Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 Singapore Movies Year in Review

The lineup of Singapore films for the year normally begins from the lucrative Lunar New Year period, which depending on the almanac can either be in late January or February. It's no different for 2011, except that it bucked the trend of having A Jack Neo Film featured by the first quarter of the year, being conspicuously missing after raking in rather good box office takings for consecutive years since 2005, no thanks to a scandal in the director's personal life. But that didn't stop J Team Productions' The Ghosts Must Be Crazy / 鬼也笑 which spilled over from the end of 2010, so for all intents and purposes I'll consider that a 2010 film since it made its debut the year before through a series of preview screenings.

Moving in to fill the void are two made-for-the-Lunar-New-Year-season films in big studio offerings such as It's A Great Great World / 大世界 by Kelvin Tong featuring a stable of Mediacorp stars, and Homecoming / 笑着回家 spearheaded by Homerun Asia. Both feature vignettes of short stories and multiple narrative strands to ensure that broad based appeal for the masses, the former telling the story of a bygone era of an iconic theme park in Singapore, while the other went across the Causeway to team up comedic talents from both countries, highlighting the rather close cultural and familial ties between the people, and also the ever increasing numbers in film co-productions where a release (here at least) has that built-in chance for access to an expanded overseas market.

Han Yew Kwang's Perfect Rivals / 美好冤家 was also shot in Malaysia, and so was Boris Boo's Aku Tak Bodoh, a remake (so soon?) of Jack Neo's I Not Stupid Too, but neither managed a crack at the box office. Yew Kwang was peculiarly very uncharacteristic with his first studio film outing when one is to compare his independent efforts under his own 18g banner, and not forgetting that Perfect Rivals had blinked first in the Lunar New Year lineup, opting to postpone itself to a less crowded date where local audiences may not be all that forgiving. Aku Tak Bodoh tried to tap onto the Malay audience market here through some shrewd marketing calling itself a local Malay film, but the hard truths are that it is hardly so (filmmaking talent predominantly from Malaysia), and that segmenting the market in this fashion may not necessarily spell gold, especially when the film effort is a woeful one, enough to get into my Top 10 Duds of 2011. That's two consecutive strikes for Boris with the Top Dud of 2010 being PCK The Movie.

Some of us can't seem to shake the notion that local films have to travel overseas for accolades before coming back home for the local premiere, but I suppose the irrelevance of this toward the box office may force some to rethink their strategy. Tatsumi, Eric Khoo's gorgeous first animated feature effort have lined itself up in Cannes' Un Certain Regard and garnered an award at Sitges, but reception locally had proven to be relatively lukewarm at the box office, though to no surprise toward an Eric Khoo film, which is a pity. Wee Li Lin's second feature film Forever / 我愛你愛你愛你 had the distinct honour of being the first local film to world premiere at two festivals concurrently (Jakarta and Cairo International in December 2010), making its way back to Singapore in March, with lead actress Joanna Dong being the revelation of the movie playing an woman obsessed with love to the point of psychosis, a role she got recognized for from Shanghai, opposite Taiwanese actor Mo Tzu-Yi.

And Taiwan seems to be the country of choice for regional star presence to bolster local films these days. Besides Forever, Chai Yee Wei's sophomore horror-comedy feature Twisted / 撞鬼 has Linda Liao in a starring role in one of three shorts, but alas its rather choppy narrative pace didn't do it any favours. Twisted also reportedly earned an unceremonious ban in Malaysia although an appeal is underway to resubmit a re-edited version of the film.

Then there's Michelle Chong's first feature film Already Famous / 一泡而红 that features Taiwanese Alien Huang as the male lead opposite Chong's Malaysian character Kar Kiao, a comedic film that has gained traction and broken the proverbial S$1M revenue marker at the box office and is still counting, a feat only accomplished by a few local directors to date. I'm always adamant that having television presence and familiarity with household audience will put a local filmmaker in good stead, although it's not always the case if the story rings hollow and does not come from the heart. As clunky as the narrative goes, Already Famous dips into Chong's experience in the industry, while another actor turned director Li Nanxing wrote, directed and starred in The Ultimate Winner / 赢家, banking on his star power from television, boasting a plot and a similar character of a gambler that made him a household name, if only the film didn't sound too much like a church sermon with a juvenile, laughable and broadly nonsensical narrative, that it too ended up as one of the Top Duds of the year.

