By Arissa Binte Kamaruzaman (24A01A)
This story is the second of a 3-part series focusing on films featured during the Family Film Festival, which focused on family-centered themes and stories.
Guang’’s opening scenes encapsulates the visceral, inner world of its main character: notice the sharp, creaking sound of wheels in a hospital; the restless bouncing of his feet as he waits outside his mother’s ward. Wei Guang, an autistic young man, is still navigating the world around him and all the complexities it has to offer. Be it a shift in energy, in pace, or motion, the film never shies away from dissecting Guang’s sensitivities, and embracing what it means to love and hurt the way he does.
The Kindness of Kindred Spirits
“Hello, I am Wei Guang. I am 27 years old. I am nice, kind. I might look a bit weird sometimes, but it is because I have autism”. This iconic line surfaces several times throughout the film and is first taught by Guang’s brother, Didi, to be repeated at a job interview at a nearby flower shop. While Guang remains faithful to each word taught by Didi, carefully rolling the vowels in his mouth and articulating them before his interviewer, the final question that strays off from the practised interviewer-interviewee dialogue leaves him at a loss for words. His response towards the interviewer, who gently asks him about his favourite flower, is: “I don’t like flowers”.
This is one of many moments showcasing Guang’s unabashed honesty—sometimes endowed with a touch of humour; other times, earning him long and harsh tirades from his brother. His honesty is both his greatest strength and weakness; for while it endears him to those who value him for his spirited ways, it also leaves him vulnerable to the insidious forces of the real world (where the truth is often worse than what one knows).
He runs away from the flower shop later on—only to seclude himself in the comfort of a piano shop, tinkering his fingers playfully at the black and white keys. A young woman converses with the shop owner, sharing her intent on selling off her old piano. But Guang’s overpowering passion for the instrument pushes him to the brink of anger at hearing that she wishes to sell her piano, so much so that he yells at her and calls her an “ungrateful woman”.
When he meets this lady again later on at the bus stop, he quickly recounts his interview line to introduce himself. She smiles at the effort, and introduces herself as Su En. Kindly, she tells him that she is only a normal woman, which prompts him to ask about the implied meaning: does she think that he is abnormal then? What she means, however, is not that he is abnormal; he is simply unique to the world. And that moment to me, is one anchored in the magic found in the connection between two kindred spirits.
Throughout the film, their friendship blossoms into a precious one: one in which they both grow to become better people. She softens at the sight of Guang fiddling with an assortment of glass bowls, all out of the hopes of recreating the exact cadence of the piano keys that he’d fallen in love with. He experiences, in his daily conversations with her on their bus rides to work, the warmth and tenderness shared in moments when they are able to open themselves up to others who appreciate them for who they truly are.
The genuine connection between the two is one of the film’s strongest points, for it provides us with a sense of hope that even amidst a society that rarely appreciates him for his eccentricities, there are souls who love him not in spite, but for his eccentricities–after all, it makes up a fundamental part of who he is.
Glass shards that cut skin-deep
‘Guang’ deftly transitions from its lighter moments of surreal human connection to heavier moments when its main protagonist is forced to confront the harsh reality of being shunned upon by other members of society. In particular, ‘Guang’ portrays such unkindness in both overt and subtle ways—be it from the rude, pedantic boss who not only chides him for his slow cleaning of the dishes, but callously fires him; or the restaurant owner who tells him that she cannot offer him the job simply because he is too different. Sometimes, his brother too becomes annoyed with him, asking him why he cannot follow through with simple instructions.
Guang remains stoic throughout these challenges, defying the unwarranted perceptions of others by being confident in himself and what he has to offer to the world. And even better, he lives comfortably in his own, beautiful world of glass and ceramics.
His acute sense of tone—being able to recognise the very pitch made between the swift clinging of a spoon and a glass bowl—makes him the embodiment of natural musical talent. Guang’s restless, and seemingly futile pursuit of creating a makeshift piano out of glass, is a testament to his unwavering passion towards music.
In one comical scene, Guang climbs into a garbage truck and follows its entire journey to the waste disposal site. This is done in the hopes of salvaging the fractured remains of a glass bowl that he recognises has the ‘A’ note. He walks home, brows drenched in sweat, but with an innocent, child-like smile on his face–a moment of quiet victory.
Music, ultimately, is his language of love. He relaxes into his own skin by listening intently to his harmonious aligning of chords and finds himself almost in his distant world of sound. While Didi is initially confused by Guang’s obsession with music and peculiar collection of glass bowls, Didi too begins to reckon with the fact that music is where Guang’s heart lies. In a key and transcendental moment, Didi keenly listens to the rousing ebbs and flows of Guang’s glass piano. This very act elicits a sense of renewal in his understanding of what excites, hurts and terrifies Guang.
The Brother’s Keeper
Guang and Didi’s relationship is at the heart of this film—and rightly so. Fused with sincere humour and warmth, in its portrayal of a pair of brothers who bicker and tease each other out of love, any scene with these two never fails to bring a smile (and tears) to my face.
Like any sibling relationship, the two do share their worst moments, such as when Didi defends Guang from the boss who fires him. Here, Didi’s love for his brother shines in his willingness to fight for him and his worth. He is ever faithful, being the one to pick Guang up even after he is cast aside, and to ask him why, why, why after he makes a mistake.
The film’s focus on the ups and downs of this relationship is critical in highlighting the oft-ignored realities faced by caretakers of those with autism. For Didi, taking care of Guang is an immense responsibility, but one that he holds dear to him, for it is his mother’s dying wish: “From now on, you will be the older brother”. In spite of Didi’s occasionally stern attitude towards Guang, his adamant resolve to take care of his older brother—subverting the typical roles of younger and older brother—softens my view of him, for he too, hurts, in his own way, beneath the facade of strength that he puts up.
At times, the responsibility does take a toll on him, and it manifests in harsh ways, such as when Didi unintentionally blames Guang’s failure to keep his job on the fact that he has autism. Guang does not retaliate but finds a way to make the conversation light again, turning one of the phrases Didi uses into a joke. They are always caught in this seamless shift of strain and reconciliation, which leads up to the movie’s final scenes of them making amends with each other.
Didi, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the film, breaks the collection of glass bowls, Guang’s labour of love. Moments earlier, a policeman knocks on their door, informing Didi about Guang’s act of theft, in which he had stolen a glass bowl from a department store. Weeks of enduring Guang’s almost-fanatical obsession with glass causes Didi’s bottled-up anger to be unleashed in a sudden tirade towards his brother. Callous but vulnerable, Didi questions: “how is it that you never cried at Ma’s funeral, but you are crying at the sight of these broken shards?”
It is a pivotal moment for Didi’s growth as a caretaker for he begins to ponder on whether he has truly understood his brother in all his years caring for him upon the death of his mother at a young age. He thinks of his mother’s words, recalling the sweetness in her voice as she reminded him of all the minutiae of duties he would now undertake in the wake of her death: “Make sure he eats with you for every meal. Make sure he brushes his teeth every night.”
It is a tough responsibility, and Didi chides himself for not trying hard enough—but this is where he is wrong.
He has been trying his hardest, going the extra lengths to help his brother maintain financial security, or simply having a laugh with him while they are playing mahjong with their friends.
There is a beautiful, redemptive quality in this moment, where his perspective shifts as a caretaker. He is not taking care of Didi merely out of his moral conscience or as a filial obligation in fulfilling his mother’s dying wish. He is here for the purest of reasons: he loves his brother. He simply hasn’t been able to understand what that looks and feels like.
Tending to our wounds
The film ends with a lone pair of brothers against the still, warm tones of Kuala Lumpur city life by night. They walk, with similar gaits, speaking of their past lives, and envisioning their futures. It’s a simple scene of reconciliation, as the two gain back their momentum of back-and-forth inside jokes conveyed in a fast-paced Mandarin.
The ending scene comes in full circle, revitalising the cheeky, brotherly banter that evidently shapes the tough love that exists between Guang and Didi. It makes me think about all that we have witnessed them endure throughout the course of the film; and I find myself assured by the thought that no matter what trials have come their way, they still find their way back to each other. Still, I wished the film had allowed for Guang and Didi to have a heart-to-heart, and properly unpack their pains and traumas, instead of merely reverting their old ways of banter, without addressing their flaws.
I think to myself, as I watch this scene: family is familiarity—to be able to walk beside someone and laugh about a joke you’ve told countless times; to argue with them at night and still smile at them in the morning; to sit with them in silence as you wolf down expired noodles for supper. Family is the unsaid promise to always be by somebody’s side (no matter how cliche that sounds), and tending to their wounds as gently as possible.
‘Guang’, to me, is more than just any tale about a bickering pair of brothers. It is a tale of rediscovering the joys and hurts that come with loving any person and finding comfort in the fact that any time of conflict can, and will be, met with a time of hope.
Because if we love someone, we are willing to fight for our love.
In its ending credits, the filmmaker, Quek Shio Chuan, dedicates this film to his brother, Shio Gai, who also has autism. It makes this film all the more a sincere tribute to his brother’s experiences, showcasing behind-the-scenes clips of his brother playing on a secondhand piano in a rundown alleyway (in shocking parallels to Guang’s own mastery of the piano towards the end of the film).
Guang, in its entirety, is a shining, tender gem of a film. Just as its endearing protagonist finds himself breathing comfortably in his own shell, it reminds us that we are all capable of healing when we open ourselves up to the people we love and trust that deep down—no matter their own flaws and their own struggles—they care and want to understand what we feel inside.