SINGAPORE- If 2013 was packed with must-watch concerts, plays and blockbuster movies, 2014 is set to offer even more to entertain. From pop-culture sensation Stefanie Sun's newest Mandopop album to achingly hip interior design on display from Parisian trade show Maison & Objet, the new year has something for every taste.
The first quarter starts with the release of local film-maker Jack Neo's new blockbuster movie, The Lion Men, hot on the heels of his box-office record-breaking moneyspinner Ah Boys To Men. For the arthouse film crowd, however, the project to watch is Yellow Flowers. Director Glenn Goei has roped in playwright Haresh Sharma and cinematographer Christopher Doyle for his new project.
Live big-ticket events include Grammy Award-winning singer Bruno Mars' first concert in Singapore, an epic eight-hour play, A Dream Like A Dream, from iconic Taiwanese writer-director Stan Lai and a new indie music festival, Hostess Club Weekender, which will bring in top-notch acts such as melancholic American rocksters The National and melodic Icelandic singer Asgeir.
The Singapore International Film Festival makes a comeback, as does a revamped Singapore International Arts Festival, with big-name international ensembles brought in to reverse the declining attendance of previous years.
The rebooted national arts festival, which took a break this year, has one more string to its bow in the new year: It will use the refurbished premises of the Victoria Concert Hall and Theatre. The promise of a peek at the buildings, closed since 2010 for a nine-figure sum makeover, might well tip the balance for many local viewers.
1 BRUNO MARS THE MOONSHINE JUNGLE TOUR
American singer Bruno Mars came out of nowhere three years ago to become a Grammy award-winning and chart-topping pop act.
Mixing classic genres such as soul, rock, funk and reggae and giving them a contemporary twist, he is one of those rare artists whose music is appreciated by both young and old listeners.
The 28-year-old, whose mother is Filipino and father half- Puerto Rican and half-Jewish, plays his first gig here on March 26 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Prior to the release of his 2010 debut album Doo-Wops & Hooligans, Mars was making his name as a songwriter, producer and guest singer of Top 10 pop hits for the likes of B.o.B and Travie McCoy.
Doo-Wops & Hooligans, featuring hit singles such as Just The Way You Are, Grenade and The Lazy Song, went on to sell six million copies and was nominated for seven awards at the Grammys in 2011 and last year, and won Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
His second and most recent album, Unorthodox Jukebox, was released late last year and had two No. 1 singles, Locked Out of Heaven and When I Was Your Man.
This is a gig to look out for because Mars is one hit machine whose music has substance and lasting appeal.
Where: Singapore Indoor Stadium
When: March 26, 8pm
Admission: $128, $168, $188, $268 and $328 from www.sportshubtix.sg, the box office at the Singapore Indoor Stadium admin office, SingPost outlets or call 6333-5000.
2 NEW ALBUM FROM STEFANIE SUN
The last time home-grown Mandopop star Stefanie Sun, 35, released an album, things were very different. For her, that is. It's Time came out in March 2011.
Two months later, the girl-next-door walked down the isle with her Dutch-Indonesian business executive beau, Mr Nadim van der Ros, 36. And in October last year, she gave birth to a baby boy.
Her next album will be her first as a wife and mother, and it will be interesting to see how, or if, that gets worked into her music.
For Singapore's arguably biggest Mandopop export with reported sales of more than 10 million albums, the question is also whether fans will continue to embrace her, and her music.
Given that she has always banked on her distinctive vocals and well-chosen material - as opposed to image above everything else - chances are good that Sun can continue to be a leading light in the Mandopop sphere.
The upcoming offering will also be her first under her new record label, Universal Music.
The record is tentatively slated for a release in February next year.
3 HOSTESS CLUB WEEKENDER
Independent music company Hostess Asia is beefing up Singapore's annual gig calendar with a new indie music festival on Feb 22.
Held at Fort Canning Park, Hostess Club Weekender, which is already a popular fixture in the Japanese gig calendar, boasts a stellar line-up of A-list indie bands, with veteran Scottish post-rockers Mogwai and American indie-popsters The National (above) headlining the event.
They will be joined by Icelandic acoustic folk-pop singer- songwriter Asgeir, teen London singer-songwriter King Krule (below) and Brooklyn-based musical duo Buke And Gase.
Hostess Club Weekender will add dynamism to the music festival scene in Singapore, which already has established music events such as the annual Laneway Festival Singapore, Big Night Out by LAMC Productions and the 10-day Mosaic Music Festival at the Esplanade.
