“Lang Tong” (靚汤) – 2014 Singapore Film Review

When every second of Sam Loh’s “Lang Tong” (靚汤) made it past Singapore’s strict censorship regulations – escaping with an R21 (“Restricted 21”) rating – even the director was shocked.  According to its website, the Media Development Authority of the Singapore Government rates films “on seven classifiable elements: theme, violence, sex, nudity, language, drug and substance abuse, and horror.”  More specifically, for an R21 movie screening that forbids ticket holders under the age of 21: “Stronger and more explicit portrayal and exploration of mature themes are allowed.  Films that portray, as a main theme, same-sex marriages or parenting will be subject to strict review.”

“Lang Tong” certainly contains many of the “classifiable elements” in plentiful supply.  As a result, the buildup to its world premiere at the 2014 Singapore International Film Festival has generated much controversy with actors defending their risque roles in the film and deflecting endless brouhaha over the movie’s explicit content.  However, the question should not be how the film managed to get past censorship regulators, but how the film managed to even get past pre-production.  The synopsis may have promised 83 minutes of suspense and revenge in a murderous tale where pretty much every lead disrobes, but instead “Lang Tong” is a contrived mess of awkward acting, a plot that assumes the worst stereotypical traits of its characters and somewhat offensive references to past great Asian horror movies.

Granted, a script that reveals a disconnection between basic plot points does not help the actors’ cause.  A man named Zack (William Lawandi) is introduced to the audience screaming his head off while lying on the ground, so one can assume that he doesn’t fare too well in the story.  Following a few slow-motion swirls of a large vat of pork rib soup – the “lang tong” (Chinese for “nice soup”) in the film’s title – he chats with a woman named Stephanie online.  They meet cute, have a nice conversation (over pork rib soup, of course), and suddenly become boyfriend and girlfriend.  Zack, however, happens to be a womanizer!  He escapes the suffocation of his relationship with Stephanie to hang out with his pal Mike at a bar and pick up chicks (cue synthesized club music).  An unnecessary rape scene follows between Zack and Stephanie, and the next morning, Zack somehow has the nerve to ask Stephanie for $20,000 to cover some debt.  Even more disturbingly, it’s as if the previous evening didn’t happen at all and a lovestruck Stephanie wastes no time in giving him the money.  Naturally, this ends poorly.

The story suddenly jumps to a pair of sisters named Liling (Vivienne Tseng) and Li’er (Angeline Yap) who live together.  Zack manages to maneuver his way into their apartment, shacking up with both sisters, and failing to put two and two together when Liling suddenly mentions that she has written him into her will (after he, once again, claims that he is in debt) and Li’er asks Zack if he would like to kill Liling because she apparently hates her sister (now that will seems enticing).  At this point, the failure of “Lang Tong” to be even mildly entertaining has sunk to new absurd depths, with a gaggle of plot twists that fail to surprise, flashbacks to Liling’s psychologically damaging past in an attempt to add dimension to her character, gratuitous nudity and even more slo-mo shots of swirling soup.  Perhaps this all could have worked had Loh opted for one genre and stuck to it: camp, mystery, black comedy, horror, even sexploitation.  Although that last one likely would have gotten the film completely banned, that approach may have been more successful than the actual result, which dips its toes into various styles but unfortunately does not fully commit to any.  By the time the denouement approaches, one could not care less about the characters or their fates.  No man will fear women after watching this film, and no human being need ever be afraid of pork rib soup from a hawker market.  But one thing is for sure: what the viewer will care about is the lost time spent on this disaster of a movie.

“Lang Tong” makes its world premiere at the 2014 Singapore International Film Festival on Sat., Dec. 13, at 11:30 p.m., at the National Museum of Singapore.

Video: Trailer – “Lang Tong”
trailer courtesy of the Singapore International Film Festival