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  • Warning: Spoilers
    In the first half of the film, the scars of World War II are mentioned by the scenes of hanging, rape, and blasting. The Cold War conflicts are also presented then. The history background is well expressed then. The sex scene of the women from the victimized country and the men from the aggressive country is very different from the films I've seen. It can be recorded in the film history. As a multi-language film, it is arranged harmoniously. I can understand why the director (from Taiwan) chose Cantonese among the Chinese dialects used by Malaysian Chinese, because the others (Minnan, Hakka) are very common in Taiwan. Sylvia Chang performed persuasively the roles from Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China or Southeast Asia. No other actors at the same age can surpass her. There are lot of advantages in the movie but the disadvantage are also significant. Nakamura, the male Protagonist, is more complicated than the Japanese army of "The Girl Who Played Go", "City of Life and Death" or "Mei Lanfang". Although it is known that the main axis of Japanese gardens is deliberately creating conflicts between the heroine and her lover, it is suspected that the Malaysian Chinese in the era could be so fascinated by Japanese gardening or tattoos? Before the war, the group donated to the invaded mother country actively (The Japanese invaded China in 1937 and Malaya was occupied by them in December 1941). Maybe they yearn Chinese Gardening more? (I thought of Chang Dai-chien who became an overseas Chinese after civil war, tried hard to build a garden in Brazil.). The beginning scenes of the tea farm on the mountains is amazing, but the place that tea trees grow must have a very humid climate. Thirty years later, the situation of papers and the wooden house must be terrible. Maybe above reasons bother me. Maybe the past scenes are too fragmented. I feel that this historical drama is too "theme-first". Instead of trying to piece contemporary imaginations together into reality, I prefer the film illusions built with many historical sources.
  • As a Malaysian myself, it was odd watching such a well made film; in fact I would go as far as to say that I am equally astonished and blown away by this movie as it was just so darn good. Well, the movie has been called a heartbreaking love story, although that is true in a certain manner, I think the more proper branding of the movie would be self-healing.

    Firstly, I must acknowledge the themes thrown around in the movie, and to me personally it would be the anger and the hatred towards the Japanese post WW2, and as an individual whom has grown up knowing that Japan were known as some of the most respectable and polite individuals on the planet, I found it hard to understand the hatred that was shown towards them still amongst the Chinese community and after viewing this movie I can say that I can kind of see the anger and resentment felt towards them still. But yes, as mentioned before this movie is about self-healing so in the end, we can't continuously allow the past define the way we see life or how we treat others; sure, there are some few rotten apples here and there but the sample size is simply unsuitable for us to judge an entire community based on the few experiences that we have lived through. Thus, the importance of love, mercy and grace.

    Okay, on with the praises I have regarding this movie. Cinematography is incredible, my gosh what a beautiful movie. However, I believe that it is so mainly because of the location the movie was shot too and these scenes revolving around the vast environment of Cameron Highlands aren't exactly artistic shots but the imagery within the Japanese house where the garden is located is absolutely stunning.

    Although the movie looks stunning, I must bring attention to a certain scene within the movie where the scene could've been better shot which is the scene where the main character, Teoh Yun Ling ponders upon her sister's photograph and the scene plays out in such a way that it felt unnecessary to have a close up on the picture again as it had been done in the earlier part of the movie and the next cut is of her reacting to that picture. This probably isn't an issue for the vast majority but it felt unnatural to me and it stood out too much to my liking. Furthermore, the first 15 minutes of the movie felt choppy to me, this could've been a personal nitpick.

    The acting on the other hand, this is a difficult one to comment upon as it was good but as this movie was labelled as a romantic movie, I went in expecting some serious chemistry between Teoh Yun Ling (Angelica Lee) and Nakumuara Aritomo (Hiroshi Abe) and since this movie focuses on the pain Angelica Lee's character, Teoh Yun Ling experiences during the Japanese invasion of Malaya during WW2, there is constant tension between the two characters due to her prejudice against the Japanese people. But looking past all that, I must say that she did a wonderful job portraying a strong character but at the same time broken, she absolutely nailed all the emotions required in each particular scene and her performance truly nailed this movie home and even brought me to tears.