With music fans spoilt for choice, the quality of acts brought in for such festivals can only get better amid competition.
Hopefully, the event will remain an annual staple in future, especially since the Esplanade has announced that next year will be Mosaic's swan song in its current form.
Where: Fort Canning Park
When: Feb 22 from 3pm
Admission: $118 from EventClique.com or $150 at the door
4 MAISON AND OBJET ASIA
The biggest design trade show in Paris, France finally lands on Singapore's shores in March - a year after building up hype for its inaugural Asian debut.
Industry watchers are anticipating that the arrival of the Maison & Objet Asia will lend French flair to the local design scene as it is considered a prime event at which to spot trends in interior design, home furnishings and lifestyle products.
The show, which is open to those who register or have been invited by the exhibitors or organisers, will be held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Center from March 10 to 13.
More than 150 exhibitors from around the world will be showing their wares and furniture across 6,500 sq m of exhibition space. Among the well-known names taking part are Belgian home fragrance producer Baobab Collection and French silverware company Christofle.
Much like the twice-yearly French version, Singapore will also get the show's fringe segments and events such as the Designer of the Year.
The yet-to-be-named designer will be selected from among top Asian candidates who have made a strong impression in their field of design.
There will also be the Talents a la Carte show, where emerging designers from Asia get a chance to show off their designs across various fields, from fragrances to furniture to lighting.
Going by the last Maison & Object held in Paris in September, which featured items such as Baby-foot Bonzini's foosball table (top) and Eno's Windrider Bicycle Clip (above left), visitors can definitely expect the French to bring the pomp and circumstance here too.
5 SINAGPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Next year will see the rebirth of the Singapore International Film Festival, a yearly event that went away in 2012 and, many thought, would never be seen again.
The most important reason to get excited about it is that the brand, founded in 1987, is known all over the film world and its resurrection is a victory not just for cineastes, but also for the nation's reputation as a centre for the arts.
It also stood as a bastion for artistic integrity, pushing the limits of free speech in film against the censors. And it helped move the goal posts - these days, the Media Development Authority gives artistic leeway to festival screenings, compared with commercial runs. For this, all other film festivals that have come after it owes it a debt of gratitude.
There is a prestige factor to owning the name "Singapore International". It denotes a national institution, one that carries the ambassadorial weight of a people and a culture to the world.
Under the stewardship of the experienced Yuni Hadi, 37, the festival director for next year who is also a producer on the critically acclaimed film Ilo Ilo, there is little doubt that the festival will do Singapore proud.
Strategically, Yuni, a former co-director of the festival, is in a good place. She has the backing of sponsors (Media Development Authority and Marina Bay Sands have pledged support). She is free of the baggage carried by the festivals' former management. She is poised to make the Singapore International Film Festival interesting but more importantly, relevant.
6 THE LION MEN, JACK NEO'S NEW FILM
The films of director Jack Neo (right) have mostly been box-office gold, but it was his national service two-parter Ah Boys To Men (2012, 2013) that shattered records. The first part earned $6.2 million, while the second made $7.9 million, making them the two highest-grossing local films of all time. In fact, Part 1's feat was the first time in 14 years that a local movie managed to unseat $6.02 million-earning Money No Enough (1998) from the No. 1 spot.
Can Neo's upcoming new flick, The Lion Men (above), fill Ah Boys' $7-million shoes? The new work, which will also be released in two parts, is about the friendships, rivalries and romances between two competing lion dance troupes.
The first film is slated for release on Jan 30 to coincide with the Chinese New Year season. The second movie does not have a confirmed release date yet.
Neo seems to know Ah Boys is a tough act to follow, let alone beat - he has cast that movie's breakout stars in The Lion Men. After all, the likes of Tosh Zhang, 24 (right), Wang Weiliang, 26 (far right), Noah Yap, 20, and Maxi Lim, 26, have amassed eager fan bases not unlike those for Korean pop stars.
All eyes will also be on the new film's young cast, which features 21 new faces. Will Neo be able to mint another coterie of stars out of his latest batch of newbies?
7 YELLOW FLOWERS
Former Wong Kar Wai collaborator Christopher Doyle is attached to the film as cinematographer. Award-winning local playwright Haresh Sharma is penning its screenplay, his first in 15 years. He co-wrote The Teenage Textbook Movie with Philip Lim and Edmund Tan in 1998.
Surely this upcoming new local movie is one to look out for.
