EPY QUIZON AND A ROLE OF A LIFETIME
by Pablo A. Tariman
Actor Epy Quizon and director Ken Kwek strike a very comfortable pose in this noonday presscon at the Viva Films cozy board room.
The director breaks the ice by saying, “We just collaborated on a film and we are also good friends. Normally, it’s hard to work with a close friend. But in our case, it worked.”
Epy reacts with a grin and agrees. “When we first met in 2012, he said he was working on a film and wanted to meet local actors. So I showed him around and introduced him to some actor friends. It never occurred to me that he was considering me for any role. So when I got the script, I worked on it like any other role. But when I realized it was in fact a lead role, I realized I had something big going for me in this project. When the shooting started, that was the time when I got a hint I was probably working on a dream role without my knowing it.”
The role is that of a Filipino businessman based in Singapore and coping with hard times as a single father. He was determined to be as competent as any other successful Singaporean businessman but things did not turn out the way he expected it.
But as shooting started, many things assaulted his consciousness. The dialogue is not in Pilipino and he is using what is called Sing-glish (Singapore English) all throughout the film.
It was then that he got his first taste of the Singapore brand of professionalism in filmmaking. “The working timetable is strictly within 12 hours. It is all quiet on the set, not a single phone ringing and no chatting. I’ve played all kinds of good and bad persons you can imagine but this part in ‘Unlucky Plaza’ I think brought out the best in me. I only realized this is my dream role while shooting was going. Every layer of emotion asked of the character I was able to project thanks to the good guidance of Director Ken. I guess this is already my role of a lifetime.”
Epy volunteered the information that in his younger days, Ken Kwek was one of those invited for a dialogue with Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew. They had quite a heated argument and now it’s on YouTube getting its good share of viewers.
“That was when the revered statesman invited young people and asked them what they think of how their country is being run. Naturally I spoke my mind. I brought up the subject of censorship and Singapore and that some sectors of Singapore society live in a state of fear. He replied with a stern, ‘Who are these people and can you give me their names?’ I thought I turned white. Censorship is one reason why I left journalism. I thought there would be less challenge in it if I work under the shadow of censorship.”
Kwek has since then earned a reputation as a very controversial filmmaker (The Ballad of Vicki and Jake). He rues that although the story is about a Filipino overseas worker in Singapore, it could be about anyone living and adjusting in a foreign soil. “I would say that my film is set on the global perspective. There is this hard-working Filipino trying to be as competent and successful as the other Singaporean. He has imbibed the Singapore work ethic. While other foreign workers are constantly aiming for the green card in the US, this Filipino is bent on acquiring his Pink Card in Singapore. In the process of writing the script and personally knowing the background of Epy (Quizon), I realized he had what it took to do justice to the part. Happily, he delivered.”
The role called for someone who is desperate and can be comical and vulnerable and yet detached from it all.
The director elaborated: “Why Epy? Because as everybody knows, he comes from a family with great heritage in the line of comedy. He is himself a very talented comic actor. But I’ve spoken to him about his life, I know his inner struggles. The violence and the anger that he has felt is similar to his character (in Unlucky Plaza). Both have a bit of everything — they can be a bit comic, a bit desperate, a bit of angry, a bit outraged. I knew that Epy could fulfill that range and go from comic to dramatic in a second–and make it look completely natural.”
For this role, Quizon won Best Actor at the Manhattan International Film Festival while Kwek won Best Director for the same film in the Tehran Jasmine Film Festival.
“Unlucky Plaza” also made a big splash at the Toronto International Film Festival with sold-out screenings.
Esquire Magazine called it an”undisputable win” while the Hollywood Reporter praised it for taking up “myriad linguistic, moral and cultural transgressions previously unseen in Singapore cinema.”
Curious why Quizon’s Filipino character has the name Onassis Hernandez (reminiscent of the Greek magnate associated with opera icon Maria Callas), Director Kwek told me, “To make the story short, I had an accident and I was attended by a Filipino doctor named Onassis Hernandez. The name has since then stuck in my mind and became handy when I was writing the script of ‘Unlucky Plaza.’”
The film opened the Singapore International Film Festival and ran to full audience for 16 weeks.
Epy concludes: “Yes, you may say that this is my best film role so far.”
Released by Viva Films, “Unlucky Plaza” opens on April 20 in cinemas.