Singapore Dreaming: Contemporary Singaporean Cinema

Programmed by Lilian Huang and Xin Tian Yong
Essay by Lilian Huang and Xin Tian Yong

In the 50 years since Singapore’s independence, local films have emerged as one of the most potent media for challenging the government’s sanitized representation of the island city-state. From satirizing Singaporeans’ preoccupation with money and schooling, to sympathetically reflecting underrepresented segments of society, Singaporean filmmakers have forced their fellow citizens to acknowledge the best and worst of their nation’s idiosyncrasies.

The films in this series represent a variety of genres and styles but address three main issues: money and family, the marginal and marginalized, and love against the odds. The series opens with Ilo Ilo, the first Singaporean film to win the Camera D’Or at Cannes. Set during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the film portrays how financial difficulties sometimes compel a family to reevaluate their relationships to each other. Financial problems recur as a theme in Money No Enough, but this time, the topic is approached in a comedic fashion, through a humorous look at three friends struggling to overcome these issues together. In contrast, Singapore Dreaming includes a more sober portrayal of sibling rivalries and fragile marriages against the backdrop of an increasingly materialistic Singapore. The next two films in the series take a (sometimes uncomfortably) close look at the individuals on the margins of Singaporean society. Pleasure Factory boldly depicts prostitution in Singapore, while Singapore GaGa, the only documentary in the series, explores how some individuals seek to preserve alternative histories and narratives in Singapore. The last three films portray unlikely romantic scenarios in a Singaporean setting. 881 and Chicken Rice War imagine melodramatic love stories playing out in very particular Singaporean cultural contexts. Be With Me, however, depicts realistic stories of love, sometimes unrequited, sometimes socially unacceptable, but always hopeful.

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This series was supported by SAMSU, the International Student Advisory Board, Student Government, the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, the National Youth Council, and Young ChangeMakers.

2015-09-29 @ 7:00 PM

Ilo Ilo

(Anthony Chen, 2013) · One of the most critically acclaimed movies to come out of Singapore in recent years, Anthony Chen’s debut depicts the everyday life of a Singaporean family and their newly-arrived Filipina domestic helper, Teresa. It centers on the uneasy development of the relationship between Teresa and the young son Jia Le. This sensitively drawn portrayal of Singaporean life in the 1990s is the first Singaporean feature film to receive the Caméra d'Or award at Cannes.

runtime: 90 min format: DCP


2015-10-06 @ 7:00 PM

Money No Enough

(Tay Teck Lock, 1998 · This rollicking comedy about three Singaporean men in dire financial straits both satirized the Singaporean preoccupation with material wealth and served as a shot in the arm for the nation’s film industry. The success of the film launched the career of its writer Jack Neo, now one of the most prominent Singaporean directors, and paved the way for the use of non-Mandarin Chinese dialects in other local productions.

runtime: 98 min format: DVD


This screening was made possible thanks to J Team Productions

2015-10-13 @ 7:00 PM

Pleasure Factory

(Ekachai Uekrongtham, 2007) · Filmed entirely in Geylang, Singapore’s red-light district, this docudrama is unusual in Singaporean cinema for its gritty depiction of issues including homosexuality and prostitution. Over the course of one night in Geylang, the film’s narrative captures the urgent rhythms of urban life, while highlighting moments of tenderness and vulnerability in the lesser-explored underbelly of Singaporean society.

runtime: 88 min format: DVD


2015-10-20 @ 7:00 PM

Singapore Dreaming

(Colin Goh & Woo Yen Yen, 2006) · The film chronicles the aspirations of a typical Singaporean working-class family and the obstacles they encounter in trying to fulfill their dreams. By following the family members through a series of windfalls and reverses in their financial fortunes, the film examines issues of social class, disintegrating familial relationships, and the nature of the titular Singaporean dream. runtime: 105 min format: 35mm


2015-11-03 @ 7:00 PM

Singapore GaGa

(Tan Pin Pin, 2005) · A 55-minute journey through Singapore’s soundscape, this documentary captures many of the most ubiquitous sounds in Singapore, including roadside vendors, street performers, school cheerleaders, and announcements on public transport. These lively vignettes reflect the diversity of languages and lifestyles in contemporary Singapore, and direct attention to marginal figures and subcultures often overlooked in the dominant social narrative.

runtime: 55 min format: DVD


2015-11-10 @ 7:00 PM


(Eric Khoo, 2011) · In his first animated feature, director Eric Khoo, once a comics artist himself, depicts the life and career of Japanese manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, whose talent and passion facilitated his rise to success in post-war occupied Japan. Instead of catering his work to children, Tatsumi introduced the gekiga genre of manga for adults. Pieces based on five of his short stories, which involve darker themes, are also interlaced within the film.
runtime: 96 min format: Blu-Ray


2015-11-17 @ 7:00 PM


(Royston Tan, 2007) · 881 is arguably the film that propelled Royston Tan into mainstream popularity. The musical comedy-drama sees a pair of singers, Little Papaya and Big Papaya, struggling to make it big in the traditional getai performance circuit while fending off their arch-rivals the Durian Sisters. The over-the-top extravagance of the costumes alone would make Tan’s third feature film worth watching. The screening of 881 on Tuesday, November 17 will now be a FREE screening

runtime: 115 min format: Digital File


2015-11-24 @ 7:00 PM

Chicken Rice War

(Chee Kong Cheah, 2000) · In this local retelling of Romeo and Juliet, the Chan and Wong families run two rival chicken rice stalls. When Fenson Wong and Audrey Chan fall in love, their families are forced into a full confrontation with hilarious results. The only feature film by director Chee Kong Cheah, Chicken Rice War remains a classic film for Singaporeans today.

runtime: 100 min format: 35mm


2015-12-01 @ 7:00 PM

Be With Me

(Eric Khoo, 2005) · Though a clear departure from the gritty style of Mee Pok Man and 12 Storeys ten years earlier, this film still retains director Khoo’s signature choice of unconventional subjects. Be With Me tells four different but interwoven stories about love that culminate bittersweetly or in tragedy. The most memorable of these stories features Singapore cinema’s first on-screen lesbian couple.

runtime: 93 min format: 35mm


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