These are films that reflect the social and cinematic trends that happened in the 2000s and do a good job of defining the decade:
I Not Stupid (2002) – Admittedly not a great film and also full of product placement, nevertheless it does reflect some of the socioeconomic anxieties of Singaporeans with regards to their children and education and serves as a mirror for Singaporean’s conservatic streak when it comes to approaching cinema.
Be with Me (2005) – Like other Eric Khoo films, Be with Me explores urban alienation in some depth, employing three stories to cover various aspects of it.
Singapore Dreaming (2006) – Essentially an encapsualtion and Singaporeans fears and desires, the film daringly touches on various class and social issues amidst great urban pressure.
Invisible City (2007) – A documentary that explores issues of history, national identity and memory. Important as it reflects on the history of the relatively young nation of Singapore and beckons Singaporeans to re-evaluate various aspects of memory.
Here (2009) – Singapore’s first starkly original “art” film. Brilliantly shaped and enigmatically executed.
Drowning in the Time of Flood (2009) – Issues on sexuality, race, class and many other pertinent Singaporean issues that are pretty much avoided in the media are discussed in this 3 hour masterpiece.
White Days (2009) – Urban alienation done fantastically by a director not named Eric Khoo. Bravo!
In the Time of Straw (2009) – Another long sprawling film done similarly to the previous two entires. The start of a Singaporean New Wave?
Thanks for the list, Law. Singapore is, for me, a country that I have absolutely no knowledge of in terms of its filmmaking, and for that I apologize. With this, though, and everything you’ve to tell us, I’ll try to check out as much as possible!
Fantastic. I’ll be checking these out.
EDIT: Dammit, only Be With Me is available on Netflix. Do you have links?
Be With me is also available as a free torrent download and quite possibly the only one of the ones you listed!!!
(although i’m pretty sure Invisible City was shown in Salonika Film Festival but of course,no one would rip it even if it did!!!)
a small number of choices since your production is growing from the 90’s and on,i’m glad you’ve added a film of your preference which you might not consider it as great as the rest but it depicts a portion of your country’s issues.
it will be really difficult to discover nevertheless even the most recent ones like Here (unless i had a Karagarga account…) so for now,i’ll go for a downloading of Khoo’s film and do come back whenever you have any info for other links.
Thanks for the list Law. I watch a lot of Asian films and when it comes to Singapore, my only knowledge are Asian performers who go to Singapore to perform, drama and music shows. I think part of the problem for me is that most of what I find easily available tend to be Japanese, Korean, China/HK/Taiwan, Filipino and Thai cinema and when it comes to Singapore, it’s usually drama, variety or music shows that I tend to find.
Zach: Haha, it’s because Singapore is cinematically not even on the map except for Eric Khoo’s efforts at Cannes. Besides, we aren’t even really on a geographical map. Just a dot.
JR: Unfortunately I do not. But I think I’ll try and up 12 Storeys for the next South East Asian manager. ;)
Dimitris: Few of them are available online and probably about half of the feature films made in Singapore will never come out on DVD. I admit to being more biased than I would have liked to be.
KNDY: Haha, it’s because we only have drama, variety and music shows with little cinema. Hopefully this will change.
And that should be Flooding in the Time of Drought. Sorry Mr. Ong!
Law, could you post links to the films that can be, that you know of? or message them to me?
JP, I don’t really know any links but I do know that all four of Eric Khoo’s films, some Royston Tan films and Singapore Dreaming are on KG.
Invisibile City can be found at Objectifs Films
I Not Stupid and Singapore Dreaming can be found at Sinema Old School
And while we are advertising, do remember to pick up the two excellent Singapore Shorts DVDs from the Asian Film Archive, along with your order of Malaysian New Wave and Dang Nhat Minh films.
Found more links on the internet!
