SINGAPORE- For a brief moment, it looked as if Singapore would have an English-language film culture to call its own.
That there is even a film industry in existence today, many would say, is thanks largely to the 1996 comedy phenomenon Army Daze, a hit that earned $1.6 million on a $700,000 budget.
Those ringing cash registers sent a message: Local films in English hold an appeal for the home crowd, or at least pose no barrier to box-office success.
Two years later, in 1998, that faith was put to the test. Four local films would be released, namely Teenage Textbook, Tiger's Whip, Forever Fever and Money No Enough. Of these, only one, Money, was not primarily in English. However, the comedy starring Jack Neo in his first feature role would be the odd one out in more ways than one, by being the best performer at the box office by ringing up $6.02 million, more money than all the other three combined.
It would be a sign of things to come.
Since that time, the near misses and outright flops make for dismal reading. Here is a sampling of films that feature Singaporean characters speaking mainly in English: Teenage Textbook (1998, estimated budget $500,000; Singapore box office $680,000), Chicken Rice War (2000, $880,000; $400,000), Gone Shopping (2007, $650,000; $28,000), The Leap Years (2008, $3 million; $1 million); Kallang Roar The Movie (2008, $1 million; $93,000) and The Blue Mansion (2009, $2.8 million; $192,000).
The sputtering flame sparked by Army Daze looks to be finally extinguished, if the number of local productions is anything to go by.
By 2011, for example, there were no mainstream feature films with Singaporean characters speaking mostly in English. It was the same in 2012.
Last year saw three local works in English, comprising two micro-budget documentaries Menstrual Man (which played only at non-mainstream venue The Arts House) and I Hugged The Berlin Patient, and Ken Kwek's controversy-plagued black comedy Sex.Violence.FamilyValues.
However, the comedies Taxi! Taxi!, Ah Boys To Men 2 and the Cannes Camera d'Or- and Golden Horse-winning drama Ilo Ilo by Anthony Chen all incorporate a significant amount of English dialogue within a mostly Mandarin story.