The Singapore-made film ‘That Girl in Pinafore’ has been getting good vibes from movie-goers who were unexpectedly treated to a heartwarming tale of teenage friendship and romance set during the xinyao (Chinese folk music and songwriting) movement in Singapore.
It has been selling out during evening screenings since it opened 1 August and over the National Day weekend, its director Chai Yee Wei said on his Facebook account, though support from cinema chains has been lukewarm in terms of screening times.
In the last two years, homegrown films have seen a resurgence of sorts, thanks in part to a new generation of Singaporean filmmakers.
That is not to say the more seasoned filmmakers are taking a backseat. Posting an exceptionally strong performance recently were the movies on basic military training or national service, by Singapore’s box-office king Jack Neo.
‘Ah Boys to Men’ (2012), with its $6.3 million in box-office takings, helped Neo to break his own 14-year box-office record held by ‘Money No Enough’ (1998). The sequel ‘Ah Boys to Men 2’ (2013) went on to score S$7.9 million in box-office takings when it was screened during Chinese New Year this year.
In 2011, Kelvin Tong’s ‘It’s A Great Great World’,set in Singapore in the 1950s to 1970s, tapped into nostalgia and was a rare occasion where Chinese dialects could be heard almost throughout the entire film. It took in $2.5 million at the box office.
Then, there were the two-part feature documentaries ‘Old Places’ (2010) and ‘Old Romances’ (2012) by Royston Tan, Eva Tang and Victric Thng, which focused on preserving the memories of fast-disappearing places in Singapore. Both shows were aired on the Okto channel and there have been calls for repeat screenings, helping to spark an interest among the young towards heritage preservation.
What else have been brewing in the Singapore movie scene? We find out more about five young movers and shakers in the new generation of filmmakers.
It is almost impossible to miss his name amid the extensive press coverage.
Anthony Chen, 29, became an overnight sensation after winning the Camera d’Or Award (Best Debut Feature) for ‘ILO ILO’ at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival this May – a first for a Singaporean.
The film tells of the bond between a Filipino domestic helper and the boy to whom she was caregiver, as well as the dramatic conflicts within the family.
The narrative, set against the backdrop of the financial crisis in the late 1990s in Singapore, is partially based on Chen’s personal experience. In an even more dramatic turn of events in real life, news about the film led to Anthony and his family members reuniting with his domestic helper whom he has not seen in 16 years.
Chen started his film education at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film and Media Studies, where he made his debut short film ‘G-23’ (2004). His second short film, ‘Ah Ma’ (2007),was nominated for a Cannes’ Palme d’Or for short films and was awarded a Special Mention, making his recent Cannes’ Camera d’Or win even more significant when you connect the dots.
'ILO ILO' trailer
His third short film, the R21-rated ‘Haze’ (2008), was made when Chen was pursuing his Masters in Film Directing at the National Film and Television School, UK.
In 2009, he was given the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council.
‘ILO ILO’ will be shown in cinemas in Singapore from 29 August.
Boo Junfeng’s debut feature film ‘Sandcastle’ (2010) is a coming-of-age story about a teenager trying to reconcile with past memories of his late father, and how his personal memory intertwines with that of the nation.
It premiered in-competition at Cannes Film Festival’s International Critics’ Week, and was also listed by The Wall Street Journal as one of Asia’s most notable films of 2010.
Boo, 29, has been a celebrated short-filmmaker for many years, winning the Best Short Film award at the Singapore International Film Festival twice – with his debut ‘A Family Portrait’ (2004) and ‘Keluar Baris’ (2008), and getting a Special Mention with ‘Katong Fugue’ (2007).
Never one to shy away from taboo subjects, his graduation thesis film ‘Tanjong Rhu’ (2009) depicts the entrapment of a homosexual man by a police officer, and it was rated R21 despite appeals by the filmmaker to lower the rating.
Even as he pushed the boundaries as an artist, he was recognised by the authorities and was given the Young Artist Award in 2009 and the Singapore Youth Award in 2011.
Boo is now working on the pre-production of his second feature film tentatively titled ‘Apprentice’, and is reportedly touching on the subject of capital punishment in Singapore.
Besides filmmaking, Boo has been an activist and is a key member of the creative team and organising committee of the Pink Dot movement for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in Singapore since its inception. One of his latest works is the music video for the event (below).