Be With MeHereFlooding in the Time of DroughtWhite DaysIn the House of Straw
Saw half of Flooding in the Time of Drought during the Singapore Biennale 2008. Not really sure whether it was the flood or the drought portion. Haven’t seen White Days and In the House of Straw. Hope they become available soon!
Awesome guys, thank you!
Daffy, I saw half of Drought at the Biennale and then saw the full film later. In any case though, Flood and Drought are actually surprisingly similar.
White Days was at SIFF.
Also, I attached trailers to many of these films at a list on Singaporean cinema, if anyone wants a sneak preview of them.
I’m really interested in these films. Wish more of them were available on DVD.
I just watched Be With Me, the only Singaporean movie I could find on DVD. It’s good. The main storyline works better than the other two, which sometimes feel a little predictable (loner/stalker; young lost love) and sometimes felt like an excuse to fill up the time. Also, up against the main storyline, the other two really do seem inconsequential and not very interesting. The main story is about a deaf and blind woman, Theresa Chan played by herself, and about her very mundane life (though the miraculous is in the mundane, at least for her). It is a beautiful story, and I wish the other parts didn’t distract from it so much, though i am interested in how the elements of fiction interact with the documentary aspects of the film as well. I liked the fictional parts about the young man who goes shopping with her, and the father of the young man who is a shop owner and whose wife recently died.
Glad you liked it Jimmy. I agree that one of the most interesting part of film is the mesh of documentary and fiction and how Khoo uses it to establish a kind of universality for his themes, however… let me just ctrl+c what I wrote previously over. "This film seems to be a documentary, with Theresa Chan and Elizabeth Choy undeniably “real” people. Yet the storyline around the former and the other two stories are fictional, presenting a kind of mind twisting problem when approaching the film, regarding the relation between fiction and reality. Nevertheless, Khoo cooly (I’m sorry!) plays it off by tying everything back to his main ideas, implying that in all realities, destiny and hope are driving forces in our lives. I don’t know if I agree."
In a special feature, he and his screenwriter clearly stated that they wanted the film to be about hope and destiny (and of course about love and longing).
Hey ‘LAW’. Was pointed in this direction by BT. Nice to see a write-up from you on Singaporean cinema in 2000s. If anyone reads this, if there’s one film on that list that is an absolute must-watch – and if you’re looking for a Singapore film that could best serve as a primer on this country – it’s Tan Pin Pin’s “Invisible City”. It’s possibly the only masterpiece made in Singapore since the ‘resurgence’ of its film industry. As DAFFY has pointed out, you can get it at Objectifs Films. See also Ho Tzu Nyen’s “Earth” if you get the chance. It won’t get much play at festivals because of its awkward running length (40+ mins), but it did show at the last Venice Film Festival. A Singaporean myself, I had to watch it at a Singapore Art Show with the sides cut off. The cloistered view of Singaporeans within their own country (as it is I suppose in every other respective national perspective) is given a shock to the system as ‘the world’, i.e. ‘Singapore’, is represented through a cosmic lens. Various archetypes of Singaporean society lay their bodies down on a constructed set – of which they will remain stationary for most of the film – with food and electronic equipment littered over them and a towering tree at its apex. Light comes and goes, as does rock music, momentarily awakening some of the ‘inhabitants’.
Thanks to DAFFY again for putting up links to films from 13 Little Pictures. The phrase ‘new wave’ has been thrown around a lot in the Singapore film industry ever since the arrival of Eric Khoo (who has made significant contributions to its development, but has however been both over-valued by non-Singaporeans as well as under-valued by locals). The government saw it fit to officially announce it’s advent when Anthony Chen and Boo Junfeng started winning awards for their short films a few years ago. Thus, the limelight – at least locally – has been stolen away from the filmmakers who have come to deserve it the most – Daniel Hui, Liao Jiekai, Looi Wan Ping, Chris Yeo and Sherman Ong. Their films have been presented at festivals in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Rotterdam but the press didn’t deem it necessary to report such things. But this is a minor issue. It was nice when an important film like “Here” premiered at the Quinzaine des Realisateurs in Cannes and it got CNA coverage and everything, but when the film played locally, there wasn’t any form of real consideration of the film. I suppose it was because it didn’t win anything. Though even award-winners such as Chen’s and Boo’s films have never been taken seriously outside of being ‘cultural landmarks’, nothing more. The history of Singaporean art has been a collection of little side notes. The problem is not only the lack of active consideration of works, but also the lack of desire for these types of information. There are currently a few e-magazines on Singaporean cinema in the works. Who are they for? I think that’s the question we’ve got to pay attention to as this development of Singapore film criticism progresses.
