Profile: Ken Kwek

Published on 25 November 2014

Hard Nut to Kwek

Writer/director Ken Kwek isn’t fazed by censorship and bans.

BY Jo tan

Ken Kwek’s foray into film-making — Singapore style — was borne out of practicality more than passion. The former political journalist had just exited his newspaper job and was weighing his options.

“Theatre director Glen Goei half-jokingly suggested, since I was out of work, why not write a screenplay for him? Under-employed and restless, I wrote one which became The Blue Mansion.” Soon after, Kwek co-scripted Kelvin Tong’s Kidnapper and It’s a Great, Great World.

Kwek’s fervour for film has become his calling card. He writes, directs and produces his own movies – obstacles be damned. Of his feature film debut Unlucky Plaza, a black humour crime thriller about a Filipino restaurateur’s downward spiral in Singapore, he says, “I spent a year knocking on doors, pitching the story and asking for money. Part of the job.”

Filming Unlucky Plaza had its highlights. “We staged a demonstration outside a house and somebody called the cops. They thought it was a real demonstration and were worried about public disorder. Police and media showed up and it was a bit of a mini circus. My co-producer had to explain it was a film shoot. We weren’t ‘Occupy Siglap’.”

Censorship is never far from his mind. Sex.Violence.FamilyValues, his trilogy of darkly comic, set-in-Singapore short films featuring pornographers, pole-dancers and racist overtones, was banned by Singapore and Malaysia, despite clinching an Audience Choice Award at New York’s Gotham Screen International Film Festival. Kwek’s widely-supported petition and appeal secured a limited R21 run for the show here, but only after some edits.

Artistically speaking, it looks like clearer skies ahead. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival and screened at the Warsaw Film Festival, Unlucky Plaza will open the Singapore International Film Festival uncut and tagged with an M18 rating. “We should have been given an NC16,” says Kwek.

While international response to Unlucky Plaza has been positive, its director remains circumspect. “As a film-maker, I’ve only just started. It’s way, way too early to assess my career.”

Unlucky Plaza is the opening film of the 25th Singapore International Film Festival, on from 4-14 Dec at various venues. Tickets for the movie have been sold out.

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