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Culture Vulture

Singapore through a Western lens

Mister John, like Saint Jack before it, reflects tensions between old and new

Published on Apr 23, 2014 8:51 PM

I knew next to nothing about Mister John when I bought tickets to a screening of the film at the Southeast Asian Film Festival - except that it was set in Singapore and starred an actor I liked, the ever-reliable Aidan Gillen of The Wire and Game Of Thrones fame.

It's hard to summarise the beautifully shot Mister John, which was directed by the artful husband-and-wife film- makers Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor. A novella of a film at just over 90 minutes long, it is a bleak but also blackly funny character study of an Irish man, Gerry Devine, who arrives in Singapore in the wake of his brother John's death.

As Gerry encounters John's grieving widow, Kim (Zoe Tay), and visits his brother's seedy hostess bar, there is a gradual unravelling of his identity, with hallucinatory flashes of a parallel life, of stepping into his brother's shoes. It is clear that his brother was the livelier, brassier one, the light and life of parties in a den of vice, knitting people together and remaining decidedly chummy with everyone despite some difficult clients, to say the least.

Plenty of reviews have linked Mister John to a less sordid, more elegantly tuned version of Nicholas Refn's bloodbathed Only God Forgives (2013). But what was so tantalising about the film were its nods to a more obscure, and arguably more significant piece of cinema - Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack (1979), which was filmed and subsequently banned in Singapore for its more risque elements. (The ban was lifted in 2006.)

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