Apart from the quintessential Jack Neo-directed flicks, there have been a plethora of local movie releases that have been slowly but surely putting our little red dot on the international film landscape. But if you’re unsure about which title to start watching, don’t worry, as we’ve got you covered with our list of must-watch local films from over the years.
12 Storeys – Eric Khoo
The first Singaporean film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, 12 Storeys is highly regarded as the most important local film ever made, providing an authentic look into the ordinary yet troubled lives of everyday Singaporeans living within the same HDB block. Through four different sets of narratives – “Sister’s Keeper”, “San San”, “China Bride” and “Spirit” – filmmaker Eric Khoo details the extent of urban isolation and alienation all modern Singaporeans face.
15 – Royston Tan
Royston Tan is no stranger to controversy, but perhaps the most controversial of his releases has to be 15. Chronicling the lives of three 15-year-old juvenile gangsters, the film is a hauntingly accurate depiction of gang-life (think drugs, street fights and self-harm) within the Singapore suburbs – especially so when Royston made the conscious decision to base the film closely on the lives of the characters (who are not professional actors) without much prior scripting.
Singapore Dreaming – Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen
Directed by Singaporean husband-and-wife duo Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen, the film was inspired by an essay submission for the 2000 Singapore International Foundation, which encompassed a series of e-mails Singaporeans sent about their personal experiences with the ‘Singaporean Dream’. Follow the Lohs, an typical Singaporean working-class family who hopes to build a better life for themselves through their aspirations, but who instead gets thrown into a battle where the stakes are the very meaning of life itself.
My Magic – Eric Khoo
Francis is at his wits end. A single parent raising his 10-year-old son, the former magician takes solace in a bottle and barely makes enough at his job in a nightclub to get by. Desperately trying to win back the love of his young son, Francis makes a painful return to magic, only to be pressured into doing dangerous acts…
Fun fact: My Magic was nominated for a Palme d’Or, the highest award of the Cannes Film Festival, and was the first Singaporean film to be qualified for that prestigious honour.
7 Letters – Various Filmmakers
A ‘love letter’ to Singapore for her Golden Jubilee, 7 Letters is an emotive anthology put together by seven of Singapore’s most illustrious filmmakers – Eric Khoo, Jack Neo, K. Rajagopal, Royston Tan, Tan Pin Pin, Boo Junfeng and Kelvin Tong. The seven stories shines a spotlight on the different tales of each director, and how growing up in the place we all call home has each affected their lives and careers.
Ilo Ilo – Anthony Chen
Anthony Chen’s debut feature may just very well be the best local film to date, as he addresses the relationship between a domestic helper and the children of the family they look after. Set in the ’90s, the Lims are a middle-class family who are facing financial stresses due to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. With another baby on the way, the family hires Filipino immigrant Teresa as a live-in maid and nanny. Initially struggling with being in a new community, Teresa eventually manages to find her footing and forms a unique bond with the Lim’s young son, Jiale – but jealousy soon threatens to tear the family apart.
Fun fact: Ilo Ilo won the Caméra d’Or award for Best Debut Feature at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first Singaporean feature film to win an award at the prestigious event.
Army Daze – Ong Keng Sen
If Ilo Ilo takes the spot for best local movie made, then we dare say that Army Daze comes in a close second. Although it was released two decades ago, it is still plenty relatable to young Singaporean men of today, especially for those who have yet to enlist in the mandatory two-year National Service period. Follow a group of six young men who despite coming from different racial and family backgrounds, forge a strong friendship that helps them get through the difficulties they face throughout Army.
Apprentice – Boo Junfeng
When 28-year-old correctional officer Aiman Yusof gets transferred to the state’s maximum security prison, he takes an immediate interest in 65-year-old Rahim – the prison’s long-serving Chief Executioner, and the pair soon strikes up a friendship. After Rahim’s assistant suddenly quits, he asks Aiman to become his apprentice, to which the latter eagerly accepts, though the news angers Suhaila (Aiman’s older sister) as their father was actually executed by Rahim. Haunted by his past, will Aiman be able to set aside his own moral compass to take over as the next chief executioner?
Feature image credit: The Straits Times
What are some other favourite local movies that you think all Singaporeans should watch? Let us know in the comments below!