SINGAPORE 2010 Directed by: Kelvin Tong Written by: Ken Kwek, Kelvin Tong, Danny Yeo Produced by: Aimee Fong, Ong Hung Heng, May Pun, Lim Teck, Leon Tong Cinematography: Wai Yin Chiu Editing by: Wai Chiu Chung Music by: Joe Ng Cast: Christopher Lee, Regene Lim, Phyllis Quek, Jack Lim, Jerald Tan
It wasn’t very wise of the Singaporean government to be too restrictive in handling film content for decades. Not only has it led to extensive censorship of foreign movies, it has also massively hampered the local movie industry and prevented it from developing. Now, it suddenly has become convenient for the leaders of the island state to promote “creativity” / creative industries to paint a rosy picture of “Brand Singapore” as being so very very liberal and open-minded. Too little, too late: not only does the world know that there is no such thing as an open-minded Singapore, not only do we all understand that Singapore’s so-called creativity is nothing but an institutional order from above, but most of all are the standards of the movie industry still only fair at best (and that’s basically an overstatement).
When you start watching KIDNAPPER it is very likely that you will feel the need to grab some snacks, go pee or simply leave the cinema for good after a few minutes. All the usual flaws are there: the artificial look and feel, lack of style and finesse, wooden acting, clumsy story development, you name it. It was a blessing to see that KIDNAPPER refrains from using Singlish, so that kind of made up for some of the issues above and many of the clichés you’ll encounter (like bad guys having scars and wearing baseball caps).
All this may sound unjoyable, and it is – sitting through the first half hour or so may not be as great a torture as – god forbid – watching a Jack Neo movie, but it requires a very high tolerance level. Then however Kelvin Tong is giving it his best shot and KIDNAPPER turns into an entertaining, albeit mostly average thriller that achieves a more than moderate level of excitement through its high pace and an extensive series of twists and turns. I am not saying that this makes it more believable or the script more original, but for Singaporean standards KIDNAPPER is quite dark and gritty, flashy and stylized, furious and tense at times. If you look the other way you may not even notice how much it still complies to (written and unwritten) rules and regulations, or a political agenda.
First and foremost KIDNAPPER works because of a solid performance of leading man Christopher Lee who’s the true highlight of the film. Secondly, the script could be better, but occasionally it is surprisingly inventive and keeps a tight leash on the characters and their moves. I wish it wouldn’t also be so illogical and more straight-forward instead of melodramatic.
It may sound like a paradox but KIDNAPPER proves that 1) Kelvin Tong arguably is still the island’s best director, and 2) Kelvin Tong arguably is also the movie’s biggest letdown. As for the first point, KIDNAPPER is without doubt one of the best movies coming out of Singapore, earning Mr. Tong a top spot in the industry and probably a bit of reputation across the region. As for the second point, it is nevertheless disappointing to realize how little has happened between 1999 and today.
I saw EATING AIR (1999) when it was released and I felt that it is an intense, authentic, charming and quite original small work that may have borrowed here and there from more successful filmmakers but still had a lot to offer. Today, EATING AIR still looks like a milestone of Singaporean cinema and in many ways ahead of the conventional KIDNAPPER. The fresh breeze, the sense of freedom, the struggle of youth and the spirit of revolt are all a thing of the past – despite Mr. Tong still producing independently.
A while back Mr. Tong said that he is still learning his craft. The least I can say is that he is still trying to find his direction.
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