Dark comedy to open the Singapore International Film Festival

·Alycia Lim
Ken Kwek with the cast, Judee Tan, Shane Mardjuki, and Adrian Pang.

A series of articles about property scams between 2009 and 2012 – that was what prompted Singaporean screenwriter and director Ken Kwek to make “Unlucky Plaza”, which has been selected as the opening feature film for the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).
 
“I first read a story in the Today newspaper in 2011, and it was the first in a series of articles that I later read about property scams in Singapore, many of which included foreigners. I thought this would be an interesting point to start,” says Kwek in an interview.
 
Set in Singapore, “Unlucky Plaza” tells the tales of seemingly ordinary people who end up being held hostage by a Filipino single father cheated of all his savings.
 
In the film, Kwek explores the tensions between locals and foreigners, questioning what it means to be a Singaporean amid the influx of immigrants.
 
He is quick to point out, however, that the situation is not unique to Singapore, as many major cities in the world are also grappling with immigration issues.
 
“In many ways, this film is very relatable, and all the characters in the film are people we know, or have heard about in the newspapers.
“They are ordinary people who are deeply flawed, just like most of us,” explains Kwek.
 
Although labeled as dark comedy, Kwek also took pains to ensure realism in the film.

“The actors had a very big part to play in getting the tone just right, and I hope the comedy aspect of it would come out from the performances of the actors, although I did not play it up,” he says.
 
Actress Judee Tan, who plays a key role in the film, notes, “Sometimes you’ve got to trust the audience that they can see the absurdity of the situation. That itself is the comedy.”
 
Going from script to screen in just 18 months, Kwek is glad the cast had enough rehearsal time.
 
“It’s important to really understand the temperaments of your actors, including the little things like how they naturally react when nervous, because it sets yourself up for a smoother shoot.”
 
Actor Adrian Pang, who also plays a major role in the film, says, “Ken knew exactly what he wanted. There was no wasting time during the shoot, which made it very efficient. That also kept a good momentum for us.”
 
Although “Unlucky Plaza” is his first non-anthology feature film, transitioning from short films came easier than expected for Kwek.

“I’ve always seen myself as a writer for long screenplays, so in many ways this film was easier to make than the shorts,” he notes.
 
The 122-minute film premiered at the recent Toronto Film Festival and will soon be screened at the Kolkata International Film Festival.
 
While tickets for the first screening have been sold out, SGIFF has opened an additional screening of the film on December 4, 6.45pm at Shaw Theatres, Lido.
 
Tickets are available at all SISTIC outlets.