Local cinema has a new star and it isn’t whom you may expect. While Jack Neo has hogged the limelight in recent years, especially with the success of the Ah Boys to Men franchise, there may be a new player in town – Ken Kwek.
Ken’s debut feature – Unlucky Plaza, which was also the opening film at last year’s Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) has been making huge waves in the local cinema industry. It is an unlikely film to have received both critical and audience acclaim, as its genre – thriller & dark comedy are not genres that are often attempted by local directors yet it has shown at the Toronto International Film Festival & Warsaw International Film Festival to a sold-out crowd. It has also received a run at Shaw Theatres and is currently showing at The Projector until June 9th! There really isn’t much time left to catch what the Toronto International Film Festival calls “A nail-biting comedy thriller from one of Asia’s most exciting new director!” To persuade those who are hesitating, here’s a little insight into the director – Ken Kwek and the film-making process.
“When a chance to save his ailing diner goes belly up, Onassis Hernandez, an émigré and single father living in affluent Singapore, is pushed over the edge. He takes a motley group of citizens hostage in a designer bungalow and publicizes his act on Youtube. As the police and international media descend on the crime scene and riots break out in in the city, an increasingly desperate Onassis forces the situation to a violent, heartstopping conclusion.” While immigration & the recent influx of foreign talents/workers have been a much discussed topic, the decision to portray a foreigner as a ‘criminal’ is interesting not because Ken wants to accentuate stereotypes bu rather to show that they too are human beings & perhaps even more so than us. The inspiration behind the film comes from “a Filipino cook who migrated to Singapore in the 1980s and set up a restaurant business here. He’s an example of a new settler who knows more about Singapore than many Singaporeans I know, and whose descendants have a stronger desire to live here more than their local counterparts.” While we often dream of moving away to Europe, Australia or even America, Singapore is the choice destination for these immigrants, we are their Australia & Europe. Oftentimes, there is only one way, that is forward, which explains “the story of “Onassis Hernandez” in UNLUCKY PLAZA is the story of all the Porkos we know, the new immigrants struggling desperately to make a living – and a home – in this hectic and money-crazed city.” I really believe in the power of film to make a difference as films gives you a new human insight into the hopes and struggles of an individual instead of the general stereotypes that we conveniently give individuals. Stereotypes & generalizations can be broken in films which is why I was curious as to what Ken hopes to achieve, “One, I hope it will enable me to make another film; Two, I hope it will attract more people to go eat at Porko’s, because I’m telling you he makes a cracking good adobo.”
Filming a thriller in Singapore is a rather interesting experience for the sheer fact that such a genre is rarely filmed here which explains Ken’s choice for his favourite scene to shoot. “My favorite part of the shoot was filming a protest scene, where both pro- and anti-immigration camps descend on the site of a hostage crisis perpetrated by the main character, “Onassis”.” However, what made for a really unforgettable and unintentionally funny moment was when “some good citizens of the neighborhood we were filming in, Siglap, called the cops on what they thought was a real – and illegal -demonstration. It was absurd, exciting,and when the police actually arrived, a little nerve-wracking. I nearly vomited from the exhilaration of it all.” What an exciting shoot to be a part of and for his debut feature at that, even the police was involved!
Film-makers are often inevitably influenced by other directors, their different visions and film subjects and Ken is definitely no different. “Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese and, to a lesser extent, the Coens and Tarantino, are undeniable influences.” The late Sidney Lumet was considered one of the greatest modern film-makers where famed film critic RogerEbert described him as been “one of the finest craftsmen and warmest humanitarians among all film directors.” Scorsese, the Coens & Tarantino are household names in the film industry but what I love about all his choices is that all of these directors certainly do know how to tell a story and their stories are never boring. However, a name that is slightly more out there than the rest is “the English director Ben Wheatley, whose films Down Terrace and Sightseers count among the blackest of comedies I’ve seen in recent years.” All of the names mentioned are directors who love to push the boundaries of film, exploring different ways to tell a story, a way that is uniquely theirs, certainly directors worth emulating.
When asked on what he thought about our local film industry he was surprisingly quiet, acknowledging that “I’ve only made ONE feature, so what do I know?” This is the actual direction of our local film industry – flying in all directions, unsure of what the end result will be. As for his plans for the future, “I hope to make another film, of course, but it will be something different from the black humor of Sex.Violence.FamilyValues and UNLUCKY PLAZA. I want to try my hand at something different.”
Unlucky Plaza which stars “stars Singapore’s finest stage and screen actors Adrian Pang (The LKY Musical), Judee Tan (The Noose), and Shane Mardjuki (The Tempest); Mandarin TV’s Guo Liang in his first English language film; and the multitalented Filipino actor Epy Quizon” will be showing at The Projector until June 9th. Check out when it’ll be showing and buy your tickets at the Projector!
All Images Courtesy of Unlucky Plaza