Length: 80 minutes
Director: Wayne Peng
Cast: Chuando Tan, Nayeli, Chang Tzu-lei, Chen Yixin, Xiang Yun, Tay Ping Hui
Release details: In Cathay Cineplex theatres from 29 April (Singapore)
1.5 out of 5 stars
SINGAPORE — How many followers should an Instagram influencer have before one decides to bankroll a movie and cast said influencer with no acting experience in the lead role?
At last count, Chuando Tan has 1.1 million followers. I guess there are shabbier Internet stars to bet a feature film on.
But "influencer casting" does not a good movie make – that is painfully obvious in Precious Is The Night starring Tan.
The 55-year-old Singaporean model-photographer-influencer joined Instagram in 2015 as a way of showing his portfolio to potential clients. Looking more like a thirty-something, he became a viral sensation with his age-defying photos showing off his perfect skin and ripped muscular physique.
In his first movie, Tan was given the poster role – playing not just one, but two characters.
The movie is screening exclusively at Cathay Cineplexes, which are owned by the film's co-producer, mm2 Entertainment.
Set in 1960s Singapore, the film revolves around Dr Tan, who makes house calls to a wealthy family. The murder mystery is triggered by the death of Ku Yang (Nayeli), the unhappy lady of the house, who was having an affair with the doctor.
The 35-year-old Dr Tan (the production notes stated the character's age, as if to underscore the age difference between Chuando and his character) treats Ku Yang for some psychological ailment in between injecting her with meth, discussing elopement, and coming on to maidservants.
The story is presented as a novel being written by an unnamed writer in the present day, a character played also by Chuando. This writer guy comes across an old news article about the double murder of Ku Yang and Dr Tan, and is sufficiently intrigued by his physical resemblance to Dr Tan that he begins writing a fictional story of what could have led to their deaths. (Perplexingly, he types away in English, despite speaking Mandarin.)
You are forgiven if you're confused by this seemingly unnecessary narrative device – it never pays off.
Also co-produced by Taiwan’s Pure Films, Precious is the feature film debut of the husband-and-wife team, Taiwanese director Wayne Peng – mainly known for his work in commercials – and Singaporean producer Lim Sau Hoong.
The film is stylishly and gorgeously shot, testament to Peng's background as an award-winning commercial director – lots of pretty close-ups, lots of bokeh effects.
But it straddles the genres of mystery and drama without committing to either. Marketed as a murder mystery, the story fails to delve enough into the motivations of the characters/suspects, or provide clues in order for viewers to work out who the murderer is, which is the hallmark of the genre.
I'm not saying that Chuando's acting is bad – but both his characters combined provided little material for him to play off. Also, if you must know: his taut shirtless torso makes its required entrances, as does his firm derrière.
Xiang Yun and Tay Ping Hui were under-utilised. Tay's character, the master of the house, his face never fully seen, flits in and out, neither named nor having any speaking lines, although he is purportedly one of the murder suspects.
The real mystery is why the filmmakers dubbed Xiang Yun, who plays the mistress of the household.
Yes – Xiang Yun, veteran of local Chinese TV, was dubbed in Mandarin, the language she's always performed in. Erm... why?? It was inexplicable and jarring to hear someone else's voice emanate from the screen icon. (Incidentally, Xiang Yun's daughter Chen Yixin also features as one of the maids.)
It begged the question: was Chuando dubbed too? I've never heard him speak Mandarin but I was surprised that he sounds very proficient in the language in the film. I put the question to mm2; the answer was, yes, Chuando was dubbed as well.
Peng had meant for this to be a Singaporean film. Even if the producers hope to market the film overseas, there's no excuse for dubbing Xiang Yun.
Coming back to the story: it's not clear whether the scenes are flashbacks of the '60s or a fabricated fiction within a film. Which is the real version of events? Who killed who? Why should we care about this tale spun by a random novelist?
Perhaps viewers should just stick to scrolling through Chuando's Instagram feed.
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