River of Exploding Durians (2014) by Edmund Yeo

A poetic film records modern Malaysian society.


Combining love and social issues, “River of Exploding Durians” tries to record young people’s agitated heart in Malaysian society. Even though director’s narrative skill is not mature enough, the film is very beautiful and poetic.  It’s very brave for director Edmund Yeo to discuss these issues in this film, because these topics are still taboo in Malaysia. And that’s the reason this film is so valuable.

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The film can be taken down in two parts. The first part is the love between two teenagers, Ming and Mei Ann. Ming is an innocent teenager who is going to Australia after high school graduation. On the other side, Mei Ann is a fisherman’s daughter. Compared to Ming, she needs to take care of more problems in her home, including decreasing fishing yields. The differences between them causes inevitable argument when they start their journey.

Their relationship becomes the nutrient of the second part: social issue. Because of Mei Ann, Ming starts to focus on the rare earth refinery that is going to be built on their hometown. Then the director slowly puts his focus on another two characters: Hui Ling and Teacher Lim.


Hui Ling is a young student who is enthusiastic about anti earth refinery protest. She believes the dangerous plant will be removed as long as her peaceful rally insists. As for Teacher Lim, she is the leader of the protest, and she also tries to teach the students the history that shouldn’t be forgotten. Both characters fight for their home and seek the truth, so they feel deeply connected. However, the opinions about how their activity should proceed makes them feel disappointed in each other.

The main theme behind these arguments in the film is the sense of loss. The loss overshadows these teenagers when they realize the real world is completely different to what they imagine. Ming feels lost when he quarrels with Mei Ann, because he starts to understand love sometimes can hurt people. As Hui Ling sees her beloved Teacher Lim become radical, she also feels shock and loss. Knowing Teacher Lim violates what she has taught, Hui Ling’s heart is filled with sadness.  It’s the sadness of growing up. The reality made these young kids become cracked  and broken, like exploding durians.


With excellent camera movements, this film becomes a poem dedicated to Malaysia. The cinematography expresses actors’ feeling with light touches. It softens all the sadness in this movie, but it also makes the emotions linger in the audience’s mind, as ti si difficult to fade away.  

Teenagers, environmental, economical and educational issues are included in this film. Director Edmund Yeo uses surreal scenes to let these topics connect. It’s very challenging to combine all these topics in a film. Especially what he tries to show in this work are the things that Malaysian government doesn’t wanna discuss about. In other words, “River of Exploding Durians” is a daring and beautiful film.

However, there are still some problems with this movie. Despite some minor logical problems in the plot, the major problems are the dialogues and the actors. As a Mandarin speaker, it is very easy to find some part of the conversation which  is pretty stiff. Inexperienced actors make glitches more obvious,except for Zhi-Ying Zhu, who perfectly acts out Teacher Lim’s emotions.

Even though there are some flaws about this film, it is still a good one. When the movie ends, all the audience can feel that they’re one of the exploding durians, carried by the river. The destination of the river is adulthood- where idealism vanishes.


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Asian Film Vault: River of Exploding Durians (2014) by Edmund Yeo
River of Exploding Durians (2014) by Edmund Yeo
A poetic film records modern Malaysian society.
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