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  Publicity Stills of "The High Cost of Living"
(Courtesy from Cathay-Keris Films)

Official Selection at 14th Annual International Film Festival "Festival of Festivals" 2006, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Director: Leonard Lai Yok Wai
Starring: Timothy Nga, Roy Ngerng, Yeo Yann Yann, Andrea Lim, Brian Liau, Jean Low, Joseph Quek
RunTime: -
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scene)

Opening Day: 17 August 2006 (The Picturehouse)


In the modern city of Singapore, everybody has a set path to follow. But once in a while, someone attempts to step off it. The High Cost of Living centers on Gid & Long, two different yet similar persons on the opposite sides of the law. They are about to find out what happens to those who do.

Gid earns a living by eliminating problems for his clients. Terminally. He is a killer for hire but not a very good one. His actions have not gone unnoticed and his latest job has attracted the attention of the authorities. Gid soon finds himself being hunted by Long, a professional government assassin whose marriage to his wife, Sulee, is failing because of what he does. Gid’s long-time friend, Aloysius and his girlfriend, Lily, becomes involved in the mess as he desperately tries to rectify the situation. Gid’s only hope is that he can get out before Long catches up with him. A trail of bodies lead all the main players to a high tension hostage situation where they will have to deal with not just the police gathering outside, but also with their own broken relationships inside. When it is all over, none of them will come out the same.

Movie Review:

No, given a title like that, it isn't a movie about inflation or rising prices, which of late Singapore seems to be experiencing. It's about the choices that we make when we live our lives, and the consequences of those choices that we have to live with. Rarely are we able to have the cake, and eat it as well.

If you haven't dare venture into the local movie scene, then I'd dare say you're probably missing out on a very exciting time we're currently in, in what could be the start of another renaissance phase in the budding creative environment. If anyone has a perception that local movies are almost always about recycling heartland jokes, settings in coffeeshops, still camera techniques, or the inclusion of some heavy social message, how wrong can they be. It's not about the big bang special effects, or expensive looking sets and costumes, but rather it's almost always about that story to tell, and doing it in a most economical way especially when being given a relatively low budget.

The High Cost of Living is one such example. It's doesn't overload itself with deliberate humour, nor does it try to be an art house movie. At a glance, it's an action-drama, but yet doesn't overdo the action bits with invulnerable heroes or introduce far out car chases or mid air explosions and such. This is Singapore after all, and the overall feel of the movie is yes, if there is indeed something like a clandestine government hit squad, or the misguided hitman, then this is how it probably would have been played out. Without the frills, and everything is just a job, just a matter-of-fact.

Peering beneath the veneer of action is a dramatization of characters who could be identified amongst those living their lives without a proper work-life balance. Long (Timothy Nga) is an equivalent of a local Bond with the same license to kill, except that he isn't classically debonair, nor struts around town proclaiming his identity. He's clinically duty bound, and keeps his dangerous job a secret even from his wife Su Lee (played by Yeo Yann Yann), and naturally their relationship begins to deteriorate. On the flip side, Gideon (Roy Ngerng) is a hitman moonlighting as a freelance writer, until he finds himself falling in love with Lily (Andrea Lim).

If you don't come clean, then expect misunderstandings to surface. It's never always easy to keep secrets, and this is something which both hitmen start to realize. As we watch them develop, we see a shift in paradigm in their methods, as the line between good and bad becomes blurred. One becomes almost dogged in his pursuit of the prey, while the once hunter is now prized meat amongst those who uphold justice.

Thankfully his movie doesn't degenerate into cliches like having the protagonists striking up close friendships, or venture into the tried, tested, and tired formula of an action comedy. The High Cost of Living plays out in a dead serious manner, and I mean that as a compliment. It's always easy to have plenty of light hearted moments injected through the narrative, but having to play it out in a dark, broody tone almost throughout, is a challenge that this movie came through unscathed.

There is quite an expanded supporting cast, and though their screen time might be limited, they bring about the theme of coincidence and the degrees of separation play a huge part here. There are some recognizable television artistes, as well as artistes from the independent movie scene. Radio personality Hamish Brown too has a supporting role here as Long's boss, and he really looks the part of the no-nonsense chief of an organization of underground civil servants. The story, written by Jeremy Chia, relied on the natural coincidences to build towards an adequately tension-filled ending, backed by spunky filming techniques shot in digital format.

The High Cost of Living is an admirable first effort, though some action sequences could be found wanting by audiences weaned on a saturation of big bangs and slick in-your-face action. However, the size of the budget would put this expectation into context, because what really mattered, is the story.

Movie Rating:

(It's dark, brooding, and filled with action and drama in a movie quite different from what has been made locally so far. Experience the difference!)

Review by Stefan Shih

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