Crazy Rich Asians
It was another 25 years before Hollywood saw its first all-Asian cast in a blockbuster (the first was The Joy Luck Club), and almost never has a Western movie featured Singapore on this scale. The romantic comedy achieved many milestones and surprised pundits with its success, even if it raised as many issues about representation and authenticity. From the iconic Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay, to the touristy Newton Food Centre and enigmatic Cathedral of the Good Shepherd at Chijmes, this celluloid picture-perfect brochure helped push visitor arrivals by 6.2 per cent and spending to $27.1 billion.
Independence Day: Resurgence
Never have we been happier to see our country being destroyed along with other world greats. Director Roland Emmerich picked Singapore for our “very attractive and famous skyline”, to be destroyed by aliens in his epic action-thriller. The landmark chosen to join Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty was once again, Marina Bay Sands, with even a feature on some promo posters! As these monuments get zapped and burned in terrestrial fire, there is an oddly satisfying quality to see something that is at our doorstep being targeted, especially in a massive Hollywood hit.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Okay we added this one for the cheek of it. Even though it didn’t feature a “real Singapore”, we can’t help but giggle when Chow Yan Fatt stepped out to greet Hector Barbossa with a lordly, “Welcome to Singapore”. The memes that the pirate Sao Feng generated locally deserves a mention here. Plus, his wife is Singaporean okay?
While the rest needs no introduction, the first shot-in-Singapore Hollywood honour belongs to this seedy 1979 title that was even banned in Singapore until 2006! The reason — the story subject of an American pimp who opens a brothel at the colourful streets of Bugis. Yes, before all the bargain clothes and street eats, Bugis was popular with visiting foreign soldiers who loved their ladies (and some men) of the night. As you can imagine, the story and film, directed by Peter Bogdanovich, did not sit well with our local board, but they can never take away this film’s claim.
The late David Bowie actually made time to stroll around our shores during his 1983 tour for a little-known documentary called Ricochet. Made during his exploration through Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, it was directed by Gerry Troyna and featured an uncensored look at the legend’s exploration of our isle. From talking to a cabbie about the chewing gum ban, to watching an Chinese opera performance, to drifting endlessly in Far East Plaza on its escalators, the scenes are a textural trippy vision of the singer’s thoughts about a “somewhat alienating” land.
Hitman: Agent 47
Based on the video games, Hitman: Agent 47 stars British actor Rupert Friend as the super-soldier agent hunting down the geneticist who had a hand in creating him. His search leads him to Singapore. Also starring Zachary Quinto and Angelababy, the 2015 action-thriller is sadly mostly panned by critics, but if you’re looking at an exciting car chase in our CBD, this one’s for you! Shot along Robinson Road and McCallum Street, the recognisable streets play out an epic shootout between the blocks and even gave Rupert the first honour of being the first civilian who’s legally allowed to fire a gun here. Featured more peacefully, are Changi Airport, Chinatown, Central ITE, and yes, again, Gardens by the Bay. Its director Aleksander Bach said he was drawn to Singapore by the stunning backdrop afforded by Gardens by the Bay.
It’s funny how the filming for this 2015 dystopian-romance movie ninja-ed its way in and out of Singapore without much fanfare. The tale is of a futuristic society who eschews emotions for order, and follows a couple played by Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult as they go against the rules after being infected by a disease. More interestingly, because the producer didn’t want any recognisable landmarks as it is a fictional world, instead of Marina Bay Sands, we see unusual locations such as One-North MRT station, a Harbourfront condominium, Henderson Waves, Botanic Gardens and the Marina Barrage. The look they were going for was “a Zen-like palette and futuristic-looking”. Nice!
The Faith of Anna Waters
Renamed as The Offering for the American release, the 2016 film, which is directed by local director Kelvin Tong, stars American actors Elizabeth Rice and Matthew Settle and local actors such as Adrian Pang, Tan Kheng Hua, Jaymee Ong and Pamelyn Chee, so that’s some extra injection there! The story tells of an American journalist who travels to Singapore to investigate the mysterious suicide of her sister and involves elements of possession and exorcism. We can’t lie — this supernatural thriller is pretty bad plus it takes place mainly in a colonial house that few of us in Singapore really live in, but the vignettes at the HDB flats and Chinatown does add some flavour that may still be interesting to watch for some.
The incomparable Ewan McGregor acts as British Nick Leeson, an investment broker who bankrupts the British Barings bank with his shenanigans. Based on a true story, we get to see the forbidding side of Singapore when the character not only moves here as part of his work (he was general manager of the trading floor on the SIMEX exchange), but later — when he attempts to escape back to London — gets extradited here to be held in jail. This is why we get to see not only Ocean Towers at Raffles Place and Raffles Hotel in the 1999 movie but rare shots from Changi Prison as well. Psst, the real Nick Leeson was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in jail here, but was released in 1999 after he got diagnosed with colon cancer. He survived.
In The Mood For Love
Not mentioned as often, Wong Kar Wai actually had his characters move between countries, including Singapore, during his film. To escape the painful longing, Tony Leung’s journalist relocates to our island to join Sin Chew Jit Poh. This eventually leads to a gorgeous scene that plays out among palm trees with folk song Bengawan Solo drifting in the background. Like Wong’s many films, his locations are surreal backdrops and Singapore in its abstract form is done justice by the talented artist. We are mentioned again in his loose sequel to the film, 2046. Wong is now working on Blossoms, a follow-up to the two romantic feature films.
Unlike the earlier title, this 2000 Hong Kong production fully plunges into the heart of modern-day Singapore, by giving us a thrilling car chase through Boat Quay and a speedboat flying down the Singapore River. The film follows a young computer programmer Peter, who upon the death of his brother Greg (who turned out to be a CIA agent), discovers a clandestine scheme to wreak havoc throughout Asia with a Y2K computer bug. It stars Aaron Kwok and Daniel Wu, but local stars such as Phyllis Quek, James Lye and Cynthia Koh also make an appearance. The film even starts with a plane being shot down from our skies and Suntec City being the venue for the showdown.
A Place Further Than The Universe
Disclaimer: This is an anime! But more so than the other titles in this list, it literally visits our island from a tourist perspective and makes candid observations that are cute and wry at the same time! We follow four girls on their trip to Singapore, and watch them visit the Merlion (complete with silly poses), shop through Ion and Wheelock Place, tuck in to hawker food at Maxwell Market, and even reacting to durian at Geylang West. It’s frilly yes, but oh so watchable to view our country from another perspective.
(Text: Morgan Awyong / Additional reporting: Natalya Molok)