In a Hollywood-dominated industry, here are ten local films to watch – and celebrate – ahead of our nation’s birthday. These films reflect slices of Singaporeans’ everyday lives, through stories which challenge viewers to reflect on our nation’s history and culture. Additionally, watching these films is a wonderful way to express appreciation to local filmmakers for their efforts and dedication.
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Ilo Ilo (2013)
Directed by Anthony Chen, Ilo Ilo was Singapore’s first award-winning film at the Cannes Film Festival, and revolves around the relationship between a young Singaporean boy named Jiale and his Filipino domestic helper, Teresa, during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. The movie delves into themes of family, friendship, and the impact of economic hardship on interpersonal relationships.
Chen’s directorial debut was praised for its authentic portrayal of family dynamics and exploration of the complexities of human emotions. The film’s success helped bring greater attention to Singaporean cinema on the international stage and established Chen as a talented filmmaker to watch.
A Yellow Bird (2016)
Directed by K. Rajagopal, this drama follows a recently-released convict’s struggle to reintegrate into society while searching for his estranged ex-wife and daughter. Along the way, he forms an unlikely friendship with a Chinese construction worker.
A Yellow Bird delves into themes of identity, displacement, and the search for belonging, offering a thought-provoking commentary on the experiences of minorities and outsiders in Singapore. The film provides a poignant look at the social issues faced by ex-convicts and the complexities of racial and cultural dynamics in the country.
Directed by Boo Junfeng, this drama centres on a young correctional officer’s moral dilemma when he is assigned to become the apprentice of the prison’s executioner. The film offers a sensitive and compassionate examination of the complex emotions experienced by both the executioner and those on death row. Apprentice is an intriguing film which raises pertinent questions about capital punishment, justice, and the humanity of those involved in the criminal justice system.
The film was Singapore’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards, further highlighting its significance in the realm of Singaporean cinema and its ability to resonate with audiences worldwide.
A Land Imagined (2018)
Directed by Yeo Siew Hua, this neo-noir mystery film follows a police investigator named Lok looking into the disappearance of a missing Chinese migrant worker in Singapore. The film blurs the lines between reality and imagination, making use of dream-like sequences to portray the psychological journey of its characters. It sheds light on the oft-overlooked lives of these labourers who come to Singapore seeking a better life, but end up facing unprecedented challenges and struggles.
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The film was well-received by critics and audiences alike, earning recognition at several film festivals. Notably, A Land Imagined won the prestigious Golden Leopard award at the Locarno Film Festival in 2018, which further solidified its position as a significant work in Singaporean cinema.
Ramen Teh (2018)
Directed by Eric Khoo, this food-centric drama follows the journey of Masato, a young Japanese ramen chef who embarks on a culinary quest to discover his roots in Singapore. Determined to learn more about his heritage and the recipes that shaped his upbringing, Masato decides to visit Singapore and immerse himself in its vibrant food culture.
Ramen Teh is a heartwarming and culturally-resonant film that exemplifies diverse storytelling approaches. It showcases the power of cinema to bring people together through shared experiences, whether it be through food, family, or a sense of belonging.
Ajoomma follows the journey of a widow obsessed with Korean soap operas as she travels abroad and discovers more than she could have ever imagined. Her travels take her to places both familiar and unknown, full of unexpected surprises. Along the way, she learns about what it means to be alive, to take risks, and to find joy in the unexpected. Through her experiences, she discovers that life is full of possibilities.
The film received a total of four nominations at the 59th Golden Horse Awards, and Hong became the first Singaporean to be nominated for Best Leading Actress.
Wet Season (2019)
Following the critically-acclaimed debut of Ilo Ilo, Anthony Chen followed up with Wet Season, which tells the story of a Chinese language teacher named Ling, portrayed by Yeo Yann Yann, who is struggling with both personal and professional challenges.
The film delves into themes of loneliness, societal pressures, and the complexities of human relationships. It offers a poignant exploration of the characters’ emotional struggles and the impact of personal connections on their lives. The film received positive reviews from critics and was well-received by audiences for its heartfelt storytelling and the compelling performances of the cast.
Shirkers is a documentary film directed by Sandi Tan. The film is a unique blend of documentary and memoir, where Tan revisits her past as a young aspiring filmmaker in Singapore during the early 1990s. The film is a captivating and intimate documentary that examines the creative process, the pursuit of dreams, and the ghosts of the past. It also reflects on the complexities of relationships and the emotional aftermath of artistic betrayal.
The documentary received critical acclaim and won the Directing Award in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
My Magic (2008)
My Magic is a Singaporean drama film directed by Eric Khoo. The film centres around the character of Raju, played by real-life magician Francis Bosco, who is struggling to make ends meet as a down-and-out magician in Singapore. Raju’s life takes a turn when he runs into an accident and is left with a life-changing decision to make to save his daughter.
The raw and poignant portrayal of the characters’ emotions, as well as the film’s exploration of social issues, earned it critical acclaim and recognition at several international film festivals.
The Maid (2005)
The Maid is a Singaporean horror film directed by Kelvin Tong. The film follows the story of Rosa (played by Alessandra de Rossi), a young Filipina maid who comes to work for an affluent Singaporean family. As she settles into her new job, Rosa starts to experience strange and unsettling occurrences in the house.
The film effectively uses tension and suspense to build a haunting atmosphere, and Rossi’s performance as the protagonist adds to the film’s gripping nature. The film remains a notable entry in the horror film catalog of Singaporean cinema.