Featuring: Tedd “Paper Moon (not that one)” Chan , Henley “Kepong Gangster” Hii , Mark “‘Police & Thief‘” Lee
Writer & Director: Gilbert “Ghost Child” Chan
Singapore! Not just Super Mario’s response to why he never pursued a career in opera (“I sing-a poor!”), Singapore’s also a major global city-state and the southern-most point of continental Asia. AKA “The Lion City”, “The Garden City”, “The Red Dot” (“Where ever the red dot goes, ya bang!“), and the World Bank’s “Easiest Place to Do Business” 9 years running. An original founding member of Malaysia, Singapore was punted from the team after just two years over “ideological differences”, i.e. race riots. They’re currently celebrating their 50th anniversary as an independent nation, so happy golden anniversary, Singapore! Sadly, the only gold I can offer you as a gift is my golden sense of humor… or a golden shower if that’s what you’re into. I mean, I’m not into it myself, but if it’ll get you off, I’m cool with it. It is your birthday after all.
Singapore also has one of the lowest unemployment rates amidst developed nations the world over, as well as some of the lowest rates of violent crime and homicide. Possibly due to it also having one of the lowest rates of alcohol consumption per capita. Angers up the blood! The population is over 40% foreigners and the Economist Intelligence Unit (sounds like a Wall Street thought police group) ranked Singapore 6th in the world for qualify of life and 1st in Asia! Damn. Kinda getting the urge to move here. But what Singapore isn’t is a plateful of bacon, so enough buttering it up. Singapore’s dark side is pretty infamous for gangs, prostitution, and gambling. Plus there’s apparently still a lot of racism issues that haven’t been worked out in the last 5 decades too. If they’d just import a bunch of American Republicans though, racism would stop being a thing simply because they’d say so! Ignorance is bliss. Oh, there’s also dangerous insects to be had in the ‘Pore, but nothing a little insect repellant won’t fix. When you’re in the deep jungle, you can’t beat Off!
Fuck you. I find jungles and forests to be very erotic and I’ll beat off anywhere I damn well please! *rimshot*
In case you’re not savvy on the concept of the 24 hour time cycle adopted by the global military as a whole (you know, that “oh eight-hundred hours” type stuff), the title of today’s feature is a reference to 11:59 PM. Sadly, it’s not a cinematic sequel to Iron Maiden’s song “2 Minutes to Midnight”, which would have then been followed by a multimedia project consisting of a VCR flashing “12:00” while accompanied by a Muzaked rendition of Powerslave to finish out a proposed trilogy. No, really. I proposed it to Bruce Dickinson’s cousin’s stepdaughter’s legal representation and they said they were “really excited at the prospect” before having me escorted from the building by security personnel! “REALLY excited”!
As I was saying, what 23:59 is instead is an Asian ghost story. Yep, yet another one. Just like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity made every American filmmaker-to-be think they could lure a lightning bolt into their empty Zima bottle too via a $500 “found footage” video of their own, the entirety of the continent of Asia have their chopsticks crossed that they’re on the verge of the next Ring or Grudge that’ll earn them big American party dollars on the 1-in-300,000 shot that Hollywood comes knocking on their door for the remake rights. Ghidorah H. Christ.
Let’s grab hold of the duct tape and see if we can’t pull this off quick with only minimal pain, and without having our righteous Magnum PI mustache torn out by the roots in the process! As always, since this movie comes in under the 5-year age of spoiler consent for this site, I will NOT be posting any major twists or revelations. So, should you feel it’s worth the trouble of tracking down and sitting through, fear not, as there be no spoilers here.
Our introductory pre-credits sequence finds us back in the bygone days of 1983. The Men at Work emerged from a land down under to introduce themselves to the world! Jason Vorhees acquired his now iconic hockey mask in Friday the 13th Part 3-D! “M*A*S*H” ended and “Fraggle Rock” began! In a Singapore boot camp, a young soldier named Tan (Tedd Chan) is asleep in the barracks when a ghostly child (along with its presumably spectral matriarch) interrupts the lad’s R.E.M. (the state of sleep, not the folks who gave us “Shiny Happy People”), scaring him shitless, courtesy of a face that resembles a giant prolapsed colon. Sound gross? Now imagine two people with faces like said inside-out buttholes, but they also have long, slimy tongues and they start licking each others facial rims. Hope you liked the last meal you ate, because you’re probably gonna be tasting it again real soon if you haven’t already! 😀
This leads us into some decidedly poor opening credits, ran over what looks to be storyboard material. I appreciate that ‘boards are just to structure the shots of a flick and not meant to be works of art or anything, but if yours look like they came from a comic book an 8th grade school kid would draw in their spare time, you might not want to open your movie with it. Upon first viewing, I worried that said illustrations were spoiling what looked to be some decidedly decent moments from the oncoming 90 minutes. The only thing worse than laying your scares out for your audience WAY ahead of time, though? Nothing interesting from them actually comes to fruition! Yep! On the arbitrary thermometer graphic of “Things You Shouldn’t Do to Your Audience”, I’m pretty sure “Telegraph your best moments in the opening credits” ranks lower than “Tease them, only to give them ZERO payoff”.
I couldn’t find confirmation to support the previous assumption, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that said storyboard art was from scenes that had to be cut from the movie for budgetary concerns or technical limitations. They feel like Gilbert Chan’s way of saying, “I’m not bland! I have fun, scary ideas too! See what I wanted to have?! THEY wouldn’t give me the money! If you don’t like this movie, it’s not my fault!”. These probably should’ve been saved for the end credits though, rather than the openers. Maybe Chan just did the same backwards thing Asians do with their printed material and edited the movie right-to-left, so what would have been the end credits sequence wound up at the start-up instead? Honest mistake.
Back to the barracks, we catch up with Tan and some of his fellow freedom fighters, who are sitting around listening to ghost stories told by resident jerk-off Dragon (Lawrence Koh). They’re pretty much the Singapore branch of the Midnight Society. Despite being the most superstitious member of the group, Drags stink faces everybody else for getting the terror sweats at his tales. He sets the running theme for us when he tells us that midnight is the apex of evil, and the soul of anyone who dies at 23:59 (and we have a character saying the title of the movie! And less than 10 minutes in, too!) will be forced to remain on Earth, wandering for eternity…for some weird reason that nobody can explain beyond random, made up superstition. Hey, if being terrified of the unproven is good enough to establish religions on, it’s good enough for generic ghost stories!
One of said stories is 100% true and involves a former recruit named Lye. Three years prior, in that VERY bunk, on a night VERY much like this, Lye punched his own ticket, hanging himself while everyone else slept. Why do the Hangman Tango? Turns out he was bullied and harassed by some of his bunk-mates for being “effeminate” and apparently threatening their own masculinity (i.e. they didn’t like that they were so attracted to him, obviously). Fuck that. If I were ever tormented to the point of taking my own life, you know damn well I’d be taking every asshole along with me! Then I’d leave a note detailing the trauma I’d been subjected to before taking myself out David Carradine style! And I’m not talking about Uma Thurman giving me the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart technique, either.
The bard of the barracks continues his tales of terror, telling us about the Kuntilanak (sounds like a Conan villain) – the particularly vicious and violent spirit that results from a suicided pregnant woman. Coincidence that its name starts with “Kunt”? It’s not clear (like a lot of this movie), but I think one of these Kunts was summoned by a trio of nameless recruits (the credits are full of ’em) using a makeshift Chinese knock-off Ouija/Witchboard in one of Drag’s stories. When they asked her to leave, spooky lady indicated “All Signs Point to ‘No'”, then terrified them by leaving wet footprints across their floor (and wet spots in their shorts). The horror of the creeping moisture! Now, imagine that last line in Vincent Price’s voice. You’re welcome.
Though this ends the shirtless punk’s story hour for the night, he does break out another scareative later on about a local ghost whisperer whose impregnated womb became haunted by a Kuntilanak (so she had a Kunt in her cunt!) during a seance. Immediately after which she gave birth to a mutant baby who would grow up looking like the daughter of the Toxic Avenger and is said to still lurk the island. So Asian people used to think birth defects were the result of angry ghosts possessing mother-to-be? Maybe stop smoking, drinking, and sitting on active microwaves while you’re gestating and you wouldn’t get so many flipper babies! Anyway, the Rule 63 Quasimodo’s name is Yi Gu, which my geek brain interpreted as “YuGi”, then responded to by shouting “It’s time to D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-DUEL!” before realizing I’d activated my own trap card… almost no one over the age of 25 is going to get that joke, but if any younger type card slingers do get it, well, I don’t pander to you often so you can have that one.
Each of these stories is accompanied by their own filmed segment, and given how they’re presented I feel like Chan originally meant this to be an anthology that wound up being paired down into a straight feature with a Frankensteined script instead. Makes all the more sense when you consider the unused storyboards, right? By the time you get to the finish line, so much of what’s established makes so little sense otherwise, so that’s the theory I’m sticking with.
Unlike Lye, Tan (by name, not by skin pigment) only has a sole tormentor in Dragon. He doesn’t show signs of taking his own life. Plus, several of the guys in the group do stick up for Tan, including their platoon leader. I bet a good old fashioned “soap in a sock” party would get Dragon to turn his dickhead dial down to ‘1’. Tan’s childhood buddy-slash-bodyguard Jeremy (Henley Hii) looks out for him too, but instead of fistally re-educating the bully, he opts to victim blame his buddy, telling him that he’s gotta stop being a pussy and man up. Tan’s problem isn’t that he’s a wimp though, he’s just got PTSD – Phantasmal Traumatic Stress Disorder. That close encounter of the ghostly kind in the opening has left him with a yellow streak. Uhm, that wasn’t a racist thing because he’s Asian! Scout (Taylor-Compton)’s honor!
