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‘The Bird House’ – Khoo Eng Yow April 4, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Event, Heritage, Malaysia, Miscellanous.


The Bird House is Khoo Eng Yow’s (‘Yong Yow’) first feature film, set in Malacca.

Yong Yow had made this announcement earlier, during our last Chinese New Year get-together at Gasing Indah. And we had promised him that we would ‘promote’ it in our own way – hence this post 🙂

His new film takes a peek into the lives of two brothers, their father and the house they live in.

Prior to this, he made the popular documentary “Ah Kew The Digger”, a thought-provoking story of an amateur self-taught historian in Taiping, Perak, and “Railway Steps”.

Review from 19th Tokyo International Film Festival 2006

BIRD HOUSE, part of our Film Malaysia, Truly Asia special, is a stunning piece of location shooting by first time director Khoo Eng Yow. Set in the historic city of Malacca, such hefty themes as the conflict between (heritage) preservation and profit, and what ultimately constitutes Development – cultural or economic? – are handled with a restrained yet idiosyncratic touch.

These themes are intimated in the opposing ulterior motives of two brothers, who want to turn their ancestral home into an antique shop and an aviary for producing swallow’s nest respectively. Instead of resorting to soapy family feuds, Khoo takes a detached view of the human drama, concentrating instead on making the house, a “Straits Eclectic” building, the main protagonist of the film. As if making the house a member of the family, the camera’s exquisitely composed wide shots make the interiors come alive, letting every nook and cranny tell a silent story, while the natural sounds of crickets and birds’ flapping wings replace the dialog of the human protagonists, whose communication, is reduced to the odd grunt or row, or mobile monologues.

The father, a personification of the house, says nothing, but feels everything. The only time we hear him having a decent conversation is not with his sons, but with the Indonesian helper. The final scene is another monologue that lifts the film from its authentic setting into the realm of poetry and magic realism. The image of the mother, both a real person and allegorical figure for the house and the weight of Malacca’s history, is unforgettably haunting and elegiac.

(A short interview with Khoo at the Festival is available here.)

THE BIRD HOUSE opens on 5 April 2007, exclusively at GSC International Screens Mid Valley Mall, 1-Utama, Gurney Plaza.

  • Original title: Niao Wu
  • Country: Malaysia
  • Duration: 97 minutes
  • Languages: Mandarin / Hokkien
  • Subtitles: English


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