100 SECONDS ON THE RED SOFA: A Land Imagined5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
A Land Imagined uncovers a tale of a migrant labourer from China lost in Singapore’s land reclamation sites, and a detective determined to find him.
Released in 2018, the film is quickly becoming a landmark of Singapore cinema, being the first Singaporean film to win the Golden Leopard – the top prize at Switzerland’s Locarno International FIlm Festival – and being Singapore’s entry into the Best International Feature Film category at this year’s Academy Awards.
The film’s latest accomplishment is its two wins at this year’s Golden Horse Awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Film Score. “It was a very blinding experience,” says A Land Imagined’s award-winning composer, Teo Wei Yong. “We had a blast.” For Siew Hua, to be on the Golden Horse Awards stage and to receive the award meant a lot to him, describing the Awards as the “Oscars of Chinese Cinema.”
And to think that the pair’s working relationship started all the way back with Siew Hua’s final year project in his polytechnic days. Wei Yong recounts, “We were both in separate polytechnics but we somehow, by some twist of fate, met up.” Subsequently, Siew Hua had Wei Yong on board for his first feature film In The House of Straw.
“I think because we have been working together for so long, we have built a real working dynamic,” says Siew Hua. “The thing about explaining sound and music is that it is very abstract.” Despite this difficulty, the understanding between the pair would pay off in A Land Imagined with its truly unique and outstanding soundtrack.
Wei Yong was drawn to the project as it is “about a lot of the unknown facets of Singapore”, of lesser seen landscapes everyday Singaporeans rarely see from most TV programmes. “I wanted to create an unfamiliar film score to accompany this new landscape, and to make locals feel like they are looking at this place with new eyes,” he explains. “It is like Singapore with a blank canvas all over again.”
The film’s award-winning screenplay is inspired by Siew Hua’s experiences in the dormitories of Singapore’s migrant workers, and he sought to capture the spaces where they inhabited.
Perhaps what is most indicative of his working process is with how he arrived at constructing one of the film’s scenes situated in the virtual world of the computer game Counter-Strike. Here, our lead, Wang, narrates about his loneliness in a foreign land set against glitchy graphics.
Siew Hua spent time with the migrant workers, experiencing what they would do if one was sleepless in the middle of the night. This naturally brought him to the cybercafe’s of the red light district, which operated 24 hours and where one might find some kind of human connection however disconnected it may actually be online. From there, Siew Hua felt that he had to engage in that space. That was when the idea struck him, especially with the game’s desert visuals paralleling film’s land reclamation sites.
“When you die in Counter-Strike, you end up with this free-look camera flying around while waiting for your turn to respawn,” Siew Hua explains. “At the same time, this parallels the lead’s situation when he talks about his own death and feeling ignored.” He felt that it was a natural match to use this free-look camera in game for the scene; to signify an out of body experience and to be a ghost floating around.
For Siew Hua, a lot of the film is about a “suffocating burial,” and this led him to run the game’s free-look camera into the ground. What happened was that the game could not process the ‘reality’ below the ground and the game started to glitch. He explains, “If I take this as a reference to what my film is, it is a land that we have created; a certain reality that is not organically grown out – about land reclamation, about recreating this space and a reality that we see that works until it does not.”
In terms of the film’s legacy, Siew Hua hopes that it will add to a larger conversation of “the Singapore experience and what it means to be part of this Singapore narrative.” For Wei Yong, he hopes that he has brought a unique form of film music to A Land Imagined that has “never really been quite heard in almost all of our local productions.”
He is currently working on Circle Line, an upcoming horror creature film. Meanwhile, Siew Hua is developing his next film Stranger Eyes while working on a number of theatre projects and expanding his work to include other visual arts projects.
Catch the last Singapore screening of A Land Imagined on 15 December at The Projector and be on a lookout for the film’s DVD releasing soon. The film is also available for streaming on Netflix. In the meantime, follow the film’s Facebook page for all things A Land Imagined.
Check out our review of the noir thriller here.
About 100 Seconds On The Red Sofa
100 Seconds On The Red Sofa shines the spotlight on movers and shakers in the Singapore film and media scene, with each episode featuring people that are making waves and contributing to the industry’s growth and enrichment.
The Red Sofa has come a long way and has a rich history, dating all the way back to Sinema Old School in 2007. It’s seen a generation of young local filmmakers come into their own; now we’re dusting it off for another round.