Young and far from dangerous ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Young and far from dangerous

Kepong Gangster
My rating:

I did not know that the screening of this movie that I went to featured the appearances of a few cast and crew members. I thought for a second that I'd stumbled into a special promo screening, but I think they were just doing the rounds of dropping by cinemas around Klang Valley. I didn't know who they were at first, but after watching the movie - and visiting their Facebook page and website - I now recognize Billy Ng, Rayz Lim, Lenny Ooi, director Teng Bee, I think one of them was Jovi Theng, and apologies to the sixth guy 'cos I don't remember who you are. They said all the nice things: thank you for watching their movie, thank you for supporting home-grown Chinese films, we worked really hard on it, hope you enjoy it, hope you ask all your friends and parents and siblings and cousins and uncles and aunties and whatnots to watch it too. They were polite and humble and oh-so-earnest that I can't help but wish them the best of luck.

'Cos I think they're gonna need it.

Five Kepong boys - Zhong (Henley Hii), Hoi (Melvin Sia), Teo Chew Boy (Hero Tai), Billy (Billy Ng) and Bing (Rayz Lim) - join the 390 triad under the custodianship of Thong (Jovi Theng) and the leadership of Fo San (Lenny Ooi). They are righteous and badass and unafraid to get their hands dirty, and so they rise rapidly through the triad ranks. Life is good; Billy gets a main squeeze in Cindy (Agnes Lim) and Zhong falls for the sweet and innocent Tong Tong (Tracy Cheong). But rival triad captain Hak Loong (Wilson Tin) has a grudge against them, and their own weaknesses threaten to be their undoing: Teo Chew Boy's greed; Billy's recklessness; Zhong's obliviousness; Hoi's lust for power and for the gang Madam (Linda Liao), Fo San's mistress; and the big flashing sign floating above Bing's head that says "死定*".

I'll say this: this movie started off somewhat impressively to me. It covers the five boys' backstories during their school days and their motivation for joining a triad (because they're sick of being bullied by gang-affiliated schoolmates) within the first two minutes, followed by their early careers as low-level triad footsoldiers in the next three, before the story starts in earnest when they start making a name for themselves in their gang. This is what's known as economical storytelling, and it's a rare and good thing. Unfortunately, five minutes is about all I was impressed with. The one best word to describe Kepong Gangster is amateurish. What I thought was economical storytelling was more a symptom of its complete lack of attention to detail.

Let's start with the acting. No wait - first, the casting. Henley Hii is that babyfaced fella on the left of the poster up there, and no matter how hard he scowls he just can't play a convincing gangster. He looks more like a boyband member, and indeed, he's a musical artiste in his day job; Googling him reveals even more hilariously un-gangster-like photos. Hii and the rest of the cast are either terribly wooden (the younger ones) or wildly over-the-top (the older dudes - especially Wilson Tin, whose Hak Loong is so sleazy and nasty I can't believe anyone would even want to be near him) with no middle ground whatsoever. Though it's not like the screenplay, co-written by Teng Bee and Eddie Tiger, give them anything to work with.

There's nothing in the plot that you haven't already seen in Hong Kong gangster flicks such as Young and Dangerous, which is the film series it most wants to be - though it can still be good if it's done with style and wit. But Kepong Gangster has neither. It wants to have a scene in which one of our five heroes' girlfriends gets raped, so she shows up at a triad dinner looking for her boyfriend, and when she can't find him she just stands around like an idiot. And then one gang boss gets in his head that this innocent-looking total stranger is who he wants to bed tonight. The way this bit plays out is nothing short of laughably contrived. Every scene and every character is one-note; f'rinstance Bing, whose total nerdiness makes him look stupid rather than the comic relief Teng clearly wants him to be. We know he's supposed to be the one guy completely unsuited to being a gangster; the way this movie does it, he is neither funny nor endearing, just annoying.

The whole thing looks like a cheapie TV serial rather than a theatrical release. Many Hong Kong crime drama films I've seen also have bad writing and acting, but at least they have the budget for effective action scenes and an eye for good cinematography. Again, Kepong Gangster has neither; whoever the cinematographer is, his skills are apparently limited to making sure the shot is in focus. As for action scenes, there's really only one, the usual clichéd brawl between rival stick- and parang-wielding gangsters; the only thing notable about it is how people who get slashed by parangs don't bleed at all. In fact, it's frustratingly coy about sex and violence, which you can't avoid in a gangster film and which are in your story anyway; the sex scene between Hoi and Madam cuts away so quickly I'd've thought the parents of the kids in the audience edited this. And yes, there were kids in the audience. Were they who this movie is made for?

And then there's that hugely annoying extended Kaspersky product placement sequence, in which Bing's grandmother (played by Lai Meng) mistakes the antivirus software for medicine that her grandson needs. Note to Mr. Teng Bee: people laughed at this scene out of derision, not mirth. But when all is said and done, I can't hate on this movie too much. There's a scrappy can-do spirit to it that one can at least sympathise with, if not quite be charmed by. It's like a school play put on by a bunch of cluelessly overambitious kids - albeit polite, humble and earnest kids. I probably would've rated this 2 stars if they hadn't showed up at my cinema asking the audience so nicely for their support. And for their sake, I hope they get some. But the kindest thing a viewer is going to think as he walks out is, "well, that was a good try." It certainly tried - but it definitely ain't good.

(Oh, and as a resident of Kepong, I did admittedly get a kick out of its real-life references to my neighbourhood. Yes, there is a Goldhill Club here, and yes, it did move here from its former location in Jalan Ipoh. But I sure didn't know there was so much drama in the lives of its owners.)

NEXT REVIEW: The Raid: Redemption
Expectations: ooohhh yeeaaahhh 

* "Dead meat".


twOne said...

the raid mmg best, tapi baru sekarang malaysia tayang,