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Singapore Dreaming

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Directed by Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh
Running time: 105 minutes
Released on September 7, 2006

In a nutshell
The movie showcases the fragile dreams held by a Singaporean family and centred around the pursuit of those dreams.


Singapore DreamingHere’s my definition of a Singapore film: It should have a primary plot that revolves around money — pursuing it, using it, lacking it, being obsessed with it and enjoying (or not) the status that it brings. The film also needs a secondary plot that addresses alienation from family, friends or a country that will never accept who you are. Yeah, it’s angsty but perhaps that’s because Singaporeans have a lot to be angsty about. At first glance Singapore Dreaming seems to meet these requirements easily. Let’s see:

  • Singaporean(s) looking for a way to get rich quick — check.
  • Flawed father figure — check.
  • Long-suffering female characters, including a mother who has difficulty understanding her children — check.
  • Dreams of making it and rising above one’s social status — check.

The film is centred around a Singaporean family’s dreams of the 5Cs: cash, car, condo, country club and credit card. But it dares to venture further. One character dreams of becoming a musician, another of starting a family of her own. And you think that’s great because you don’t often see this side of Singaporeans. And you start to hope. But you sit on the edge of your seat because this is a Singapore movie and there is always the danger of these dreams getting dashed.

And dashed they are. From the start, we have the melodramatic set-up of the family eagerly awaiting the return of their precious only son from his education overseas, as if it’s the second coming (always a recipe for disaster in good melodrama). Upon his return, the son returns and runs into problems fitting into a system that does not recognise the degree that he has worked so hard for.

One upset follows another and by the time the film’s halfway through, you wonder when the torture melodrama will end. The family is put through the throes of agony, as is the audience, when tragedy after tragedy strikes like a mallet on the brain.

If it sounds by now like I did not actually like the movie, you’d be partially right. I tend to use movies to get away from reality for an hour and a bit, and Singapore Dreaming didn’t let me do that. I expected something lighter because it was by co-written and -directed by Colin Goh (who used to write the comic strip, The Concrete Jungle), and I was a little disappointed halfway through the movie when I realised it wasn’t a comedy.

Don’t get me wrong: the cast was stellar, the script was excellent and it felt real — and that made the movie that much more uncomfortable to watch. It was like viewing your most embarrassing relatives getting into verbal fisticuffs at Chinese New Year. It was unsettling because of its reality.

There is resolution of this melodrama of course and by the time the movie ends, one feels a huge sense of relief as most of the problems are solved with the deus ex machina provided by money. Which leads one to wonder, if money is the panacea to the Singaporean plight, what are such films really saying about us?

Watch the trailer here.

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3 Comments

  1. […] Okay, so it was the first English film to be shot entirely in Singapore since 1978’s They Call Her … Cleopatra Wong. It was also almost entirely financed by beauty pageant organiser Errol Pang (who had a cameo as a doctor — ah, a poetic mirroring of Dr Woffles Wu’s own big screen venture this year!), and it starred Singapore’s Margaret “I’ll crush you like a cockroach” Chan. More importantly, it rode on the shocking crimes of Toa Payoh’s medium-murderer Adrian Lim. […]

  2. 3 December 2006 at 4:11 pm

    […] Okay, so it was the first English film to be shot entirely in Singapore since 1978’s They Call Her … Cleopatra Wong. It was also almost entirely financed by beauty pageant organiser Errol Pang (who had a cameo as a doctor — ah, a poetic mirroring of Dr Woffles Wu’s own big screen venture this year!), and it starred Singapore’s Margaret “I’ll crush you like a cockroach” Chan. More importantly, it rode on the shocking crimes of Toa Payoh’s medium-murderer Adrian Lim. […]

  3. 31 October 2006 at 6:30 pm

    thanks for this refreshing take on a film i haven’t seen yet but heard all the more about.
    i already figured it had to be the film of a century – which sounds somewhat boring in itself, doesn’t it?
    good you set that straight and as someone entitled to criticize (being from Singapore) this review served its course well.
    let’s see how the dish will go down with us over here (Europe that is). and maybe we’ll even be given a chance to make up our minds for ourselves, thinking: oh, that’s what life is like in Singapore, see? ts, ts, ts 🙂

    mo

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