Cubik by Stefan Fanthome and Jason Brenizer

When betrayal rears its head in an inner circle, who do you trust?

Cubik sets forth its premise with this question as plot layers form to construe themes of loyalty, familial ties, and conflicts of one woman’s moral stand and independence.

In a botched attempt to retrieve the prototype for a new weapon, resulting in Shankar’s (Fish Chaar) early demise/exit, rookie Alex (Laura Kee) finds herself in a conundrum between uncovering an infiltration conspiracy and heeding her protective father/ head honcho’s (Laurence Pang) advice to stay out of matters. The unheeded call leads her to discover some truths that sit a little too close to home, in the form of the loyalties of her dad’s closest aides – Devlin (Bobby Tonelli) and Keegan (Victor Lin).

The gradual heightening suspense, layered with the internal struggles of Alex, is crafted to a fine tilt through the first half of the film, both with the plot’s pacing and the cinematography’s visual storytelling.

While the audience may have been grasping at straws in the film’s early stages, perhaps marked by a missing piece of Alex’s early relationship with her dad, the subsequent narrative makes it up as Fanthome and Brenizer do a fine job of subtly merging their lead’s moral and ethical dilemma as the audience readily empathize with Alex’s ideologies.

That has as much to say about lead actress Laura Kee’s deliverance as the directors’ aptitude. Having been a martial arts practitioner (as was revealed in a Q&A later), coupled with a gung-ho demeanour, Kee herself admitted to be in her element for the role of Alex. And the confluence of personas played out to admirable aplomb, seen not just in a fisticuffs scene (with a man, no less), but also in the mental pressures her character Alex faced in swimming against the tide, most in the face of her dad’s demands.

Laurence Pang, a veteran in the local film scene, cut the no-nonsense figure his role – Alex’s father, Master Fu demanded to convincing degree. The father-daughter chemistry the two actors shared worked to bring to surface the underlying themes of familial-ideologies conflict on top of its action/suspense elements. Little could be said though, in dialogue probably scripted to sound philosophical about themes of betrayal, on many a faux-poetic line he had to deliver. Looking more the role he carried – a stern father-figure steeped in Asian values - than affable wise sage, the composure demanded in the face of threats one minute seemed out of sync with the verbal duels he would have with Alex the next.

Devlin and Keegan (Bobby Tonelli and Victor Lin), the two trusted aides of Master Fu and prime suspects of the infiltration, turn in commendable Jekyll-and-Hyde performances as they keep the audience guessing on their true identities and motives. Both pursuing the love interest of the attractive Josie (Melissa Faith Yeo) and wanting more than their roles in the organization offer, their rivalry plays out in its subplot as one of them leaves traces to his exposé.

Despite the well paced and thought-out build up, one might be left tad disappointed and disoriented at the rather abrupt and hurried way the film’s penultimate and final scenes play out. However, to attribute to it anything other than a overlook would be harsh.

Perhaps seen as unimaginable not too long ago, a decent well-directed film noir in Cubik has been produced in the floodlit streets of Singapore. Though perhaps a pity the originally made-for-TV series didn’t quite make our home screens, the largely-positive reception on the silver screen received from its premiere should hopefully make the genre in more palatable to local audiences and filmmakers alike.

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