In his previous effort, director Kelvin Tong had gone to Hong Kong to make Rule #1, filming in the city and having Hong Kong actors Ekin Cheng and Shawn Yue in lead roles. With the Kidnapper, this film marks a first collaboration in the suspense thriller genre between his Boku Films, Scorpio East Pictures, and Malaysia's RAM Pictures and PMP Entertainment. As for leading roles, well we have Malaysia-born stars Christopher Lee, Jack Lim and Phyllis Quek put their best foot forward in what would be a taut thriller that had flashes of brilliance, if not bogged down by seemingly obvious plot loopholes.
Which at first I had felt that they had spoilt the show, until it dawned upon me that perhaps some of these moments had worked in the film's favour, in highlighting how apathetic a society we can be and have become. For instance, not too long ago, an ambulance driver was bring physically bullied, and a crowd had gathered not to lend assistance or to calm things down, but to gawk and record the incident on mobile devices.
Similarly in this film, bystanders just gawk (OK, so they may be members of the public who had found it amusing to stumble onto a film shoot) and not lend any assistance when they realize that a man is dragging a child along, one who fits the description over the public announcement speakers about a missing child, and in another scene, a man is seen grabbing a child out of the Singapore Flyer cabin, with everyone wondering why the "parent" is stark raving mad from both within and outside of the cabin. I fear we've really turned into a nation of gawkers, and it's a real shame if we were to lack moral courage to do what's right, or to intervene when the situation calls for it.
So the dilemma here is obviously not just wondering how one can beg, borrow or steal one million dollars in under 36 hours (being born with a silver spoon in the mouth doesn't count) as a ransom payout, although having that HDB flat as an "asset" does help (only to find oneself homeless) but rather how one can get fellow countryman to mobilize and rally around you for support when you get beaten down or bullied. But of course that's not to discount other seemingly coincidental episodes and those that defied some form of logic, such as A&E processes in hospitals that ends with no questions asked.
In any case, the gist of the story centres around the father-son single parent family of Ah Huat (Christopher Lee) and his son Lim Wei Xiang (Jerald Tan), who share close knit ties despite their penchant for a life of convenience, as seen in their diet of choice (which makes for creative product placement too). Being a cab driver (also an opportunity for product placement), Ah Huat doesn't make much to feed both himself and his son, but they're happy with their lot and share a peculiar hobby of betting through the taxi meter. Wei Xiang gets kidnapped one day due to the classic case of mistaken identity through association (steer clear of rich kids!) and thus begins a wild goose chase of a table-turning, one-upmanship between all the players involved. Going to the cops to report this capital offense (in the Singapore context) also gets written out, as Ah Huat has a looming custody battle which will do him no favours if it's known his son had disappeared while under his care.
While Kelvin Tong shares writing credits with Ken Kwek (The Blue Mansion) with Mandarin dialogue by Danny Yeo (almost like a Bollywood film where dialogues get written by someone else), you still see plenty of Tong's signature all over the film, such as his relish for blood, gore and "shock" tactics. Scenes such as torture through water dunking, getting copious amounts of blood splattered everywhere, and some slickly done quick cuts and editing from his horror film experience, somehow gets your adrenaline all pumped up as you root for the victimized dad to come out of his ordeal good, coupled with some very arty, carefully crafted cinematographic shots seldom seen in rare action films that come out from our shores.
And credit too has to go toward Christopher Lee as Ah Huat, the cab driver pushed into the corner of desperation, grappling with his humanity when faced with obvious tit-for-tat action when given an opportunity to inflict the same level of pain against his transgressors. Lee has so far only two cinematic outings (The Best Bet, and The Wedding Game with now wife Fann Wong) despite his leading man status at Caldecott Hill, and I suppose with every film outing, he's raring to showcase what he can deliver. The unkept goatee he keeps almost throughout the film hides his handsome features so as to bring out a more rugged demeanour of a man obsessed with his mission to save his son, who's willing to sacrifice everything to raise an impossible amount, being looked down upon by institutions and driven to wits end.
But of course one cannot help but to chuckle at how reel followed real, as Christopher Lee himself has had brushes with the law some years back for drunk driving and other traffic offences, which range in the movie from driving while using his mobile phone, and being made to take a breathalyzer test. He's served his time already and his stardom has not diminished if going by the popularity polls.
Jack Lim isn't new to Singapore audiences, having been in the films of Jack Neo (who's now feeling the heat of the recent scandalous revelation of his infidelity) such as Ah Long Pte Ltd and Love Matters. Here Jack (Lim that is) ditches his funny man persona to play Ah Hu (Tiger), a convict recently set free, and wants to extort money from the rich Sng family, hence his single-minded plot to kidnap the Sng young master, only to discover his botched attempt, yet adamant in wanting to extort the same amount from a taxi driver. Ah Hu's not too bright actually despite his elaborate concoction of a plan to just grab a bagful of cash, and lacks any depth to either make us feel for his predicament (no convincing background as to why he's doing the things he's doing) or lacking that menacing factor that would have made his character a real villainous force to be reckoned with.
Phyllis Quek turns out to be a disappointment and I didn't really enjoy the way her character fit into the scheme of things, her acting (probably deliberate) being none too subtle, and a dead giveaway when she first appears on screen. Her function is to add some pizzazz to the plot which is told in three broad acts complete with the dalliance of role reversals or parallels and power play, which thankfully shifted up a notch in the second half of the film, especially when an emotional connection between parents and their children get made, which innately means a drive to protect their young ones no matter the cost. We get the idea, but execution could have come with a little bit of finesse.
Kidnapper as a taut thriller it is not, but as the rare action, suspense thriller, Kelvin Tong does point the way forward that we don't always necessary need big bang explosions in order to do something smaller, yet packing quite the emotional punch. All that's needed is a concept idea (here being how one can raise money urgently against time constraints - it's not easy) and plenty of creativity and flair in developing that into a feature narrative. It's not destined to be a classic, but hey, it was rather fun while it lasted.
Oh yeah, for those who need numbers for this weekend's 4D draw, you can try any of these from the show - Ah Hu's van 3749, and Ah Huat's cabs 2095 and 1195. Good luck!