Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Movie Review: The Sleeping Dictionary

I received the first movie of my Rental Queue from Netflix today. The title of the movie is The Sleeping Dictionary. I'd heard or I should say read of this movie from discussions at a forum and also from Cuthess. Cuthess has asked me for comments about the movie once I've seen it.

First of all, I am not much of a movie critic. All the movies I've watched fall into either of two categories: Good/Not Bad/Ok or Lousy.

The Sleeping Dictionary falls into the Good/Not Bad/Ok category. I am quite the sucker for love stories and the movie does fall into the romantic drama category. I was afraid that the the main characters of the movie were going to end up as star-crossed lovers and not have a happy ending! I am glad that they did end up together.

This is the gist of the story:
In 1936, the expatriate, young and naive just-graduated British John Truscott (Hugh Dancy) arrives in the jungles of Sarawak, a British colony, to work among the Iban. The beautiful Selima (Jessica Alba) is assigned to be his "sleeping dictionary", to live and sleep with him and teach him the language and habits of the locals. The reluctant John and Selima fall in love for each other in a forbidden romance.
I am not sure if sleeping dictionaries actually existed during the colonial time in Sarawak but it would not have been an impossibility. I don't doubt that the Englishmen working for the colonial governenment had local women as their mistresses! Heheh.

I wished the lead characters had done a better job with the Iban language. There were times that I didn't understand what was supposedly spoken in Iban! Makes you wonder why an Iban actress could not have done the role of Selima. But then again there are steamy scenes in the movie and I am not sure if a local actress could do any of those scenes! The movie is R rated, meaning it contained some sexuality.

The movie was filmed in Malaysia, I don't know exactly where, and the jungle scenes are simply breath-taking. But why do they have to add some birds flying in the jungle that don't belong in the jungles of Borneo?! I saw macaws, Amazon jungle birds, flying in the Borneo jungle! Why not the hornbill?

And the music! Just because most of the scenes take place in the jungle, does not mean the movie score has to sound like it fit better in a movie set in the Amazon. All that wind instruments! What happened to stringed instruments, like the sape, and the gong?

I can't complain much about the costume. Back in 1936, Iban women deep in the jungle would probably have been bare-breasted. At least the women wore sarongs wrapped around their chests, and Selima wore sexy outfits throughout the movie. Another thing, just because she has been around as the sleeping dictionary, does not mean she has to behave quite immodestly - little things like her posture, the way she sits.

There was a scene in the movie where Selima stayed under John Truscott's bungalow after he dismissed her from being his Sleeping Dictionary. Cuthess thinks that implied the Iban are barbarians living under the house with pigs! Heheh. I didn't see any pigs under the house; they were all in a pen.

Anyway, all in all, I think it was a pretty good movie. It had all the elements of a good love story and enough sentimentality to cause a few tears! Heheh.


  1. Hello Puteri,
    Glad to see you're having some interest in that movie now, after much had been talked about it in the I'm not sure if you'd appreaciate my kind of comments about the movie in here. So I think it's in your best interest if I would ask you first if James anak Bond or OO7 can give some feedbacks in here about the semi-pornography movie. Let me know on your decision.You know where to find me.

    P/S Gorgeous blog you have here

  2. Is this Kayan Knight@James anak Bond@007@Chris_Factor?! If it is you, of course you are most welcome to leave comments on my blog! :-)
    The Sleeping Dictionary is an R rated movie, and the sexual content is not overly excessive, and in the context of the plot, I can accept those scenes.

  3. Good to hear from your point of views about The sleeping dictionary. when I am in University a friends notice me about the other Iban movie "Farewell of making", not sure if this one is really exist because I never watch them, but still keep looking at VCD shop. And about Selima, I still remember a part that she almost naked and showing her breast. I am single & conservative person, watching this movie with family or male friends is not a good idea. I am sure FINAS will cut many part of this movie accept the cetak rompak one because its really opposite to our culture. I just afraid if the people outside there think wrong about Iban women. When I an in campus,I found that many soldier those ever working in Sarawak againts communist told their kids that Iban womens are prostitude. At the same time I been introduced to this movie by Malays friend. That the Shame, Iban girls is sweet and nice, some are little school but very good daughter. Hopefully someday Iban people will produce our own film and showing how nice is our land, birds sky and how beautifull and humble is our women. I proud to be Iban women. Puteri you should speaking Iban with your kids too.

