a struggling and obnoxious 40-year-old taxi-driver, is a complete
failure. His wife left him years ago. And his only son - Wei
Siang - is frequently neglected. Mistaken for a rich man's
son, Wei Siang is kidnapped at an arcade one day and held
for an enormous ransom. Thus begins one father’s relentless
quest to get his son back.
gives up everything in his life to raise the ransom, only
to discover that the nefarious kidnapper wants even more money.
Unable to raise the second ransom, Lim descends into madness
as grief and self-doubt overwhelms him. His own morals are
threatened when he flirts with the dark side in a desperate
attempt to get his son back.
To have an action thriller filmed right in the heart of Singapore must be a rarity- somehow the local film industry seems either content with Jack Neo-type mainstream comedies or arthouse indies that play mostly to a niche crowd. So Kelvin Tong’s effort at trying to introduce a new genre into our film industry is indeed laudable, even if the results are somewhat less outstanding.
The premise is simple- Christopher Lee’s taxi driver Lim is a single father whose son, Wei Siang, has just been mistaken for a rich man’s kid and has hence been kidnapped. The kidnapper’s ultimatum? Get ready one million dollars within 36 hours, or Wei Siang will die. While you may expect the events of these 36 hours to play out over the whole movie, Kelvin Tong condenses them into the first half-hour of the movie.
Throwing logic and believability out of the window to show a father’s desperation to save his son, Kelvin races through Lim’s bid to sell his house, borrow from a loanshark and finally sell his own kidney for the money. Like the eventual outcome of that borrowing frenzy, Kelvin’s approach just isn’t enough. Not only does he give little time for his audience to identify with his central character Lim, the cavalier approach he has taken with these drastic measures just doesn’t convince.
Luckily, where most movies tend to sag in the middle, “Kidnapper” actually picks up quite nicely. A neat twist right at the middle mark is probably the most inspired thing in the film, the subsequent moral dilemma lending an added significance to the title of the movie. Kelvin also lets some flashes of brilliance emerge from Lim’s otherwise somewhat dull character, as he starts paying attention to clues to track down the whereabouts of his son.
Yet Kelvin, who co-wrote the script with “The Blue Mansion’s” Ken Kwek, fails to build on the potential that this promising middle offers. Indeed, the moral dilemma soon peters out too easily, as if unwilling to take its central character Lim down into darker territory for fear of losing audience empathy. Kelvin also resorts too conveniently to hysterics once again, so Lim emerges as a one-note frantic father character too lacklustre to sustain interest.
That is a pity, because Christopher Lee proves that he can be quite the actor here. A refreshing change from the usual suave male characters he usually plays on television and in his earlier movie “The Wedding Game”, Lee sports moustache and goatee to portray a down-and-out father trying to do right by his son. Though he tends to over-act in parts, his performance is suitably gritty and persuasive. Ditto for Malaysian actor-DJ Jack Lim, who plays a villain so reprehensible you’ll be rooting for his demise at the climax.
Despite their compelling acting, Kelvin Tong’s first thriller for the local film industry turns out to be more miss than hit with uneven pacing, ho-hum plotting and cardboard characters. It also manages to turn derivative by adopting TV series 24’s ticking-clock to inject some form of urgency- though that turns out to be nothing more than a gimmick. In the end, the only reason you should bother checking it out is that it represents a rare genre film for Singapore, but once that goodwill and curiosity expires, you’ll find yourself wanting much more.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
A 22-min “Making Of” segment that has director Kelvin Tong talking about his inspiration behind the film as well as his choice of actors- Christopher, Jack, Phyllis Quek and Jerald Tan. The cast also get to speak accolades about Kelvin’s directing.
Audio comes with two options- Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1- and the latter is definitely superior with some attempt at using the back speakers for surround effect and a much stronger bass during the action sequences. Visuals are clear, but tends to look washed out- though whether this is the fault of the disc or Kelvin’s colour correction in post-prod is suspect.
by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 11 December 2010