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?

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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.

Homerun (2003)

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.

15 (2003)

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.

881 (2007)

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.

Ap­pren­tice (2016)

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.”

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