Gavin Yap makes his (feature film) directorial debut with Take Me to Dinner, a story about an old assassin named Edward who falls in love with a woman and then wants out of his sordid life. He requests that his friends, Teddy, Manny and Hamm, take him out for a sort of retirement dinner…
I am inclined to think that that indie filmmakers feel that cross-cutting between past and present storylines somehow makes their film more “artistic” or more interesting. Cuak did it, and now here’s Take Me to Dinner with a very similar storytelling format. Start out with the present, and then spend the bulk of the movie jumping to and fro between stuff that happened prior to the present storyline. Oh, it wasn’t a bad thing in itself. It just felt so… done. I suppose it was a way to help build the anticipation and the mystery – and it did work. It worked better here than it did in Cuak.
Large chunks of the film are devoted to dialogue and next to no action until the final quarter. Some of the dialogue-heavy scenes work, and some don’t. When they don’t work, the movie drags. I admit to almost falling asleep at one or two points because the dialogue seemed interminable and did not appear to be contributing anything to the story. The times when the dialogue does work, however, I think are mostly due to the skill of the cast. Patrick Teoh does a pretty good job as the aging hitman, conveying a sense of being tired out and sick of it all. (Although one wonders how Tony Eusoff would have done in the role, especially after his Cuak character.) Thor Kah Hong, Ben Tan, and Ng U-En were also quite effective as Edward’s three close friends, Manny, Teddy, and Hamm. I’m not sure what purpose Michael Chen’s character, Elijah, served. That one seemed superfluous. Susan Lankester was great as Jennifer; she came across as a very capable, no-nonsense sort of person. (When she said she worked in advertising, Lianne and I just had to chuckle.)
What really stood out for me was the language and the accents. And the names. The names were so “English.” Manny? Teddy? Hamm? (I wonder if they were supposed to be pseudonyms…) The dialogue was nearly completely in English – and a distinctly non-“Manglish” style. Very proper, verging on British English. Interestingly, in this movie the accents didn’t sound so very forced – as compared to, say, Spinning Gasing. Perhaps the actors are all more accustomed to speaking that way, so they sound quite natural. Patrick Teoh and Susan Lankester are, I’m sure. I haen’t seen enough of the rest of the cast to know whether that’s their normal way of speaking. One thing’s for sure – the dialogue is very “Gavin Yap.” I’ve not read anything he’s written nor have I seen any other plays/shows he might have written, but anyone who’s seen him act would know that he speaks that way.
There also seemed to be many shots with canted angles and close-ups of bottles of whisky and whatnot. Not sure if there was a point to all those close-ups. I would have to watch it a second time to figure out whether I was imagining the frequency of those shots or not, but I doubt I would give it a second viewing. It’s a good try, and the ending was rather unexpected, but I feel that if it had been a bit lighter on the dialogue and slightly faster-paced, this would have been better.
My rating: ★★½