Monday, June 05, 2006

[Cine.SG] Unarmed Combat

2006 has been a bumper year for local movies so far, with a slew making it to the big screen, or are scheduled to be released later this year. Cine.SG was just launched (you can read the Gala here, link coming soon!), and has provided a platform for films made in Singapore, or by Singaporeans, to be screened.

Director Han Yew Kwang's Unarmed Combat is the first feature film to launch the series, a quirky comedy about a tale of two women, and a man caught in the middle. What strikes you immediately during the opening, are the still shots of the shop front of an old-school laundromat, complete with plenty of nostalgic looking equipment of yesteryears, and that infectious ear-worm of a theme tune, akin to the style and production sets of Kung Fu movies of the past.

Ear-worm trailer

While there were shades and elements of kung-fu styled influences worked into the story, it's set in modern times, and explores the dynamic spousal relationship between Metal (Johnny Ng) and his wife Fendie (Catherine Sng), as they struggle through their recent obsessions - the former flirting wistfully with a nymph like silent beauty Ping Mei (Marilyn Lee), a woman that he cannot possess, except getting his thrills through stolen lingerie, and the latter training too hard to become the all woman's arm-wrestling champion. Their lives go topsy-turvy when Ping Mei enters the picture, and she too, is obsessed with a very warped idea of Love.

The two leading ladies deserve special mentioning. In Kan Lume's Art of Flirting, Marilyn had plenty of dialogue going, given the nature of the movie. In this, she plays the silent suffering(?) woman, fragile on the outside, tough as nails on the inside, with an agenda that fuels her survival. Catherine's role as Fendie was much entertaining, having to begin with the submissive wife role, before growing her confidence in arm-wrestling, and allowing a hobby to totally overwhelm her and to exert her dominance over her husband Metal. A truly reversal of roles here, which goes full circle.

Like any self-respecting martial arts master, Metal has his posse of disciples. Here, his employees provide much comic relief as mahjong obsessed and massage lovers, and are Metal's pillars of strength in his quest to turnaround his misfortunes. As a comedy, there were jokes galore in this movie, some conversational, others slapstick, some unfortunately falling flat, while others had its defining moments. Fans of toilet humour will have a field day though, as it's quite clear that Yew Kwang had adapted these moments into the movie from his influences like Stephen Chow. Quite a number of scenes take place in the household toilet setting too, invading probably one of the last bastions of solitude left in any regular household.

Straddling the thin line between arthouse and commercial accessibility, the narrative style requires a little getting used to initially. With constant flashbacks telling the background stories of each major character, weaving together some plot devices linking their backgrounds of what transpired a year ago, I thought it was a pretty neat attempt, before moving along in the second half in a much straight forward manner. So as advised, persevere through the first act, as it might get a tad slow and repetitive in certain scenes, but nonetheless it'll play out and make much sense later.

Unarmed Combat is a modern day reminiscence of yesteryear's kung-fu movies. Like Yew Kwang mentioned, it's part action, part comedy, part drama, part everything. As I've always encouraged, if you haven't seen any made in Singapore movies, here's yet another opportunity to do so!

Unarmed Combat is now showing at the National Museum Gallery Theatre and The Cathay cineplex. Click on Cine.SG for more information on ticketing details.

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