First it’s carved onto your skin, then it crawls through your veins, spreading throughout your body. The next moment you’re left screaming and wriggling while the tattooing tool rips your skin, leaving you lying in a pool of ink and blood.

While The Tattooist is meant to be a drama and suspense film, there really is a cultural lesson behind all the horror and thrills. In their 1st co-production, Singapore’s Mediacorp Raintree Pictures, New Zealand’s Eyeworks Touchdown, Daydream Productions and The New Zealand Film Commission bring us a story which revolves around Samoan culture, bringing viewers a taste of Singapore, New Zealand and also America.

Who is The Tattooist?

American Tattooist Jake Sawyer (Jason Behr) is a “fast food” tattoo artist who’

s always on the search for new tattoos that supposedly have healing powers. One who takes life as it is and goes wherever the wind blows, Jake steals an ancient Samoan tattooing tool in an encounter with the fierce Samoan tattooist, Alipati (Robbie Magasiva).

As Jake is drawn to Alipati’s beautiful cousin, Sina (Mia Blake) and the relationship between the 2 blooms, the evil spirit attached to the tattooing tool starts inflicting harm on those whom Jake tattoos. Victoria (Caroline Cheong), a feisty Singaporean girl and Lazlo (John Bach), an old tattoo enthusiast are sent to mortal peril after getting a tattoo done by Jake. Unfortunately, before Jake realises that he’s the evil spirit’s tool to killing the innocent souls, he gives Sina a tattoo as well.

In the midst of attempting to save Sina, Jake and Alipati uncover a shameful secret that Sina’s uncle, Mr Va’a (David Fane), who used to be a tufuga (tattooist), is hiding. Behind this secret lies the reason why the tool is possessed.

Bad Blood, Good Blood?

The movie has been rated the number 1 horror film in New Zealand but UrbanWire feels that there’s more of a cultural connotation behind it. Once the viewer gets to the bottom of the story, the fear factor is reduced and a lesson on the Samoan culture is imparted.

While that might sound potentially boring, it really isn’t. In an interview with UrbanWire, director Peter Burger explained that his ¼ Maori identity (he’s ¾ European) gives his productions “a new angle”. His award-winning short films and popular Maori series, Mataku, are a testimony to this.

Burger also added that the sex scene after Jake gives Mia a tattoo on her back was cut out (he only found out on the day of the press conference, which was when the film was screened for the 1st time in Singapore). Looking a tad disappointed, the usually jovial director said that if he had known that this would happen, he would have produced a slightly different version of the movie. Looks like he can shake hands with Ang Lee, whose Lust, Caution was also heavily censored.

The Tattooist is a film that will leave you psychologically barred. You might not scream in the theatre, but you’ll certainly have your reservations about getting a tattoo.

In a nutshell, the movie is a worthy watch as one seldom gets a view of Singapore, New Zealand and a yummy dose of America (Behr certainly is eye candy) along with a solid storyline and a cultural lesson to boot.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Movie Details:

Opens: Nov 29
Running Time: 105 mins
Language: English
Cast: Jason Behr, David Fane, Caroline Cheong
Director: Peter Burger