Something in the Way: Hong Kong Review

Something in the Way 2013 H
Hit-and-miss drama trades in cliche without ever reframing or challenging a familiar story.

Indonesian director Teddy Soeriaatmadja takes another tour through the seedy underbelly of Jakarta in his follow-up to "Lovely Man."

A porn-addicted compulsive masturbator serves as a latter-day Indonesian Taxi Driver in Something in the Way, the seventh feature from Teddy Soeriaatmadja. The film wades into much of the same territory as Soeriaatmadja’s acclaimed Lovely Man, about a transvestite streetwalker and his devoutly Muslim daughter spending one revelatory night together. The difference this time around, however, is that Something never quite builds the character or generates the emotional resonance of the earlier film, leaving a deadening space of lurid sexuality and overbearing piety where those elements should have been. Though Soeriaatmadja proves he indeed has an eye for urban rot, this is almost exclusively festival material.

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The film begins with cabbie Ahmad (Reza Rahadian, The Mirror Never Lies) sitting in his taxi, frantically masturbating to some rather benign cutouts of pinups -- they look like something from a 1950s lingerie catalog. It turns out this is SOP for Ahmad, because as soon as he gets home, he turns on some run-of-the-mill DVD porn and proceeds to masturbate once again. Ahmad is lonely, never quite managing to get out that first “Hello” when he wants to. During the course of his nightly forays into the seedy side of Jakarta, he meets Kinar (a radiant Ratu Felisha), a hooker who just wants to look after her young daughter. She’s ripe for “saving,” and after a spontaneous fling, Ahmad decides to free her from her pimp, Pinem (Verdi Solaiman), with predictable results.

There are some affecting individual moments in Something, there just aren’t enough of them to make a complete film. Ahmad’s daily immersion into a violent world where sex is a commodity is contrasted nicely (if not that subtly) with his studies at the local mosque. It’s obvious where the film is heading once Ahmad takes the Imam’s lecture on jihad being meant to protect the weak to heart. Rahadian has a handful of delicately insightful sequences, many of which involve his foul-mouthed, misogynistic co-workers, who gleefully flout the morality Ahmad is learning about. Felisha makes the most of an archetypical character and injects just the right amount of weariness and resignation into Kinar. Solaiman has one short scene where he brilliantly lays out the law of the land and breaks down “who” Ahmad is in about five minutes. It’s a shame the entire script isn't as sharp as Solaiman’s snappy life lecture.

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Even at a scant 90 minutes, Something in the Way drags occasionally, though never because of its visuals. Reuniting with his Lovely Man cinematographer Ical Tanjung, Soeriaatmadja builds a sultry, almost sensual urban nightscape that manages never to teeter into the truly lurid despite its subject matter. But the film’s striking visuals overwhelm its humanity, and it never paints a real picture about why Ahmad feels such a connection to Kinar -- one that ends tragically -- and only sketches his personal battle between faith and the physical nature of his world. There’s a good film in here somewhere, but as it stands, it’s buried beneath a few too many lonely-soul tropes.

Producer: Indra Tamarron Musu, Teddy Soeriaatmadja
Director: Teddy Soeriaatmadja
Cast: Reza Rahadian, Ratu Felisha, Verdi Solaiman, Daniel Rudy, Yayu AW Unru
Screenwriter: Teddy Soeriaatmadja
Executive Producer: Millan Rushan, Kafka Roushan, Teddy Soeriaatmadja
Director of Photography: Ical Tanjung
Music: Bobby Surjadi
Costume Designer: Ve Verdinand
Editor: Revis Santoso

No rating, 90 minutes