Bringing Truth to Light – Films That Delve Into Asian Politics
*Disclaimer: Sinema.SG does not endorse any political beliefs and/or parties.
Flyers circulating to your doorsteps, familiar faces on every other street light and noisy vans driving around your neighbourhood can only mean one thing – election season is upon us in Singapore. It is a once-every-five years affair that keeps the whole country and the internet rife with speculation and anticipation for the next piping hot dose of poliTEAcs.
While Singapore’s politics is relatively stable and well-planned (excluding a certain East Coast plan), our Asian neighbours might not have such comforts. Each country has their own delicate web of politics. From India, where corruption is rampant, to Hong Kong, where turmoil is ever-present, to South Korea, where politics seem deceptively stable. Where else does good cinema come from, if not real life?
The Crossing (2018)
Director: Bai Xue
Runtime: 99 Minutes
The Crossing is a narrative set at the border between Mainland China, in the port city of Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. It follows the story of Pei Pei who travels across the border every single day in order to get to school. Soon, she gets embroiled in a smuggling operation that uses seemingly innocent school girls to get their job done. Eventually, things start spiraling out of control.
What makes The Crossing such a memorable film is Bai’s conscious choice to depoliticise her film, explicitly avoiding any mention of politics. However, I felt what this does is it shifts the onus of politicising the issue to the viewer – something that is impossible to avoid while discussing the border of the two countries.
This open-endedness is fuelled by Bai’s realist portrayal of Hong Kong to the Chinese people, denying them the caricature or fantastical showing that are often used to fuel tensions between the two countries. While this arthouse film may not be the punchy political film that you might expect, it is a quiet presentation of observations and perspectives in an otherwise boisterous political climate.
Unfortunately, The Crossing is not currently available online but we will update this if it is!
The Kingmaker (2019)
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Country: United States
Runtime: 100 Minutes
This is probably the most noteworthy and acclaimed documentary on this list and rightfully so. The Kingmaker has had a very successful run in many film festivals, including four nominations in the Critic’s Choice Documentary Awards, eventually winning the Most Compelling Living Subject of a Documentary category.
Imelda Marcos, the former First Lady of the Philippines, is the subject of this film. Each frame of the film reveals her monstrosities and brutal tyranny – to put it quite lightly. Greenfield takes the dialectic approach with her film, allowing Marcos to go off on a self-inflating and shrewd retelling of her life story. Her recounts are juxtaposed with interspersed interviews with survivors of martial law torture and officials who investigated the Marcoses in depth.
The Kingmaker is chilling and very expertly taken, almost goading the Marcoses into revealing their own narcissism and blatant disregard for anything other than money. The political climate of the Philippines is explored at length, with the spotlight on the Marcos’ alliance with Rodrigo Duterte and his victory in the 2016 Philippine presidential elections. The insight provided by this film is unprecedented and goes down in history as a monumental success in shedding light to the truth.
The Kingmaker will be made available on Anticipate Pictures’s website soon so do check back!
Director: A.R. Murugadoss
Runtime: 164 Minutes
Sarkar, translating to government, is a film that is exactly about that, centering around the appalling corruption present in the Indian government. India’s politics has always been shrouded in controversies, with no one knowing what exactly is going on.
This film is set in Tamil Nadu, which, like all the other states in India, has its own state government. While Sarkar sheds light on the oppression of the common man by the government specifically in Tamil Nadu, this state of affairs can be extrapolated to all of India.
When Sundar Ramaswamy, a non-residential Indian corporate honcho, goes back to his hometown to cast his vote in the state elections, he finds that his vote had been stolen and already cast – a problem that is extremely prevalent in India. He then uses his power, resources and money to bring about systemic change to the electoral procedures and, eventually, the government.
Upon its release, Sarkar was engulfed in controversy due to its several jabs at real-life political kingpins in Tamil Nadu. The censor board ordered several scenes to be cut and parts of the audio to be muted, in order to continue airing. This, in turn, fuelled conspiracies that the government was trying to stifle an all-too uncomfortable airing of their dirty laundry. While the film also makes for a very entertaining watch, it puts across many deep-seated issues that the common man in India faces when politicians view politics like business rather than service.
Sarkar is available to stream on Netflix here.
1987: When The Day Comes (2017)
Director: Jang Joon-hwan
Country: South Korea
Runtime: 129 Minutes
1987 is based on the June Democratic Uprising, where mass protests for 19 days forced the ruling party in South Korea to hold elections, eventually leading to the country’s establishment of its modern-day government.
During the protests, a university student was held in custody and tortured to death by the authorities. Following that, another student was seriously injured when a tear gas grenade penetrated his skull, before eventually succumbing to his injuries. These incidents are the centre of the film and captured with great detail.
While the sacrifice of the students is a large part of 1987, the underlying message is dedicated to showing the domino effect of an uprising and a democratic movement. Jang propels the film headfirst into an all-out political outing, while ambitiously trying to cover everything from corruption, injustice, romance, media propaganda and police brutality.
Jang’s efforts paid off as 1987 swept 24 awards that year across many ceremonies including the awards for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay. The film is a testament to the importance of accurate retelling of events. While political commentaries are riveting, historically factual films are necessary since films are the most wide-reaching medium for storytelling and documentation.
1987: When The Day Comes is available for rent on Amazon Prime here.
M For Malaysia (2019)
Director: Dian Lee & Ineza Roussile
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Our neighbour’s politics is extremely important to Singapore because it directly affects trade and also makes for class entertainment. M for Malaysia is a documentary about their 14th General Elections in May 2018 from campaigning to election night. The film features Tun. Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his party, Pakatan Harapan at length. Not a surprise since Roussile is his granddaughter and Marina Mahathir, the co-producer, is his daughter.
The obvious concern here is the tone of bias and peddling of their pro-Mahathir agenda. However, that is not the case with M for Malaysia. In fact, the film covers his first tenure as vice president and all his glorious blunders bravely, including the controversial Operation Lalang. The highlight of the film is the behind-the-scenes access given to viewers to fully understand the partnership Mahathir and the opposition leaders forged, all to take down one very corrupt man – Najib Razak.
The film succeeds in humanising 92 year-old Mahathir with many intimate moments between his wife and family captured on camera. M for Malaysia is perhaps important for Malaysians to remind themselves about the time they banded together to change the face of the country forever. It is a beacon of hope for better times and a film that should always remain at the back of every Malaysian’s mind.
M for Malaysia is available for rent on Amazon Prime here.
Politics might not be everyone’s cup of tea because it is often ruthless in its pursuit of respective agendas. It is immensely enlightening how each Asian country’s politics is so dynamic and vastly different from each other, despite being so geographically near.
As a democracy in Singapore, voting is the basic right of every citizen and we must use our power responsibly. Make an informed decision, vote wisely.