- RatedM18 /GenreAction, Drama
Filmmakers have had a long-term romance with literature.
Big-screen adaptations of novels, comic books are at an all-time high, but cinema has also frequently looked to real life for its source material.
Movies such as ‘Saturday Night Fever’, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and most recently, ‘Argo’, are all inspired by news and magazine reports.
And so it was that newspaper articles about people falling prey to rental scams inspired the screenplay for the black comedy-thriller ‘Unlucky Plaza’, Singapore filmmaker Ken Kwek's first full-length feature.
“I read a series of stories about a huge spate of property scams that occurred in 2009 and 2012; an overwhelming majority of which were targeted at foreigners. I thought that was an interesting point to start an exploration of the tension locals and foreigners,” Kwek said.
Filipino actor Epy Quizon plays Onassis
His highly anticipated follow-up to 2012’s controversial ‘Sex.Violence.FamilyValues’, Unlucky Plaza’ follows restaurateur Onassis (Filipino actor Epy Quizon) who is in dire straits after his Lucky Plaza restaurant was involved in a food poisoning scandal.
A chain of events lead him to cross paths with two-timing teacher Michelle (Judee Tan), her actor-husband-turned-motivational-speaker Terence/Sky (Adrian Pang), a not-so-holy pastor Tong Wen (Shane Mardjuki), and a loanshark nicknamed Baby Bear (Guo Liang).
After a property deal goes bad, Onassis is driven to the edge and takes the foursome as hostages.
A witty and surreal, black crime comedy caper, ‘Unlucky Plaza’ which was the opening film of the 2014 Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF), opens for general release on 16 April 2015. The movie also stars Janice Koh, Anita Kapoor, Pamela Oei, Andrew Lua and Christian Wong.
SGIFF festival director Zhang Wenjie said: “I haven’t seen a Singapore film quite like this before – it’s accessible but has something to say. It’s entertaining but it has depth as well. This film really packs a punch.”
‘Unlucky Plaza’ has an M18 rating for “coarse language”.
Adrian Pang plays motivational speaker Terence/Sky
The film premiered at the recent Toronto Film Festival in September 2014 and Kwek is heartened by the positive response it has received so far.
“It evoked a lot of curiosity about Singapore. We like to think of ourselves as a global city but we are not that well-recognised in some parts of the world,” Kwek said.
He added: “The portrait of contemporary Singapore was a curious spectacle – where nobody, whether they are authority figures or individuals or those working in institutions, come out particularly ‘clean’.
“It is fun to throw a mixed bag of characters together. Especially throwing the idea to an international audience that there can be two Chinese people who look alike but are completely different in their thinking, language, mindset and attitudes.”
Property scams, loansharking, social media, infidelity, immigration and identity thefts, scandals involving authority and religious figures – all familiar topics – are all addressed in ‘Unlucky Plaza’.
But Kwek maintained that his film is not a commentary.
Shane Mardjuki and Judee Tan in a scene from 'Unlucky Plaza'
“My intention is to reflect society rather than comment on it. In any case, social issues are of secondary interest to me. They are byproducts of the main aim, which is to propel a series of flawed characters through a hostage crisis, and present that drama in a cinematic way,” he said.
Actor Pang agreed, saying the story is essentially about “an ordinary guy who finds himself in a ridiculous situation that turned into some farce and has broader implications socially and politically”.
“What Ken did was very cleverly draw all these large elements into one man’s story,” Pang said.
Kwek pointed out that these topics are not unique to Singapore, as many other cities are also grappling with similar issues: “It touches on human events and global social trends that cause tension everywhere.
“All the characters in the film are people you have heard and read about in the newspapers. They are people who are deeply flawed, just like most of us.”
Zaki Jufri writes about the arts, entertainment, film and other forms of popular — and unpopular — culture for inSing.com