Movie review: Unlucky Plaza

Movie review: Unlucky Plaza

Unlucky Plaza (M18)
Crime/122 minutes
Rating: 3.5/5

We've most definitely heard of the shopping mall along Orchard Road called Lucky Plaza, a common hangout for Filipinos living here. But how about Unlucky Plaza?

Directed by Singaporean film-maker Ken Kwek, Unlucky Plaza is a dark comedy that centres around Filipino restaurant owner Onassis Hernandez, played by Filipino actor Jeffrey Epy Quizon, who struggles with financial problems after his restaurant suffers from a salmonella food poisoning incident.

Driven to desperation by his money woes, Onassis turns to abducting a pastor named Wen (Shane Mardjuki) after he finds out that Wen's lover, Michelle (Judee Tan), collaborated with Wen to cheat him of his money. He then publicises his kidnapping act on YouTube, which leads to a violent and heart-wrenching end.

The film also features other local veteran actors such as Adrian Pang, who plays Tan's husband Sky, Guo Liang, who plays a Chinese loanshark named Xiao Xiong, and Janice Koh, who takes on the role as Quizon's ex-wife.

If there was one actor who stood out from the others in the film, it would be Tan. Known for her comedic role in local TV series The Noose, the home-grown actress showcased her ability to play an adulteress well, as she cheats on her husband Sky with Wen. Her character was well-portrayed and convincing throughout the film, particularly in a crying scene that demonstrated her anger and emotions.

Unlucky Plaza is Kwek's first feature film, which made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in Sept last year. The 35-year-old previously directed short film Sex.Violence.FamilyValues (2012), which was banned in Singapore and Malaysia.

In an e-mail interview, Kwek told The Straits Times that he drew inspiration from crime movies such as Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Fargo (1996) for Unlucky Plaza.

So what made Unlucky Plaza stand out? Above all the issues concerning foreigners, Unlucky Plaza is a reminder to Singaporeans about the pink identification card (NRIC) they are holding on to.

Every Singaporean is issued an NRIC at the age of 15 but many do not realise the privileges this pink card brings. Throughout the film, Onassis expresses his desire for a pink NRIC and the process of obtaining Singapore citizenship is a continuous struggle for him.

In a scene with his son, the single-father speaks of Singapore's safety and transport system, among other merits of staying here. "I don't have to worry when you take the bus at night," he says to his son, revealing his own difficulties growing up in the Philippines. "Exams kill people (in Singapore), not guns," remarked Onassis in one scene.

Kwek sends a powerful message to the audience, especially Singaporeans, using the pink NRIC as an appropriate metaphor. With many Singaporeans wanting to give up their citizenship for a better life elsewhere, Kwek prompts the audience to think about their identity even more carefully and uses Onassis' experience as a reminder.

The title Unlucky Plaza is an interesting and ironic word play on the protagonist, mocking his bad luck by juxtaposing his failed restaurant business against the good fortune-sounding mall.

Although the film manages to highlight real issues in Singapore society well, it needed to weave realism in more smoothly, such as an unrealistic gun scene and Onassis' final fate.

Despite that, Kwek successfully manages to tackle issues about unhappiness in Singapore's society, showing possible scenarios that could occur in the future amid rising tensions here.

stephluo@sph.com.sg

Unlucky Plaza opens in cinemas here on April 16.

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