WTF ASIA 229: Tanda Tanya (2011)

What if the 2004’s Crash but in Indonesia? Oh, come on. It’s not like you were going to click on this anyways.

Available in AustraliaCanadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 102 minutes.




The movie starts with people doing different religious practices, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist. And…oh dear. That dude just stabbed Father Albertus and fled on a motorcycle.

Rika watches the news report of the stabbing as she replaces a photo of her and her ex-husband with one of her son.

Rika is at her bookstore, organizing the mess of books, when Surya enters. Teasingly calling him Mister Celebrity, Rika asks him to help her move the books to the right places. Surya is more curious as to whether she had moved yet. She says not officially. Apparently, though, Ms. Novi the landlady said that Rika had moved to get away from her divorce. Rika would rather change the subject to organizing the store, but Surya says that he has to go for a shoot. So, he came only to pester her for a minute while she was busy and then leave?

A Chinese restaurant is preparing to open for the day. It is run by an elderly couple who live upstairs. Menuk arrives to start work and her sister-in-law Rifka has come to help her transport her things. Ping Hen, the son of the restaurant owners, had noticed Menuk arriving. So, as she arrives, he gets set to leave. They pass each other and share and awkward look before he goes. His mother, Giok Lie, asks he is coming back for lunch, but he doesn’t answer. His father, Kat Sun, tells her that it is pointless to ask, as Ping Hen’s mind is never here.

Ping Hen walks down the street and I guess that he looks at a group of four Muslim guys for a second too long. One of them calls him slant eyes and he calls the guy a terrorist prick. Dude. The country is almost 87% Muslim and not even 2% Chinese. And setting aside that, the dude has three friends backing him up. Indeed, the four of them gang up on him right there in the middle of the street. It takes the local Ustad to break it up and order the guys to go prayer.



This is Semarang, the capital of Java, and it is early 2010.

The Ustad is leading a small group of men in prayer at the mosque. Soleh arrives and sees that group of four from before loitering outside. He asks them why they are not going inside, and they say that they are upset because the Ustad accused them of causing trouble with the Chinese man.

Well, not Soleh’s problem. He goes inside and joins the prayer at the back…although…

A Muslim woman observes Kat Sun chopping pork and asks Menuk if the place only serves pork.  Menuk…or Nuk…explains that they also serve chicken. The woman asks, again somewhat leadingly, if they cook the chicken using the same pans as for pork. Again, Nuk says no, insisting that everything used for pork is separate. The woman chooses to believe that they only serve pork and leaves over the protests of her young daughter. Ah…forget her; the place looks busy enough. Kat Sun tells Nuk not to worry. Anyways, she can do her prayers now.

After prayer, the Ustad sits down with Soleh for a little chit-chat about what he did over New Year’s before asking whether he has gotten a job yet. Not quite, but he is trying. The Ustad says that he has to also use his wit. Soleh is not really stirred by his advice and walks away in annoyance.

Ah, so this is the movie that Surya is in. He is playing…what seems to be one of eight mooks who attacks the lead actor. Unfortunately, Surya gets in between the hero and the camera, so the director stops filming and yells at someone named Riri for not preventing Surya from doing that. So, she goes to yell at Surya and they start the take again. The next take is much better. But Surya is not feeling the happiness that the director and lead actor feel.

Rika takes her son Abi to the Chinese restaurant. Nuk seems surprised that Rika still wants to order the chicken noodle for herself, but takes the order. Two chicken noodles and…SWEET iced tea? Is that an Indonesian thing? Anyways…Abi seems a little less warm towards his mother than when they met up outside the bookstore. He has been told by…everyone…that Rika is no longer allowed to go to the mosque anymore. Nuk tells him not to listen to rumors.

While Abi is at the mosque with some other kids, Rika waits outside with Surya. She says that she does not want Abi to think that his mother is at fault. Surya wonders if she is saying that the mother cannot be at fault, which she takes as an accusation. What did she do wrong? He says that…some people…believe that she betrayed her marriage to Panji by divorcing and betrayed Allah by converting to Christianity. She denies that either was a betrayal, but does not give reasons why she did them. She walks away just as Miss Novi comes to pester Surya about him not having paid rent for four months.

Where did Rika head off to anyways? Oh, she went to church. And who is that guy looking at her?

Nuk has returned home with food for dinner. She greets Rifka, her little daughter Mutia, and…oh, it’s Soleh out on the balcony. She asks him if Rifka had talked to him about her school fees, but he says that he cannot pay without a job. Nuk can tell that he is frustrated, but Soleh exclaims that she doesn’t understand. And he stomps back inside to sulk some more. Rifka tells him that dinner is ready, but he is not hungry. Well, Nuk is, she goes to eat. Is Mutia going to eat?

Rika and the congregation need to write down what they believe the meaning of God is. And Rika is having quite a bit of trouble writing down anything.

It is unclear whether Rika ended up writing anything, but she does run to the mosque to fetch Abi. She is late, but at least the boy had Surya to sit with him. Abi angrily tells his mother that next time he can just walk home by himself. He walks off and she runs after him.

Kat Sun is sleeping so still that Giok Lie puts her finger under his nose just to check that he is breathing. He eventually speaks, confirming that he is still alive. He does ask how many months the doctor has given him. Giok Lie plays ignorant as Kat Sun struggles to sit up. He figures that this will be his last year. So, he takes off his neck-brace and tells her to throw out all the medicine the next day. Giok Lie insists that the doctor expects a weekly report, but Kat Sun doesn’t care. Meanwhile, Ping Hen has returned from whatever he has been doing all day and goes to his room, not even acknowledging his parents.

Well, two birds with one stone. Kat Sun tries to show Ping Hen the ropes regarding the kitchen. He is particularly insistent on showing which things are for pork and which are not. Ping Hen, however, is not paying attention, texting with someone named Louise. And then he just gets up and leaves…right when Nuk arrives. Strange how that works.

Rika was having a nice time helping out some customers at her bookstore when Soleh comes in. Now she is on edge, and asks whether he has come to judge her. He says no, but he needs a job, and Panji had offered him one here as an attendant. And he does not seem to care that Panji is no longer here. Rika says that she is not ready to hire staff. Soleh walks off, grumbling that things wouldn’t be like this if Panji were still around. Angered, Rika tells him that he can go ask Panji for a job. He responds by saying that he doesn’t know why Nuk is friends with her, and then he leaves.

And just like that, Surya comes in, completely unaware of what just happened and, thus, caught off guard when Rika starts asking if he is coming to accuse her of being an infidel. Having already been yelled at by Ms. Novi, Surya is not in the mood for getting yelled at again. So, he walks right back out. Oh, wait, no. He comes back to tell her that he is proud of her for taking such big steps with the bookstore. In comparison, he has been acting for ten years and still gets cast only as extras. I guess that that tempers Rika’s anger. I don’t think that he has even gotten around to telling her that he left Ms. Novi’s place after being so behind on rent.

Soleh goes to the restaurant, and Nuk steps out to see what he wants. He says that he is just there to watch her work. He says that she is a great, great at everything, while he is useless. He says that he deserves to be neither her husband nor Rifka’s brother. He suggests that she divorce him and find someone more suitable. She does not like this talk, but he insists, and walks off.

Nuk goes back inside in tears. Giok Lie tries to assure her that this happens all the time in marriage. Rika comes around, having heard about what happened from Surya. She tells Nuk to be strong so that Soleh can be strong as well.

Surya is reading a book in the bookstore when Abi walks in. Surya tells him that Rika will be back soon. He asks if Abi is still upset at his mother, and Abi says that she has changed, though he doesn’t say in what ways. Surya tells Abi that Rika is still the kindest woman in the world.

In contrast, here comes Ms. Novi. She wanted to talk to Rika, but settles for making a bunch of passive aggressive comments to Surya, and saying that someone has taken his room. Oh, right. She has a message for Surya’s girlfriend: she should sell more Islamic books in the store if she wants it to be more popular. Novi’s husband is an Islamic book publisher. There are a lot of Islamic comic books for kids like Abi.

At that, Abi runs back home and shuts himself in his room. Rika wants to come in, but that is not happening.

Rika flashes back to…however long ago. Panji has a girlfriend and is unwilling to break up with her. And that is a dealbreaker for Rika.

Rika goes to the church to pray. The place seems to be empty except for that guy from before. He interrupts Rika’s praying to say that he used to wonder why the Son of God would accept to suffer and endure the suffering of his followers, until he realized that Jesus did that to teach people to be stronger. He asks her why she wants to be baptized and she tells him that she only recently converted. He tells her that he had only recently been baptized and had only recently started going to church despite identifying as Catholic since he was child, because his parents were too busy. Last year, an accident sent him into what seemed to be a fatal coma, but Jesus healed him, and he awoke after two months. What about Rika? She says that Jesus had promised to heal her too, though she doesn’t elaborate.

Ping Hen returns home and notices that his father is moody. He finally decides to ask what the issue is. After a bit, Kat Sun scolds him for neglecting his family duties. Ping Hen retorts that Kat Sun has refused to learn to understand his son, never asking what he wants. Kat Sun says that his parents never did that and, yet he is successful. Ping Hen scoffs at owning a small restaurant being considered successful. Kat Sun starts hitting Ping Hen, and Giok Lie has to get in between them. She gets her husband to calm down, but he is not quite finished, saying that the small restaurant paid for Ping Hen’s education until he was smart enough to turn against his father.  

And then we see a short shot of Ping Hen getting drunk with his friends. Does he do that ALL day?

Kat Sun relieves one of his employees so that he can do prayer…and then almost immediately falls to the floor. Everyone rushes in to carry him out of the kitchen and to his bed. Finally, he wakes up and asks if he is in the hospital. Giok Lie did not have him taken there, given how much he hates hospitals. What about the restaurant? It’s fine, Nuk assures him. And Ping Hen?

The priest is reading the notes that the congregation had written about the meaning of God. He gets to Rika’s. Interestingly, all of her answers seem to have an Islamic counterpart…or at least she wrote the Arabic counterparts as well. The priest does not seem to comment on that.