But the taste of local audiences toward the horror genre cannot be underestimated, even if the story doesn't make much sense with loopholes abound. So long as there are cheap scares provided, all will be forgiven. Just ask Gilbert Chan as he wrote and directed his solo feature film 23:59, an army horror story that didn't feature disciplined soldiers. Released under Eric Khoo's Gorylah Pictures banner, 23:59 laughed its way to the bank with almost US$1.2M at the box office and has recently premiered in Malaysia as well, having shot the film there in one of the Malaysian National Service camps. It had potential to be a classic given the many stories to adapt from, and a sizable ready market with the National Servicemen who will troop down to the cinemas as they had, but the result ended up as yet another entry as a Top Dud of the year. But hey, the box office response couldn't be wrong, and what do I know?

The Singapore International Film Festival Singapore Panorama sidebar continues to serve up local independent films despite its postponement to September and being plagued with a series of hiccups from botched projections to cancelled screenings without prior warnings, but luckily the sidebar emerged relatively unscathed. Ignore All Detour Signs by first time feature filmmakers Helmi Ali and Razin Ramzi making it to my Top 10 of 2011 list, and the only local film to be there. A documentary featuring the local band I Am David Sparkle and their struggles to make it to SXSW, this is one film that deserves to be seen by a wider audience, so do keep your eyes peeled for it should there be any encore screenings.

And SIFF this time round had more than its fair share of first time feature filmmakers venturing abroad for their maiden effort, with Kenny Ong's Sing the Blues shot in Japan, and Elizabeth Wijaya & Lai Weijie's I Have Loved gorgeously capturing Siem Reap in Cambodia and starring renowned local director Glen Goei. 13 Little Pictures made 2 world premieres with the latter film, as well as Daniel Hui's Eclipses, continuing with their brand of unconventional, arthouse fare to challenge the theatrical mainstream offerings that seem to predominantly centre around the genres of comedy and horror. Based here in Singapore, Madhav Mathur made his second feature film titled The Outsiders, which explores our rather cosmopolitan society through the eyes and perspectives of a foreigner, based upon some real life encounters as well. Kelvin Sng released a medium length film titled Fairytales / 童话 that served as a cautionary tale for and inspired by the wayward youths of today, while actor Edmund Chen became project director for Echoing Love, selecting 6 of the best short films from his Mission Easy initiative that had given opportunities to budding talent wishing to make inroads in the local film community.

On a larger, well funded and supported scale, ScreenSingapore burst onto the local film calendar with much fanfare, but what was glaringly absent was a true blue local film, with the event opting to choose two American indie projects with Where The Road Meets The Sun directed by Yong Mun Chee and Jesus Henry Christ produced by Sukee Chew having the honour of being featured under the Singapore Night highlight. Perhaps the next edition in 2012 may see a truly locally made entry to share the stage with other country-based theme nights. Rounding up the releases in 2011 are Liao Jiekai's Red Dragonflies that had gotten a local theatrical release at Filmgarde Bugis Illuma, and Tan Siok Siok's Twittamentary beta screening that happened at Objectifs.

So What's Just Over the Horizon in 2012?

There'll be A Jack Neo Film in January returning the director to his Lunar New Year tentpole strategy with We Not Naughty / 孩子不坏 which goes head to head with Mediacorp Raintree's Dance Dance Dragon, directed by first time feature filmmaker Kat Goh and the team from It's A Great Great World / 大世界. Cheng Ding An has just wrapped will be wrapping Ghost on Air / 靈聼 starring Dennis Chew who will also be seen in Dance Dance Dragon, and others include C.J. Harvaraj's The Magnum scheduled for April, and funnyman Jacen Tan releasing his first feature film called Zombiepura, where zombies invade our sunny little island. Should be fun, and something quirky to look forward to next year.

Local Films Box Office S$1M and Up (from Box Office Mojo)
- It's A Great Great World / 大世界: US$1.9M
- 23:59: US$1.2M
- Homecoming / 笑着回家: US$1.1M
- Already Famous / 一泡而红: US$0.9M and counting


YTSL said...

Hi Stefan --

How many Singapore films were/are there in total for 2011? (And yes, I'd count co-productions as well.)

Thanks in advance! :)

Stefan S said...

Hi YTSL, if I take those listed here:


It'll be 19. Not too shabby eh? :-)

However, Twittamentary was only a beta-screening, and I didn't include Jesus Henry Christ in the link above since I consider it more of a US Indie project, although it was included in the Year in Review as part of the ScreenSingapore presentation.

There's also a film called "The Genius of Beauty" that's completed that I came to know of during ScreenSingapore, but it didn't get released in any form. Alas I was a little lazy in requesting for a screener to review :P

YTSL said...

Hi Stefan --

It's interesting that you think of as 19 as not bad for your national cinema. It helps to contextualize Hong Kong cinema -- whose watchers tend to think that it's a major disaster if the number of films released in a year were to drop down to 50 or fewer. ;)

Stefan S said...

Hi YTSL, it'll be a milestone feat if we hit 30 in a year here :-)

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