Crawl Away, Nice and Slow
Are Singapore movies becoming predictable, and is there an unwritten rule that first time feature filmmakers ought to consider putting Gambling and a Chinese dialect (Teochew in this case) into their movie to appeal to the large Chinese-speaking heartlander base, and our penchant for betting? You can scroll through the list of Singapore films on the right panel, and tick off the movies that either has Gambling/4D as a theme, or feature it as a plot device, and the number would probably surprise. It's time to break away from this unnecessary and unhealthy obsession, and proclaim - movies with such scenes and themes, are B-O-R-I-N-G. And the truth is, they actually are.
Written and directed by first time feature filmmaker Dominic Ow, Red Numbers is that early local box office counter to Jack Neo's Ah Boys to Men: Part 2 success this year, with that film being the crowning glory at the box office, and this one more than likely to see empty halls. The cast list is fairly unimpressive even as co-producer Edmund Chen, a familiar face in television, got a starring role, and roped in some of his studio colleagues such as Hong Huifang, Chen Shucheng, Eunice Olsen and some of those from yesteryear, even if you get the best acting talent available on this island, you'll not be able to bail the film out of its insipid storyline.
Which may be why, like the mantra that's economically fashionable in country, if you can't find locals willing to partake in any work, go foreign! The leading role in the film went to Zhang Lu Bin (credited as Rubin), who stars as the world's most unluckiest person Xu Xiao Xu, booted out of his hairdressing job, and finding his luck turning for the worst each passing minute. He chances upon geomancer and Fengshui master known as Master Hui (a real life practitioner) who enlightens Xu that the latter only has a 3 minute window in his entire life for good fortune. And Master Hui also serves as consultant to the Gao family, whose patriarch Lao Gao (Chen Shucheng) had kicked the bucket, and returns to the world courtesy of bad CG effects, to try and bless his wretched family of his grand-daughter (Kanny Theng) and her no good live-in boyfriend (Sugie Phua), her bar girl mom (Hong Huifang), her voyeur dad (Henry Heng), her aunt (He Jie) and her aunt's lover (Lee Chau Min).
What transpires is an extremely laborious plot (if you can call it one) development involving Xu and the Gao family trying to avert the misfortunes, and death, that awaits them, while Edmund Chen's Lollipop, in what would be one of his worst roles ever, figures into the entire mix that tried to hoodwink the audience and pass itself off as a mystery. And not forgetting the obsession of the characters to try and second guess what Lao Gao has in store for them as far as 4D numbers go, which flashes across the screen at random intervals, encouraging you to take note of them and go buy them later.
Spoken lines are awkward, and the non-actors cannot act even if their lives depend on it, with Ow as director not being able to coerce any credible performances. Master Hui, the real deal, looks and sounds just like how he does on television during the Lunar New Year eve celebratory variety shows, and is obviously not an actor, with his namesake on screen being just a reader of lines, imparting Fengshui tips that you may care about to take notes. Everyone else seemed out of place and unsure about what their characters stood for, with hardly any development, with the likes of Eunice Olsen as a bargirl, and James Wong as yet another random pop up character, prone to exaggeration and over-acting.
Technically, the colors looked very saturated, and the narrative was so bad it wasn't even funny. Ow probably tried too hard in wanting to impress with his first feature, and fell into the many pitfalls that await the eager. Between Ow and his editor, someone probably thought it was a good idea for quick cuts each time Xu has to run from place to place. It's charming for a while, but restraint is something not in the vocabulary. And the same goes for the necessity to pepper every other scene with highlights of numbers, enlightening you that these digits in the show mean something in real life, being 4D numbers that won the lottery at some point in time. Trivial? Yes. In-movie easter egg? Overdone.
And one thing to note about differing standards. Sex.Violence.FamilyValues got into issues with the censors for purportedly making racist remarks in the film. Eventually, the decision to ban it became a decision to mute over the offending statements (muting itself is bloody irritating, though effective in making John McClane sound like a pussy). But why did Red Numbers manage to make a racist joke/remark, and got away with a PG-13 blessing? It boggles the mind, and one can only reckon that the same complainant / censor did not have the good fortune (or had!) to watch Red Numbers.
If there's only one consistent Fengshui prediction for this, I'm sure Master Hui would have seen this coming, that the film is going to be a box office dud, dead from the get go. For a film with commercial aspirations, it lacked mainstream sensibilities, and is harping on the rehashed elements that audiences are probably already tired of (Oh, yet another Singapore film, about gambling). It's time for local filmmakers to up the ante, because films like these that continue to get funding and made, just limits the genres of films that can be made here, and give Singapore films, on the whole, a bad name of being devoid of creativity and talent. Skip this at all costs, as it certainly qualifies, albeit early, as one of the duds this year.