You'll see the comparison to Taxi Driver emblazoned on the cover of this Tartan DVD release. 2004's Perth has superficial similarities to the Scorsese's classic, the basic plot points of a cabbie who becomes obsessed with helping save a hooker from her seedy lifestyle. But, where Taxi Driver's stance was delving into a look at a sinful city and its effect on a loner sociopath, Perth is a much more small, contained character piece about a middle-aged man who secretly feels his life has been wasted and hinges his worth on a dream.
When we first meet him, Harry Lee is employed as a security guard at a Singapore shipyard. Hair coiffed into a pompadour, never without his sunglasses, Harry sells the image of an important, contented, satisfied man. But, in truth, he is anything but secure. He grown apart from his gambling addicted wife and his stuffy, businessman son. After years as a soldier and then a merchant marine, Harry finds himself old, out of touch, and none the richer.
Harry is let go from his security job and six months later he is working as a cabbie. His former supervisor at the shipyards, "Angry Boy" Lee, makes Harry and his old army buddy an offer to work for an underworld figure who needs drivers for his prostitutes. Harry is thankful for his newfound earnings and makes grand plans to set the cash aside and within six months or so, move to Perth, Australia, a place where he has many old friends, a place that Harry sees as the most idyllic among all the all countries he visited during his youthful travels. But, Harry takes a shine to a prostitute named Mai, a Vietnamese who has been forced to sell herself in order to pay off a family debt. As the facade of old world honor that Harry keeps up begins to crumble and his dream of midlife luxury loses its luster, he focuses his increasingly troubled attentions on saving Mai.
With the Taxi Driver comparison and being part of Tartan's "Asia Extreme" line, I spent much of the film settling into the fact that it wasn't going to be a high grade exploitation film like the Travis Bickle opus and flat-out being baffled as to why the film deserved the "extreme" label. The finale does come to a rather violent and grim conclusion, like Taxi Driver, but really that is the films sole instance of shock and grue. Mostly, Perth is very halcyon and talky, a lukewarm indie drama about a man slowly unraveling.
Actor Kay Tong Tim, who plays Harry, largely has to carry the film on his shoulders. There are times when the scenes go for the casual, standard drama approach and times where the performance borders on caricature. Its such a conscious veer, director Djinn surely had a hand in guiding the shift. And, it did get a bit repedative, Harry soapboxing to anyone who will listen about "the good ol' old days" and how "the youth of today just doesnt understand." Made me start thinking about the Monty Python skit with the four old men trying to outdo each other with tales of thier poor upbringing, "My family was forced to live in a shoebox in the middle of the road."
The film is middling picture, an interesting character study of a, more or less, loser of a man heading along a predictable path of self-destruction. But, there wasn't any particular imaginative spark or tremendously deep insight to launch Perth into anywhere other than moderately memorable territory. I'll take the cheap way out and go topical. Ann Nicole Smith just died and I found it kind of strange that people said it was sad. I've known many people who led loving, considerate, healthy lives and had tragedies thrust upon them. For lose people I feel empathetic, not to those who carved thier own path of destruction. And there is a bit of that in Harry Lee, a man who has constructed his own delusionment and doom, so in the end, its kind of hard to feel too extremely sorry for him.
The DVD: TARTAN.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Now, bearing in mind it was a low budget affair, I gotta' say this film was ugly. There are some obvious root source problems, like scenes where the film appears badly exposed, with darkened edges, where the camera equipment must have been subpar. The colors are bland and muddy. Sharpness quality again, veers form scene to scene, some in good focus, some not so much. Low lighting conditions, again, apparently got some bad exposure, resulting in many scenes with pushed, grayed contrast.
Sound: DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, or 2.0 Stereo tracks. Always funny to me when a basic film gets the ol' DTS treatment because, honestly, this is the kind of low key number that, to my ears, in terms of pure sound mixing, doesn't get a tremendous amount of help from DTS processing. Still , its there if you want it. Typical indie affair with some rough live sound recording in a few spots. The score is largely plunking, simple, one track piano, with the occasional addition of strings.
Although English is the films primary language, the dialogue is a complete mash-up. The listing on the back of the DVD states English/Vietnamese/Mandarin/Hokkien/Malay and the characters freely veer between them, punctuating a mostly English sentence with some local color (be it general terms or profanity). Therefore, the subs have to be on all the time and translate everything since there is barely a conversation where some bit of another dialect isn't being shuffled in, if only for a word or two.
Extras: Original Theatrical Trailer. -- Set Design Featurette (11:16). -- Deleted Scenes (5:47). -- Director Commentary.--- Actor Commentary.
Deleted scenes are nice but negligible, in rough shape, and feature optional actor commentary. The featurette features stills and drawings and has voice over comments by the director about working on the look of the film. Honestly, I did not listen to much of the director commentary because the recording was poor. Actor Kay Tong Tim's track was pretty good, covering the basics of developing his character and working on the film.
Conclusion: Charming enough little drama, though those familiar with Tartan's "Asia Extreme" line of DVDs will probably be surprised at the films low key nature. The DVD offers a spotty presentation in terms of transfer and extras, so this one is probably going to be a safer bet as a rental for foreign film fans.