FILM REVIEW: Sister
Roman Catholic nun Sister Gerard Fernandez became a death row counsellor after Catherine Tan was sentenced to hang. Catherine Tan was one of the two holy wives of the infamous Adrian Lim — a spirit medium whose outrageous story of sex, rituals and rites shocked the entire nation.
Sister Gerard visited and counselled Catherine every step of the way — until Catherine walked to the gallows in her final moments.
Director: Chai Yee Wei
Cast: Cassandra Maria Rudge, Yulin Ng, Justin Lee
Review by Jean Wong
Sister (2019) is a chilling yet comforting tale entwined into one. The story is set in the context of the Toa Payoh ritual murders that occured in 1981, where supposed spirit medium Adrian Lim and his two holy wives tricked many women for their money and sexual services. The Toa Payoh ritual murders were, however, named for an entirely different crime that the three of them committed. Lim killed two children near a block of flats in Toa Payoh, seemingly to derail police investigation of his prior crimes, although it was not known whether he also had ritualistic intentions or not.
Sister takes a closer look at Sister Gerard Fernandez (Cassandra Maria Rudge), who was the spiritual counsellor of Lim’s two wives, Catherine Tan Mui Choo (Yulin Ng) and Hoe Kah Hong (Renee Chua), as they awaited their death penalty. Fernandez visited them every week for seven years, helping to offer them comfort for their sins. Steeped in religious undertones, the film attempts to send a message about forgiveness, particularly for convicts, through Catherine’s story. Whether viewers are religious or not, the message is clear.
With outstanding acting, the actors complemented the mood in Sister and represented the original case well. The constant dark and gloomy setting wraps the film in a heavy blanket and sets a serious tone in dealing with the topic. Two films surrounding this particular news story had been previously made, although to little success. What Sister does that its previous two predecessors did not do was to focus the story on a more likeable character rather than the perpetrators themselves. At the same time, using Sister Gerard’s perspective allows the film to humanise them and portray them in a less harsh light.
Though most of Singapore society strongly condemned the murderers then, Sister Gerard went against the grain and took the first step in showing them forgiveness. Sister is indeed a powerful film that shows the implication of such an act to both the forgiver and the forgiven, and reminds us that oftentimes, particularly with inmates and convicts, it is not our place to judge.
About 15 Shorts
15 Shorts is a collaboration between the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and Blue3Asia. Fifteen film directors provide an alternative perspective to the nation-building narratives of the era; their films tell true stories of Singaporeans who performed powerful acts of selflessness between the 1970s and 1990s. These are slice-of-life stories that reveal how this human, giving side has always been a part of us.
In the spirit of giving, each director will dedicate his or her film to a charity in Singapore. Working with NVPC, the directors have curated a list of charities that cover a spectrum of needs, including support for the elderly, people with autism, and migrant workers.
About the director’s chosen organisation
Seventy Times Seven (70×7) is an initiative within Prison Fellowship Singapore that promotes restorative justice. It is the non-religious arm of PFS. Our services and programmes serve the community of families and individuals in the Singapore prison system and seek to reconcile love and justice. Click here to help out the organisation financially. Click here to help out in other ways through volunteering your time.