Chai Yee Wei
Chai Yee Wei
Chai Yee Wei, 37, has made three feature-length films over a span of four years, and by Singapore’s standards, would probably make him the most prolific among the new generation of filmmakers.
He is known for his debut film ‘Blood Ties’ (2009), which was not only commercially released in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan, it also starred two veteran Hong Kong actors, Kenneth Tsang and Cheng Pei Pei.
His next film ‘Twisted’ (2011) was a mix of horror and comedy made up of three short stories, including one starring comedian Mark Lee as a man desperately using motor parts to act as a shield for his private parts.
Chai had cut his teeth in short filmmaking, taking part in events such as the Fly By Night Challenge and MDA Panasonic Digital Film Fiesta, where he won a Merit Award for his 2005 debut short film comedy ‘Lausai’ (‘Diarrhoea’).
Another popular short film ‘My Blue Heaven’ (2008) premiered at the 5th Singapore Short Cuts and was in various film festivals. It won the Audience Award at the Filmstock International Film Festival UK.
In his latest venture ‘That Girl in Pinafore’, Chai finally had the chance to make the film closest to his heart, paying tribute to the Chinese folk music movement in the 1980s to early 1990s in Singapore, while making satirical digs at the preservation of culture and languages.
‘That Girl In Pinafore’ is now showing in cinemas.
Its xinyao-inspired track (below), ‘Ma Que Xian Zhu Zhi’ (‘The Sparrow Song’), composed by Singapore composer Liang Wern Fook, was featured during the opening of the movie. Previously banned for 23 years due to its Chinese dialect verses, the song was finally allowed to be aired on national radio, thanks to popular demand after the music video went viral on social media.
Liao Jie Kai
Liao Jie Kai, 29, belongs to a growing group of filmmakers who are also artists. He has taken part in Singapore Biennale 2011 and Berlinale Talent Campus 2012, where he was given the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council of Singapore in the same year.
A graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Jiekai now lectures at Singapore’s School of the Arts.
Liao has directed several short films since 2005, most notably ‘Clouds in a Shell’ and ‘The Inner City’.
His latest short film ‘Before the Wedlock House’, which captured a woman’s wedding day, was presented at the 9th Singapore Short Cuts before winning the Best Documentary Short at the ASEAN-based 2nd Salaya International Documentary Film Festival this year.
Liao’s first feature length film ‘Red Dragonflies’ (2010) won the Special Jury Prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival and was selected for competition at many other film festivals, making it one of the most well-travelled Singapore films in the festival circuit of that year.
Returning home, the film went on to have a well-received commercial release at Filmgarde cinemas in 2011.
A film buff himself who regularly attends various film festivals and Singapore Film Society screenings, Liao is now working on his second feature-length film that is a spin-off from a short film titled ‘Song of Tomorrow’ shot in 2012.
The film blends mystery and romance to depict the story of childhood sweethearts who grow distant over the years, not unlike Taiwanese filmmaker Edward Yang's ‘Taipei Story’.
Wong Chen-Hsi, 35, joins a growing pool of women filmmakers in Singapore that include Wee Li Lin, Sun Koh, Tan Pin Pin and Eva Tang.
A self-professed late-bloomer in filmmaking, Wong did not pick up a camera until her mid-20s, when she worked for noted documentary filmmaker Roger Weisberg as a production assistant on his Oscar-nominated film ‘Sound and Fury’ (2000).
She went on to study film at University of Southern California, and is now a filmmaking lecturer at Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media.
Wong’s short film credits include the award-winning ‘Who Loves the Sun’ (2006), made when she was still based in Los Angeles, ‘Conversations on Sago Lane’ (2010), her first made-in-Singapore film, and ‘Open City at the Smell’ (2013).
She made news again recently when her feature debut ‘Innocents’ was shown at the Shanghai International Film Festival and she was named Best Director in the Asian New Talent section of the festival.
The film is a delicate coming-of-age story about a young girl, abandoned by her parents, who strikes up a friendship with an ostracised boy.
‘Innocents’ will be screened in Singapore from 26 September to 5 October as part of the ‘Frame x Frame’ series at The Arts House.
A film buff, David Lee lives and breathes cinema. The former TV producer and writer is the vice-chairman of the Singapore Film Society.