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Singapore Filmmakers Ride Local Film Production Boom

The Singaporean film industry is experiencing an unprecedented production boom. At least 14 homegrown films are due to release this year, a 50% increase from 2018, with another 15 in development, per the Singapore Film Commission. 

Last year saw unprecedented success for Singapore cinema, with Yeo Siew Hua’s “A Land Imagined” winning the Golden Leopard at Locarno, and several more awards globally. The film was released theatrically in Singapore in February 2019 and enjoyed a successful box office run. Jon M. Chu’s Singapore-set blockbuster “Crazy Rich Asians” led to a global uptick in interest in the island country; auteur Eric Khoo’s culinary themed “Ramen Shop” won plaudits at Berlin and Tokyo; and locally, horror films from Gilbert Chan (“23:59: The Haunting Hour”) and Jacen Tan (“Zombiepura”) found favor with audiences. 

Local superstar Jack Neo had a 2018 Lunar New Year release with comedy “Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei” from regional powerhouses MM2 Entertainment and J Team Prods., that was a box office smash in Singapore and Malaysia. The same team reunites for 2019 release “Killer Not Stupid.” Other upcoming comedies include Joyce Lee’s “Fat Hope” and Han Yew Kwang’s “When Ghost Meets Zombie.” Ong Kuo Sin has a comedy, “Number 1,” and a drama, “One Headlight,” coming up. 

This year will see the release of Chua Jing Du’s “Circle Line,” Singapore’s first monster movie, and Sam Loh’s revenge horror tale “Hell Hole.” 

The ever-popular Malay folk tale of a female vampire, or Pontianak, the subject of several films in the past, sees two very different interpretations in 2019 in M. Raihan Halim’s contemporary “Ibu” and the period “Dendam Pontianak” (“Revenge of the Pontianak”), from co-writers and co-directors Glen Goei and Gavin Yap. 

“We wanted to make an homage to the old classic black and white Pontianak films from the ’50s and ’60s, which is one of the reasons for the film’s period setting,” Goei and Yap say. “The Pontianak folktale is generally a tale of vengeance but it’s also a tale of tragic love and that was something we were very keen to focus on. We didn’t want to demonize the Pontianak. We wanted to tell the story from her point of view and to explore the origin of the Pontianak legend.” 

Singapore’s multicultural nature is reflected in Leonard Yip’s neo-noir “The Block,” which is in the commonly used languages Malay, Tamil, Chinese and English. The same language spread can be heard in Tan Bee Thiam’s comedy “Tiong Bahru Social Club.” German and English are the languages of Variety contributor Marcus Lim’s feature debut, the Cold War spy thriller “The Man on the Other Side.” 

Projects in development include Bernard Chauly’s Shanghai-set “Five Star Billionaire,” an adaptation of Tash Aw’s Man Booker-nominated novel; Ervin Han’s animated historical “The Violinist”; Melvin Mak’s inspirational action comedy “One More Chance”; and Jow Zhi Wei’s father-son drama “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” There is also a spate of horror films in the works including Mark Lee’s “Scared to Death,” Koh Chong Wu’s “Late Night Ride,” Glenn Chan’s “Shadows” and Daniel Yam’s action adventure “The Fatekeepers” that has supernatural elements. 

“I believe there is a strong pool of filmmakers and many interesting stories to be told, and the recent successes that our local films are achieving internationally is helping to shape our industry and make co-productions a little easier, which allows for more films to be made,” says Fran Borgia, producer of “A Land Imagined” and co-producer of “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” 

Singapore is also ideally placed to be a regional co-production hub. For example, “Motel Acacia,” now in post, directed by Malaysia’s Bradley Liew, is a co-production between Epicmedia Prods. from the Philippines, and Singapore’s Potocol; and “Changfeng Town” is directed by China’s Wang Jing, and     co-produced by Singapore’s Wormwood Films and China’s Anzhu Films. 

“Singapore has benefitted from a broader development of Southeast Asian cinema in general that is seeing a rise in young filmmaking talent,” Potocol’s Jeremy Chua says. “Festivals like Singapore, Jogja-NETPAC, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, QCinema, etc., are building a close-knit community where we are getting more competitive and innovative to shape a particular Southeast Asian film language and identity.” 

Chua is also co-producing Nicole Midori Woodford’s “You Are There” alongside Japan’s Shozo Ichiyama. 

“The local industry has also been supported by the Singapore Film Commission, which has become more engaged with independent filmmaking than ever before,” says Chua. “It creates an environment where new stories and great ideas have a chance to be developed and supported.” 

The Singapore Film Commission, a division of the Infocomm Media Development Authority, was set up in 1998.  

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