God or Dog
Reviewed by Kelvin Ha
Director: Hugo Ng
Writing Credits: Hugo Ng
Cast: Hugo Ng
Language: Cantonese, Hokkien, English
Year Released: 1997
Run Time: 86 min
Rating: ** (out of four stars)
The propensity of people to believe in charismatic quack leaders inadvertently leads to tragedy, so says this new film by Hugo Ng on the Adrian Lim murders which shocked the nation more than a decade ago. In fact, the bizarre cult murders of a young girl and boy are so deeply etched into the nation's subconscious that Ng had a real problem casting for the lead role in this film. All the actors who were considered for the role were psychologically put off by the prospect of playing the role of Adrian Lim, and one actor even backed out of the role after the camera's had rolled, forcing Ng to take up the lead himself.
In this film, Lim is portrayed as Sin, a person who is just as vulnerable as everyone else to the attraction of black magic and faith healers. Apprenticing himself to one such faith healer, he discovers that his master is no more than a sexually driven con man who molests and sleeps with women who come to him seeking cures for their various ailments. After exposing the empty magic of his master, Sin takes over his role and soon kicks his wife and son out of the three room flat they share and moves in his mistress. Very soon, word of their practice spreads, and he gains a following of vulnerable people who believe in every word he says. Not long after this, he takes another mistress, and in an effort to stop his so-called powers from diminishing, he takes the lives of the two children. His actions are seen as a test of his invulnerability, further convincing himself that he has attained a god-like status which allows him to do with the lives of others as he pleases.
Shot on location in Singapore, the film has shots of Housing Development Board (HDB) blocks and corridors, giving it a homely feeling. Ng's acting, while not fantastic, is nevertheless convincing as Sin. While the film deals with how he sexually manipulates women, there are however no shots of naked female flesh. Instead, we get gratuitous and narcissistic shots of Ng's own flabby body several times throughout the film. What gives the film a nice touch is the mixture of Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. One of the police detectives who arrests Sin even spouts colloquial phrases like "damn stink, man." Even Hokkien expletives are used in this movie, and while it doesn't feel like a made in Singapore movie, the occasional lapses into local language does give it a homely flavor.
God or Dog premiered at the Singapore International Film Festival 1997, and while it is not a masterpiece, it will surely draw enough attention to make it well known.
This review first appeared in The Flying Inkpot.