Ken Kwek’s Unlucky Plaza is imperfect, but pushes boundaries

Ken Kwek’s first film since the banned-then-not-banned Sex.Violence.Family Vaules is a stab at the classic hostage thriller, spiked with a bit of dark comedy and some distinctly Singaporean situations.

At the center of the plot is Onassis (Epi Quizon), a Filipino single father and owner of a fast failing restaurant in Lucky Plaza. Also facing financial ruin, albeit on the other end of the comfort spectrum, are adulterous schoolteacher Michelle (Judee Tan) and her self-involved property guru/motivational speaker husband Terence (Adrian Pang) who has squandered their money and is being chased by murderous lone sharks. Their paths cross when Michelle lures Onassis with promises of a cheap apartment and ends up swindling him out of the last of his savings. A desperate man with nothing more to lose, Onassis becomes unhinged and holds the couple hostage in their mansion while the rest of Singapore looks on in horror.

While it’s entertaining to see the hostage thriller genre transplanted from Hollywood to Singapore and to see Singapore’s social tensions reach a cathartic climax, at two hours, the film felt rather long. The film can’t seem to decide if it’s a parody of the form or not. The characters are caricaturs and explain their motivations in convenient soliloquies. Dialogue leaves nothing to subtext (though deadpan comic relief comes from Chinese actor Liang Guo, who plays adorably evil lone shark Baby Bear).

Still, in a country where media is all too careful about rocking the boat, and given the filmmaker’s previous brushes with the powers that be, the film is a rare attempt to portray difficult dynamics and less-than-glamorous parts of our country. It pushes boundaries even if it doesn’t necessarily push (our) buttons.

Opens Apr 16 in cinemas islandwide.