Netflix recently made headlines when it revealed that more than a hundred Singapore-made movies and series would be progressively added to its platform over the coming month (which is August, in case you’ve lost track of the days and dates), and the announcement really couldn’t have come at a better time.
While the yearly festivities marking National Day are carrying on as per not-so-normal on a smaller scale, with the dark shadow of COVID-19 still looming over the world, it’s probably wise to fête the Republic’s 55th birthday at home with just your nearest and dearest. Which makes curling up on the couch and binge-watching the best that homegrown creatives have to offer a good (and safe) way to celebrate and get into the Singapore spirit.
And to help you kickstart your movie marathon, we’ve rounded up eight films that we think are well worth your time and attention. No Netflix? No problem. Quite a few titles listed below can also be found on meWatch (previously known as Toggle), which is thankfully free to view. Happy watching!
Local auteur Anthony Chen’s first feature film, Ilo Ilo, is a cult favourite for good reason. Awarded the prestigious Camera d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Ilo Ilo is a sensitive study of a family in flux during the Asian financial crisis of 1997. The film is centred on 12-year-old Jiale, his estranged parents, and their new helper, Teresa or Auntie Terry, as they navigate the ups and downs of life in the midst of a severe recession. Besides touching on the complex relationship between domestic help and the children they look after, Chen deftly takes on. close-to-home topics such as class tensions and the lure of material wealth. Inspired by the director’s own childhood and personal bond with his former Filipina nanny, Ilo Ilo is essential viewing for anyone looking to peel back the façade of family life in Singapore.
12 Storeys made history in 1997 when it became the first-ever Singaporean film to be screened at Cannes, and it’s still regarded as a crucial milestone for the arts scene on our island. As its title might suggest, the film is set in an HDB block, and unfolds the narratives of the flats’ various inhabitants within a 24-hour period. A commentary on the everyday lives of the country’s citizens, the plot can be distilled into three main storylines: China Bride, which zooms in on a middle-aged man adjusting to life with his new wife; San San, portraying a lonely woman struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts; and Sister’s Keeper, which depicts on an overbearing elder brother who tries to lord it over his rebellious younger siblings. Prepare for an unexpected turn of events before the credits roll.
I Not Stupid
Jack Neo’s satirical comedy I Not Stupid may have debuted nearly two decades ago, but it holds up even today as one of the wittiest social commentaries in the local film repertoire. Revolving around the lives of three Primary 6 students in the EM3 academic stream as they prepare for their PSLE exams and the mishaps they find themselves in, the movie is light-hearted enough to guarantee much laughter, but also provides a candid reflection on parental and societal expectations, and the pressures of the Singaporean education system.
Directed by husband-and-wife duo Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen, and inspired by their essay Paved With Good Intentions, the award-winning production tackles the notion of the Singaporean Dream, aptly summed up in the 5 Cs — cash, car, condo, credit card, and country club. Focusing on the six members of the working-class Loh family, all of whom are caught up in the struggle to achieve their ambitions and desires, the film questions what the meaning of life is in a city like ours, and lays bare the stark difference between aspiration and reality in a darkly humorous way. It’s a must-see.
A musical homage to the tradition of “getai” performances during the seventh month, 881 is an exuberant comedy-drama by Royston Tan. It tells the story of best friends Big Papaya and Little Papaya (pronounce 881 in Mandarin and it sounds like papaya), who are determined to succeed with their singing act on the stage. Throw in magical powers bestowed by the Goddess of Getai, fierce rivals the Durian Sisters, campy costumes and romantic complications, and you have a film that runs the gamut from side-splitting funny to tear-jerking poignancy. Definitely an enjoyable experience.
Ah Boys To Men II
Another goldmine of humour from filmmaker Jack Neo, Ah Boys To Men II follows a group of army recruits as they continue on in the rite of passage that is mandatory national service. Picking up where the first movie left off, Ken Chow returns to basic military training determined to be the best recruit possible, but his change in attitude proves to be a source of conflict between him and his section mates, particularly with Lobang. Like its predecessor, the sequel was a runaway hit at the box office, smashing several local records, and it deserves a place on your watch list.