Singapore’s Cinematic Ship Sails On Familiar Course

pop aye Movie Singapore
Courtesy of Kino Lorber

After a stellar 2016, when two Singaporean films had their world premiere in Cannes, Boo Junfeng’s “Apprentice” and K Rajagopal’s A Yellow Bird,” 2017 has been a strong follow-up year.

The year kicked off with confirmation that Kirsten Tan’s “Pop Aye” had been selected to premiere at Sundance in the World Cinema – Dramatic segment. There it was nominated for the Grand Jury prize and took home the Screenwriting Award. It went on to win the Big Screen Award at Rotterdam and the Golden Eye prize at Zurich.

The film also secured U.S. distribution via Kino Lorber and in addition had a commercial release at home in Singapore. Unsurprisingly, “Pop Aye” was chosen as Singapore’s entry for the Oscar foreign-language category.

Tan is delighted with the relative gender parity in Singapore. “Singapore is attuned to the fact that girls should be able to do what they want,” says Tan. “But yes, female filmmakers are a rarity and sometimes it takes a bit more to convince people.”

Singapore’s other local film productions relied heavily on comedy. They included: “The Fortune Handbook,” “Chennai2Singapore,” “Goodbye Mr. Loser,” “Lucky Boy,” and “Wonder Boy.”

Jack Neo, by far the country’s most commercially successful filmmaker, remains a ubiquitous Singapore cinema presence. This year he co-wrote Lunar New Year hit “Take 2” and directed “Ah Boys to Men 4” which is now on release and performing well at the box office. (There are plans to make a fifth “ABTM” in 2018.) Upping the sex and violence stakes was MM2 Entertainment’s “Siew Lup.”

After relatively short existence, MM2 Entertainment has become the dominant Singaporean film producer in terms of output. This year, in addition to making a slew of titles, it grabbed headlines with two attempts to become a vertically-integrated conglomerate. It bid and lost a takeover bid for 50% of Singapore’s leading cinema exhibitor Golden Village. (The share stake was later snapped up by existing investor Orange Sky Golden Harvest.) But recently agreed a deal to buy number two multiplex circuit Cathay Cineplexes.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority emerged in 2016 as a product of the merger between the Media Development Authority and the Info-Communications Development Authority. As both regulator and the sector’s biggest funding body, it plays a dominant role. This year it is expected to disburse some US$55.4 million (S$75 million) across film, broadcast and animation. (It is a major backer of this week’s Singapore Media Festival.)

In case 2017 were not memorable enough, this year also saw the release of time capsule documentary “In Time to Come,” by Tan Pin Pin. Tan is a documentarian who had a brush with the censors in 2014 with “To Singapore With Love.”

Content policing continues to exist in Singapore, with recent examples including the excision of a vibrator from an episode of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” while at the Singapore Fringe Festival, performances of “Undressing Room” and “Naked Ladies” were deemed too risqué.