Director Tunku Mona Riza and VAFF bring a true rain town to Vancouver

Rain and regret wash over the Choo family’s home in the standout film

A Cantonese family of four sitting at a dining table with various hot dishes, and bowls of rice. The daughter and father look at each other in a serious way, while the two sons look away with similar expressions. Behind them is a display shelf with many trophies and medals.
Photo courtesy of Tunku Mona Riza

By: Izzy Cheung, staff writer

With a seemingly endless supply of rain, many people refer to our city as Raincouver — but there’s another place across the globe that has claimed the title of “Rain Town.” Taiping, Malaysia, is endearingly called Rain Town due to its status as “the wettest town in Malaysia,” and sets the stage for director Tunku Mona Riza’s film of the same title. At this year’s Vancouver Asian Film Festival, Tunku Mona was able to bring the essence of a true rain town to Vancouver. 

The film, narrated mostly in Cantonese and partially in English, follows the story of the Choos, a Cantonese family living in Taiping. Through infusions of Chinese culture, memories worn down by the weathering of time, and the gut-wrenching circumstances of life, Tunku Mona and the cast of Rain Town transport audiences into the erratic environment of the Choos’ Taiping home. 

The Choo family is made up of five members, each of which are integral to the dramatic climax of Tunku Mona’s film. Mr. Choo (Kin Wah Chew), the family’s stern patriarch, expects the best for and from his family, exhibiting his pride to his friends and the rest of the Taiping community about his doctor-hopeful eldest son, Isaac (Fabian Loo). Because of this, it often feels as though his other two children, the sarcastic middle-sibling, Alex (Wilson Lee), and the youngest daughter, Ruby (Pauline Tan), are unable to live up to his expectations. This strain between members of the family is especially stressful to Aileen (Susan Lankester), Mr. Choo’s wife and mother of their children, who only wishes for the family to get along. The inter-familial conflicts dramatically stack upon one-another until the entire family finds themselves within a delicate situation that has them questioning the meaning of family itself. 

“I think in life and in film, we always focus on love, music, [or] arts as our passion, but we never really focus on loss,” actor Lankester said during a Q&A that was held after the screening. Rain Town explores loss in a beautiful yet heart-wrenching manner. The fractured family must navigate the perilous waters of their various struggles while simultaneously fighting to remain a family. 

The joyful moments between members of the Choo family make their eventual conflicts even more painful to watch later on. Depictions of Aileen and her children gathered around the kitchen table and laughing while making mooncakes brought a nostalgic feel to the film. I’ve never made mooncakes before, but Watching Aileen slam an old-fashioned wooden mooncake mould against the table conjured images of my own grandmother, who puts her own heart and soul into the food she makes. While not everyone has had the experience of making mooncakes, many have certainly shared the experience of sitting around a kitchen table with their family. 

“[Director Tunku Mona] had Pauline and myself going in for mooncake classes to ensure that when we did scenes where we’re actually making mooncakes or baking anything that our hands were moving with all the ingredients and we were literally making mooncakes as we were saying our dialogue,” Lankester laughed.  

Little details within the film made the aspect of family that much more meaningful. The family enjoying the dim light of a lantern hand carved by Mr. Choo, Aileen helping package up her daughter’s baked goods for delivery, and the wordless communication of a mother holding her son’s hand as Alex prepares to travel to Kuala Lumpur to start his business . . . all these moments spark reminders of the loving but fragmented bonds between parent and child. At its heart, Rain Town is a film about family — both the good sides, and the bad. 

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