“You have a gun?!But this is Singapore!!How can you have a gun?! “This line is repeated quite a few times in Unlucky Plaza. I have been living here nearly 3 years and have never had a brush with or seen any criminal act being committed.As the father of a girl child I am deeply grateful for how safe Singapore really is. But crime does exist and the type that I have heard about most revolves around loan sharks who lend money to desperate people at crazy interest rates and adopt very ruthless means to recover their dues.And yes there is a Karaoke Bar( KTV) in my neighbourhood, where from the coming and goings of the very colourful crowd, its safe to bet that there is a lot more than a simple song and dance going on in there.
The title Unlucky Plaza is a play on the name of the iconic shopping mall Lucky Plaza on Orchard Road which holds a special place in the hearts of the Fillipino origin residents of this swanky city state.The protagonist of the film Onasis Hernandez(a brilliant James Franco-esque Epy Quizon) is a second generation resident with a “pink IC” which means that he is a permanent resident or PR, and for him the Great Singaporean Dream should ideally be working out.But Onasis has set up a restaurant in Lucky Plaza which despite all his third generation pedigree in serving up Fillipino delicacies, seems to be constantly loosing money. When his potty mouth landlady comes to collect the long overdue rent for his humble HDB flat, its his plucky ten year old son Popoy (Christian Wong) who saves the day with his toy gun (a very innocent prelude to the appearance of the the real gun with real bullets).
To add to his woes Onasis falls for a real estate scam.Its a classic set up, a slightly drunk damsel in a sexy red dress wants to be generous to man who has just bought her a drink.The woman is Michelle (Judee Tan), desperate to skip town on her husband Sky( Adrian Peng), who is a failed actor turned Real Estate Investment Guru with a larger than life lifestyle and outsized debts to match.We know very well that in movies conning a poor and desperate man is a recipe for great entertainment and the film quickly sets up a hostage drama which is reminiscent of Dog Day Afternoon in a cool campy way.
The film serves up a heady cocktail of characters and situations which are a staple of Singapore news like foreign maids, real estate scams and the rare case of salmonella infected food in the famed hawker centres. Particularly fascinating is Xiao Xiong (Guo Liang), literally translated as ‘Baby Bear’, as the ruthless collection agent who lands up at a high octane real estate seminar that Sky is conducting. All of Mr Kweks characters are sharply etched, in a sense they are all stereotypes, but thats exactly what makes the film work on the level of an irreverant social satire.It is a style that is obviously dear to Mr Kwek, as clips from his last film Sex.Violence.FamilyValues suggest.
Unlucky Plaza shows that it may be possible to banish guns but nearly impossible to eliminate criminal intent which is bound to show up wherever there is income inequality.By juxtaposing the simple tenement housing of Onasis with the plush mansion in which Sky and Michelle live, we get an interesting contrast, which the director skilfully exploits. Ken Kewk does not pull too many punches here and his social satire is just as biting even if its comes dressed up as a comedy thriller.
The last Singapore film which impressed me so much was Anthony Chen’s Cannes Award winning Ilo Ilo (2013) but I enjoyed watching Unlucky Plaza considerably more despite missing some of the local in-jokes.Singapore has a small film industry filled with very talented filmmakers but somehow their movies do not get the attention they deserve barring the odd Jack Neo flick.The box office is totally hogged by Hollywood blockbusters and good Singapore films will continue to suffer unless Singaporeans and Singapore residents including foreigners turn up to support local cinema.Unlucky Plaza with its flamboyance, wicked charm and quiet confidence is a great place to set things right.
#I saw this film at a preview organised by the Singapore Film Society.It is the premiere film body of the country and the best way to watch quality movies (both art house and commercial) at the cheapest price.You can find join the society by visiting their website
Categories: World Cinema