Five must-see films that pay homage to local culture, exploring what it means to be Singaporean.
Who said Singapore’s film industry isn’t great? These films mark a new era of Singapore cinema, helmed by veteran and rising directors alike. Highly regarded as some of the best movies Singapore has to offer, these home-grown works hold their own against the international heavyweights.
881 is a visual and musical spectacle featuring one of Singapore’s unique cultural points: getai. Often overlooked as an art form, getai is unfortunately seen as ‘old-fashioned’ and even a nuisance during the Hungry Ghost Festival month. With elaborate costumes (some cost over $100,000) and great Hokkien show tunes like “Wildflowers” and “Last Breath,” this underdog success story starring Mindee Ong, Yeo Yann Yann, Qi Yuwu and Liu Ling Ling will change your perception of getai, and take you on a moving, emotional journey that we and our parents alike can relate to.
Fun fact: Director Royston Tan took an hour to come up with the main plot, three days to write the script and 22 days to film the entire movie. Talk about being efficient!
It’s a Great, Great World is a fascinating insight into one of Singapore’s once-famous but lost landmarks – the Great World Amusement Park located along Kim Seng Road, where Great World City now sits. Its vivid reimagining of possible stories that could have happened within the gates of the iconic amusement park is a nostalgic, intimate closeup of Singapore’s own ’40s. As our country is constantly reinvented and things are torn down to make way for the new, there is a pressing need to preserve our forefathers’ memory to derive our own identity. The movie also boasts a star-studded ensemble featuring big names such as Xiang Yun, Chew Chor Meng, Ng Hui, Henry Thia, Gurmit Singh, Olivia Ong, Joanne Peh and many more.
Fun fact: The Great World Amusement Park, opened in 1929, was built atop a Chinese cemetery. The park was later closed in 1964 after the advent of television and supermarkets caused declining visitor interest. During its peak, visitor numbers hit a record of 50,000, as thousands flocked to the attraction for trade events, food, carnival rides, cabaret and films.
Apprentice revolves around an uncomfortable topic: the death sentence as a form of capital punishment in Singapore. From the executioner’s surprisingly compassionate approach to the convicts’ families, to the religious leaders who offer comfort in a hopeless situation, Apprentice humanises a controversial issue and puts faces to the previously shadowy figures of executioners and inmates. It’s gritty, dark and tense, raising questions about the dying ‘trade’ and succession. Director Boo Junfeng, who has two award-winning feature films and several more acclaimed short films under his belt, ultimately offers viewers a morbidly compelling image that will stay in the viewer’s mind long after its screen time ends. Starring Malaysian veteran actor Wan Hanafi Su and local actors Mastura Ahmad and Firdaus Rahman.
Fun fact: Apprentice received a standing ovation at Cannes, and was supported by production companies in Germany, France, Hong Kong and Qatar. In Boo’s five-year process of making Apprentice, he interviewed former executioner Darshan Singh, who hanged as many as 18 inmates in a single working day.
Love Cuts centres on the struggle of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer and how she and her family cope with the major change in their lives. Its emotional depth and the protagonist’s fight against the debilitating disease touches anyone who knows the struggle or has lost a loved one to cancer. The film’s bittersweet lessons about morality and growing up are inspiring and will make you hug your mother a little tighter. Love Cuts stars local ‘Ah Jie’ Zoe Tay and Hong Kong actor Kenny Ho.
Fun fact: Love Cuts was supported by the Health Promotion Board. The fabrics and suits featured in the lead actress’ shop are sponsored by CYC The Custom Shop, where the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew had his shirts and pajamas made.
Ilo Ilo is an exploration of the inter-dependent and complicated relationship local families have with their domestic helpers. Its simple but heartbreaking narrative depict the challenges working parents face as they juggle spending time with family and earning enough to provide for their children. Ilo Ilo also explores the increasingly blurred roles of parents and domestic helpers as the children’s main caregivers and role models, and the effect this has on the children. The film stars local actor Chen Tianwen, Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann, Filipino actress Angeli Bayani and first-time child actor Koh Jia Ler.
Fun Fact: Ilo Ilo won Best Film, Best New Director (Anthony Chen), Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Yeo Yann Yann) in the Golden Horse Awards. It was also the first Singaporean film to win the Camera d’Or for best debut feature film at Cannes in 2013.
7 Letters is a SG50 special anthology by seven award-winning local directors. The series of cinematic love letters to a country losing touch with its past in its attempts to move forward is both poignant and wistful. The directors were given free rein over their artistic concepts; yet, surprisingly, their individual interpretations of the country converged on common themes of nostalgia and national identity.
Producer-director Royston Tan said that all seven directors involved “hope that this collaboration can inspire everyone to reflect on our nation’s journey, revel in how far we have come, and look forward to a brighter future.”
Fun Fact: 7 Letters was fully funded by the government through the Media Development Authority and the Singapore Film Commission.