FILM REVIEW: Factory (Super)Women
Factory (Super)Women is a documentary film that portrays the narratives of factory women who paved the way towards Singapore’s economic success. Inspired by his mother and grandmother’s experiences as factory workers, Wei Han seeks to record the oral history of female factory workers.
By providing the women a platform to remember, reminisce and reflect about their own experiences, Factory (Super)Women is infused with their bittersweet memories of factory work – from the stress and struggles of the production line, to the sense of community and sisterhood with their fellow workers.
Director: Alistair Ryan Chong
Language: English, Mandarin, Malay
Review by Jean Wong
Factory (Super)Women may not be a story of martyrdom or lifesaving women, but these factory workers are just as admirable in many ways. With a focus on the narratives of these female factory workers, the documentary seeks to acknowledge their experiences as part of our history for the first time.
Though these factory women certainly played a part in boosting Singapore’s economy, the influence they had on future generations goes beyond the economical level.
As Pang Wei Han, one of the filmmakers behind Factory (Super)Women, mentioned in our interview, he was inspired after hearing one of his mother’s stories about her experiences at a factory, which explained why she strove to treat others with kindness as much as possible. Her attitude towards life rubbed off on Pang, who hoped to emulate as similar a spirit as his mum.
Shot in a mix of interviews, old photographs and stop motion animation, Factory (Super)Women successfully weaves the different mediums together to produce a very affecting documentary.
Each medium works to the documentary’s advantage. The interviews, of course, serve as a point that keeps the documentary as intimate and personal as possible as these women dig through and share their memories with us. Interspersing this with stop-motion animation allowed the audience to visualise what they were talking about as they described their experiences at the factory — from their daily routines to their most unforgettable memories and challenges. The old photographs, most importantly, remind the audiences that these stories are real; that they’re not just make-believe. Though with the struggles these factory women faced, nobody could ever mistake it as fabrication.
The idea of these women being “super” is absolutely powerful, and in a way, true. Many of them had to sacrifice something — be it their education, their sleep or their health — to earn what little they could working at the factories.
The important takeaway from all these is not that they suffered much hardship. Rather, what was so historical were their common experiences as a factory worker. These women understood each other’s plight and therefore made sure to help each other as much as possible. This, in a way, paralleled the idea of how a family would not be able to function the same with the absence of any one member. Everyone is as important as the rest in a unit that relies on its members working together.
The culture that they cultivated at the factory is the point that we should all learn from. With many of our parents or the older generation having worked at a factory, their experiences might have influenced us just the way Pang’s mother influenced him. There is a very compelling narrative there to give thought to. Factory (Super)Women is a brilliant documentary that accords proper attention to these unspoken stories and their protagonists.