Unlucky Plaza (2014) is a black comedy about the hope of striking it rich in cosmopolitan Singapore. Onassis Hernandez, Filipino immigrant and single father, loses his popular diner due to a food poisoning scandal and then is scammed and cheated of his savings. In desperation, he takes a bunch of people hostage in a millionaire’s bungalow, not knowing that he will soon become famous, or infamous, around the world.
Written and directed by Singaporean filmmaker Ken Kwek, the film had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. It garnered the distinction of being the first local film to open the Singapore International Film Festival in 2014. It will open in Singapore cinemas on April 16, 2015. Starring the well-known Filipino actor Epy Quizon, the crime caper also features the local talents of Adrian Pang, Judee Tan, Shane Mardjuki and Guo Liang.
Ken Kwek kindly agreed to field some questions about the film and his work as a filmmaker. The movie trailer follows after.
SP. How did the idea of Unlucky Plaza come to you? Did it begin with an image, a word, a character or a situation? Is the beginning typical of your film-making?
KK. It was the situation – and no, I wouldn’t say that’s typical at all. I’ve written scripts with very different geneses. With Unlucky Plaza, it was the hostage crisis, a situation that has never happened in Singapore before. The characters flowed from there. What if the hostage taker wasn’t an Islamist or a criminal psychopath? What if he was someone like you or me? And who would you throw into the situation with him? As it turns out, I had a rich prig, a schoolteacher, a pastor and a gangster in the mix. It was hell of a lot of fun, writing the script.
SP. Unlucky Plaza is your first feature-length film. Before it, you were making short films, including the trilogy Sex.Violence.FamilyValues. How is writing, directing and making a feature different from the writing, directing and making of shorts?
KK. It’s strange, but I find writing and directing features more pleasurable than writing OR directing shorts. I like the immensity of a feature, the time and space it affords for developing characters and situations, its demand on the filmmaker to keep an audience engaged for a sustained period. It’s more time, more commitment required of the filmmaker and the audience.
SP. Which film-makers have influenced you the most? What have you learned from them?
KK. Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, David O. Russell and, to a lesser extent, Quentin Tarantino. From Lumet, the idea of film as an actor’s playing space, from Scorsese all kinds of camera moves, from Stone the discipline of writing, from Russell the need to love even the most twisted/damaged characters, from Tarantino an unexpected appreciation for Brecht.
SP. What advice would you give to an aspiring student of film-making?
KK. I couldn’t possibly answer that — I’ve only made one film. I’m a student of filmmaking too.
KEN KWEK is a Singaporean screenwriter and director. His works include the screenplays for The Blue Mansion (2009), Kidnapper (2010) and It’s A Great, Great World (2011). He made his directorial debut with the controversial short film Sex.Violence.FamilyValues in 2013. His first feature Unlucky Plaza premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and will be released in Singapore cinemas in April 2015.