Soleh finds Surya at the mosque. Surya tells him that he has been sleeping here since his landlady threw him out. Even though there is a sign expressly forbidding people from sleeping in the mosque.

It is time for morning prayer, and these guys show up. Soleh looks at them and smiles.

Meanwhile, Rifka notes that Soleh did not come home that night. She wonders if it is her fault for asking about student fees. Nuk says that it is no one’s fault, just that he is confused, and they must not become confused as well or else everything will fall apart.

Rika sees Surya sitting outside the mosque. She goes to the food cart across the street and orders two bowls. Though Surya claims to be full, Rika insists that he sit with her. She then tells him that there is a drama performance on the crucifixion. She talked to the committee and they agreed to let him audition. Surya passes, saying he is too scared of what people would say. Rika is annoyed. Why is he so hung up about what others think? She violated all sorts of local norms to stay true to her heart.

Ping Hen comes home in the middle of the day (!) looking for his father. Kat Sun is actually at the temple. Ping Hen goes to…talk with him? Apparently, his friend Louise has found an investor for their restaurant. Is he trying to save the place, take over, or get out?

Soleh finds Nuk resting outside the restaurant. They smile. He asks her for forgiveness and says that he got a job…as a militant for the NU Islamic organization. Erm…that doesn’t mean how that sounds in English, does it? Nuk asks if that is dangerous, but Soleh insists that it is not, it is work in the path of Allah and something that he has always wanted to do. Nuk tries to maintain a smile, but it is not the same as before. Still, she says that she trusts him. And besides, this is the happiest that she has seen him in a long time.




This movie, also titled ?, was directed by Setiawan Hanung Bramantyo, known for films ranging from teen romances to religious drama. Of mixed Chinese and Javanese descent, Bramantyo made this film based on his own experiences as someone with a plural identity, and as an attempt to clarify misleading arguments about his religion of Islam. He titled it ? out of worries that any other title would bring upon protests. Unfortunately, the movie got protests anyways. He got accused of profanity and apostasy. Some cinemas were forced to stop showing the movie due to pressure from various Muslim organizations. I can…kind of see why some people could get upset by certain story points, particularly in the second half, but…I don’t know.

For a movie that starts out with a stabbing, it is, overall, rather gentle in tone, showing the possibilities of casual acceptance and easy friendship between people of different beliefs. And it shows how the barriers that put up between the communities can lead to misery, anger, and violence. The characters in this movie are trying to stay true to who they are, but they bump up against cultural standards and sometimes their own hang-ups regarding their identities. Kat Sun seems to have found a way to respectfully navigate the world of Islam as someone who is not Muslim himself, but all his son can see are restriction and insult all around him.

It is not just their religious identities that cause issues. There is, of course, that of family and self-worth. Surya struggles with getting acting jobs, landing only small roles that pay poorly. Soleh cannot find work at all. Unable to provide for his sister or daughter, he stews in frustration. He looks at his wife with resentment, as her job at the restaurant makes her the sole breadwinner. On top of choosing Catholicism over Islam, Rika has sacrificed a lot, and risks losing a lot more. She has accepted abandoning her identity as a wife, but she refuses to give up on her son or those who have not yet abandoned her. They all feel a level of disrespect from those around them, but how they handle it that is what is important. One in particular makes a decision that…erm…I did not expect. I am not sure if it quite works for me, but that’s fine.

I don’t know how I feel about one reveal later in the movie. It does sort of explain why Ping Hen behaves the way that he does, especially around Muslims, and particularly why he leaves the restaurant when Nuk arrives. It shows how religious expectations and customs can curdle genuine personal relationships and force ones that perhaps were not meant to be. It would have kind of helped if we knew where he went every day, but it might be difficult to follow yet another character. Speaking of which…

There are a crapton of characters and I kind of wish that the movie spent a little more time at the beginning cementing who they are as individuals and what their relationships to each other are. Or at least try to establish who are meant to be the main characters, as each kind of get introduced rather offhandedly, so I am not sure who to focus on. Soleh got it the worst for me. And, some characters disappear for so long that I forget who they are when they reappear. They kind of melt into each other at the beginning, which made it difficult for me to follow all of the storylines until much later. It was much easier upon second viewing, but still.

Then there is some weird thing that the movie does halfway through by focusing on a pair of street musicians who provide the soundtrack to the movie on a couple occasions…what was the purpose of this? Were they friends of the director? Was this part of a business deal that helped to finance the movie? Is it meant to display the movie’s sincerity? I don’t like this.

Those things aside, I quite enjoyed this movie. It does not provide solutions, but says that the questions are worth asking. That peace and togetherness through difference may be difficult, but is still possible and worth the work. And I would like to believe that that is so.




WTF ASIA 230: Kalel, 15 (The Philippines: 2019, approx. 105 minutes)

No Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.


WTF ASIA 231: Exiled (Hong Kong: 2006, approx. 109 minutes)


Available in CanadaFrance, the United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.