Must-Watch Singapore Films
Film is not dead in Singapore.
Our indie film circle is thriving, thanks to the likes of Anthony Chen, Eric Khoo, Boo Junfeng, Royston Tan and Wee Li Lin amongst others. They have won acclaim both locally and internationally and are inarguably mavericks in their own right.
But apart from these famous names, there’s a pool of talented local filmmakers just waiting to be discovered. In recent years, several budding filmmakers have begun making a mark for themselves, with supportive followers and burning ambitions in tow.
Events such as the cine65 Short Film Competition, The 48 Hours Film Project, and the Singapore Short Film Festival as well as newly opened venues like The Projector have made it easier for today’s film-makers to reach bigger audiences. But still, these names may be unfamiliar to the general public.
That’s why we decided to put together a list of some of the most promising film-makers in the industry today. Watch closely, as one of them may soon direct the next Ilo Ilo!
1. Michelle Chong
Filmography: “Already Famous” (2011), “Three Peas in a Pod” (2013)
What’s Next?: Die-hard fans of The Noose would recognize Michelle as the beloved Sichuan-born Singapore-based KTV hostess, LuLu. This year, with LuLu The Movie set to be released, we’ll get front row seats to witness Michelle’s acting and film-making careers intersect as she directs and plays the titular character.
This prolific funny woman needs no introduction. Whether she’s professing her love for Terry onscreen as everyone’s favourite domestic worker, or behind the camera for recent flicks like 2011’s romcom “Already Famous” and 2013’s coming-of-age idol drama “3 Peas in a Pod”, she clearly has the Midas touch.
Since her recent departure from Mediacorp in 2013, she’s made some daring turns to set up her own talent management company, Left Profile, and film production house, Huat Films. With 2 commercial successes under her belt, Michelle has proven capable of pulling her own weight as an independent filmmaker and flexes her comedic chops both on and offscreen.
2. Ray Pang
Filmography: “ONE 己” (2008), “The Team” (2012), “Closer To Me” (2012), “+65” (Telemovie broadcast on Channel 5, 2013), “Job or Career” (2014), “Grains of Love” (2015)
What’s Next?: Ray Pang currently helms the local film production company, Catharsis Film. His most recent work is a music video for the song, “My Sunshine”, by 19 year-old Singaporean singer-songwriter Reuby.
Although his body of work mainly consists of shorts, Ray Pang is no stranger to the struggles behind a career in film. While working on his entry for the inaugural season of ciNE65, a short film competition, Ray nearly scrapped the entire project due to the lack of sponsors. “The Team”, his short film depicting a group of kids’ love for kampung soccer that transcends racial and religious boundaries, was almost never made. In a last ditch effort to save it, he cleared out his bank account a week before shooting commenced – Ray’s defiance in the face of adversity is a trait that has served him well.
Thankfully, his gambit paid off. “The Team” eventually nabbed the ciNE65 Season One’s Jury’s Choice Overall Best Film and Best Editing Award for the Open Category. It went on to win the “You Are Only Young Once” award at the Very Short International Film Festival 2012, and was invited to be featured at the Short Shorts Film Festival Asia 2012.
A recurring theme that strings his films together is his strong patriotic sentiment, displaying a consistent commitment to telling Singaporean stories without being too over-stylised or melodramatic. His subjects come from all walks of life – be it an elderly Malay cleaner, a group of young boys kicking up dust or a longtime accountant facing a mid-life crisis – revealing a flair for weaving emotional stories out of seemingly mundane everyday life.
3. Sanif Olek
Filmography: “Lost Sole” (2006), “A la Folie” (2009), “Ameen” (2010), “Sayang Disayang (My Beloved Dearest)” (2013), “Tin Kosong” (2014)
What’s Next?: The TV director-for-hire has returned to the small screen and recently nabbed the coveted Best Director award at Pesta Perdana 2015 for his latest drama, “Bingit 2” – for the 5th time! He also served as a mentor for ciNE65 Mentorship Programme.
Few directors get it quite as right on their first attempt at a feature length film as Sanif Olek has with “Sayang Disayang”. Marvelously portrayed by Aidli Mosbit and the legendary Rahim Razali respectively, the 78-minute runtime charts the journey that Murni, an Acehnese live-in nurse, embarks on to win the affections of Pak Harun, a lonely and bitter elderly man, by attempting to recreate his late wife’s signature sambal goreng.
As his first feature, the musical melodrama is a vibrant celebration of the Nusantara (the Malay Archipelago clustered in Southeast Asia), effectively bringing the golden age of Malay language cinema back to life with its classic blend of quintessential Malay folk songs and the potent recipes native to this region.
As his other shorts like the heart-wrenching “Tin Kosong” would attest, Sanif has a penchant for telling raw, complex tales that carry great emotional heft, executed with a dose of well-measured grace. He reliably delivers an honest treatment of familial dysfunction and isolation, and has long since proven his mettle as a quiet champion of the Malay arts.
