2019 was a good year for local movies.
We were treated to several blockbuster hits from a wide array of genre. We had 'BoBoiBoy: The Movie 2' tearing up the cinema, then we had 'Pusaka' spooking out Malaysian moviegoers and of course, we had Malaysia's legit action film 'WIRA' to close out the year.
If you, like us, are an avid movie fan, you'll be happy to know that barely two weeks into 2020, we already have a contender for local movie of the year.
'The Garden of Evening Mists
' (adapted from an award-winning novel written by a fellow Malaysian named Tan Twan Eng) tells the story of Yun Ling, who travels to Cameron Highlands in search of a mysterious Japanese man, said to be the former royal gardener for the Japanese Emperor.
She wants the man named Nakamura Aritomo to help her build a Japanese garden for her sister, but soon, she finds herself falling in love with him.
Of course, as the movie was set during the Japanese Occupation, there are lots of obstacles for Yun Ling and Arimoto to overcome if they want to continue their love affair.
Sounds like a pretty sad love story, right?
Well, we're not going to lie; you will cry, but there are lots of other things that make 'The Garden of Evening Mists' a spectacularly beautiful movie.
Beautiful sceneries for the soul
Take the movie location, for example.
The movie was set in the peaceful and picturesque tea plantations of Cameron Highlands, so you can expect tonnes of greenery to soothe that dark soul of yours.
And director Tom Lin's artistic cinematography work did not disappoint: from the rolling green hills of the tea plantations to the tranquil wilderness of the Mossy Forest, the beauty of the Highlands was on full display.
If it's been a long time since you last head to Cameron Highlands, 'The Garden of Evening Mists' will make you pack your bags and head up to the highlands for a staycation, we guarantee it.
There are several themes in 'The Garden of Evening Mists' -- loss, forgiveness, resilience -- but it all revolves around one big theme: forbidden love.
The lovers, Yun Ling and Arimoto, are played by the award-winning Lee Sinje and Hiroshi Abe.
For the most part, Sinje and Abe played their role really well.
Sinje was phenomenal as the pained Yun Ling. As we follow her journey, we can't help but be captivated by Sinje's performance as she hits all the right notes at all the right time.
Her acting was believable. You'll feel all the anger, all the pain and all the sadness she's going through, and that's not an easy feat.
Her nomination for the Best Actress award at the recent 56th Golden Horse Awards for her role in this movie speaks volumes.
As for Hiroshi Abe, his performance as a mysterious Japanese man with a no-nonsense attitude and stoic expression was also spot on.
It was fun seeing Aritomo portrayed as a stern Japanese man in the beginning of the movie, only to slowly take off his emotional armour to let Yun Ling in towards the end of the movie.
The only thing that, we feel, kinda destroyed the whole romance between the two is the sometimes cheesy dialogue.
While Sinje and Abe's performances are commendable, we feel it was Serene Lim who really stood out.
A former Miss Astro Chinese beauty queen, the 23-year-old shines as Yun Hong, Yun Ling's younger sister.
In the movie, Yun Hong was captured by the Japanese soldiers and used as a comfort woman. To take her mind off her torture, she often talks to Yun Ling about her dream of building a Japanese garden once she frees herself from captivity.
The scenes Lim are in are often tear magnets, and Lim's acting is the main reason for that.
Judging by her performance, you wouldn't think that 'The Garden of Evening Mists' was only her second major movie role, after 2018's 'Think Big Big'.
At the end of the day, 'The Garden of Evening Mists' is a beautiful love story that would pull at your heartstrings.
The amazing acting by Sinje, Abe and Lim -- as well as Sylvia Chang as the older Yun Ling -- are the main reasons why the story is so engaging.
Couple that with the gorgeous backdrop and amazing cinematography of Cameron Highlands and the soundtrack scored by local music composer Onn San, 'The Garden of Evening Mists' is one beautiful yet sad romantic movie you need to watch.
And one that you, as a Malaysian, can be proud of.
'The Garden of Evening Mists' opens in cinemas nationwide beginning 16 January 2020.