SGIFF Review: Lang Tong by Sam Loh

Director Sam Loh has cleverly placed equally ample baits for both genders to watch his first feature film Lang Tong. Touted as Singapore’s first commercial R21 movie, it features enough boobs to make guys say ‘yes, this is no lightweight Singaporean attempt at something risqué’. It also features enough female smarts to girls feel winners in the battle of the sexes. At the very best, this film knows just how to press the right buttons for a dirty little adventure. At the very worst, it is simply jogging an old formula, offering a story that’s essentially empty at its core.

Let’s put away our prudish selves for a moment. Lang Tong does execute the gal-revenge-on-womaniser genre competently. The film is an evenly-paced story about a cassanova-like character who does not blink an eye about fleeting from one woman to another for the sake of his own lustful pleasures. Moving from conquest to conquest, he repeats his lies. And yet, the girls keep getting more and more attractive. The final straw came he lands himself two at the same time. While dating Li Ling and co-habiting with her, he discovers very soon that she has a sister Li Er, who is even more of a stunner than her. To avoid spoiling the film here, what ensues is a trapping game in which we know too well the protagonist is going to fall right into. And karma is not one bitch but two.

The director paced the film well and the plot unraveled itself without feeling hasty, giving enough time for the little clues to sink in to the audience. The actors, who were well-casted, delivered their roles satisfactorily, if not, perfunctorily. It might be directorial, but they actors seemed to keep to a standard cookie-cutter palette of expressions most of the time. While it served the plot well, the characters appeared two-dimensional. The womaniser was as badass as you wanted him to be. Somehow the dubbed voice for his characters accentuates his cold-blooded nature. The cheated girls were as vulnerable and distressed as you wanted them to be. The Li sisters were as sure-footed as heroines as you wanted them to be.

The exception to the bland characterization was Li Ling, the older sister of the two. Her character allowed a wider dramatic range from playing the strong modern woman who can wield the chopper like butcher to the sex siren who played along with the womaniser to the vulnerable woman in moments of jealousy or painful recollection. Kudos to actress Vivenne Tseng (picture below) for giving credibility and flesh to the character.
The use of the ‘Bak Kut Teh’ (pork rib soup) motif in the film lends a visual and cultural identity to the film. The womaniser conditions his sex targets over Bak Kut Teh and the conversations about the dish are somewhat suggestive. Interjected at strategic points in the film are also mood-sequences of Li Ling chopping up the pork ribs and preparing the dish at home. However, this borders a little on over-posturing and excessive stylistics in an already narratively-thin film. Cliché as they may be, it is in fact the standard segments in this cheater-gets-revenge that seem more interesting and captivating. On hindsight, there is a lot going on for any movie-goer who wants to be titillated and entertained in Lang Tong. For the parts that are good, they are Bak-kut-tehlicious, for the other parts not so good, the director knows where he needs to put a full stop, just like ending the movie where it should end. 

Review by Jeremy Sing

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