Big dreams

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 13, 2018.
-A +A

Following his success in 2014 and 2016 with The Journey and Ola Bola respectively, Malaysian film director Chiu Keng Guan once again drops an emotional grenade in the form of his latest film, Think Big Big.

Inspired by a phase he went through during his teenage years — Chiu says he dreamt of being a football player and an astronaut after reading an autobiography about the first ethnic Chinese man in space, Taylor Gun-Jin Wang — his newest project tells the story of a plus-sized girl named Moon, whose dreams are lost along the way. 

Now, before you scoff and look away, this isn’t some frilly, “never give up, dreams do come true someday!” motivational fairytale. Instead, Chiu keeps his plot — and protagonist — on the ground, and chooses to tackle some real issues, such as body-image, weight loss, and self-esteem.

Teaming up once more with cinematographer Yong Choon Lin and art director Soon Yong Chow, both of whom worked with him on WooHoo! (2010) and Great Day (2011), the director has turned the spotlight on the pressures of today’s standards of self-image.

“This is a story of loving yourself unconditionally, and not just the perfect shining outer self,” says Chiu. While the message is not gender specific, it is a first for the award-winning filmmaker in helming a female-centric storyline and cast. 

As established, Moon is overweight, yet confident and comfortable in her own skin. She works at a theme park in the city and loves her job, seemingly jolly and satisfied with little worry or few wants in life. That is, until the day she inadvertently messes up at work, and is plunged into debt. This sets the scene for her taking part in a weight-loss contest in hopes of winning the grand cash prize.

The film’s fresh-faced star, Moon Yoong, who has the character named after her, speaks of her own experience with weight-loss. “I’ve always actively participated in activities, such as ballet, singing, and modelling. Each time, I would be told at auditions that I had the talent they were seeking, but not the body size. At one point I did try to lose weight, and succeeded in shedding 20kgs in just one month. But it still wasn’t enough, so I decided to just let it be and accept myself as I am.”

In fact, Yoong reveals that this self-acceptance in the face of rejection was what landed her the debut acting role. She recounts that it was her resemblance to the protagonist in both life-story and personality that made an impression on Chiu, ultimately winning him over. 

Also making her acting debut is Serene Lim, winner of the 2016 Miss Astro Chinese International Pageant, whose character gets caught up in the social media tide — a key theme addressed in the film. As a public figure in real life, Lim similarly relates to feeling lost amidst all the attention following her pageant win. “It is stressful. When you suddenly become someone people look up to, you are bound to hear their opinions. This is especially true due to social media, where it is easier than ever for the public to reach you.”

Both Yoong and Lim credits a strong support system as the key to staying grounded, citing their family members, particularly their parents, as the main sources of moral and emotional support.

Similar connotations form the main theme of Think Big Big. If one had to attach a moral of the story to the film, it would be “be yourself”. Yoong states, “I believe that, no matter what size you are, you still have the right to dress the way you like and look your best. Sometimes, we take in too many opinions from other people… However, it’s usually all in our minds, and reality is not always as bad as we imagine it, especially when it comes to our appearance.”

While the issues of body image and acceptance of oneself are indisputably prominent in the movie, Think Big Big touches strongly on other aspects as well. Moon’s three best friends, and her subtle but not-so-secret admirer, are far from being inconsequential extras, as each contributes to the protagonist’s character. Vivienne Ong, who also shares a name with her character, gives a particularly strong performance as the “big sister” friend and voice of reason. The interactions and chemistry of the group of friends form a highlight of the film, be it in the more candid moments or the exaggerated comic-relief bits. 

With all that said, Think Big Big is not entirely without its flaws — for example, viewers can anticipate to suspend disbelief at some junctures, due to Chiu’s creative vision for the portrayal of the protagonist. But then again, the director has always been known to pack a feel-good, emotional punch. Nevertheless, the overall message here is still delivered with compelling conviction. Juggling multiple themes and a dynamic cast, Think Big Big may just be Chiu’s film with the most layered depth to date. 

Footnote: Think Big Big opens tomorrow in cinemas nationwide. For ticketing and showtimes, visit www.gsc.com.my