In addition to their economic prosperity, global prestige and good governance, Singaporeans tend to be proud of their public transportation system.
With trains arriving on time and nary a broken-down escalator in sight, Malaysians can only aspire to have infrastructure as good as theirs.
That said, Malaysians now have a reason to celebrate. At least local commuters are not at risk of being eaten by a giant mutant lizard!
Giant mutant lizard?! Where?! Well, according to the Singaporean Mandarin film “Circle Line”, such a creature apparently resides in the subway tunnels beneath the city.
Released on Jan 5, the movie follows the story of a group of passengers who find their daily railway commute upended by a deadly creature.
Apparently, this is the city-state’s first cinematic attempt at a monster movie, something Japan would be greatly acquainted with. And while the cast are largely Singaporean, much of the filming took place in Malaysia – so the trains in the film will look uncannily familiar to local audiences.
“Circle Line” revolves around the recently widowed Yi Ling (Jesseca Liu), who is taking her son Lucas (Nathaniel Ng) home after a long day at work.
But due to unfortunate circumstances, the train they are on is diverted onto an abandoned line, and the passengers left stranded in an abandoned tunnel.
Naturally, they aren’t the only beings inside that tunnel. A mutated lizard… thing… reveals itself and proceeds to chow down on a Singaporean all-you-can-eat buffet.
While this goes on, chief railway engineer Bo Seng (Peter Yu) realises to his horror that his daughter Janice (Ashley Seow) is aboard the train.
And thus, there’s a race for survival, with the few remaining passengers fleeing for their lives and Bo rushing to save his daughter, while the monster tries not to waste its food.
So what’s the verdict? Well, for Singapore’s first modern-day creature feature, “Circle Line” is a flawed but valiant attempt at this classic genre.
The setting of a train and subterranean tunnels is one that has featured in many horror films. After all, these are claustrophobic spaces – it’s what made “Train to Busan” all the more terrifying and effective.
Underground tunnels have a sense of foreboding and gloom, filling you with the omnipresent fear of something lurking in the darkness. Even though one might consider it safe inside a carriage, one can’t help but be wary of the darkness looming just beyond.
The film could and should have used the setting more to its advantage, with the action onboard the train lasting about a mere few minutes at most. Afterwards, most of the goings-on takes place outside the train, with characters running about the tunnels.
Also, monster films live or die depending on how effective their monster is. To put it very mildly, the monster in “Circle Line” looks like it leapt out of a 1990s or early 2000s video game.
The CGI would have been fine had the film been released then, but given that it is 2023, technology has moved on significantly.
Of course, one might point out that it likely did not have a Hollywood budget, but there are ways to counter such a predicament. The dark setting could have come in handy: concealing the monster for as much as feasibly possible would have been one way to elevate the scare factor.
Alternatively, practical effects would have been a welcome addition, since an actor in a rubber costume can actually be more convincing than a bunch of pixels on screen. Again, refer to the best of Japan’s early monster films.
Thankfully, the human characters in “Circle Line” are pleasantly tolerable. At the very least, you wouldn’t actively want any of them to be monster chow.
There’s Yi Ling, who is coming to terms with her husband’s unfortunate demise, and Lucas, her young son who has become extremely reserved after the family’s loss.
And then you have the father-and-daughter duo of Bo Seng and Janice, who ostensibly have an estranged relationship. While they aren’t particularly memorable, they are serviceable characters.
With a runtime of 80 minutes, this is a snack-sized film for those curious to see what the island neighbours are up to cinematically. No chances of “Circle Line” being set in Malaysia, though – not when the transport minister would probably end up wrestling the monster himself.
‘Circle Line’ is screening in cinemas nationwide.