To see or not to see: Cry Me A Sad River (2018)

By Fan Wenrui (19J11)

This is the last of our seven-part series called To See Or Not To See, in which we review some of our favourite films that deserve revisiting, especially in a time when it's best for us to stay at home.

Yi Yao, the only one dressed in an old uniform, stands out in the crowd.

Cry Me A Sad River is, just as what the title implies, a tragic and emotional story. The melancholic undertones of the movie that activates one’s tear glands could be drawn parallel to other big hits like More Than Blue (also known as 比悲伤更悲伤的故事). More importantly, the movie unveils the complexity of human nature and discusses unpopular, yet pertinent societal issues like poverty, bullying, and social stigma.

These are some themes that are, more often than not, shoved under the rug by many societies as they are deemed undesirable, unpleasant and disturbing. Albeit unpopular and controversial, they are also issues that we, as a society, should and must address.

So, what exactly is Cry Me A Sad River about?

1. Stark rich-poor divide

The movie’s cinematography uses lighting, plot and conversations to exhibit the stark differences between the two close knit families.

Despite living just opposite of each other in a small alley and growing up together, Yi Yao and Qi Ming lead completely different lives. Qi Ming, the school’s student representative and top student, was brought up in a well-to-do family and has it all. Having grown up in a loving family, his parents showered him with love ever since birth.

Conversely, Yi Yao was brought up in a poor, single-parent household. She faces criticism and rumours from a tender age, as her divorced mother makes ends meet by offering massage services to male customers. Hence, Yi Yao puts up an independent and strong exterior, as she knows that she has no one but herself to rely on. Fragile, insecure, timid and pessimistic, she knows that she will never be the same as her peers.

Poverty, sexually transmitted disease (STD), and an unloving family. Any one of the three would be enough to make her world tinted blue.

“How much money is it” - the first sentence she uttered after regaining consciousness in the hospital.

2. Bullying

“Yi Yao, if you report to the teacher, you’ll see your pictures at each corner of the campus.”

After being tailed by her classmate when she rushed to a dilapidated women’s specialist clinic for a medical consultation, the whole school eventually knew about her STD.

The aggressive bullying aggravated her innate feelings of abandonment and loneliness, and caused her to spiral into a vicious cycle of self-doubt. The film wonderfully encapsulated the detrimental, long-lasting impacts of bullying on victims. While Yi Yao’s bullying is manifested in the forms of name-calling, social ostracisation and physical inflictions, there are far-fetching negative consequences of school bullying that could completely change a person. Despite appearing to be indifferent and strong on the outside, Yi Yao's self-worth and esteem are completely shattered and she even considered death as her only escape from the cruel world.

In the last few scenes of the film where Yi Yao eventually succumbed to the immense pressure, she jumped into the river as a final resort to free herself from her sufferings. She called out her peers for being cold, vicious and cowardly, for venting their frustrations on her, and for being a passive bystander to her insufferable bullying. That scene is symbolic and represents a new starting for her, for she finally called out her bullies for their intolerable acts.

Some people’s childhoods are happy memories to look back on even in adulthood, while others spend their entire lives healing childhood trauma. Bullying should never be condoned, as all children deserve and should be loved and protected.

Everyone deserves to have happy childhood memories to look back on.

“Death is not painful. Life is.”

“Listen Yi Yao, they know you’re afraid and they are excited. Your fear is the stimulus. You need to fight. Eye on eye. Teeth on teeth.”

Why should I watch the movie?

If you have read till here, congratulations!

But perhaps you would be wondering, why should I watch this movie?

Well, this movie has incredible emotional depth and impact. It portrays a particularly realistic yet dark story of an average school girl. Yi Yao’s circumstances are unimaginable and grim, yet not out of the question in real life. In fact, almost one out of five people report being bullied in school, and a substantial 12% of households in Singapore do not earn enough to meet basic consumption needs. Similarly, people with STDs still face societal prejudices and discrimination, as people often forget that STDs do not always transmit via sexual activities, and even newborns could be infected with it.

Her courage and conviction to overcome all her insurmountable obstacles is testament that even when our world appears dim, there will always be a speck of light at the end of the tunnel. We just have to continue our journey without second thoughts, and victory will await.

That aside, each and every scene in the movie is aesthetic and eye-pleasing, while making significant and meaningful contributions to advance the story plot and enrich the character backstory.

The film explores how motherly love and the purity of friendships could offer strength to individuals and aid them in fighting their battles against the cruel world.

In Singapore, where most are under the constant pressure to perform well in studies or work, it is particularly important for us to be kind to each other. Kindness and love should and need to transcend social economic statuses, wealth, race, gender and age. After all, we would never be able to know the sorrows and untold traumas behind one’s vibrant smiles. In this world where many subscribe to the belief of an eye for an eye, it is utmost crucial that we are kind and loving ourselves, so as to kickstart a positive cycle of giving.

Yi Yao’s mother finally understands the pain of her daughter and helps her seek treatment for her illness.

“Embrace grief. Let sorrow and rage shoot you through. Do not hold tears. Let them run themselves. Grief is like the torrent that swallows you up or takes you to where dreams rests.

“Yi Yao, where are you? I’m coming to save you”

“I’m not a princess”

“But I’m a knight”

Linking back to Singapore

Last but not the least, the film also contains invaluable life lessons on accepting grief and sadness as part and parcel of our lives, and to be kind and accepting towards those who are different and disadvantaged. After all, we are inherently different, and we will never be able to truly comprehend the pains and experiences of others.

In Singapore’s fast-paced society, it is easy for us to be immersed in our own separate bubbles, and be oblivious to others’ needs. As such, we may often show little or no regard to one another’s emotional world. This is exactly what makes people feel more alone and isolated in this current era.

Never judge the book by its cover. Never assume something from its superficial leads. Be open and accepting. It is impossible to find someone that looks or behaves exactly how you expect. People are born different and hence we need to be a little more accepting and tolerant to these inherent differences.

Together, we can make the world (and RV) a little less cruel and a little more loving for everyone.

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