Perth DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by Tartan Films
I am a very simple man. All I want are the simple things in life. – Harry Lee
Written and directed by Djinn
2006, Region 1, 111 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on January 15th, 2007
Lim Kay Tong as Harry Lee
A. Panneeirchelvam as Selvam
Victory Selvam as Eve
Sunny Pang as Angry Boy Lee
Ivy Cheng as Mai
Harry Lee is a simple man. He has a simple dream. To retire to Perth, Australia.
He's saved and saved so he can fulfill his dream, and when the shipyard where he works as a security guard starts downsizing, Henry has no worries. Between the shipyard gig and his part-time job as a taxi driver, he's all set. He's going to Perth.
Until he finds out he's been screwed out of his money, and he won't be going to Perth, after all.
But he won't let his dream die, so when his friend, Angry Boy Lee, turns him on to another driving job — this time toting ladies of the night between clients — Henry takes it. The money is good, and he just might save enough to get to Perth after all.
Then he goes and falls in love with a whore. And when you fall in love with a call girl, it never works out the way you want to. Unless, of course, you are Richard Gere. Henry, unfortunately, is not Richard Gere.
And his plans for buying the prostitute's freedom work out just like his plans for moving to Perth.
But much, much uglier.
"Singapore's answer to Taxi Driver" touts the front cover.
"Singapore's most violent film" touts the back.
And that's what I went in expecting.
I left disappointed.
In all fairness, Perth could be Singapore's answer to Taxi Driver. It's dark, it's seedy, it's gritty. And Henry, at one point, was a taxi driver. It's definitely similar enough in style that it can get a passable nod. But it's 30 years too late for a comeback.
Also, calling Perth Singapore's most violent film is like calling The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a "feel-good" family movie. Yes, there is violence in this movie. The final scenes are nothing less than a bloodbath of violence. But the majority of the movie is Angry Boy Lee, Henry and Henry's friend, Selvam, sitting around drinking and bitching about life in general.
So I did what I should have done in the first place: I re-watched it, this time with the knowledge that the quotes are probably taken out of context.
And I enjoyed the hell out of the movie.
The acting is a bit melodramatic, but the film does three things really, really well.
The first is it does a great job of letting you relate to its main character, Henry. You may not be Henry, but you no doubt know a Henry. He's the guy that always has big plans. He's gonna do this and he's gonna do that, you wait and see. But his big plans never come to fruition, and, at the end of the day, he's just a sad, lonely man. That's Henry. Except he has a mean streak in him. For the majority of the film, he keeps it in check, but at the climax, he cuts loose, and it's wonderful.
Perth also does a terrific job showing the camaraderie of men. I could completely relate with the scenes of Henry and Selvam — and sometimes Angry Boy Lee — just sitting around and either reminiscing about old times, complaining about the government or talking about their dreams. These are good friends, flaws and all, and the movie gets that across extremely well. There is a fantastic scene where Henry gets into a fight, and Selvam jumps in, no questions asked. He doesn't even hesitate. He sees his friend in trouble and throws down, reasons be damned.
But one of the best things about Perth, the thing that really nails it, is the look of the movie. Writer/director Djinn truly manages to create Henry's seedy world. You feel a little dirty watching some of the scenes. Djinn really makes you feel like you are in the city with Henry, and that's a testament to his skill. What's even more impressive is that this is only his second film. Wow.
At just under two hours (111 minutes) Perth could stand to lose at least 10 minutes. As much as I enjoyed the discussions in the coffee shops and bars, put them all together and a few could go. A tighter edit could make Perth even better, but I think that comes with experience.
But even while Perth may be a slower-paced movie, it's a good one, and the explosion of violence at the end of the film makes the wait worth it.
Video and Audio:
Perth's 2:35:1 anamorphic presentation, like the movie, is gritty. It's soft with a few specks on occasion, but it really works for the film. Djinn's subtle use of color (bluish hues here, reddish overtones there, neutral here) comes through well.
The English DTS soundtrack is hit or miss. Sometimes it's a little bit tinny, sometimes hollow. I've definitely heard better mixes from Tartan. What's killer is this movie is mostly dialogue driven, so a demo DVD is not necessary. But a better sounding one would have been nice.
English 5.1 surround and stereo, as well as English and Spanish subtitles are also offered.
On a side note, if English is the only language you know, you will need the offered English subtitles, as the movie bounces from English to numerous other languages throughout the film.
- Commentary with the Director
- Commentary with Lead Actor
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Lead Actor
- Set Design Featurette
- Original Trailer
- Tartan Asia Extreme New Releases
The commentary with Djinn is a must listen if you want to know more about the film. He covers a lot with this commentary, including behind-the-scenes moments, his own experiences in Singapore and character motivation. It's one of the best commentaries I've heard in a long time and it enhanced my enjoyment of the movie. Djinn actually recorded the commentary in a closet at his house. Apparently, this was done for acoustics, and props to him for that.
While Lim Kay Tong, who plays Harry Lee, sounds like a nice guy, his commentary has a lot of dead air and some of "here's Harry yelling at his friend" and "here's Harry getting on the bus." He does talk some about his character, but Djinn's track really overshadows Tong's.
There are five deleted scenes with commentary by Tong. Like Tong's commentary on the movie, there is some dead air and narrating of what's going on on-screen. I wish Tartan had made the commentary optional on the deleted scenes.
The set design featurette runs about 11 minutes and covers, well, the set design. It's well narrated by Djinn.
The trailers included are for Perth, Lady Vengeance, Oldboy (Special Edition), One Take Only, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Spider Forest.
While not the powerhouse and influential movie Taxi Driver was, Perth does manage to stand on its own and is able to pay homage without being a rip-off of Scorsese's classic. Definitely worth a rental.