Diamond Dogs may not boast originality or technical polish, but it compensates with gritty indie filmmaking can-do. Director Gavin Lim’s feature debut is a micro-budget actioner with plenty of meaty grindhouse goodness. Besides its hard-edged story and brutal violence, the film features flashes of titillation (courtesy of former Japanese porn actress Okita Anri) and a scenery-chewing bad guy who’s easy to hate. Singapore entertainment star Andie Chen commits screen larceny as Marlboro, the amusingly named villain who opens the film lamenting that the test subjects in his illegal drug-enhanced social experiment keep dying – which shouldn’t be a big surprise since they’re pitted against deadly fighters in a series of brutal death matches. Unfazed by his failures, Marlboro continues his project while taking every possible opportunity to verbally abuse people while occasionally using erotic asphyxiation to enhance his sexual experiences. While not a role model, Marlboro is obviously quite exceptional.
Andie Chen’s sneering superiority steals shine from the film’s actual star: veteran screen tough guy Sunny Pang, who recently turned heads as the heavy in the Mo Brothers’ acclaimed thriller Headshot (2016) alongside action superstar Iko Uwais. Pang stars as Johnny, a mute debt collector who’s tortured by the loss of his wife and daughter. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Johnny agrees to sell his body for medical research, only to be held captive in a small cage where he eats, sleeps, defecates and tries to retain his sanity. After being injected with experimental drugs, Johnny is let loose to take part in Marlboro’s cage matches, where he dominates with an animalistic fervor that’s genuinely frightening. Johnny’s success in the ring naturally pleases Marlboro, but there are still plenty of nagging issues to be resolved, among them Johnny’s relationship with his adopted daughter Rusty (TV star Rosalind Pho) and a naked mystery woman (Okita) whom Johnny meets while in captivity.
Diamond Dogs was obviously produced on the cheap, and acknowledges its non-mainstream status and derivative genre roots with a self-amused humility. This is an obvious labor of love from a family of filmmakers who’ve worked in the trenches for many years. Gavin Lim cut his teeth on TV and short films, and handles the writing, directing, editing, cinematography and probably more for Diamond Dogs. He also has a clear love of cinema, as evidenced by pointed, if somewhat incongruous shout-outs to Taiwan filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang and his impenetrable art films. Producer Emily Moh doubles as the film’s art director, and Sunny Pang also works as action director alongside Ronin Action Group, the action stunt team that he founded. Pang hopes that Ronin Action Group will open doors for him beyond his acting career, and if Diamond Dogs is any evidence, the team excels at grounded choreography and brutal, meat-on-bone impact. The group probably can count on future employment in the sequel to Diamond Dogs, which is teased in the film’s final moments.
After working in advertising for over a decade, Gavin Lim switched tracks to become a director and writer. His first short film Subtitle (2005) earned him a Best Director award at the 18th Singapore International Film Festival. Lim followed up his early success with works across film and television, including the short film Hello? (2006) and directing for successful television dramas Fighting Spiders and Tanglin. Lim originally intended to direct a romantic comedy, but after talking to actor Sunny Pang, he began developing the project that would become Diamond Dogs.
2017 – Diamond Dogs