Later that night, Dragon and four accomplices tie up and gag the sleeping Tan, stuffing him into a locker to torment him further. Naturally he’s visited by the ghostly hand of the Kunt, who leaves deep scratches on his neck by the time Jeremy (spoke in class today) wakes up and lets him out. Jer blows off Tan’s neck wounds, excusing them as being caused by a tussle with a wire hanger during his panicked spaz out. Sticking up for his little buddy, Jer get physical (physical!) with Draggy and the pair fight. Well, by “fight” I mean they shove each other, then Jeremy holds the scrawny little shit down and gives him some really weak punches. After those love taps, I wonder if maybe Tan’s not the bunker sissy of this group. Jer would’ve done more damage giving the prick an Indian Burn! Then again, they might not know what those are over there. On that side of the globe, “Indian Burn” is probably the rectal fallout of a really spicy curry dinner.
The group’s commanding officer, Sergeant Kuah (Mark Lee), arrives and breaks the tussle up. He reminds them that they have an incredibly important 24km road march in the morning, so they better stop with all the Grab-Ass and get some sleep. But coach, the Grab-Ass Championship Games are in two weeks and we gotta train! While we’re on the subject of Kuah, we learn that he’s a superstitious lot (and cowardly too, right Batman?) and asks that his own higher up, Captain Hong (Benjamin Lim), postpone the road march until a less unlucky date. Seems the moons of Jupiter are in the house of the seventh planet or some malarkey and that’s bad voodoo for the boys. Hong looks at him like he has three heads, gives him the workplace appropriate equivalent of a double middle finger, and declares that the march will go on as planned. To which, Kuah calls his c.o. a “fake caucasian” behind his back. Well, he’s Asian, so at least that makes him half Caucasian, right? Yeah, I deserve a smack for that one.
Tan has a bad feeling in his gut about going on the march, but Jeremy again denounces him for being a wimp. Tough Guy says he doesn’t believe in the supernatural because his father was a charlatan medium who used to use him to con marks out of their Singapore Dollars (yep, not unlike M. Bison in Street Fighter, they just tack “dollars” onto the ass of their name to name their currency!) with a Jon Edwards-style “chat up the dead” scheme. It left one bereaved old man heart attacked into the afterlife himself though, and that incident left the father and son pairing forever estranged. Also as a result, Junior is Singapore’s biggest skeptic, i.e. the most reasonable person in the nation. In fact, when Kuah insists on giving his men good luck talismans (that look oddly like dry cleaner tickets) to ward off evil spirits and bad juju during the trek, Jer not only refuses one, but denies one for Tan too. “Tan too”? I feel there’s a joke I should be making right now, but the heat from my laptop is making my Ballpark Frank plump and it’s too distracting. You win this time, phallus perspiration!
The marchers are beset by an inopportune thunderstorm and our main cast (Tan, Jer, Dragon, and porcine comedy relief character Lim) fall behind the rest of the group. Without spoiling anything specific, I’ll tell you this much – we’re only half way down the hasenpfeffer hole at this point. The events of the march that night change the dynamics of the group greatly, as Tan isn’t the only one being haunted once it’s over. Can they ever be rid of the Class IV Anchored Remnant (bone up on your Tobin’s, nerds) on their backs, or are they destined to just become another sinister anecdote in the book of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Barracks”? Are the ghosts even real, or did Gilbert Chan opt to make an ode to Jacob’s Ladder and what we’re actually watching is, in reality, just a shellshock allegory? What does this all have to do with a fellow recruit named Chester? And why is his name Chester?! What kind of Asian name is “Chester”?! Or “Jeremy” for that matter!?
Though I won’t be going any further into the story beyond this point, I will say this much – the finale involves what will either be a very touching, very depressing, very cheesy (or very arousing…depends on your brain chemistry) moment that features one of our characters crying profusely. Unfortunately, the intended emotional impact of the scene collapses in on itself as I was incredibly distracted during the whole thing. What by? Not only do the character’s eyes leak the whole time, but their nose flushes like they just ran a Neti Pot through it. We all know that the locks are blown open on the Panama snot canals when a heavy bawling front rolls in, but wipe your damn nose, character whose name I will not divulge!… Huh huh, “but wipe”.