4. Kirsten Tan
Filmography: “Fonzi” (2007), “Cold Noodles” (2010), “Thin Air” (2011), “Dahdi” (2014)
What’s Next?: Kirsten is currently in the midst of production for her feature debut “Popeye”, an ‘existential road movie with an elephant’ set entirely in Thailand. The project is produced by Anthony Chen’s production house Giraffe Pictures and has recently picked up TorinoFilmLab’s top production prize of €60, 000.
With over 7 short films and numerous years spent running the international film circuit under her belt, Kirsten Tan is a well-established indie filmmaker with one of the strongest individual voices of this list. Her nomadic lifestyle has seen her traverse the streets of Thailand upon graduation from Ngee Ann Poly, followed by a year in South Korea before finally taking up a filmmaking course at the world renowned Tisch School of Arts at New York University on an MDA scholarship.
As a result of her constant migration, she has racked up an incredibly diverse portfolio, telling stories that span across the concrete jungles of New York City (as in “Thin Air”) to the idyllic kampungs of Pulau Ubin (“Dahdi”). The latter earned her the coveted Best Southeast Asian Short Film at the Silver Screen Awards last year.
With names like the TorinoFilmLab and Giraffe Pictures behind “Popeye”, it’s best to keep an eye on her – it won’t be long before Kirsten joins the ranks of Singapore’s leading female filmmakers like Wee Li Lin and Tan Pin Pin.
5. Randy Ang
Filmography: “Becoming Royston” (2007), “Christina and The RunAways” (2011), “Curry Curry Christmas” (2012), “Ayam Man” (2013), “re:solve” (2014)
What’s Next?: Randy is currently in the midst of post-production for the upcoming SG50 behemoth, “1965”, starring Lim Kay Tong as our founding father. The film is slated for release this July.
His last feature length film “re:solve”, a classic who-dunnit crime caper, was one of the most ambitious efforts any local director has embarked on to date, replete with high octane gun-toting fight scenes, fast luxury cars and bikini-clad babes. While the film was lauded for its breath-taking cinematography, it received not-so-glowing reports on the poor credibility of its storyline and dismal acting.
Nonetheless, Randy seems to be making all the right moves this year: the 36 year old helms the hotly anticipated SG50 celebration project “1965”, with a stellar line-up of names like veteran thespian Lim Kay Tong, Qi Yuwu and Joanne Peh. With Daniel Yun onboard as its executive producer, and the climate of public interest following the demise of our founding father, one can only await buzz his retelling of the Singaporean Story may generate in the months to come.
6. Chong Yu Lun
Filmography: “Dao Sha Pia” (2013), “Saga Seeds” (2013), “Her” (2014), “Kopi Bing & Teh Bing” (2014)
What’s Up Next?: The Ngee Ann Film, Media and Video (FMS) graduate has kickstarted his own production company, Walk and Roll Studios, alongside partner Rachel Toh. They remain focused on making corporate and independent short films.
Despite the relative infancy of his career (he is the youngest filmmaker to make this list!), Yu Lun has already chalked up an impressive portfolio. As a fresh graduate from FMS, his debut music video, “Year of Independence”, earned him the Jury’s Choice Best Sound Design and Best Art Direction for Student category in Season One of ciNE65. He did it again in Season Two with his next short, “Saga Seeds”, winning the Jury’s Choice Best Art Direction.
His sense of adventurism and gumption also lends itself to the diversity of his portfolio – from the tearjerker “Her” to the eccentric “Kopi Bing & Teh Bing”, Yu Lun has proven that he is not one to limit himself to a certain genre. Unfortunately, a fatal flaw that recurs in his short films is his tendency to fall into the trap of heavy-handed melodrama and paper-thin plots. This makes several of his more thoughtful pieces somewhat tiresome to watch.
Nonetheless, the 22 year-old promises a great deal of potential. Given a few more years of experience, he will surely be able to deliver much more balanced pathos and nuanced dialogue in his work.
7. M. Raihan Halim
Filmography: “Yazid Wears Diapers”, “Big Time in Little Street” (2010), “Mr Perfect” “Banting” (2014)
What’s Up Next?: Halim, who is the Creative Director at local film production house Papahan Films, is currently working on an upcoming sports drama series for Suria.
“Banting” is a breath of fresh air. Its premise sets off by asking an abiding question, “Can a hijab girl do everything that a normal girl can?”. It explores the trials that beset Yasmin, a young girl growing up in a strict Muslim household with a penchant for a particularly unladylike sport – wrestling.
As Yasmin attempts to strike a balance between life in the ring and retaining a firm grasp on tradition, Halim eases the weight of the story’s melodramatic elements by injecting copious amounts of witty humour (in the form of cameos by the likes of Abigail Chay), which keeps the pace lighthearted.
The result is a sincere and genuinely enjoyable piece of cinema that not only speaks to the core of the modern young Malay-Muslim, but also urges all Singaporeans to buck convention and chase their dreams.