  4. Yes, there is another Hollywood movie set in Sarawak. It is called "Farewell to the King"(1989) starring Nick Nolte. I have seen that movie. The lead actress in the movie is a Japanese-American actress, playing the role of an Iban woman. See, couldn't find an Iban or Malaysian actress to play that role either!
    Ya, Sleeping Dictionary is not suitable for viewing with the family especially with children, that is why the rating is R. R rating means there is sexuality in there or excessive violence. In the US that is how parents control what their children watch on TV or films ... by the ratings.
    I can accept the the premise of the story, for all I know there is some truth in the story, and for all I know it could be completely fiction.
    About the semanjung soldiers who say Iban women are prostitute, well, I guess that could have been their only interaction with Iban women! The prostitutes! We don't have to pretend that there are no Iban prostitutes .. some of them right now are even doing their business right there in Semenanjung! There are Malay prostitutes too, no need to pretend there aren't any!
    I hope too, that some local producer will make a film about Sarawak in a more positive light, because otherwise people will think that all of Sarawak is in the jungle and Iban women are easily available as sleeping dictionaries! heheh.

  5. wow! Farewell of the King, I been thought that movie arent complete because of so many actor and actress facing to death while shooting in the jungle. So its only a gossip? That's not good. Looking forward to find that movie, but I dont think its still avaiable at the merket now. yes many people from semenanjung told me the same thought about our women, no matter what they say we are pretty than they are. Once again I am proud of myself to be Iban women.

  6. Anything with Jessica Alba I don't mind. If we can have her (wearing full Iban costume) in one of the Iban Karaoke's VCD it would be a dream come true. My new year wish... ahhh...

  7. Movie “Sleeping Dictionary” is for the viewing pleasure of the Ku Klux Klan or any white men who believe in “white supremacy”. I hope my manner of speaking and humiliation of the white community in my presentation of thought in this very blog of yours will not affect you on personal level, Puteri, considering you’re married to an American, and you, a native Sarawak. Almost like in that movie.

    So, may I ask if I should continue? Will furnish my presentation with photos, if your blog allow images.

    Otherwise I can just forget about my intention to talk on this subject.

    OO7 @ Kayan_Knight

  8. That movie was very, very bad. I didn't like it at all.

    It was shot in and around Kuching by the way.

  9. 007@Kayan Knight, the movie is for the viewing pleasure of the the likes of the KKK? Heheh, I think you are over-reacting to a plot in a movie that had plenty of truths in it. The KKK would not even tolerate any kind of relationship between a white person and a non-white. The non-white would have been strung on a tree for even daring to look at a white person!
    I visited a site where you can post your reviews on movies you have seen and I practically read all the comments on The Sleeping Dictionary. The comments came from different ppl from different parts of the world, and the majority of the reviews were positive. There were a few who thought the movie was lousy, not because it had anything with the way the different races were potrayed in the movie, but because they thought the plot was lousy, or that the role of Jessica Alba was not well developed.
    Anyway, I am mature enough to accept the fact that the white colonial masters in those days did take local women as mistresses. I don't think that any of those women went unwillingly! And the character of Jessica Alba in that movie, was a product of such liasons with white men. Her character was only half-iban.
    And also, KK, I don't think you can post pictures on the Comment section of this blog. The use of HTML tags is very limited on the Comment section. However, if you are really interested in posting your views about the movie on my blog I will grant you Guest writing powers on this blog! Just this one time and only in relation to the movie. We'll see what kind of bees' nest you'll stir with your comments!


Thanks for leaving a comment. Your comment is very much appreciated! :-)