Though not entirely bad, 23:59 feels like a movie that could’ve been better than it is. I know that almost any movie could be “better than it is”, technically, but this is the statement that stands out the largest in my mental word cloud, having watched it twice now. My biggest problem is the story’s structure. It’s shoddy and unstable. If it were a building, it’d be condemned by code enforcement. Even the junkies would reconsider squatting in it. As stated prior, the whole thing feels as if it was intended as an anthology, but was converted into a basic “Point A to Point B” feature without wanting to throw out the leftovers. Like they put up the house over the Indian burial ground, but didn’t feel like removing the grave markers and just built around them instead. Or if a storefront that was originally a beauty parlor was turned into a Carvel© store and they chose to keep the big hair dryer chairs to soften the ice cream; except they left them right in the middle of the damn floor, inconveniencing the customers who just want a spot to sit and eat their damn Fudgie in peace!
I don’t watch a lot of Singaporese movies, so forgive my ignorance if this next annoyance is a common practice, but the dialog was littered with some kind of bastard ManderEnglish for some reason! Is this how their movies are usually done?! The cadets would slip in an English word here or there, which was fine because I get that there are some words we Yanks have that they don’t. Instead of making up their own, they figure “Fuck it, I guess we know slightly more English now!”. However, when the Sergeant and Captain were in the picture, everyone was speaking better English than half the kids in your average American graduating class! It was jarring. This does explain why every original audio copy of the movie I tried to download was labeled “English dub” though.
The Americanising of the feature is furthered by the inclusion of US movie posters on the walls of the bunkhouse, including ’80s classics The Terminator, Platoon, and Blade Runner. Is this a military training facility or an AV Club?! Funny enough, of the three flicks, only Blade Runner (’82) was actually released prior to 1983, the year this movie takes place. Terminator was ’84 and Platoon was ’86, so a hearty dick kick to the prick in charge of continuity for not doing his damn job.
In the end (also Sean Connery’s answer to “Where does Alex Trebek’s mom take it?”), what could’ve been something good (or at least not as bad) just peters out into something completely unsatisfying, thus making 23:59 Singapore’s cinematic parallel of Adam Sandler’s career. Or, every episode of my sexual congress as told from my partners’ points-of-view. There’s some decent tension building, but it’s bogged down by too many attempted jump scares, some acceptable-to-terrible makeup effects, a congested story structure, and the disappointment of the opening credits promising more graphic imagery than the movie itself puts out. An unfortunate let down from the country that brought us the pure chewing satisfaction of the Michael Fay caning. Oh well.
For our next World Tour stop, I’ll be spoiling the crap out of an early 2000s monster movie that’s been collecting dust on my “To Do Pile” for over a decade! Drain the last of your Dirty Banana and join us, won’t you?
Bonus Moral: If someone dies at training camp in the Singapore army, recruits are given a half-day to cope. The turn around for mourning over there is stricter than their anti-chewing gum laws!
That’s exactly how my head feels every time a Linkin Park song comes on the radio.
Well, at least that would be convenient for people with shoulder problems who have no one else to brush their hair.
“The camp talent show is in 3 days and you still haven’t figured out how to make the puppet talk while you’re drinking the glass of water!”
“Because I will Frank Castle your asses in the blink of an eye!”
“Sure he’s got a Cheetos™ dust addiction, but everybody knows he’s a stand up cat otherwise!”
When grandpa asked to play a card game during their visit to the retirement home, they had no idea he meant Strip Poker. Worst. Visit. Ever.
Wait. Did this movie suddenly turn into a tampon commercial?
Yup. It’s definitely a tampon commercial.
Maybe you should stop squinting your eyes then, dipshit. We in the audience can see everything just fine thanks to ALL OF THE PRODUCTION LIGHTS!
“Oh my god… did I remember to turn the oven off before I left for boot camp!? This could be VERY bad.”
“She sounds hot. Is she seeing anyone?”
Sadly, he’s right. I’ve been trying to do that with those fucking Kardashians for years and they’ve yet to fade from existence.
We used to put completely black contacts on the first guy that fell asleep back during high school b-movie weekend parties. It’s hilarious watching them run around screaming “I’M BLIND! I’M BLIND!” while falling all over everything. Ah the memories.
And I thought the Asian takeout places in the U.S were aggressive with their doorknob menus. Yikes!
“Well, I don’t know her personally, but I’m a high ranking official in her fan club! I’m sure Mrs. Arquette would be happy to help us!”
Yeah, I’ve had ghost pepper sauce thrown in my oculars too (true story!). Trust me, just clench your eyes as hard as you can and pray for death until it stops hurting. Should be about an hour or two.
Hence why his friends gave him the nickname “Arby’s”.
Oh man, he’s having one of those “dislocate your shoulder trying to reach it” level itches on his back.
Just another one of the ProActiv™ horror stories they never tell you about in the commercials.
Anubis will return next time in
“The Unexpected Vishnu of Ignorance”
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