We all watch movies to be entertained. These 10 local films can do not just that, but also shed light on the Singapore experience. It’s time to #supportlocal and promote Singapore works that are flying the flag high here and internationally.
From a rowdy, raucous take on young local gangsters and their inner demons to a light-hearted and funny film about national service, these films represent slices of Singapore life you would find relevant, endearing, and though-provoking.
1. 15 (2003)
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.
2. APPRENTICE (2016)
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, professional 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.
3. 12 STOREYS (1997)
Eric Khoo’s second feature film and the first Singaporean film to be screened at Cannes, 12 Storeys is set in an HDB flat and narrates the ordinary yet repressed lives of everyday Singaporeans, such as soup vendor Ah Gu who has trouble pacifying his materialistic “China bride”.
The film also follows a suicidal lady who constantly hears the ghost of her mother, an elder brother with his hands full taking care of his rebellious siblings, and a ghost of a young man who observes the stories of the same HDB block.
If you ever felt isolated or alienated in this urban jungle, watching this film will let you know you’re not alone.
4. MEE POK MAN (1995)
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.
5. ILO ILO (2013)
The first Singaporean film to win an award at the Cannes Film Festival, Ilo Ilo follows a family and their domestic helper, Teresa, as they go through life in 1997 Singapore.
Teresa finds a footing in the family, and grows closer to the young son, but the mother’s jealousy and a worsening financial situation soon threaten everything.
Ilo Ilo effectively and honestly portrays life in the heartlands in the 1990s, particularly on the growing power of material wealth and how the allure and lack of it affects everyone in the small family.
Told with flair and touching simplicity, Ilo Ilo signals the arrival of a major talent in director Anthony Chen.
Find here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JHBC4YI
6. SINGAPORE DREAMING (2006)
What is the meaning of life here? Singapore Dreaming, directed by Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh (of talkingcock.com fame), is a light-hearted movie that asks serious questions by following a typical Singaporean working-class family who are caught up in their dreams about the 5 Cs (cash, car, condo, credit card, country club) and the harsh reality that they live in.
A must-watch as well as one of the easier movies to follow.
Well, even former President S.R. Nathan liked it (he said in a Straits Times article that “it is life in its reality”).
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyPOMWsnoBs
7. ARMY DAZE (1996)
Before the Ah Boys to Men franchise there was Army Daze, a hilarious and down-to-earth take on the rite of passage young Singaporean men have to go through.
A more well-rounded take featuring characters of different racial backgrounds compared to its modern successor, this movie, directed by Ong Keng Sen holds up surprisingly well even after two decades.
Watch this if you’re looking for laughs and also a throwback to simpler times.
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JL1jJL0zUDo
8. 7 LETTERS (2015)
Comprised of seven short stories celebrating Singapore’s 50th birthday, this bundle of cinematic treats feature the works of Jack Neo, Boo Junfeng, Eric Khoo, K. Rajagopal, Kelvin Tong, Royston Tan and Tan Pin Pin.
The plot goes from lonely strangers sharing a moment of rapport through food to a woman going to Malaysia to find the birth mother of her adopted daughter.
Poignant, thought-provoking and relevant, 7 Letters is ultimately a love letter to the themes of lost love, identity, folklore and family.
9. POP AYE (2017)
This indie spectacle by 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.
10. SANDCASTLE (2010)
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.
Find here: https://boojunfeng.com/buy/
This article was first published in Her World Online .