Eric Tan has just been fired from his job for building a 10-in-One Soy Product machine that will not break down, even after the warranty expires, thereby pissing off his clueless corporate masters who are baffled that anyone in their large conglomerate is making an original product (to the point where they have cribbed the company Mission Statement of being about quality and originality, from another, presumably ‘lesser’ company). He tries to buy poison for a suicide attempt, but the cashier will not accept the torn bit of currency (which she, only moments ago, gave him from a previous transaction at the same store.) And will not take a credit card because the purchase is less than the store-policy minimum. So goes punchline after punchline in this densely written Monty Python-esque musical from Malaysia. Sell Out! (or $311.0u7 if you prefer the cash register title card design that does not show up until the exact halfyway point in the movie.) And yes, the movie asks if that is 50% over, or 50% left, in a fashion. I will stop now, as it is better to just let the film pummel you with all that it has to offer. Suffice it to say, this is a cult classic in the making, an impressive feat for a first time filmmaker. It is not even clear whether or not the film is a bit of a shaggy mess on purpose to make it even more lovable. Or this is the weird headspace the film puts you in when you catch your breath. It is even funnier if you close your eyes when Peter Davis (who plays Eric) is speaking because he is a dead ringer for director Edgar Wright. Why am I even mentioning that? No reason.
Eric’s story is one of three competing, overlapping, opposite narratives umbrellaed by the FONY corporation, which in itself is a character (after all, Corporations are people too). The other two stories involve the ambitious and morally bankrupt host of a PBS style show on artists who really wants to be doing reality television, and the forgetful CEO and his smoking yes-man as they follow the really FONY mission statement, “Make Money.” The film itself drops the satirical hammer on Asian directors making films mainly for the film festival and foreign markets, even as it is itself filmed in English, and includes English subtitles for the entire duration of the film. You know, just in case. Yeo Joon Han makes a cameo of himself as a highly pretentious filmmaker, doing his interview nude. Thus we fall down the meta-rabbit-hole, yet are caught gently before we hit bottom by all the narrative strings coming together neatly and possibly even elegantly in the end. It’s a marvel. Derek Elley argued during his Variety review that the film has no sense of comic timing, and that there are huge chunks of non sequitur ‘bits’ (shapeless direction) that could have excised about 20 minutes to make the film leaner and slicker. But he is completely missing the bigger picture. Sell Out! is as much an SCTV styled arc of comedy sketches that ensnare all of the main characters in the absurdity that modern Malaysia (and the world in general) have to offer the average working stiff. Bureaucracy, poverty, fickle power-mad bosses, exorcising (not exercising) your inner dreamer, Karaoke morality lessons without anyone singing (that would be you, fictional audience!), and lots of death. It’s all a big joke. Sell out with the rest of us. It is frightening and true and silly and well worth your time. Life it too short.
Sell Out! is playing in Toronto at The Royal From December 3-9th.