As National Day rolls round, it’s becoming to look at the things we’ve done well at, and that includes making our own films. In the late 1990s, a new film scene emerged here with filmmakers like Eric Khoo, Jack Neo and Kelvin Tong achieving prominence. Many other filmmakers have followed in their footsteps, and we now have a good crop local films every year to look forward to. Here, we look back fondly at some of the local movies that have now become classics.
‘Army Daze’ (Ong Keng Sen, 1996)
Army Daze is remembered fondly amongst many mainly because of its oh-so very relatable subject matter. Adapted from a play by Michael Chiang, the movie follows the lives of four fresh recruits through National Service ― Malcom the naive upper class Chinese boy, Johari the chubby rapper to be (played by Sheikh Haikel!), the foul mouthed Ah Beng, Krishnamoorthy the Bollywood-esque and, of course, Kenny Pereira the effeminate one. Through the eyes of Malcom, a pampered nerd who for the first time has to interact with ah bengs and mats, Ong looks at the issues and impact of National Service on individuals. The film still gets good ratings whenever it plays on TV, and the play has seen multiple iterations as well.
‘Forever Fever’ (Glen Goei, 1998)
My personal favourite local movie of all time, Forever Fever is a period flick that takes us back to Singapore in the late ’70s. Hock is a Bruce Lee worshipper working a dead end job. Despite his various responsibilities as the eldest son, his younger brother is favoured in the family due to his better education. Frustrated by the situation, Hock heads out with his friends to the movie theatre and ends up watching Saturday Night Fever. Inspired, he plans on entering a dance competition to earn prize money that can help him finally fulfill his dream of riding to Batu Pahat ‘Easy Rider’ style.
A superb cast really makes this film unforgettable. Adrian Pang is perfect as the idealistic Bruce Lee wannabe, Kumar cameos as a hilarious dance instructor and Pam Oei steals the show as Hock’s sister, a teen girl who’s into teenage romance fiction. Forever Fever got picked up for American distribution by Miramax in its heyday, a true testament to the quality of the flick.
‘Singapore Dreaming’ (Colin Goh & Woo Yen Yen, 2006)
Written and directed by Colin Goh, the brains behind TalkingCock.com, and Woo Yen Yen (and also oddly produced by Woffles Wu), the movie revolves around an average Chinese Singaporean family, with various aspirations of their own. The film successfully captures the pressure of living in Singapore, a fast-paced, status conscious society. In trying to keep up, the characters all crack and sacrifice certain things like pride, dignity and ‘face’. This an intriguing look at the typical lives of the middle class and theirs dreams. At the end of it all, you’ll be asking yourself ... is it worth it at all?
Money No Enough
‘Money No Enough’ (Jack Neo, 1998)
It’s easy to hate on Jack Neo... almost too easy. His films are predictable melodramas, Singaporean cliches and over-preachy . However, one cannot take away from him what massive commercial success of this film. Like many of his later films, the plot of Money No Enough revolves around three friends (played by Jack Neo, Mark Lee and Henry ‘Alamak’ Thia) and their dreams of running a business together. This film still stands as a rather clever satire of Singaporean’s obsession with money, as well as a portrait of Singapore during the Asian Financial Crisis of that era. The film’s success paved the way for heartland friendly comedy to be brought to the movie screens and is still the highest grossing Singaporean movie of all time.
‘Eating Air’ (Kelvin Tong, 1999)
Best described as a ‘kung fu-motorcycle’ story, Eating Air or ‘jiak hong’ in Hokkien means to go for a joyride. The film follows the chronicles of a petty Chinese street gang, whose interests lie in the pure joy of riding their bikes, gathering at video game arcades and so forth. The romance between Ah Boy (Benjamin Heng) and Ah Girl (Alvina Toh) capitalizes on young love in bloom, and manages to capture the simple thrills of a girl holding onto a guy as he rides down the streets on his prized bike. Heng and Toh both give very satisfactory performances. Surrounding this is the tension between Ah Boy and his best friend Ah Gu (Joseph Cheong), when the latter moves up from mere small time street punk to a gangster doing business with drug dealers and loan sharks. The film is raw but it’s a moving study of a big subculture of Singapore.
Dexian or just Dex if you have an inability to pronounce Chinese names, is a fervent film lover who's known to read up on the most inane pieces of cinema trivia just so he has something to talk about when he's drunk. When he's not watching something, he can be found reading other useless Wikipedia articles on things like Nebulaphobia.