Celebrating 50 years of Singapore cinema

Celebrating 50 years of Singapore cinema

MOVIE audiences generally love a happy ending and you could say there's one in sight for the local film industry.

After years of trying to stage a comeback, 2014 proved to be a bumper year (by Singapore standards) with 18 releases. That output meant an average of three made-in-Singapore movies every two months and 2015 looks set to make a bigger impact with 22 films already announced for release.

It's something that will remind local audiences of the heady days of the 50s,60s and 70s when the likes of Cathay and Shaw ran studio operations here and made films for the region with stars such as P Ramlee, as well as comedy duo Wang Sa and Ye Fong.

Home video and piracy all but killed the industry after the 80s but for this jubilee year SG50, Cathay is making a comeback with a one-off special production - the star-studded, Our Sister Mambo - to celebrate the occasion as well as to pay tribute to the local film industry.

Before that is released later this year, here are some essential works through the decades that have been milestones in Singapore cinema.

Pontianak (1957)

Before the Thais and Japanese dominated the horror genre, Cathay and Shaw were pumping out films inspired by Malay vampire folklore. The 1957 film, simply titled Pontianak, started the craze, spawned a trilogy and numerous copycat movies. It also turned director BN Rao, actress Maria Menado and comedian SM Wahid into household names.

Saint Jack (1979)

Though not technically a local film, Saint Jack - based on Paul Theroux's 1973 novel of the same name and about a pimp working in Singapore - was the first Hollywood production to be shot on location here. Local audiences however never got to watch it until 2006 when the ban was lifted. Today, of course, it's become more common to see the Singapore skyline in various Hollywood films, including two upcoming ones - sci-fi romance, Equals, starring Kristen Stewart; and the big-screen adaptation of video game, Hitman: Agent 47.

Medium Rare (1992)

Based on the story of notorious Toa Payoh serial killer Adrian Lim, Medium Rare marked the revival of the local film industry during the 90s although it was a box-office failure, partly because the dialogue was in English. From then, budding filmmakers realised making a movie in that language is risky business.

Mee Pok Man (1995)

Eric Khoo, the pioneer of local arthouse films, made his full-length feature debut with this drama about unrequited love. It was the first Singapore film to tour overseas film festivals - a tradition for almost every other film Khoo has made since.

Money No Enough (1998)

Comedian Jack Neo crossed over from television to the big screen with Money No Enough, a bawdy comedy that featured so many different dialects it was as if the national Speak Mandarin campaign never existed.

No other filmmaker speaks the everyday language of the heartlanders better than Neo and when it comes to local films, he's established himself as a box-office champ.

The Maid (2005)

Genre-bending writer-director Kelvin Tong has had a few hits and misses in his career but this horror flick became his first commercially successful film.

The ex-journalist will be returning to the genre with the upcoming The Faith of Anna Waters, his first foray into Hollywood.

881 (2007)

Arthouse filmmaker Royston Tan scored a box-office hit with this musical drama about an ill-fated pair of getai performers. The genre has become a favourite with the number-obsessed writer-director, who followed up with 2008's slightly heavier, 12 Lotus; and is in the midst of filming 3688, about a parking warden who's obsessed with the late Taiwanese songbird, Feng Fei Fei.

Ilo Ilo (2013)

The first Singapore film to ever win at the Cannes Film Festival; as well as a Golden Horse Best Film award, beating the likes of works by Chinese cinema heavyweights Johnnie To, Wong Kar Wai, Jia Zhang-ke and Tsai Ming-liang. Enough said.

This article was first published on January 2, 2015.
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