The Most Iconic Films of Singapore
From the small screen to the big screen, Singaporean productions have come a long way. Sophie Hong shares the most iconic local films made over the last two decades. How many have you watched?
Mee Pok Man (1995)
Directed by: Eric Khoo Starring: Michelle Goh, Joe Ng Critics have said that the acting in this arthouse film is not the best, nor did it have high production values, but one thing they unanimously agreed on was that Mee
Pok Man is an impactful film. Eric Khoo’s debut feature pushed the boundaries of Singaporean cinema because cinemagoers had never seen anything quite like it. And it was surprising that the film, which contains risqué scenes and even necrophilia, was allowed to screen here, albeit with the highest restricted rating. “I would argue it’s the most important film in Singapore’s cultural history… It’s a pivotal artwork that captures the zeitgeist, the anxiety and aspirations of a people,” said Alan Oei, artistic director of The Substation in a The Straits Times interview.
I Not Stupid (2002)
Directed by: Jack Neo Starring: Shawn Lee, Huang Po Ju, Joshua Ang If you’re looking for a film that will strike a chord with many Singaporeans, this is it. It touches on many topics that you’ve probably had heated debates about: our education system, the political landscape, kiasu- ness, Singlish, the social stigma surrounding people who don’t excel academically, and whether Western expatriates are often favoured over local talents. Since Jack Neo came from a comedy background, you’ll get loads of laughs from this film. But there are also parts where you’ll find yourself crying. And if that’s not the hallmark of a great movie, I don’t know what is.
Army Daze (1996)
Directed by: Ong Keng Sen Starring: Edward Yong, Sheikh Haikel, Kevin Verghese, Adrian Lim, Ahamed Azad Before the Ah Boys became Men, there was Army
Daze, the quintessential NS movie of the ’90s. The film is littered with tropes recognisable to every Singaporean son: the nerdy goody-two-shoes with an overbearing mother, the Ah Beng, the slacker, the one who’s all about his girlfriend, the sergeant everyone’s scared of, and an older man who’ll give you unsolicited advice on how to jiak zhua.
Directed by: Jack Neo Starring: Shawn Lee, Megan Zheng Following the success of I Not Stupid, Jack Neo teamed up once again with Shawn Lee, Xiang Yun and Joshua Ang for Homerun, a remake of the critically-acclaimed Iranian film, Children of Heaven. While the plot wasn’t original, the children involved were largely praised for their superb acting. It even led to the then 10-year-old Megan Zheng winning a Golden Horse Award in the “Best New Performer” category – a first for Singapore.
Directed by: Royston Tan Starring: Melvin Chen, Erick Chun, Melvin Lee, Vynn Soh, Shaun Tan
15 is the first Singaporean movie to compete at the Venice Film Festival, and was initially banned here because it was deemed a threat to national security. Concerns were raised about the use of real gang names, locations and gang chants in the film, but it was eventually allowed to show here after receiving an R-rating – as well as 27 cuts recommended by the censorship board. With teen delinquency as the film’s main focus, director Royston Tan decided to use teenage boys who were actually gang members instead of hiring actors. In fact, one of the cast members was arrested halfway through filming for stabbing another gang member.
The Maid (2005)
Directed by: Kelvin Tong Starring: Alessandra de Rossi, Chen Shu Cheng, Hong Hui Fang, Benny Soh On its opening weekend, The Maid made $700,000 here, breaking box office records for the horror genre in Singapore. The premise is simple: a Filipino domestic helper arrives in Singapore during the Hungry Ghost month to work for a Teochew family, and it doesn’t take long before eerie events start happening. This is one horror flick that doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares or gory scenes, so it’s all the more terrifying.
Directed by: Royston Tan Starring: Qi Yuwu, Yeo Yann Yann, Mindee Ong, Liu Lingling Speaking of the Hungry Ghost month, here’s something on the lighter side. Royston Tan’s 881 revolves around two girls who dream of making it big in the getai scene – you know, those OTT stage shows that pop up every seventh lunar month? It went on to gross more than $3 million at the box office and was the top-grossing Asian film in Singapore that year. Not bad, considering Royston originally conceived the story as a joke, then spent only two weeks working on the script and 22 days producing the entire movie.
Ilo Ilo (2013)
Directed by: Anthony Chen Starring: Chen Tianwen, Yeo Yann Yann, Angeli Bayani, Koh Jia Ler
Ilo Ilo’s big win came in the form of a Caméra d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, which is given to the best debut feature film. Set during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the film centres around the Lims – a nuclear family with a 10-year-old son and another baby on the way. The events of the film begin when they hire Terry, a domestic helper from the Philippines, to be their son’s primary caregiver. The story, which takes place mostly in a HDB flat, is inspired by writer-director Anthony Chen’s own experiences.
Directed by: Boo Junfeng Starring: Firdaus Rahman, Wan Hanafi Su Singapore’s death penalty has always been a great point of debate. When he set out to make a film about it, Boo Junfeng spent a significant amount of time researching: talking to former executioners, religious leaders who had helped death row inmates, and families with loved ones who were sent to the gallows. Along the way, he realised that the story had never been told from the hangman’s perspective. The plot revolves around Aiman, a young prison officer who encounters the maximum security prison’s chief executioner. The two soon form a bond, but unbeknownst to the executioner, he was the one who had pulled the trapdoor on Aiman’s father 30 years ago. “It would have been easy to make a film about the death penalty itself, but it’s much bigger than that,” the 33-year-old director said in a The Straits Times interview. “I learned so much about the value of human life.”