Final word, in reply to LAW and JIMMY on “Be With Me” – after Pedro Costa, I see little need for discussing the relationship between fiction and documentary. There is the truth of cinema (and its searching), and then there are its lies. There is no clear line, of course. To go back to “Be With Me”, I would say that the ‘friction’ within the Theresa Chan segments is unimportant and that these segments are where the film’s truths can be found, while the stories revolving around the security guard and the two teenage lesbian lovers are where its untruths lie. It should matters little to us that Khoo partially fictionalized her story, unless you can believe that Chan, as an actress, isn’t projecting herself in her scenes. Aren’t we constantly projecting ourselves and our ideas of ourselves in life and in cinema? Does the difference, if indeed there is, come from whether a camera is pointed at you or if you’re restricted within controlled environments? “Restricted within controlled environments” – doesn’t that sound a lot like life? I hope I don’t sound too aggressive. I look forward to your replies.
Vive le cinema de Singapourien!
Forgive me, I meant to say, “after Pedro Costa AND Looi Wan Ping, I see little need for discussing the relationship between fiction and documentary.”
- “Aren’t we constantly projecting ourselves and our ideas of ourselves in life and in cinema? (additions from here) Aren’t we all actors? Why shouldn’t we already accept, with no reservations, that there is truth in fiction?”
- “restricted within controlled environments” – e.g. being an actor on a set of a film with a story and being having your performance shaped by the director.
- Question that should be addressed in this line of conversation: Is subjective or objective truth more important?
- Recommendation to follow with this: “In the House of Straw” or the films of Jacques Rivette.
Lung Chieh, thank you for the interesting post. I must admit this thread came out in a haste 2 months ago as a response to another thread called “American Films that Define the 2000s”, which I found kind of ridiculous hence the birth of this one. So yeah… erm… BT etc. should be condemning the swifty and rather shallow write-ups. If I knew you all would stumble upon here, I would have wrote many more interesting things – but I do hope that more gain awareness of the existence the great stuff 13 Little Pictures has been putting out.
An interesting anectode – I recently got dissed by my media studies teacher for admiring the long take aesthetic too much. He deemed that if I made something that way it would be too derivative. Perhaps I kind of agree… but at least it shows that the gang of you are influential on this naive viewer, regardless of how bad this influence might be.
Incidentally, I was thinking of starting a thread about 13 Little Pictures, but I guess the bias would be too obvious.
(And now I should begin to anticipate a lengthy lung chieh post about how we’re all biased and everything is relative. :p)
(And I apologise again to Sherman Ong for continuously messing up his film’s title. I really really like the title.)
(3rd one. I would love to hear you expound on Rivette someday. He is one of those filmmakers that I really like but yet feel like I don’t understand his work and am instead constantly grasping in the dark.)
“It was nice when an important film like “Here” premiered at the Quinzaine des Realisateurs in Cannes and it got CNA coverage and everything, but when the film played locally, there wasn’t any form of real consideration of the film. I suppose it was because it didn’t win anything.”
If you happen to be visiting Singapore, there is a Spotlight on NUS Alumni Filmmakers event at the National University of Singapore (NUS) on 13 Mar, 2pm to 9pm where they’ll be screening Flooding in the Time of Drought and White Days for free!
Check out this link for more details!
