03 March 2007

The Beautiful Washing Machine

A superb tale of urban alienation and sexual oppression, The Beautiful Washing Machine is quirky yet powerfully poignant. It's a story set in contemporary Kuala Lumpur, focusing on a young officer slave named Teoh and a second-hand washing machine. When the machine breaks down, thus setting a genie-like servant free, Teoh immediately seizes upon the opportunity and pimps her out to strangers.

Perfectly created to be a victim, the female servant is mute, yet responds to all orders by her new boss. However, the escape from such sexual oppression is limited as the servant is a robot-like creature, not programmed to be cognisant of freedom or free will. It is no wonder that men are crazy about her and follow her around like predators smelling an easy prey.

This theme of sexual exploitation is intertwined with that of urban alienation. Kuala Lumpur looks so clinical and lifeless in this film. The alienating sentiment is even increased by the use of fixed, frozen frames -- sometimes I even wondered whether the DVD got stuck as some scenes are so still and frozen. One of my favourite scenes must be the supermarket. It's so different from its Thai counterpart in that it's so quiet and funereal, like a cemetary populated by modern-day zombies. (In Thailand, we are different in that we are very loud zombies in a very loud cemetary -- this is definitely worse!) Both staff and consumers are shown as spiritless and devoid of life: no conversations, everyone taking interest in their own purchase or comparing their buying power with others. I think there's no sense of friendship in this space; it instead reminds me of jungles where humans are turned into animals hounding after what they want. This is clearly logical as postmodern consumerism plays upon our desire and turns us into a machine whose desire needs to be constantly gratified.

Hence, the beautiful washing machine. Perhaps all of us are desiring machines (think of Deleuze and Guattari), thinking only of having our needs fulfilled, no matter how dehumanising these acts of fulfillment are. Even the victimised female servant learns of this crude fact and tries to be a sexual aggressor at the end. However, the doubt is whether this state of letting desire roam free is actually beautiful, as most characters who let desire get ahead of them are punished -- needless to say how, otherwise you'll blame me for spoiling.

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1 comment:

Josette said...

I enjoyed reading your review of the movie!

I watched it twice and it still had me asking questions. For instance, why did Teoh buy a used washing machine instead of a brand new one?

And I've also noticed how Teoh and Mr. Wong never questioned the woman about who she is and where she came from. Do they know that she's related to their washing machine?