Five Singaporean Directors To Watch for 2021 (and Beyond)
Eric Khoo, Royston Tan, Wee Li Lin, Don Aravind, Sanif Olek, Ong Kuo Sin, Anthony Chen, Boo Junfeng, K. Rajagopal, Kirsten Tan, Raihan Halim — these are just a handful of the well-known names that have been the standard-bearers of Singapore storytelling. More recently, Singapore has gotten to know more filmmakers to join the list, such as Nicole Midori Woodford, Tan Wei Ting, Gladys Ng, and Yeo Siew Hua.
Here at Sinema.SG, we strive to be ahead of the curve; to highlight the directors who have been quietly challenging what was previously thought to be impossible and pushing the industry forward with their works. In this list, we identify just some of these names who have flown under the radar. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in most production schedules, we remain excited about what is in store from them.
(Editor’s note: This list is, by no means, conclusive. Sinema.SG will always celebrate the achievements and works of all Singaporean creatives. Yet, as much as it pains us, we have our blind spots.
Whether you are a student filmmaker or an industry professional, we would love to echo out any details of your upcoming projects. Reach out to us at email@example.com, or drop us a message on our social media pages.)
With several high-profile and critically-acclaimed long-form dramas to his name, Ler Jiyuan is one of Singapore’s finest filmmakers working today. Versatile with an array of genres and styles, it is with his social realist works that have excited us the most. This includes award-winning short film The Drum, telemovie Gone Case and HBO series Invisible Stories, where Yeo Yann Yann’s performance scored an Emmy nod for Best Performance by an Actress.
For us, what has stood out about Ler’s works in this subgenre is with his ability to grasp the raw drama and tensions that come with Singapore life. He is uncompromising with how he brings back to our attention the familiar issues, people and stories that we may have subconsciously tried our best to relegate to the back of our minds. While a popular genre amongst local filmmakers, few can present an undiluted and unfiltered view of Singapore quite like Ler.
Ler is currently working on a feature film script centred on a fractured Singaporean family, and developing a series for a regional broadcaster.
With more than 15 years in the industry, Boi Kwong has been behind the scenes as a producer for some of Singapore’s biggest commercial hits, such as We Not Naughty, The Diam Diam Era, and Golden Horse Award winner Number 1.
Boi made his directorial debut with 2008 film, The Days. Inspired by the director’s own experiences growing up, the film presents a gritty yet cautionary tale about the pitfalls of youth gang involvements. Its hardy theme would be a contrast to the film’s production values: slick, refined and punching far above its weight. The film was nominated for several international awards, including for the New Asian Talent Award at Shanghai International Film Festival 2009.
Since the time of its release, Singapore cinema has swapped its fascination with the country’s underbelly for pensive dramas searching for belonging and national identity in the heartlands. After almost 13 years away, Boi’s return to the director’s chair is shaping up to be a thrilling throwback.
In development and titled Passion of Shangri-La, the thriller, set in Singapore’s red-light district, will connect five seemingly unconnected stories surrounding crime, sex, guilt, violence and perversion — all unfolding in one action-packed night.
Unbeknownst to many Singaporean youths today, director Glenn Chan may have been an integral part of their childhood. Making his start in 2004, Glenn has directed prominent local programmes such as Fighting Spiders, Yang Sisters and the first season of Code of Law.
His decades of experience as a director of photography has made meticulously crafted visuals his trademark. Perhaps Glenn’s attention to detail is best described by award-winning director Lee Thean-Jeen who, in a 2014 interview with SINdie, shared how every shot meant something to Glenn.
In 2019, Glenn made his feature-length directorial debut with Hong Kong-shot Shadows. The psychological thriller has been making waves since its world premiere at Hong Kong International Film Festival 2020. It was named by South China Morning Post’s Commissioning Editor Douglas Parkes as among the best Hong Kong cinema had to offer from 2020.
The film is set for a Singapore release in the second quarter of 2021. Chan is currently working on a network series and two new feature films — a thriller set in Singapore and an action film set overseas.
Check out our interview with the director here.
JD Chua remains the only filmmaker in the world who can list himself as having interned under acclaimed Hollywood director Michael Mann. During his time in Hollywood, he worked with his mentor, Blumhouse Productions, and Millennium Films on several productions.
Beyond directing, JD has been involved in just about every production role, including as visual effects coordinator for blockbuster Hitman: Agent 47, with a resume spanning across multiple genres. Much like how he travelled halfway across the world for an opportunity to mentor under Mann, one of his latest endeavours looks to be equally ambitious and trailblazing.
Circle Line is both JD Chua’s feature film debut and Singapore’s first monster film. Starring Jesseca Liu, Peter Yu and Andie Chen, a late-night train ride turns into a battle for survival for the passengers on board when the train veers into an abandoned tunnel housed by a terrifying creature. Originally slated for release in 2019, the highly-anticipated film, with its premiere date pushed back again in 2020 due to the global pandemic, now has a 2021 release date in sight.
Also in the works for JD is The Rocks of Hua Lamphong, a road trip noir spanning Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Continuing down the vein of genre firsts in Singapore, filmmaker Marcus Lim makes a splash with spy thriller The Man on the Other Side. With a European cast and a story set in Germany 1974, the spy thriller is about as out of the ordinary as it gets for a film directed by a Singaporean — perhaps except for Marcus.
A prolific writer and journalist for Variety, Marcus’s filmography consists of ambitious genre works such as action shorts Word Without Heroes and East Of Aden. Marcus has also worked as a freelance scriptwriter for two episodes of local television Code of Law. His feature-length debut struck us with how intelligently crafted it is. Despite a modest budget, a striking sense of tenacity permeates The Man on the Other Side, expertly working around any limitations to deliver an intriguing and engaging story.
Marcus is currently developing on a 12-part premium series for television, and his next feature film, a political thriller film titled August Men about a high-level meeting convened by Singapore’s first parliament cabinet the week before 9 August 1965. He is also working on a Western-genre film set in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Two upcoming screenings of The Man on the Other Side have sold out but do keep a lookout for future opportunities to catch the spy thriller through the film’s Facebook page. In the meantime, check out our interview with Marcus and our review of The Man on the Other Side.