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It’s somewhat of a mystery why Singaporean writer director Kelvin Tong isn’t better known than he is, having helmed one of the better modern Asian ghost films in “The Maid”, found success with romance in “Love Story”, and conquered Hong Kong with his awesomely unpredictable “Rule No.1”. For his latest outing “Kidnapper”, Tong returned to Singapore, trying something different with one of the country’s very rare hard boiled crime thrillers, co-scripting along with Ken Kwek (“The Blue Mansion”). A fast paced tale of child snatching and desperate deceptions, the film stars popular local television actor Christopher Lee (“The Shaolin Warriors”) in the lead, with Jack Lim (“Ah Long Pte Ltd”) as the ruthless villain of the title.
Lee plays Lim, a taxi driver whose wife has abandoned him and his young son Wei Siang, leaving him struggling to make ends meet. His life is one day thrown into chaos after Wei Siang is mistaken for the son of a rich man and is kidnapped from an arcade by vicious jailbird Hu (Lim). When the original target naturally refuses to pay the ransom of a million dollars, Hu turns up the pressure on Lim, trying to force him to somehow come up with the money within 36 hours. Willing to do anything to save his lad, Lim frantically tries to get his hand on the cash, though even then things are not as straightforward as they seem.
With “Kidnapper”, Kelvin Tong again shows himself to be one of the best directors of genre fare currently working in Asian cinema. Although the plot may sound rather basic, the script gradually works in levels of complexity and moral ambiguity, with a great many intelligent twists along the way that make for a handful of genuine surprises and pulse raising moments. Wisely, Hu is clearly marked from early on as a particularly fiendish and nasty piece of work, and this adds a real sense of danger which suggests it’s quite likely that poor Wei Siang may not make it out alive or in one piece. With a few of the Hitchcock style reversals that Tong has also employed in his previous outings, the film is sharp, slick and tense, and moves along fast enough to distract from a few of its plot holes and less plausible developments. The film is remarkably tense throughout, not only regarding the fate of the child, but also due to the ever lurking dark shadow of financial pressure and ruin which hangs over poor Lim.
At the same time, the film also benefits from some solid and multi-layered relationships, which serve well to make its menace all the more effective. Lee is excellent as the tortured father, and his bond with his son believably drives the film and spurs him on, making some of his more extreme later actions perfectly understandable. This lends the film a valuably humanistic edge, with Wei Siang’s near constant state of threat and peril never being played upon too cruelly. On the other end of the spectrum, Jack Lim is quite terrifying as the kidnapper, never showing so much of a hint of kindness or remorse. In this the film does have a different feel to the likes of “The Beast Stalker”, though this is not to say that it lacks the same kind of moral grey areas. Tong’s direction does resemble that of Dante Lam, with the same tight, gritty approach to action and drama, though perhaps with a slightly more exploitative edge, not that this does the film any harm. Things do get suitably violent in places, though without ever feeling gratuitous, and the film never stoops to throwing in too many pointless victims simply to hammer home its point.
“Kidnapper” certainly is one of the best films from Singapore of the last year, and easily one of the more entertaining recent Asian crime thrillers in general. Gripping, tense and thrilling in equal measures, it confirms Kelvin Tong as one of the most consistently impressive directors in the business, and will hopefully push him a few steps further to truly getting the recognition he deserves.
Kelvin Tong (director) / Kelvin Tong, Ken Kwek, Danny Yeo (screenplay)
CAST: Christopher Lee … Ah Huat
Jack Lim … Ah Hu
Regene Lim … Sun Jia Wei
Phyllis Quek … Mrs Sun
Jerald Tan … Wei Siang