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Ice Kacang Puppy Love
Ice Kacang Puppy Love (2010)

Ah Niu and Angelica Lee skitter around first love in Ice Kacang Puppy Love.
  Chinese: 初恋红豆冰
Year: 2010  
Director: Ah Niu  

Ah Niu, Angelica Lee Sum-Kit, Gary Chaw, Fish Leong, Victor Wong, Yi Jet Qi, Angela Chan, Eric Moo Kai-Yin, Chan Kwok-Kwan, Nicholas Teo, Penny Tai

  The Skinny:

Angelica Lee turns in a predictably fine performance in this bittersweet coming-of-age comedy from Malaysian singer Ah Niu, who co-wrote, directed and also stars in the film. Nothing too original happens here, but the large cast of popstars, the rural Malaysia setting, and the winning genre compensate nicely.

by Kozo:

Ice Kacang Puppy Love is conventional, but there’s nothing wrong with that. An enjoyable and entertaining coming-of-age comedy set in early nineties rural Malaysia, Ice Kacang Puppy Love was co-written and directed by singer Ah Niu (a.k.a. Tan Kheng-Seong), who co-starred nearly ten years ago in Jingle Ma’s Malaysia-set romcom Summer Holiday. Back then, Ah Niu played a young buddy to Richie Jen – basically a college-age dope who hung around on beaches annoyingly lusting after girls he could possibly never get. In Ice Kacang, Ah Niu stars as a young man barely out of high school who works ineffectively at his father’s rural café, where first love and growing pains make their mark on his impressionable young psyche.

So, ten years on the now 33 year-old Ah Niu is still playing a young guy looking for first love? Some suspension of disbelief is necessary because Ah Niu is clearly too old for his role, as are co-stars Gary Chaw and Fish Leong, who like Ah Niu are popular Malaysian singers who are 30 or older. Well, suspension of disbelief is granted, because the actors all convincingly play youngsters somewhere in their twenties, and they have an ace-in-the-hole: Angelica Lee (a.k.a. Sinjie, a.k.a. Lee Sum-Kit - depending on what your point of reference is). Like everyone else, Lee hails from Malaysia, but unlike everyone else she's an internationally award-winning actress, and is strong and compelling as Ah Niu's object of first love. She's also too old for her role, but buying anything Angelica Lee does is pretty damn easy. That's because she's Angelica Lee.

The film's title comes from the popular red bean ice dessert, which serves as a touchstone between main characters Botak (Ah Niu) and Fighting Fish (Angelica Lee). The two are cousins and also childhood friends, with Fighting Fish receiving her name due to her fierce, combative nature. The two frequently find themselves at odds with the annoying Malinfan (Gary Chaw), but the dynamic changes when Malinfan tussles with Fighting Fish in the woods and suddenly decides that she must be his. He pursues while Fighting Fish entertainingly evades. Botak's shy, passive nature stops him from stepping in directly, but he expresses his affection by drawing pictures of Fighting Fish and also writing her letters. Botak wants to deliver one of his letters to Fighting Fish, but while he hems and haws, life changes around the two of them, with friends, siblings and even parents changing and maturing. Will Botak be able grow up in time to claim Fighting Fish's affections?

Maybe. The beauty of the coming-of-age romance is that audience satisfaction does not necessarily hinge on its characters getting together, with enjoyment gleamed from the bittersweet realization that missed love is still pretty nice when viewed through rose-colored glasses. With those expectations in mind, there's little actual disappointment in who gets together with whom. Anyway, popstar fans are bound to be a little put out because the relationship chart of Ice Kacang Puppy Love is so convoluted that the mega happy ending is an impossibility. Malinfan's sister Malinbing (Fish Leong) has a thing for Botak, while groomed crooner Prince Charming (singer Victor Wong) has a thing for Malinbing and Botak's sister has a thing for Prince Charming. Before they were just kids, and now they're adults seeking one another's love, not to mention figuring out their individual futures. In the end, tension is created not by the attainment of love, but by whether or not the kids learn anything at all.

Not a spoiler, but everyone does learn something, be it the pain of young love or the reality of simply letting go. Ice Kacang Puppy Love is very familiar, and only achieves notability because of its rural Malaysia setting, its pleasing nostalgic tone, and the cast of popular singers – and really, those things are reason enough. Ah Niu's cast is a who's who of internationally-popular Malaysians, and even non-fans of the stars can enjoy the relaxing atmosphere, agreeable comedy and winning emotions. The anchor to the whole film: Angelica Lee, who acts circles around her co-stars in a part that perhaps didn't require her skills. One subplot involves Fighting Fish searching for her long-lost father, and while the storyline is familiar, Lee's utter convince sells it beautifully. Also good are Angela Chan and Eric Moo as Lee's parents, and Ah Niu's aw-shucks likability never wavers. He perhaps goes a bit too overboard with the self-deprecation, but not so much that it becomes overbearing. Ice Kacang Puppy Love is a likable debut from the first-time director and yet another reminder that some stories, when done right, never wear out their welcome. (Kozo, reviewed at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, 2010)

  Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Kam & Ronson
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

image credit: Hong Kong International Film Festival Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen