SHADOWPLAY ** Malaysia 2019 Dir: Tony Pietra Arjuna. 90 mins
Cinematographer Praveen Kumar and the score by Stellar Dreams makes this Kula Lumpur-set 21st century noir look and sound fabulous – it’s a shame the rest of the movie isn’t up to much. Small-time Private Eye Tony Eusoff is hired to find a missing college student (the beautiful Juria Hartmans) in a relentlessly rainy, neon-drenched urban jungle. Whilst pursuing this notably lucrative case, he gets addicted to the influential author of “Violet Horizons”, encounters an amusing explanation of the modern-day “femme fatale” and is plagued by childhood flashbacks and lucid dreaming. The hokey voiceovers at the heart of SHADOWPLAY are as good a reminder as any of the reasons why Harrison Ford’s droning narration from BLADE RUNNER was ultimately dumped for subsequent releases of the film.
This hybrid of Ridley Scott, Nicolas Winding Refn and David Lynch is galvanised by its beautiful synth soundtrack but proves dramatically inert, despite (laughable) surrealistic touches and the occasional outburst of cartoonish gore. The dialogue nods regularly to game books and fantasy fiction, but too often gets bogged down in wooden interactions: “You seem awfully familiar…I can’t place it…I can just smell it, you know…” This ambitious flick does, at least, confirm Eusoff’s observations on his work as being “as boring as any other job” and, with its use of a creepy supporting character in blackface, unintentionally echoes the unforgettable Papa Lazarou from TV’s THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN.
Review by Steven West