“I recently got dissed by my media studies teacher for admiring the long take aesthetic too much. He deemed that if I made something that way it would be too derivative. Perhaps I kind of agree… but at least it shows that the gang of you are influential on this naive viewer, regardless of how bad this influence might be.” – no offense, but your media studies teacher is a jackass. If you went to my film school and listened to what your lecturers told you when they criticized your film, you’d end up making films you hate. I’ve seen it happen all too often. Don’t let it bother you. Of course, he may be just trying to guide you, but try to filter what your mentors say. Then again, I didn’t listen to my lecturers and made the film I wanted and hated it anyway! But at least I was at the helm of it. Just try different things, things that you like, then maybe in future you’d wanna be adventurous and change your artistic direction. The most important thing you should learn is to have fun when you make a film. That’s what I learned from the 13LP guys.
“And now I should begin to anticipate a lengthy lung chieh post about how we’re all biased and everything is relative. :p” – dude… you’re pushing me. I could then say, in continuation to my previous reply, that “Control and influences come from everywhere. Don’t trust anyone! Not even yourself!”
“3rd one. I would love to hear you expound on Rivette someday. He is one of those filmmakers that I really like but yet feel like I don’t understand his work and am instead constantly grasping in the dark.” – I think it’s perfectly fine if we don’t understand what or who we like, especially for Rivette, where the mystery in his films is pretty much half the point, and is perhaps isn’t even fully within his reach, which is what makes them so… romantic. I tend to love filmmakers I feel I don’t fully understand or have yet to fully grasp. I recently felt that way with “Le Streghe, femme entre elles”. Saw it at the AFI Fest in LA and couldn’t restrain myself from applauding in a largely grumbling, confounded audience – my proud, shameless cinephilic moment of 2009.
DAFFY, good on you. Those reading this, even if you’re against Singapore cinema (shame on you), the NUS Arts Festival will begin its film screenings with four short films from across Asia, works ranging from Hong Sang-soo to Apichatpong Weerasethakul. I’m not even an NUS student and I’m promoting this. I should be paid for this.
Eric Khoo also did Mee Pok Man, right? Haven’t seen any of his other films but liked that one quite a bit. Is the rest of his work as good?
Yes, he did. In my opinion, I think all of his films are good to a certain degree. The Theresa Chan segments in “Be With Me” are the best work he’s ever done. It’s a shame that the rest of the film is also his worst work.
The thing is, whatever doubts there are of Khoo and his films from local audiences and pundits is not entirely undeserved (but that doesn’t mean I stand by these criticisms). What makes him problematic is that he always creates his narratives around characters from the lower and lower-middle class, shapes them around commonly-known local stereotypes (which are actually approved by his naysayers in real life, that is until they watch a Khoo film) and romanticizes and universalizes their situations in what seems to be a conscious attempt to skirt the serious issues of our country that his films only dare flirt with. It also hurts his integrity that he is part of the wealthiest family in Singapore and that he’s well-known to be a Tarantino-esque kind of film buff i.e. maddeningly obsessive, especially when it comes to cheap exploitative genre films (he recently opened a new production house called Gorylah Pictures and has produced an Indonesian gore flick entitled “Darah” aka “Macabre” (international title)).
Of course, all these are just fodder to feed unfounded negative speculations, despite how sound these speculations may be. To subscribe to such ideas about him would be to discount what makes his work worthwhile. His character work may border on caricature, but his commitment as an observer of Singapore society is unique. In the Singapore feature-film industry, only Khoo and Jack Neo have been actively presenting us with socio-political perspectives on our country. Everyone else avoids dealing with such issues (with exceptions to be made for “Singapore Dreaming” and some short films like Sun Koh’s incredibly articulate “Dirty Bitch”). It may be a bit of a stretch, but it is my belief that they are both criticized because of the very fact that they deal with these issues at all (whether or not they are presented accurately is another thing). Ong Sor Fern, Singapore leading film critic (leading, because we only have one major newspaper) has insensitively labeled Khoo’s latest film, “My Magic”, as ‘gutter glamour’, which I believe says more about her than Khoo’s film. It is safe to say that most of the Singaporean bourgeoisie could care less to see a film about the unrecognized, marginalized people of our country. However, Jack Neo’s films make tons and tons of cash here. Why is that? It’s because he panders to the common Singaporean obsession of money, even while he pretends to criticize it.
