What better way to commemorate Singapore's epic film history than this festive National Day period? From cult classics like 12 Storeys to modernized hits like Apprentice, STYLEGUIDE brings forth a curated list of Singapore's top homegrown films that deserve to be on your to-watch list. (P.S. It's even organised chronologically for that extra nostalgia factor!)
Army Daze (1996)
Based on the 1987 theatre play by Singaporean writer Michael Chiang, Ong Keng Sen directed this Ah Boys to Men-esque, Singlish comedy, featuring a group of 18-year-old National Servicemen from different socioeconomical backgrounds. With the tagline of 'From Real Blur to Real Men', it showcases age-old problems like woeful breakups and uncompromising sergeants that all males in Singapore can relate to as they have surely faced them in their boyhood. Yet, it is peppered with so many evergreen jokes and emotional camaraderie that it makes a good watch for the whole family!
12 Storeys (1997)
Lauded for the revival of the Singaporean film industry, Eric Khoo explores darker themes in 12 Storeys such as loneliness, suffering and how the human condition is constantly influenced and opposed by societal factors and norms. He successfully weaves and connects four different sets of narratives - 'Sister's Keeper', 'San San', 'China Bride' and 'Spirit - to portray the raw, everyday tragedy of Singaporean life. Despite being an older film, it remains relevant as Eric seeks to remind us of the reality of urban isolation and alienation in our modern society. It also reminds us to act with more kindness and actively reach out to those who might be silently struggling.
Singapore Dreaming (2006)
Credit: Colin Goh
Film maker couple Colin Goh and Yen Yen Woo teamed up to direct Singapore Dreaming, a critically-acclaimed film as seen as its numerous accolades from film festivals such as the 20th Tokyo International Film Festival and the 54th San Sebastian International Film Festival. The film is centered around the Loh family and explores family dynamics as the family is thrown into a financial battle after Poh Huat, father of the Loh family, passes after winning the lottery. This slightly sombre yet comedic film is definitely relatable as it follows the lives of six individuals who are finding their way in our local concrete jungle.
881 rightfully earns its place on this list as not only is it a local musical-comedy-film-drama, it is also the second Singaporean film that has been released in Japan. Inspired by the Singaporean 'Getai' scene, the film is a perfect mix of emotion, humour and a whole lot of glitz and glamour. Expect many bawdy jokes and delightful performances as you follow the journey of 2 childhood friends, otherwise known as the Papaya sisters, who are larger-than-life and experience their crazy rivalry with the Durian sisters.
It's a Great, Great World (2011)
Set in Great World Amusement Park (for the uninitiated: one of Singapore's former amusement parks from 1929-1978), Kelvin Tong aims for historical nostalgia and fundamental themes like work and love in this Singaporean film. It's a Great, Great World elucidates four different tales centered around attractions within the once legendary themepark. From a lok-lok seller reminiscing on his wedding dinner which fell on the same night the Japanese invaded Singapore in World War 2 to a washed up diva-nightclub singer singing for her lost love, every moment is definitely going to keep you hooked!
Ilo Ilo (2013)
Ilo Ilo is a domestic soap opera at heart, with heart-tugging scenes so poignant it's hard to believe that the film is the debut feature of director Anthony Chen. Drawing on his own childhood experiences, it has definitely gained traction in recent years, especially after being the first Singaporean feature film to win an award at the Cannes Film Festival. The film focuses on the tension and struggles of the Lim family and their Filipina domestic helper as they navigate their way during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
A Yellow Bird (2016)
Co-directed by K. Rajagopal, his debut film A Yellow Bird is definitely not one for the light-hearted nor the kids as it ventures deep into topics such as prostitution, racism and prison. The film follows the friendship of two individuals who are similiarly ostracized by society but in different ways - Siva is an ex-con and an ethnic minority, while Chen Chen is an illegal Chinese sex worker. Although it might be fraught and tough for some to swallow, this film proves itself to be a significant watch as it raises awareness about the realistic oppression that individuals face from societal and racial norms.
Fast becoming a household name, Boo Junfeng's Apprentice has already amassed a myriad of awards such as the Critcs' Choice Award and the top prize at the Fribourg International Film Festival. The niche film portrays a fictional Malay maximum security Larangan Prison and the relationship between a correctional officer and the jail's chief executioner, whose fates are unexpectedly intertwined. It delves into the ethics and gray areas of the death row within a completely nuanced plot from start to end.
Featured image credit: Films At The Fort