As one of the few directors whose works have spanned across all four main television channels, Halim has shown the ability to tackle Singapore-centric contemporary issues with stylistic and humourous aplomb, a la Jack Neo and Royston Tan. If his first effort is anything to go by, the wait for his next feature will be an exciting one.
8. Tan Shi Jie
Filmography: “For Two” (2009), “The Hole” (2011), “Not Working Today” (2014)
What’s Up Next?: Tan Shi Jie has been roped in to direct one part of the omnibus project, “Distance”, produced by the much-feted Anthony Chen. He is also working on pulling together funds for his first ever feature length film, “No Regrets!”, revolving around the plight of foreign workers in Singapore.
For the most part, this NUS and Tisch Asia graduate flies comfortably under the public radar in spite of the stellar portfolio he has racked up over the past few years and the critical acclaim that has since been heaped upon him.
“For Two (Er Ren)”, Shi Jie’s first foray into directing, scored a screening at the prestigious 66th Venice Film Festival, and was named as one of the Top 5 Singaporean films in 2009 by the International Film Guide. “The Hole”, a short filmed entirely in Japanese and on location, is another tale that follows the emotional arc of an aged mother as she chides her overly-reliant grown-up son to finally leave the nest.
His short films, though elusive (none of them can be found on streaming websites), exude a distinct sense of soulful sensibility unlike any of his peers. Although his subject matter draws from heavy emotional material, Tan maintains a deft hand, never falling prey to a stale pace or cliched plot devices. I can only imagine what Tan might achieve with a bigger budget and a longer runtime!
9. Bertrand Lee
Filmography: “Trishaw” (2001), “Birthday” (2004), “What Do You See?” National Day Music Video performed by Electrico (2009) “Singapura” (2015), a string of commercials for Singtel, Dumex, Canon, etc.
What’s Next?: He is gearing up to film his debut feature “The Abandoned”, a Mandarin psychological horror-thriller.
At first glance, Bertrand Lee appears to be an average guy on the street, but his is a story that has surmounted all odds; in 2005, the then up-and-coming filmmaker and photographer was dispatched to Mumbai for a campaign shoot for a multinational company, when he met with a gut-wrenching collision with a giant truck. The truck ran over the lower half of his body, forcing him to have his left leg amputated right up to his pelvic bone.
The horrific incident caused Bertrand to sink into depression, particularly devastated by his immobility and the fear that he would never engage in his passion for filmmaking again. But although his legs had been crushed in the accident, his spirit and soul emerged unscathed. After a long and arduous recovery process under the care of his then-girlfriend Janice Fong, Bertrand’s life was set back in motion. By 2009, he burst back on the scene with a string of TV commercials and shorts like “Singapura”, commissioned by the ciNE65 board.
10. Han Yew Kwang
Filmography: “Pinball” (2001), “The Call Home” (2002), “Singapore’s Funniest Home Video” (2003), “Tie Nan” (2004), “Unarmed Combat” (2005), “18 Grams of Love” (2007), “Folks Jump Over The Wall” (2008), “When Hainan Meets Teochew” (2010), “Love In A Cab” (2010), “Perfect Rivals” (2011)
What’s Up Next?: Han’s latest feature film, “Rubbers”, is a no-holds-barred sex comedy starring Yeo Yann Yann, Julian Hee, Marcus Chin, Oon Shu An and Alaric Tay amongst others.
Some call him “quirky”, and others “off-kilter”, but whatever it is that you might label this established writer-director, it’s hard to deny that Han Yew Kwang is a storyteller with a style to call his own. Han never seems to stray far from a risque set-up and bawdy dialogue, whether it is in the form of a gender-fluid love story between “a manly woman and a womanly man” (When Hainan Meets Teochew), or an off-beat comedy about two best friends who scheme to write letters to each other’s wives in order to test their fidelity (18 Grams of Love).
The ex-Mediaworks director (he now helms his own production house, 18g Pictures) can be counted on to keep things lighthearted, going places where few others dare to. He is sometimes criticized for juvenilia that finds itself waist-deep in sitcom wasteland, but if you love a good raunchy comedy, get ready for the theatrical release of “Rubbers” this end-April!
So then why does film matter? It matters because film has the power to transport us a world outside of our own, without us even lifting a finger. And as much as it is about expanding our horizons, it is also about looking within – which often demands us to hold a mirror up to the ugliest side of ourselves.
Support our fellow Singaporeans keeping their craft alive, as they continue to weave a tapestry of our Singapore story. This list, while diverse, is far from exhaustive; if there are any local filmmakers you love, show your appreciation and leave us a comment below. Each word of encouragement will go a long way!
Launched by Nexus in July 2011, ciNE65 encourages aspiring film-makers to tell their Singapore story and what Singapore means to them. 230 entries were submitted in the third season of ciNE65. The participating teams stand a chance to win top prizes like a fully sponsored trip to an overseas international film festival, Panasonic equipment and cash. Selected films will be up for public voting from 15 May onwards so stay tuned to ciNE65’s Facebook page or website for the latest updates!
This post was brought to you by the ciNE65 Short Film Competition.