If It’s Not Now, Then When?
PRODS Foo Fei Ling, Tan Chui Mui
SCR James Lee
CAM Tan Teck Zee
ED J. Ishmael
MUS Ng Chor Guan
PROD CO Da Huang Pictures
James Lee is one of the recent bright lights of Malaysian independent cinema, along with previously featured VIFF directors Tan Chui-mui (who produced this film) and Amir Muhammad. Though Lee has lately branched out into successful genre-pop, he continues to make elegantly spare, black-and-white indie features—serious, though inflected with his own brand of precise, droll humour—and his latest film is one of his best.
If It’s Not Now, Then When? mostly takes place in an apartment inhabited by three members of a family (though never at the same time): mother Pearlly Chua (from Tsai Ming-liang’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone), daughter Tan Bee Hung and young son Kenny Gan. Their father seems recently to have died. The mother leaves early and returns late, out on long walks in the park with a lover whom the daughter and her best friend try to spy on. The daughter pecks away at a computer at work and has a desultory affair with her married boss, which he carries on between his business and family phone calls. And the son breaks into cars and “recycles” the electronics he finds.
Lee’s characters are superb at indicating, despite their placid, seemingly calm exteriors, that tension inflected with despair lurks just underneath. With precise control, Lee circulates the three characters through ever-overlapping spaces, as they seek ways to connect with each other. When the final eruption occurs, it is all the more fierce, disturbing, despairing—and quite possibly (even controversially) somehow satisfying.
— Shelly Kraicer