When the Ah Boys To Men was released, everyone was raving about how Singaporean it was, with its Singaporean-style slapstick humour displaying our kiasu mannerisms and famous Singlish tongue. Singaporeans loved it. “This film is so us!”, I heard many of my friends who were serving in the Army then say.
Then a sequel came out, followed by Ah Boys To Men 3 and 4 and Singaporeans were like “okay, okay we get it, Singlish is funny, our kiasu attitude is cute and quirky. We get it.”
To many of us, the film scene in Singapore revolves around only one person: Jack Neo. While his work is known to be unabashedly Singaporean, rich with local references and our colloquial flavour (which is also his main selling point), we seem to think that Jack Neo’s trademark intentionally unsophisticated Singaporean humour encompasses the only kind of films that can represent our wonderfully diverse nation. And it gets boring. It breeds the notion that Singaporean films are only “the Jack Neo kind lor”.
But did you know that our little red dot has produced films that have been selected to be screened at the annual Cannes Film Festival, one of the biggest events for filmmakers, since 1997?
Eric Khoo, who had just recently released another Singaporean film Ramen Teh, directed 12 Storeys in 1997, which became the first Singaporean film to be screened at Cannes.
Many other films have succeeded his, such as Tan Pin Pin’s Moving House and more recently, Apprentice by Boo Junfeng and Ilo Ilo by Anthony Chen, which was the first local film to clinch the Camera d’Or award at Cannes.
Besides these nominated films, Singapore has produced more than 150 films in the last decade that have been carelessly dismissed in the midst of our modern hype over Disney, Marvel and other Hollywood blockbusters. These filmmakers come from all sorts of backgrounds in terms of ethnicity and wealth, and range from young to old, male to female— there’s really no stereotype in Singapore that limits who can strive to be a filmmaker.
These local feature films are not just “the Jack Neo kind lor”, but neither are they any less Singaporean than his films. These films are about life in Singapore from various perspectives: from the exasperated Filipino helper in Ilo Ilo to the determined getai singer in 881. They have been made by brilliant artists who are driven by the passion to give different groups in our country a voice, to nurture a greater understanding within our multi-racial society and to open the eyes of the sheltered to the struggles their fellow countrymen are facing.
The government recognises the value in such films and have introduced a new initiative to nurture up-and-coming Singapore filmmakers through the Singapore International Film Festival by commissioning a new short film by a Singapore filmmaker every year that will make its world premiere at the festival.
If you are an aspiring filmmaker and aren’t already in a media school, there are local filmmaking courses at Objectifs that will teach you everything from crafting your story to filming and editing it using professional equipment and software.
There are also plenty of opportunities to catch these Singaporean films that might not be screened in mainstream movie theatres. The Singapore Film Society is a major supporter of such local works and will definitely keep you updated on upcoming Singaporean films (Hint: One involves a Singaporean twist on The Walking Dead).
The Substation, Objectifs Centre for Photography & Film, the National Museum of Singapore and The Projector are also some unconventional places you should keep an eye out for if you want to feast your eyes on our upcoming local delights.
The film scene in Singapore is only waiting to be discovered.
This concludes our “The Singapore Arts scene lives” series. These art forms might not be very prominent in a nation that places academic success on the pedestal — there is simply no time to enjoy the Arts and to many of us, such art forms are as good as non-existent as we scuttle around with a packed schedule, trapped in a rat race.
But these hidden gems aren’t supposed to remain hidden, given how they have played an integral role in bringing our beautiful country to greater heights. The Arts is a universal language. It connects, bonds and nurtures understanding between people of different values and cultures more than any mathematical calculation or intensely scrutinised formula ever would.
So, instead of dipping your toes in the sand at Sentosa this summer break, immerse yourself in our sunny island’s exquisite Arts scene!
By Rachel Lim