Guang The Movie
A Shining Light On Autism And Care
by Casey Lee
When we see a person mumbling to themselves on the streets, how often do we ask if the person is insane or autistic? To the untrained eye, we may not see the difference, but for those who have lived with an autistic person, it could be a world of difference.
Wen Guang is born autistic, and has trouble making eye contact or speaking coherently to strangers, much less hold a job that his brother, affectionately called Di Di (little brother), keeps urging him to find. But while Di Di is struggling to make ends meet as the burdens and responsibilities of a deprived working class are placed squarely on his shoulders, Wen Guang is fascinated by every echoing melody he hears and sets off to build a collection of glass objects to invent his own instrument.
Adapted from a short film that won the BMW Shorties grand prize in 2011, "Guang" might be less of a surprise for those who have seen the short for its many familiarities, but this is otherwise an enlightening introduction not only to the cinematic vision of director Quek Shio Chuan, and also the nuances of autism that we so often neglect. This isn’t the first time that autism has become a subject of interest for Malaysian filmmakers with contemporaries like “Redha”, but "Guang" helps us to empathise and even experience what is truly going in the minds of an autistic person, which Quek is able to portray with intimate knowledge. While Di Di’s life is dotted with misery and disappointment as he is unable to cope with Wen Guang’s compulsions and inability to face the ‘real world’, in the world of Wen Guang, a glass bowl to even the dirtiest of wine glasses found in the dumps is a prized treasure to fulfil his dream.
On a technical standpoint, Quek has shown much growth since his award-winning short, as years and experience of working in the commercial field has honed him. He does not withhold using precise camerawork filtered and blasted with prismatic wonders to appropriately show the inner world of Wen Guang, played by a practiced and convincing Kyo Chen, who is reprising the role from the short. Most noteworthy is the play of sound which can attune a harmony of singing glasses into an orchestral symphony of exaltation. On the other hand, the director also knows when to emphasise the quieter moments, showing the harsh realities of those who have to take care the autistic, with Ernest Chong bringing out the angry, frustrated and unsympathetic caretaker that comes with the territory of not only having to survive, but with a handicap of a brother. When these two forces reach a breaking point, their performance in that scene shatters hearts into pieces.
As the closing credits roll and we see the inspiration behind Wen Guang's character, "Guang" resonates the most in not only spreading more awareness of autism, but showing how we can learn to care; to be a more understanding society to recognize and not pass harsh judgement on those with the condition, and for caretakers to not see the condition as deadweight, but to enjoy them with their love for life. "Guang" shows how ignorance is just as harmful as discrimination, and there are certainly challenges with living with someone who makes it hard for us to understand them. But we must never give up hope that they can also make our lives uniquely colourful in their own way. Perhaps one day, when more people have seen this movie, we would know to no longer equate autism with insanity, and let them live in their own rose-tinted worldview.