June 20, 2016
We all grew up watching a fair share of Jack Neo’s filmography, but there’s a new wave of filmmakers on the horizon, as evident from Anthony Chen and Boo Junfeng’s recent successful forays into globally acclaimed film festivals such as the Golden Horse Film Festival and the Cannes film festival, respectively. In addition, initiatives such as The Projector and the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) are evident that we are watching the silver screens, and waiting. We dipped into the treasure trove that is the local film scene and came up with these 5 gems, so here you are, for your viewing pleasure:
Director Kirsten Tan
The beauty of Dahdi (Granny), in my opinion, is the simplicity of the storyline, coupled with the brilliantly nuanced, but nevertheless moving, acting. The film is inspired by a 2012 event, where 40 boat passengers were picked up by a Vietnamese vessel that was denied entry into Singapore. But Dahdi stays away from the politics and addresses the heart – the elderly woman of the film, played by Tan’s own grandmother, ends up temporarily caring for one of the refugees. Much of the film is devoid of dialogue, but their slowly budding relationship remains practically palpable, and it’s hard to miss Tan’s stellar skills as a director. It’s no wonder that this film won the Best Southeast Asian Short Film at the Silver Screen Awards in 2014.
Director Boo Junfeng
While his film Apprentice – a film focusing on the controversial topic of Singapore’s death penalty – made waves at Cannes this year despite not winning any awards, Boo Junfeng’s film Sandcastle is definitely worth the watch, too. It was the first Singaporean film to be screened at the International Critics’ Week of Cannes, after all. At the centre of the film is En, an 18-year-old awaiting his mandatory enlistment into National Service. You’ll get enough information about the premise from the trailer, but En’s coming-of-age story is refreshing and honest, and much easier to relate to than those (occasionally) over-glorified American road-trip teen flicks.
Director Royston Tan
You’ve probably heard of Royston Tan because of his hit feature films like 881 and maybe even 15 (spot a trend in titles here?), so it’s no surprise that we’re adding another film of his on this list. 4:30 takes a beautiful look into the life of a lonely boy and his unlikely, somewhat-reluctant guardian in the form of his Korean neighbour. The film is, on the surface, quite literally beautiful: the dim lighting and slightly washed-out colour grading allow for visually stunning shots. But it’s examination into themes such as isolation and even slight hints of a coming-of-age story give 4:30 the ability to be an overall incredibly compelling film.
Ilo Ilo (2013)
Director Anthony Chen
Alright, alright, you knew this was going to be here. But make no mistake about the award-winning Ilo Ilo (爸妈不在家): it has heart, and loads of it. Chen is reportedly incredibly meticulous in his filmmaking methods – he auditioned over 2000 kids for the role of Jia Le, and scouted hundreds of different HDB flats before finally settling on the one used in the film – but all that definitely paid off. The cast of Ilo Ilo are all brilliant in their own way, and Chen knows how to create distinct yet multi-dimensional characters so that the audience ultimately feels as if they’re watching a painfully honest snapshot of local life, an eye-opening wake up call surrounding the unique Singaporean experience of domestic life and who we take for granted.
Singapore Minstrel (2015)
Director Ng Xi Jie
For those of us who prefer documentaries, this one shouldn’t be missed – and if you just love good films in general, this one works too. Singapore Minstrel delves into the unique, albeit slightly controversial, topic of busking. Much of the film focuses around Roy Payamal, an enigmatic figure within the field of busking who has been practicing his art since the 80s. The film examines the relationship between passionate buskers and the public’s perceptions of busking, illuminating the local ideologies of art, status, and the tension between them. We also can’t help but love the use of the “old-timey” shots and piano, giving the film an extra boost of charm.
Featured Image: Singapore Minstrel, dir. Ng Xi Jie