Saturday, 21 March 2009

Reminding of the Power of Destiny


The debate over Slumdog Millionaire in Hong Kong seems to last shorter than expected. On the first weekend after the British production swept eight Oscars, including the Best Film award, the Sunday of Ming Pao Daily News devoted a special report on it. Not surprisingly, most writers marked their fingerprints on cultural interpretation of the storyline. With all the intimidating cultural studies jargons floating around, few were bold enough to admit that it was at least a good watch for the audience.

This is precisely why I have been so fed up with the self-proclaiming critics in Hong Kong. They are actually not film critics. They do not actually review films, but interpret them like a piece of artefact taken out of context. The so-called commentaries are often nothing more than a piece of casually thought and written blog entry dotted with misused jargons and fuzzy thinking to show off one's "learnedness".

Although I do agree with some of the issues raised in the interpretation - or "reading", the preferred verb to which almost every human activity is reduced - of the film, I believe the film deserves compliments for being a highly entertaining and thought-provoking production. At the end of the day, it is still a good-to-watch film.

Technically, Slumdog Millionaire contains all elements that make a film entertaining and absorbing: Great music, compelling images, breath-taking plot and fit-for-job line-up. Two hours passed so easily without even checking your watch. Even though some parts may seem a bit too deliberately calculated and too sensational, these artificial designs do not prevent it from being good to watch. What else can you ask for a piece of entertainment works?

Content wise, Slumdog Millionaire raises a lot of questions for the audience and this is what I enjoy most. The biggest question, I suppose, is the one that appears at the beginning of the film: Why does the barely literate slumdog win the jackpot?

It's written. It's destiny.

What a great reminder of the power of destiny.

Modern culture doesn't seem to teach us to believe in destiny. Modern culture seems to brainwash people with the thought that hard work will often end up with success. At least those who are seen successful refuse to admit that they succeed purely because of good luck. They are more than happy to tell their success stories by emphasising how hard they have tried, but they do not realise that they are actually feeding those who are looking up with addictive poison of fallacy.

With so many success stories and fascinating technological advancements, we have become too proud of ourselves to realise there is someone or something behind us. Be it God, Allah, the Nature, the Dao or the cause and effect relationship in Buddhism, you name it. For many years I am truly convinced that there is some sort of programming going on in this universe that pre-determines everything before we ever come to realise.

Human beings are born free. We have free will. But how free can we be? Think about our personality, the circumstances under which our decisions are made, and the occasions on which we are supposed to make a decision for ourselves or for others. Do we really have a choice at all times? More importantly, is the availability of choices intrinsically good? Is the right to choose by all means plausible?

While many commentators focus on the cultural imperialism of Slumdog Millionaire, I would rather pay attention to the theme of fatalism. Jamal's winning of the jackpot prize can be seen as a Godsend reward for his love, kindness, integrity and innocence. His despair and grievances since childhood are now handsomely compensated overnight. This compensation theory is commonly found in Chinese folklore to encourage endurance and hard work with the ultimate hope that all the endeavours would one day be rewarded, if compensated. This is the way of God, the Nature or the Heaven. Some may go on to criticise that this is nothing more than the deceiving doctrines of absolute rulers, but what is wrong with being innocent with integrity? We should blame those who abuse innocence, not innocence itself.

So if you ask me the takeaway of this film, this is my answer: Be good and be yourself. The Nature rewards souls of love and integrity.

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