“Unlucky Plaza” Review
Written and Directed by Ken Kwek
In Unlucky Plaza, debt-ridden restaurateur Onassis Hernandez (Jeffrey Quizon) struggles with his finances after a salmonella scandal caused by a disgruntled cook ruined his once prominent Filipino restaurant’s reputation. With eviction from his apartment as an added burden, and with no assistance from his estranged wife, he decides to take his chances when a sultry woman named Michelle (Judee Tan) offers him her flat at a discounted price–given that he’ll pay six months in advance.
Realizing he was scammed, he makes a desperate attempt at getting his money back by taking Michelle, his con-artist husband Sky/Terence (Adrian Pang), her pastor Tong Wen (Shane Mardjuki) and gangster Baby Bear (Liang Guo) hostage. He then proceeds on recording the whole event and sharing it on social media, trying to explain to the world that he wasn’t and never was a villain, but a victim of his situation: a victim of the people currently under the mercy of his gargantuan cleaver.
Writer-director Ken Kwek dreamed up the script during a time of conflict between Singaporeans and foreigners (specifically Filipinos) back in his home country. Apparently, what he wanted to portray was that Singaporeans were not as squeaky clean as most people would think, and has flaws just like everybody else. And the city itself, as it is, is mostly ruled by money and the moneyed.
To highlight this fact, he made sure to establish the Singaporean characters in a mostly bad light: a con-man riddled with debt, a wife who seduced her pastor, a pastor who succumbed to worldly desires, and a group of Singaporean men who brutalized Onassis’ employees and vandalized his restaurant. He was very adamant in showing to the world that Singaporeans weren’t wearing halos on their heads, they were just as bad as everyone else.
The film pokes fun on the difference between Singapore and Philippine culture, with very obvious references to the blatant corruption in the Philippines (where you can always pay off the judge if you don’t win a trial), and to how Filipinos romanticize events as if it were a soap opera. If you think about it, it’s really how Filipinos do things, and it’s not something that Singaporeans roll with.
A lot of the humor is extremely racist (and to highlight reality, most of the racist uttering were from Onassis, a Filipino), which is an irony Kwek wanted to point out in Singaporean culture: a culture so diverse and very multi-racial. Some of the humor may be lost to Westerners, but is very apparent not only to Singaporeans and Filipinos, but to Asians in particular.
For a foreign film, it’s also noteworthy to mention how refreshing it is to see a Filipino that, albeit struggling, is actually a boss and a business owner. Onassis has employees of Chinese and Indian (or South Asian, for that matter) descent, which is a portrayal of Filipinos we don’t usually see in foreign films. Most often, Filipinos are characterized as underpaid, overworked peasantry forced to work in a foreign land. In this film, not so much. But Onassis nevertheless is still working on getting citizenship, since he can no longer call the Philippines his home.
Unlucky Plaza is filled to the brim with swearing, violence, a lot of racism, a gratuitous sex scene, and Singaporeans behaving badly, which are the reasons why it’s heavily censored (banned, actually) in Singapore. But for what it’s worth, it’s not as pretentious as most films are nowadays, and tries to be as real as can be even with all the gimmicks loaded into it. If you’re ever wondering why it got banned in the very country that gave it birth, I highly suggest you give it a look-see. It will not disappoint.