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  • Benjamin May

Perth (2004) Review

Harry Lee would like to be known as a simple man. In reality, there are few people as complex. A Veteran and taxi driver in Singapore, Harry spends his days and nights amidst crooks, drunks and prostitutes. Bloodshed and brutality are commonplace, and the depravity of the city is taking its toll on Harry's psyche. Were it not for his dream of migrating to Perth, he would have nothing to live for. After he becomes obsessed with a Vietnamese working girl, however, his chances of ever reaching Australia diminish rapidly. Plagued by his violent past, and desperate to save the girl; will Harry escape to his imagined Eden, or rot in Singapore forevermore?


Written and directed by Djinn, 'Perth' is a dark drama that holds entertainment value, though is not executed as well as it could have been. Djinn's screenplay eschews subtlety in favor of a more 'in-your-face' approach, and borrows heavily from other, better films. Harry Lee's journey is initially compelling, though ultimately far too predictable and reliant on well-worn cinematic tropes to have much impact. The dialogue is consistently stilted and- on occasion- laughable. Secondary characters are little more than caricatures, with the female ones being particularly ill-treated by Djinn's cursory characterization.

Having said that, 'Perth' is not a total travesty. Djinn has made attempts to make Harry Lee a well-rounded character, and these partially pay off. We understand him, even if we don't approve of his actions, and can appreciate that he is a victim of circumstance, as well as his own violent impulses. Additionally, Harry's friendship with an Indian expatriate named Selvam seems genuine, and their scenes feature batches of strong dialogue. Despite the fact that anyone even half-interested in film should know exactly how 'Perth' will end; it does contain elements deserving of praise.


The cinematography from Meng Hing Goh, for instance, which is stylish and inventive. Making use of interesting angles and filters, he ensures the film has an assured, gritty visual aesthetic. Never before has Singapore looked quite so sleazy, and- at its best- Goh's efforts put one in mind of the work of Michael Chapman. Also of note is Marcello De Francisci's score, which is mournful and delicate, adding undeniable emotional depth to the proceedings. Furthermore, Bin Li's editing is unobtrusive and efficient, helping establish the film's unfaltering pace.

'Perth' finds Kay Tong Lim starring as Harry Lee, delivering a wild performance one would be hard pressed to forget. Clearly subscribing to the same doctrine as Djinn, Lim goes incredibly over-the-top; leaving subtlety at the proverbial door. This is not to say it's a bad performance, because it isn't; he carries the film squarely on his shoulders. As is the case with much of Nicolas Cage's work, Lim's overacting is a constant source of entertainment. At the same time, he demonstrates an impressive range and emotional perspicuity. It's a shame Djinn didn't ask him to underplay the role; as there is no doubt that Lim could have done it flawlessly.


From the supporting cast, Sunny Pang and A. Panneeirchelvam do stand out work, starring as a thug called Angry Boy Lee and Selvam, respectively. Pang is particularly good, bringing more depth to the role than what was written. However, all the performances- including Lim's- are hindered by the film's being shot in English. While most of the cast speak the language fairly well, it is obviously a foreign tongue, and everyone involved has difficulty enunciating properly. This does impact the performances negatively, and also makes 'Perth' a little hard to follow from time to time.

At the end of the day, 'Perth' is a bit of a mixed-bag. While star Kay Tong Lim delivers a delightfully over-the-top performance, the film around him is less enjoyable. The screenplay relies on overly obvious tropes and cliches, which Djinn's paper-thin characterization only compounds. 'Perth' is a film about a man striving to reach an impossible dream. The irony is, 'Perth' itself is an impossible dream; and one that Djinn didn't put enough thought into.


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