Yellow Flowers, to be directed by Glen Goei (right, The Blue Mansion, 2009), is about a Chinese woman on death row for drug trafficking. Estranged from her son who refuses to visit her in prison, she soon develops an unlikely friendship with her would-be executioner.
Shooting is planned for the first half of the new year, with no release date scheduled as yet.
Sharma tells Life! that auditions for the cast are also underway. "It will be multi-lingual and so the we'll have to find actors to fit those characters," he says. He adds that Doyle has been giving "good feedback" on the script. "Chris has been here a few times and we've had discussions about the story, and it has been good to have comments from someone who has a film point of view."
Doyle - the Australian cinematographer known for filming In The Mood For Love (2000) and Happy Together (1997) - has also been scouting potential locations around Singapore to shoot the film, he says. The film will be produced by mm2 Entertainment and 13 Little Pictures.
8 VISIT VICTORIA CONCERT HALL AND THEATRE
When the refurbished Victoria Concert Hall and Theatre open to the public in August, they will revitalise the city centre and add much needed performing spaces for the arts.
The theatre will host arts productions during the six-week Singapore International Festival Of The Arts from Aug 12 to Sept 21. Details of the performances are yet to be confirmed.
While members of the public can walk around and appreciate the refurbishments, according to a spokesman for the National Arts Council, the venues will be used full-time only by early 2015. This is because of delays in construction, attributed to the extra care needed in renovating historical buildings.
Both the concert hall and the theatre are more than 150 years old and have been closed since late 2010 for a roughly $180-million makeover helmed by local firm W Architects.
Changes reportedly include reducing the number of seats in both buildings for better acoustics. The theatre will have only 600 seats in the theatre instead of 1,000, and the concert hall, 678 seats instead of 883.
The buildings were the premier venues for Singapore's performing arts from the 1970s until the opening of the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay in 2002.
Their closure has worsened the space crunch in Singapore's growing arts scene, where groups fight for space to rehearse and put on performances. Notably, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra had to relocate its offices to Battery Road and bid for alternative rehearsal space at the Esplanade, both of which upped the ensemble's annual budget.
9 STAN LAI'S A DREAM LIKE A DREAM
Hailed as a landmark Chinese language play in recent times, the eight-hour epic A Dream Like A Dream (right) by renowned Taiwanese dramatist Stan Lai (below) will be staged in February as part of the Esplanade's annual Huayi - Chinese Festival of Arts.
The Singapore premiere of this modern theatre masterpiece promises to be a cultural touchstone and watershed moment for theatregoers here.
In the play, stories unfold within stories and the audience is led on a journey through time, place and cultures, into the life of a 1930s Shanghai prostitute who marries a French diplomat and moves to Paris.
The dramatic stage design will have the main audience seating in the centre of the stage and in the thick of action as scenes unfurl all around them.
It will also boast a visually sumptuous display of costumes designed by Oscar-winning art director Tim Yip of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame. The performance is a coup for the Esplanade too, which is co-producing the show. Its collaboration with Lai's acclaimed theatrical group Performance Workshop cements its role as a major patron and platform for performing arts in the region.
10 SINGAPORE ARTS FESTIVAL
It is not every day that an arts festival has the budget and clout to bring in icons, but then the Singapore International Festival of Arts is no ordinary festival.
The rebooted national arts festival, now run by an independent company, has confirmed luminaries such as composer Michael Nyman, theatre company The Wooster Group and choreographer Jerome Bel in its line-up of some 12 to 15 international shows.
The $6.5-million festival, spread out over six weeks from Aug 12 to Sept 21, is going all out to woo audiences. It took a break this year to rethink its direction amid dwindling attendances and is now hoping to inspire discerning audiences and newcomers alike with great, diverse artistic experiences.
Arts veterans Lee Chor Lin and Ong Keng Sen, the duo behind the revamped festival, are looking at the theme of Legacy And The Expanded Classic for next year's event. Acts for the 2015 festival are now being commissioned, more than half of which will be Singaporean, to dovetail with the nation's 50th-birthday celebrations.
Next year's festival will be bookended by renowned British composer Nyman's contemporary opera Facing Goya and The Wooster Group's CRY, TROJANS! (Troilus & Cressida, above). The latter is a funky postmodern take on Shakespeare's play and marks the first outing here for the influential New York ensemble.
The rest of the programme is not yet confirmed, but famed French choreographer Bel smashes dance conventions with Disabled Theater, a collaboration with disabled professional actors from Zurich's Theater Hora.
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