There is this common perception in Singapore that Khoo’s films are ‘depressing’, ‘hopeless’, and ‘ugly’ – which is true of his short films and his first two features, “Mee Pok Man” and “12 Storeys”, but not of “Be With Me”, “No Day Off” and “My Magic”. Maybe they’re just blinded by his ‘dull photography’ in drab locations, which I think is actually rather luminous and sensual. (Admittedly, it has become somewhat of a trend in Singapore cinema… A discussion for another time.) In all his films, his (poor) characters display a yearning for (supposedly) unattainable love and compassion. But as his narcissistic indulgence in anger as the only outlet for social expression – present in his early films – fade away, his more recent films have begun to embrace the tender ironies of relationships. Is it all that wrong to show people yearning for love, losing love, loving deeply? The pure compassion that his characters exude at times can and should be considered a political act, especially in the growing age of cynicism. It is also admirable of Khoo that he has progressed in his depiction of ‘the others’, moving away from pity and sympathy towards empathy. It’ll be interesting to see what Singaporeans say when a film like “Precious” plays here. It’ll be sheer hypocrite hysteria if they praise it ‘cause everything critical that people around the world have been saying of “Precious” sounds very similar to what Singaporeans say of Eric Khoo’s films.
Ong Sor Fern, Singapore leading film critic (leading, because we only have one major newspaper)
Not really true as we also have a Chinese newspaper “Lianhe Zaobao” besides “Straits Times”. There are many qualified film critics at “Lianhe Zaobao” like Kong Kam Yoke and Wong Lung Hsiang too. I prefer reading their articles than Ong Sor Fern’s reviews as I find that they are very well written!
Haha that’s true. Unfortunately, I’m one of those Singaporeans who are completely unable to read Chinese. I’ve heard many sing the praises of the Zaobao critics. I only wish I could understand what they were saying! DAFFY, care to provide some translated excerpts?
However, amongst the English-language publications, Ong is (rather unfortunately) our ‘leading’ film critic. Unless you count Whang Yee-Ling (I might be wrong, but I kinda remember her plagiarizing some reviews I read elsewhere), Ong’s fellow Straits Times writers (might as well be writing fanboy columns on the net), and the First magazine writers (not worth commenting on). To me, the best local writer on film in the English language was Ben Slater, who used to write for the local edition of Time Out magazine. And he’s from the UK.
A note on plagiarism in Singapore: I once read an article on Sasha Grey in VIP magazine (Singapore’s Playboy) which was completely ripped off from Rolling Stone. How do they get away with this shit? Somebody should sue.
Below is an excerpt that I copied from a movie review book written by 庄永康 who is an experienced Zaobao critic. See item 15 here
It compares Jack Neo and Eric Khoo and explains how both of them contribute to Singapore Cinema in their own ways.
Wanted to used Google Translate to translate the piece but the result was terrible!
Let me summarize what he wrote in my own words.
Eric Khoo is rich and trained in film schools but Jack Neo is a long-time artiste with a lot of life experience. So, it is not surprising that their film styles differ. Jack’s films may lack the thinking behind Eric’s films but its realism is something that Eric’s films cannot match.
Eric can learn from Bergman and Kieslowski while Jack can learn from the comedic style of Michael Hui. Each can contribute to Singapore Cinema in his own way.
Hmmm. Interesting… Not exactly sufficient evidence of this writer’s brilliance. Have to read more of his/her stuff to judge. Thanks for putting this up though!