There are a couple of ideas kicking around in the brief 75 minutes of “Karaoke” — the surrender of rural communities to encroaching urbanism, the unromantic reality of love vs. the kitschy sentiments expressed in the brand of music that gives the film its title. But director Chris Chong Chan-fui’s wan, low-budget debut, the story of a youth’s return to his small-town home, offers fleeting visual pleasures and few narrative incentives for all the patience it demands. Excitably billed as Cannes’ first Malaysian entry in 14 years, the slow-paced pic seems unlikely to start a trend.
Returning home from Kuala Lumpur, Betik (Zahiril Adzim) receives a chilly welcome from his mom, who owns a karaoke bar, and the out-of-his-league girl who catches his eye. During the day, he helps shoot karaoke videos, and the soundtrack’s blaring pop songs provide a cheesy yet refreshingly expressive counterpoint to the pic’s downbeat realism. Several sequences, including one that follows Betik through his rapidly industrializing environs, attest to Chong’s strong compositional eye, but the pic (lensed on Red-One) demonstrates little formal control — a disorienting handheld shot one second, a static long take the next.