City Sharks - The Old Ah Long Pte Ltd

Here is the brief synopsis : Nicholas, Sheikh Haikel and Hans Issac all grew up in an orphanage to be........ good-for-nothings (maybe except Hans, who owned a swanky sports car). Nicholas himself has changed jobs endless times and had no luck in earning enough money to repay a bunch of Ah Longs (loansharks). Pressed further by the imminent closure of the orphanage (due to lack of funds), he resorts to a novel plan to collect debts in Malaysia to get money. Engaging the help of his orhpan buddies Sheikh and Hans, they throw themselves into this dare-devil act, braving the Malaysians who are apparently portrayed as violent, seedy and crude. After several twists and turns, the money does make its way safely to Singapore. How this happens? I must say the screenwriter deserves a fair amount of credit for its cleverness! In a 4 cornered battle of knives and guns at the end, wits won the game and made the cheesy happy ending quite comfortable to bear.
This was a movie made in the hey days of Mediacorp Channel 5 and the growing pains period of Singapore film. At that time, Under One Roof had become a nationwife TV staple and on the other end, films like Medium Rare and The Road Less Travelled were bleeding losses at the box office. While I stepped in the cinema thinking that the film would make me feel we ahve come a long way, the film was actually timeless in some ways and still very entertaining. Admittedly, many of the jokes are rather off-beat in today's context and state of film development. But this is why the film is quite a study for social and temporal comparisons.

Koh Chieng Mun : She is dearly missed on Singapore screens these days. So it was a pleasant surprise to see her in full glory. She plays the dedicated wife of the orphanage owner and almost like a de facto mother to the orphans. She is a little smarter and more crisply-spoken than Dolly of Under One Roof. In her nurturing ways, she takes control of the men in the house, nagging on her husband and slapping the boys for their lies at the end. For those of us who have kept up with her news, it is hugely ironic that her husband develops cancer in the film and she has to take care of him. Having lived through the ordeal of cancer treatment and moved on in a new career direction, I somehow wish to see her back on screen again, bringing a different life experience to new roles.
Sheikh Haikel : When he won Asia Bagus, I was in sec 4. I was happy then that the local music industry had a promising figure. Then he went on to play one of the recruits in Army Daze, being almost like a poster boy for what was Singapore's inaugural film. A few bad Channel 5 sitcoms later, I was not sure where he went. Once in a while, his malleable Afro hair do would rear its head on our screens but never to allow me to take a closer look. So this was a chance. Watching him in City Sharks was really like revisiting a historical episode in Singapore entertainment - the caricaturised acting, the American accent and the sitcom influence.
Nicholas Lee : If film producers stop using him in slapstick or Amercian style comedies, I think he could get a new leash of life in film. He has a very versatile face that unfrtunately has been exploited to exhaustion by Under One Roof. He carried the leading role well in City Sharks displaying both comic energy as well as dramatic range. Perhaps he was paired up against the more theatrical Sheikh Haikel and Lim Kay Tong. His characterisation was certainly something that would not look glaringly out of place in today's local cinema. We'll just have to wait for Adrian Pang to be on MC.

Lim Kay Tong : It's so hard to find senior actors these days that he is appearing in almost every indepedent film. Undoubtedly, he has a face for the big screen, those intense eyes, the textured skin and the restrained smile. But often, his presence seems to lend more weight to the production value than the actual drama. (No wonder Citibank keeps using him for commercials!). And in the case of City Sharks, his attempt at comedy are a little awkward and theatrical. To be fair, the costume designer must share a big portion of the blame for assaulting my eyes with his flashback mop-headed, bell-bottomed look. Quite a nightmare really.

Eileen Wee : She was THE supporting supporting actress of those times - always sidelined yet full of presence when the spotlight finally lands on her.

Are you gay? : Nicholas asks Hans if he was gay for his choice of interiors for his sports car. Hans' denial is aggresive and homophobic. After Brokeback Mountain, this ain't cool anymore.

HDB estabs : HDBs establishing shots get better and better after 12 Storeys (by Eric Khoo). We no longer have to explain to foreigners that we don't live in ghettos.

The Hair Salon Ah Kua : So drag-queen until cannot drag any further!!! (a great highlight in the 2nd half of the show)

Michelle Saram : She is funny! Was this before she did the Hong Kong movie or after???

Thorny cross-straits ties : These days, filmmakers are a little more careful in dealing with our northern neighbours. In City Sharks, Malaysian hotels are full of shit, the roads are full of bandits, the bars full of uncles, the hairdressers full of drag queens and the coffeeshops full of busybodies. Today, we have to be a little more careful for the following reasons : Singapore may run out of ideas for stories, there are more Malaysians living in Singapore, Malaysian films (set in Malaysia) are making bigger waves than Singapore films at film festivals and come on, Jack Neo has moved on to shoot a film in Malaysia. Incidentally, it revisits loan sharks and shows us that even they have moved on very far.

City Sharks can be enjoyed exclusively at Sinema Old School till end of June 2008.
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