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10 Singaporean Films Everyone Should Watch

Picture of Prianka Ghosh
Updated: 6 September 2016
Singapore has a complicated and controversial relationship with the arts, and this is especially apparent when it comes to films. With strict censorship laws, directors struggle to portray political, racial, and religious issues in their films. With that being said, the burgeoning arts scene and film festivals popping up all over the Lion City show that this island will not be left behind in the film landscape. In 2013, Anthony Chen was the first Singaporean to win the highly coveted Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his debut, Ilo Ilo. This was a great boost to the Singaporean film scene, and there are more Singaporean films being released every year.

‘Ilo Ilo’

Anthony Chen’s famous film addresses a topic that Singaporeans of all ages hold very close to their heart: the relationship that exists between a domestic helper and the children of the family that they look after. Ilo Ilo is about a family who is facing financial collapse in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis trying to hold on to their jobs to stay afloat, as well as deal with their misbehaving son. Through the relationship between the domestic helper and the young, troubled son, viewers get an insight into the lives of the domestic workers who move to Singapore looking for a better life.

‘Untracing the Conspiracy’

This film features interviews with some of the 22 people who were arrested by Singapore’s Internal Security Department in 1987 for supposedly participating in a Marxist conspiracy. In these interviews, the ex-detainees detail the physical and psychological torture they were subjected to during the first 30 days of their internment. Director Jason Soo wants viewers to see and question the practices of the Internal Security Act and the devastating effects of detention without trial.

‘Singapore Dreaming’

Directed by Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen, this Singaporean husband-and-wife duo were inspired to create this film based on hundreds of emails the couple received from Singaporeans about their life stories and attempts to achieve the Singaporean Dream of wealth and influence. In the film, a working class family struggles for a better life against the harsh realities that prevent them from reaching their dream.

‘To Singapore With Love’

This film, the second documentary on our list, features interviews with Singaporean political exiles. Those who were exiled come from different areas, but student activists or communists, the story remains the same — many of these exiles have not been back to Singapore for 50 years and now, in their late 60s to 80s, they reflect on what Singapore means to them. Watch this film before you visit the island as it was banned upon release and labeled as a threat to national security by the Media Development Authority.

‘Fundamentally Happy’

This film explores themes of childhood innocence, memory, and the relentless effects of abuse. In the film, Eric returns to his childhood neighborhood to find his neighbor, Habiba and reminisce about the past. These conversations lead to the discovery of a horrible truth that has burdened Eric for two decades and now must be dealt with by each person it has affected.

‘7 Letters’

Many of the films on this list are deeply critical of Singapore for one reason or another. 7 Letters is more like a letter between old friends wherein seven different directors present their individual views of Singapore and how growing up in the city-state has influenced their lives and careers. Released just two weeks before Singapore’s Golden Jubilee, this film is a celebration of all of the moving parts that make Singapore the nation it is today.

‘Be With Me’

Inspired by a true story, Be With Me is another directorial effort by Eric Khoo and written by Theresa Chan, a Singaporean writer and teacher who went blind and deaf in her early teens. In the film, Theresa Chan stars as herself as the nexus that three tales of love revolve around. In one, an elderly shopkeeper looks after his sick wife. In another, a security guard falls for and tries to find the courage to court a beautiful woman who works in the same building as him. Finally, in the third, two teenage girls explore a burgeoning romantic and physical relationship.

‘The Songs We Sang’

Released earlier this year, The Songs We Sang is a documentary about Xinyao, a style of Singaporean folk music that was popular in the 1980s. Eva Tang hopes that the younger generation will remember a period of history in Singapore where the diaspora of Chinese youths found a place to vent their feelings of displacement and disenchantment.

‘Army Daze’

This film was released two decades ago (and based on a play from nearly three decades ago), is still relatable to young men in Singapore today, and will provide insight on the National Service system, especially how it’s viewed by those who must join it. The film features an economically and culturally diverse group of six young men entering National Service and their experiences with the army.

‘Forever Fever’

Army Daze is amusing, but Forever Fever is really the only fully fledged comedy on this list. Forever Fever is a comedy about a grocery store employee who idolizes Bruce Lee. In an improbable turn of events, his life goal of owning a motorbike is dictated by his performance in a dance competition.