Reviewed by Lau Chee Nien
Director: Esan Sivalingam
Writing Credits: Esan Sivalingam
Cast: Sheikh Haikel, Nicholas Lee, Hans Isaac
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Release Year: 2003
Runtime: 90 min
Rating: **½ (out of four stars)
THE PLOT: Three friends who grew up together in an orphanage pose as loan sharks and go on a road trip to Malaysia to collect debts.
RAMBLINGS: I enjoyed this comedy and found it entertaining. I think that there are bits that will really make people burst out laughing. At the same time, those who are less kind to local films will find much to criticize about. Film structure wise, the plot is thin, the pacing not consistent enough and several scenes are not fleshed out well.
It is about three friends who bond as they go about to get money to save their orphanage. While it was good that the film shows the trio as they manage their first successful escapade as con loan sharks, all the rest of their efforts are shown in montages. A scene at an old folks home is shallow and hardly memorable. Other aspects of the plot include the two bonafide loan sharks who are on their tail and a robber who steals their money along the way.
The plot is generic and offers nothing new. Regular filmgoers will recognize some tired old cliches and see the truth coming from a mile away, such as the result of a scuffle over the collected money toward the end. While a mass appeal comedy does not require a complex plot structure, a meticulous cause-and-effect connect-the-dots approach to exploit comic potential to its fullest would have made this a stronger film.
There are also certain films that lack a filmic quality and this is one of those. In general, the cinematography fails because it draws too much attention to its flaws. There is use of shadows in the lighting and switching focus between backgrounds and foreground elements. But the execution of the camera work and framing just doesn't inspire. It is functional and better than some of the earlier local efforts, but it falls short of the strong professional standards that a mainstream audience is used to. To be fair, the lack of any art direction also contributed to the lack of any interesting visuals to look at.
Comedy is the strong suit of this film, but the efforts at drama, perhaps to lend some weight to the character just fail miserably. The dramatic aspect is outstandingly weak and feels terribly out of place. And while the tiny undeveloped aspect of romance does not feel out of place, it is hardly memorable either. However, the cast helps to make this an entertaining film to watch. Sheikh Haikel and Hans Isaac display great comic chemistry with each other, and Haikel is just a delight to watch. Many of the supporting cast also bring strong comic energy to the film, such as the actors who play the Malaysian hairdresser and the cowardly gangster boyfriend of a trouble making female singer. Lim Kay Tong also brings the right mix of comic and drama to his role as the head of the orphanage. Even Keagan Kang turns in a strong comic performance in this film. But I do wonder if the character played by Nicholas Lee might have been fleshed out better if an actor with stronger comic sensibilities was given the role. The character was also bogged down by a dramatic facet which did not mesh well with the comic tone of the film.
As a first film, this was a decent effort at entertainment and boasts some strong comic moments, even if the storytelling and visuals need to be better. At least this film does not try to be like any of the other Singapore films that have been made in the last few years.