GEYLANG (芽籠) (2023)

Genre: Drama
Director: Boi Kwang
Cast: Mark Lee, Sheila Sim, Shane Mardjuki, Gary Lau, Patricia Lin 
Runtime: 1 hr 27 mins
Rating: M18 (Mature Content and Coarse Language)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 6 April 2023

Synopsis: A Neo-Noir crime thriller with lust, shame, passion, lies and violence – the lives of five individuals intertwine in an unyielding web under the red lights of GEYLANG. A desperate doctor searches for an organ for his daughter, a tormented prostitute paying off her lover’s debt, a social worker with political inclinations willing to cross the line, and a ruthless pimp with a dark secret. Nothing is quite what it seems as a long night awaits inside the underbelly of an otherwise pristine city-state of Singapore.

Movie Review:

Geylang is Singapore’s most well known red light district, and you’d expect a movie that takes place in this vice central would boast steamy scenes that push the boundaries of censorship. But this second feature by local director Boi Kwang isn’t going to satisfy viewers who are anticipating sex scenes on the big screen. What audiences would be getting instead, are some of the grittiest, most brutal and unflinching violence ever featured in a Singapore movie.

When the movie begins, we are told that it is the eve of the nation’s election nomination day, and a sex worker has been found dead. This is news worthy for sensational headlines in the tabloids, and one wonders whether there is a connection between the grisly murder and, gasp, politics. As the movie progresses, we are introduced to different characters who will cross paths and complicate the plot. There is a loud mouthed pimp (Mark Lee in a showy role that works to his advantage) a righteous social welfare worker (Sheila Sim whom we have never imagined spouting vulgarities), a doctor who is trying to get a kidney for his sick daughter (Shane Mardjuki), a sex worker (Taiwanese actress Patricia Lin), and her boyfriend who is a cigarette seller (Gary Lau).

The movie packs its plot tightly within its 87 minute runtime, and viewers will be fixated on what’s happening on screen. The story unfolds in a non linear manner, and there are flashbacks along the way to explain why certain characters are behaving a certain way, or to reveal certain twists that the writers have incorporated the screenplay. Not all of these sequences work well though, as some of them cause confusion instead of providing clarity. For a story intertwining so many characters, audiences also have to live with a certain extent of unrealistic setups – the most glaring is seeing a character who just had a kidney removed illegally can still escape the scene of crime and ask for help.

The abovementioned issues aside, the production values are top notch for this local production. The neon lights are aptly captured by the director of photography, and the sound design puts you in the dark alleys of Geylang where someone (or something) is always lurking in the corner.

As expected, Lee is the MVP of the movie. His portrayal of a man who is constantly cursing in Hokkien, but actually has a good heart, is one of the best characters we’ve seen in a local production. With his father who is suffering from dementia (veteran actor Steven Woon), the duo are kept busy throughout the night. One particular moment where Lee glances in Woon’s direction when he sees a phone recording of a father speaking to her daughter is especially moving. This is the guy who did Singaporeproud with a Best  Actor nomination at the 57th Golden Horse Awards with his performance in Ong Kuo Sin’s Number 1.

Elsewhere, the other cast members deliver commendable performances, with Sim doing her best to be a streetwise social worker, Mardjuki as a father driven by desperation, Lin as a trapped sex worker living in a foreign land, and Lau as a man who would do anything for his love.

The movie also gets points for its no holds barred fight sequences. The action scenes are courtesy of Sunny Pang, who was recognised with a Best  Action Choreography nomination at the 59th Golden Horse Awards. Depending on your stomach for violence, you will either find the scenes (especially the ones towards the end of the movie) gratifying or nauseous.

Kwang’s directorial feature The Days was released in 2008. Fifteen years later, he is back with this story that take place in Singapore’s underbelly. Let’s hope it doesn’t take him too long to make another movie, because it is refreshing to watch a Singapore production that isn’t a comedy that features an overload of product placements.

Movie Rating:

(A gritty movie that features some of the most brutal action you've ever seen in a Singapore movie, and also a brilliant performance by Mark Lee)

Review by John Li

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