek Shio Gai (Quek’s brother of which Wen Guang’s character is based on) sitting side-by-side is heartwarming as the actor listens intently to understand his thoughts as much as possible.

Watch Out For: The last 10 minutes of the final act — the build-up, climax, and resolution are worth the seating.

Recommended? Absolutely. While there are numerous films about autism — Zac Efron in The Unexpected Journey, Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man among many other Hollywood movies — Guang is a story with which most South-East Asians can relate to. With masterful directing, storytelling, and stellar performances, Guang exceeds expectations of typical Asian indie films.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars