Woo Ming Jin‘s WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER (2009) features two seemingly doomed romantic affairs set along a Malaysian river’s fishing villages. Ah fin (Earnest Chong) catches and sells frogs to his neighbors for a living while secretly longing for Lily (Foo Fei-ling), a girl who works at a local fish processing factory on the river. Meanwhile, his father is determined to reveal his unrequited love for a woman whom he should have asked to marry him 30-years ago. Comparably, Ah fin is unsettled by the fact that he does not make enough selling frogs to ask for Lily’s hand in marriage. He decides to work for a local business owner, which agenda is to marry Ah Fin to his daughter, Su Lin (Jerrica Lai), who, like Lily, secretly loves Ah Fin.
The love affairs that are the heart of the storytelling loses out on the film’s intention to keep these characters apart. We learn nothing about them specifically other than the toil of their lives amidst the drudgery of their work activities. Much of the romantics between these couples are lost during their unpleasant chores of beheading and flaying fish, and while wading through a muddy river to collect baskets of cockles.
Though beautifully photographed, the scenes are rather short-lived and deprives audiences of the opportunity to fully explore the unique conflicts that burden each relationship. What’s more, the vagueness of the dialog is highly dependent on the non-verbal cues and actions played out in many of the scenes backgrounds. However, the bereft love-interplay expressed between characters does not allow viewers to appreciate the intense longing of these subtly intense love affairs.
Unfortunately, what renders is a hapless attempt to coalesce a vibrant local backdrop against an often moody and platonic atmosphere.