An additional review today, and from yet another new territory, Singapore – although the director Kelvin Tong is not new to long time readers as he gave us the very well received in these parts “Rule Number 1”. This is a diversion from his normal horror mode, giving us Singapore’s first proper action film. And you know what, I loved it.
In “Kidnapper”, our ‘hero’, Ah Huat (Christopher Lee) is a down on his luck taxi driver. His wife left him to move to Australia, his precocious son (Jerald Tan) lives with him but it is a struggle to look after and care for him. His wife returns, to gain custody of the boy, leading to a chain of events that causes him to be kidnapped. Mistakenly. Our Kidnapper was meant to take the boys friend, who is the son of a rich man, who is also the husband of his ex-lover. When he realises his mistake, he continues with his ransom demand of $1,000,000. Obviously Ah Huat cannot get his hands on this kind of money, and is reduced to selling everything he owns, even a Kidney. But that is not enough for our Kidnapper, who takes his threats even further, leading Ah Huat down a trail of madness and extreme measures. Then he turns the tables, by kidnapping the daughter of the villain.
On one level this is just a by the numbers kidnap film, and we have all seen plenty of them over the years. Not only that, but the plot is full of holes that you could drive Ah Huat’s taxi through. Yet for a couple of reasons, this one utterly gripped me.
Firstly we have an amazing central performance from Christopher Lee. He really is an everyman, out of condition, greying, struggling to get by. Yet at the same time, he is driven to save his son. Not only that, but even when driven to the depths of his frustration, the basic goodness of the man shines through.
Secondly, the sheer pace and twists of the plot are exceptional. More happens in the first 30 minutes than would normally fill a normal film. And the pace is relentless, never pausing for breath. The balance of power shifts often, as do our feelings about certain characters.
The rest of the cast are ok, with Jack Lim playing a suitably creepy kidnapper – that scar on his cheek is maybe a touch too far, but his performance as an almost unstoppable force works in this case. It is not a movie where you may feel some sympathies for him (such as in “The Beast Stalker”), but this does not pretend to be as complex as that film. Phyllis Quek does her best as the step-mother and ex-girlfriend of the Kidnapper, but she maybe lacks the range to illicit our complete sympathies, even when she goes from accomplice to heroine. The acting from the children is well done as well, never veering into the cloyingly cute
The narrative style changes a little in the second half of the film, suddenly relying on flashbacks on events both previously seen and unseen, but fortunately none of them really seem to cheat the viewer. Well maybe one does, as it shows us the kidnapped girl writing her mothers telephone number on a window for no apparent reason. It is needed for the plot to progress, but it came from nowhere. The film also takes some time to talk about family and the relationship between parents and children – it is all a little basic, but heartfelt.
In short, an unexpected and highly recommended treat. Even if you have seen this all before, I think the Direction and central performance are worth 90 minutes of your time.