Anthony Chen’s film addresses a topic that Singaporeans of all ages hold very close to their heart: The relationship that exists between a domestic helper and the children of the family that they look after. Ilo Ilo is about a family who is facing financial collapse in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis trying to hold on to their jobs to stay afloat, as well as deal with their misbehaving son.
Directed by Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen, this Singaporean husband-and-wife duo was inspired to create this film based on hundreds of emails the couple received from Singaporeans about their life stories and attempts to achieve the Singaporean Dream of wealth and influence. In the film, a working-class family struggles for a better life against the harsh realities that prevent them from reaching their dream.
Singapore’s seven most illustrious directors gathered their creative storytelling and filmmaking talents in a one-of-a-kind project celebrating Singapore’s 50th year. In it, they each present their individual views of Singapore and how growing up in the city-state has influenced their lives and careers.
The Songs We Sang
Released in 2015, The Songs We Sang is a documentary about Xinyao, a style of Singaporean folk music that was popular in the 1980s. Director Eva Tang hopes that the younger generation will remember a period of history in Singapore where the diaspora of Chinese youths found a place to vent their feelings of displacement and disenchantment.
This film was released two decades ago and is still relatable to young men in Singapore today, and will provide insight on the National Service system, especially how it’s viewed by those who must join it. The film features an economically and culturally diverse group of six young men entering National Service and their experiences with the army.
Army Daze is amusing, but Forever Fever is really a fully fledged comedy. The comedy, starring Adrian Pang, is about a grocery store employee who idolizes Bruce Lee. In an improbable turn of events, his life goal of owning a motorbike is dictated by his performance in a dance competition.
The second feature film of Eric Khoo and the first Singaporean film to be screened at Cannes. Regarded as the most important film ever made in Singapore, the film is a realistic commentary of the ordinary tragic lives of everyday Singaporeans living, literally and figuratively, in a pigeonhole.
The musical-comedy-drama is about the unique Getai culture of Singapore. After being blessed with phenomenal singing voices by the Goddess of Getai, two friends are transformed into the hottest acts on the Getai circuit. They end up attracting the wrong kind of attention and must fight to keep their title. Though sometimes ridiculous, this feature film is full of heart and sidesplitting laughs.
For a raw taste of Singapore’s underbelly, particularly of its youth gangs, this cult favourite from Singapore filmmaker Royston Tan is a must-watch. Featuring (then) real-life gangsters, 15 is a striking and realistic portrayal of a side of local life you may not be familiar with but is nevertheless still Singapore. With Hokkien tunes and stylistic shots of early 2000s Singapore, this is certainly a film that will keep you on edge. Loosely plotted, 15 follows the gangsters’ interactions with a modernising Singapore as well as altercations with some of their more educated counterparts.
Released to rave reviews and screened to a standing ovation at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Apprentice was also selected as the Singaporean entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards. Touching closely on Singapore’s death penalty, director Boo Junfeng infused visuals that are thematically complex without compromising the story, which remains a personal one with several broader messages such as how to reconcile guilt, professi, nal duty and personal vendetta. Catch this for a thought-provoking story with fantastic acting by local actors such as Fir Rahman, who plays the titular apprentice learning the ropes from a seasoned hangman and whose past returns to haunt him just as he earns the trust of his superior.
Mee Pok Man
This vibrant debut feature of Eric Khoo follows a noodles seller and a prostitute, who fall in love as things got bizarre – without spoiling anything, there is necrophilia, some violence, and tons of disillusionment and naive aspirations. Still a favourite among film buffs today, Mee Pok Man is timeless in its themes: Consumerism, food, sex, love, and alienation.
This indie spectacle by Great Women Of Our Time 2017 Arts & Media nominee, Kirsten Tan, follows a disillusioned architect reuniting with his long-lost elephant companion in Bangkok. The movie follows their experiences as he tries to bring it back to their rural hometown. A journey of self-discovery, Pop Aye not only entertains but also comforts and moves. If you’re feeling jaded, watch this.
A coming-of-age story, Boo Junfeng’s debut feature film Sandcastle sees a young man forced to come to terms with new-found knowledge about the past, and what it means for the future. It also explores his life experiences, such as his first romance and his grandmother’s worsening Alzheimer’s disease. It won Best Feature Film and Best Director at the Vietnam International Film Festival, and was the first Singaporean film to be screened at the International Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival.
This post was updated on August 12, 2019.