One situation requires a specific approach or leads to a certain choice, while another situation requires completely different insights. In fact, this is what “Woman on Fire Looks for Water” is all about, a title that at first seems to have little to do with the movie but turns out to be a genius find. Small aspects like this alone show the talent of director Woo Ming Jin. He might as well have called the film “Fishing Village in Decay and Other Problems”, a title with much less cachet. The director is fond of fishing villages because his earlier film “Elephant and the Sea” was also about this theme. Let’s call it his hobbyhorse right away, because depicting a fishing village like the Malaysian director does is something very few are allowed to do.
The opening scene immediately throws you in the deep end, a beautiful image of a small boat on the river that is surrounded on both sides by jungle. The sun, which slowly sets, casts beautiful shades of color on the surface of the water while the son asks his father if he is dying. All this is supported by beautiful intense music and a philosophical conversation about the soul and rebirth. Ah Fei lives with his father in a small village in Malaysia and together they provide for themselves by catching and selling frogs and fish. He is head over heels in love with Lili and will do anything to marry her. To earn more money, he goes to work at a cockle farm, where he meets Su Lin who wants to marry him. Fei’s father is seriously ill, his regrets from the past lead him to search for his great love from his childhood.
“Woman on Fire Looks for Water” shows the decline of an authentic fishing village, but above all the feelings of some of the residents. Son and father sell frogs and fish for a living, but each in their own way has to do with growing up and love on the one hand, and old age and love on the other. These two storylines are ingeniously acquired together, resulting in a small masterpiece about human emotions. Although the world is modernizing, there are also things that will never change. For example, father and son seem to have more in common than you might think at first. Due to the often used documentary style, it is important that the actors do not appear too present. They don’t, perfectly portrayed characters seem to have been plucked straight from the village and come across so captivating that the drama about lost loves is really dramatic. Without much fuss or fanfare, a pure drama that relentlessly affects the hearts of the viewer.
“Woman on Fire Looks for Water” succeeds with flying colors and is thus a timeless document about decay, love and natural beauty. However unknown Malaysian cinema may look, this production should definitely not be missed. Do not expect answers to all the questions the film raises, “experience” is the magic word.