    All in all, this was a heartbreaking movie, I went in with some form of expectation after seeing the number of awards it was nominated for at the 56th Golden Horse awards and this movie definitely delivers and this is a movie worth catching in the cinema.
  • Kahuna-620 September 2020
    This movie should be lauded for ambition. Tackling an issue like comfort women isn't going to be easy. Compound it with other heavy weights like loyalty, independence, then adding intrigues like the gold of Yamashita and trying to present them in a digestible package under 2 hours, the problem is obvious. The central love theme could not be developed convincingly. In a more assured hand like Ozu, the quiet scenes could have been really evocative. With some one like Kurosawa, the tension of the hanging, violence of rape or unstated pressure of recall etc would have been palpable. Instead it is presented rather without emotion. Even the pain of the tattoo just could not lift beyond the screen. But credit must be given to the producers and director for their attempt. Sufficient time has passed for the history of WW2 to be visited with an objective eye. Hope HBO would continue to put their resources into making such movies.
  • Haven't read the book, which sounds pretty interesting after watching the movie, so I can't compare the movie to the film. But the film, overall, was okay. The leading lady did a good job with her performance, but the movie felt like they were leaving things out. The trip back the memory lane was well handled, though.
  • The interesting parts of this film are the war time Japanese atrocities in Malaysia and the communist insurgency against the British Colonials. The romance is heavy handed and agonizingly boring in parts. The only funny part is when she asks him Must you always talk like that? Direction isn't good because the story isn't clear. It's quite confusing and he ending isn't clear. The filming is quite beautiful though. The English subtitles are useful because the Japanese star Abe's English diction isn't easy to understand - sounds like Ken Watanabe.
  • The book is award-winning material which the film completely dumb-downed for the most part, choosing to focus on symbolic imagery in a highly superficial manner without attempting to showcase the rich complexities of the story. The are many missed opportunities to showcase the cross-cultural highlights - from the Japanese art & heritage to what Malaya was really like at that time. There were powerful flashbacks such as the most beautiful memory the protagonist had of a Kyoto garden - you would be hard-pressed to see any depiction of it save for a few mentions despite this being a strong counterpoint to the darker memories the protaganist had. There is one scene at a local coffee shop which really gave a true vibe of Old Malaya but the film mostly misses the diversely strong cultures of Malaysians, the history of highland plantations & the Indian community, the Orang Asli who to this day inhabit the Highlands (& had a bigger role to play in the book), the familial ties and subversive support for Communists were missing (save for a few gangster-like scenes of a few Commies), and even details such as famous Cameron Highlands scones or the iconic Smokehouse are glaringly absent. At a book event, the author himself said the script was returned with extremely critical feedback on his first review. I suppose there's consolation that it might've been much worse had he not intervened.
  • This is a story of Yun Ling (played beautifully and seamlessly by both Sylvia Chang and Angelica Lee) who through series of flashback and present day scenes, tells of her experiences under the occupation of the Japanese during the second world war and apprenticeship under the former royal gardener of Japan, Aritomo (absolutely amazing Hiroshi Abe), after the war. The background to the movie is the glorious Cameron Highlands in the state of Pahang in Malaysia , the essence and beauty of it captured beautifully by the cinematographer, Kartik Vijay. The multicultural cast, consisting of mainly Malaysian, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and British actors, were just sublime and amazing under the direction of Tom Lin. Tom managed to capture the spirit and the beauty of the book of the same title by award winning Penang author , Tan Twan Eng. I had the absolute honour of being invited to the gala viewing in Penang (thanks to GL Ooi and Penang Monthly!). From the opening scene I was amazed that Tom Lin managed to capture the lives, hopes and fears of the people of Malaysia during and after the war. The multilingual dialogue truly exemplifies the multicultural melting pot of Malaysia. The philosophy of perfection in the creation of the garden just drives home the dedication involved in bringing the original source to life. When the end credits rolled, I was amazed to find out that the crews were mostly Asians... For me this is the truly Asian (Malaysian) movie and will deserve all the accolades that will be bestowed upon the cast, crew and the author of this movie. This is a movie that I will watch again and again and will never be tired of!
  • I have not read the book and as quoted from the story I saw this film "without prejudice" and found it excellent. It is not a perfect movie but it was based on a great story and the director told this story very well. The main cast did a fine job. It is slow paced as most historical dramas but was able to draw you into the mesmerizing tale set within a turbulent time.
  • "The catch is, not enough scenery of crisp verdure, or an artificial brook of dainty Japanese lanterns, nor a doughty, noble, deeply-felt performance from Lee Sinje, can save this plodding vehicle from swanning along to its finish line, and Lin's partisan leanings gets blatantly offensive in his outrageous depiction of the acquisitive and savage Malayan communist rebels. Also Yun Ling's over-intimate relationships with both British colony, and Aritomo, the man might or might not be a Japanese spy, from a country that wantonly brings inexpressible suffering and bereavement to her, are problematic, to say the least. As an intimate, personal story, THE GARDEN... is poetic, touching, if overwrought in its final application, but if one tries to obtain a critical take on Malaya's WWII turbulence and its colonial days, the outcome is cripplingly jaundiced and romanticized."

    read the full review on my blog: cinema omnivore, thanks
  • Beyond tedious and weird. The book is infinitely better. I went to see this with a group of friends and unanimously we considered it a boring waste of time. The cinematography was reasonable, the actors are good, but the overall production proved you can take a good book and turn it into a tedious film which over-focuses on the wrong sub-plots and scenes and omits what probably should have been included. What makes this particularly frustrating, is that the geo-period of history it was set in was so intriguing - a lost opportunity!
  • neetabora20 September 2020
    It's been ages since I've loved watching a romantic movie, reason being none have the depth. This movie is brilliant! I loved it.
  • limsuebeng13 September 2020
    Nostalgic from Malaysian point of view. English subtitles would be helpful for the other languages spoken in the movie.