May 18, 2010


"Singapore's answer to Taxi Driver" boasts the snarling cover of a DVD copy of Perth that I picked up at Blockbuster for a mere $3.99. Surely this film should be worth the price of an overpriced 40 oz. of your favorite malt liquor? Such as point-of-subject Harry Lee's life designed of squalor, Blockbuster is too feeling the effects of a dissolving structure of which nothing can be done about it. To try as I might to not juxtapose with relative ease of both the video rental market and Harry Lee's pointless aspirations to be a "simple man," Perth isn't so much an "answer to Taxi Driver" as it is a film undoubtedly inspired but during the climax of the film's somber moments, it's nothing more than a kind nod with meticulous moments of glory mixed in conservatively with instances of poor directing. Besides, isn't it a bit too late to have an "answer" to Taxi Driver? Martin Scorsese's break out hit is almost 30 years Perth's senior.

In Perth, a chart of disgruntled humanity is slowly chalked out as the camera unabashedly follows a little over a week in the life of ex-security guard Harry Lee. What unfolds next is an arbitrary tour into why he bludgeons his wife silly, why she deserves this cruel treatment, and why this film has been hailed as "Singapore's most violent film." The answers to these questions are both complicated in narrative and fairly mundane. I like to view Perth as a response to whores across the world. It doesn't require culture shock to plainly realize that race doesn't necessarily hamper in any way womenfolk's shortcomings as they are designed to be lyrical tormentors. Lim Kay Tong does an impeccable job at portraying the sneering "misogynist" Harry Lee, a man driven over the edge in part to combat flashbacks and a cheating, gambling wife who I believe deserves every fist planted into her frail, oriental body.

Harry Lee dreams of being a simple man who wishes to immigrate to Perth, Australia. Having recently been laid off, he'll have to escort call girls around for that extra cash. While the build up and eventual connection he makes with forced prostitute Mai recalls heavily of Taxi Driver, the film couldn't have a more separate taste in theme. Mai and Harry Lee aren't so different - after Mai's family got in debt deep, they apparently sent her off to hook off her body to earn their family's keep. It's this recurring theme of gambling and unfaithfulness that sets the tone early for this slowburn of rage cinema. Unlike most films bordering on the same topic of bottled contempt and forays into copious amounts of alcohol, Perth is frightfully slow. So creeping in fact, that you become anxious waiting for the violence to kick in. We're teased at first with spousal abuse but then that teasing becomes petting with a broken bottle jab. If Perth does one thing right, it's keeping your attention without expunging any of the glory so early.

When this scene of violence finally explodes into a machete fight, my initial reaction was a resounding "fuck yes." Given the scenes regarding Harry Lee's past combat experience as a commando, I was sure to see some incredible display of career prowess that had might returned to this man with nothing to lose. However, what I received is a scene only comparable to watching a blind man attempt to bust open a pinata. Harry Lee can not wield a machete for the life of him, literally. This scene did feature a couple of satisfying kills but nothing too abrasive for me. Asia Extreme Underground noted that Perth is "Singapore's most violent film" and on that note, I would have to believe this is the only Singaporean film with violence. Perth is a very engaging display of the ole' "descent-into-madness" character drama that every director attempts to make but capturing anarchic behavior that seems fluid and perverse isn't as easy as these directors wish. I happened to enjoy Perth for many reasons and none of these included the feeble finish. As much as I hate to admit it, I think Perth only deserves a single viewing, if you even have the attention-span to watch an Asiatic Harvey Keitel travel around with aviators and bitch about "loyalty."


No comments: