Before we all spoke up, these films already did the talking

It is cooling day when no more rallies can be held. But political expression is still be rampant everywhere, except that we retreat to soft-selling for a day. SINdie serves up a softer version of political rhetoric today, something that grew out of the last 5 years since GE 2006. You see, long before the torrent of angry citizen journalism surfaced in the recent weeks running up to the 7 May voting day, many of our artists and filmmakers have been playing a crucial role in offering commentary. Chee Soon Juan, once demonised by the mainstream media, was put under a fairer spotlight under the hands of filmmaker Martyn See in the film Singapore Rebel. The power of film, unlike a political rally, is more sublime and potentially deeper. I found my 'political awakening' through Singapore Rebel. You might find this following list of films (made during the last electoral term) capable of doing the same. Here is my Top 12, in ascending order.

12.Invisible Children (2008, Brian Gothong Tan)
A brash, irreverent and poetically playful collage of stories about people in Singapore who run away and disappear forever. Two children run away from home and discover an ancient underground network of monsoon drains, tunnels and caves. An army officer obsessed with order and discipline realises that life isnít so black and white. A painfully shy man reluctantly saves his neighbour and experiences a spiritual awakening. Concocted from a heady mix of realism and poetic fantasy, Invisible Children is sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, but always thought-provoking.

Singapore is protrayed as a sterile place in which white features prominently in the colour palette of the film. Despite having many angry characters like the abusive mother, the boss of the law firm, the lieutenant caught in a dilemma between staying on and leaving, it is not an angry film and it is in fact quite composed in its portrayal of oppression in Singapore. It does its job of reminding us of how constricted we are but the thought of escaping, especially into a canal, is lost on me. Almost too conveninent a way to escape. However, this trailer gives useful tips on how to deal with oppression and bullying the next time you face one. I love our national icon, the Merlion, you can sleep with it and you can also defend yourself with it!


11.Keluar Baris (2008, Boo Junfeng)
A short film by Boo Junfeng about a boy who returns from his studies in Europe, two days before he is enlisted into the army. A sensitive depiction of an 18-year-old's struggle between national duties and personal liberty.

Boo Junfeng gets sensitive in this piece about a young man's pre-enlistment thoughts. For most boys these days, a film like this presents an anomalous thought, for most of us just want to party away what's left of our long-haired, responsibility-free teenage-hood before we face national service. Of course, we must not forget this guy just came back from Spain where his soul was liberated and he saw the value of preserving national monuments (like the National Stadium). For a borderline Gen-Xer like me (born in 1977), my thought when I first saw the film was - is this how Gen-Yers feel about national service? From the election chatter, we are only at the cusps of exploring the possibility of cutting down the NS term. I feel this film, though alienating at some points, will find increasing relevance as more people begin to question defence spending. By the way, it says 'Leprechaun Pictures presents' at the beginning of the trailer, is there something political in this too?



10.Tanjong Rhu (2008, Boo Junfeng)
A former military officer seeks closure by making a documentary film about a man whom he had furtively encountered in Tanjong Rhu many years ago.
Tanjong Rhu is a secluded beach on the east coast of Singapore, and a popular cruising ground for gay men. In an entrapment exercise in 1993, 12 men were arrested there and sentenced to imprisonment and caning. This is a fictionalised account of what has happened since then to one of these men.

This film HAS a gay agenda, and a thoughtful and eloquently presented one. Despite its importance in raising questions about tolerance in our society, MDA did not fund the film, unlike Boo's other films. I wonder if they saw the film's title 'Tanjong Rhu (The Casuarina Cove)' and wrongly forwarded the proposal to Mah Bow Tan.


9.The Olive Depression (2008, Joshua Lim)
The Olive Depression documents the weeks before a teenage boy enters military service He is determined not to mentally accept what is required of him by law. He opts to prepare himself by maintaining his melancholy about something against what it means to be human. However, seeing the depression of his best friend who enters the army before him and the worry of his parents lead him to question his principles. As he strives not to succumb to the government's world view, he finds it increasingly difficult to be contented and sad at the same time.

This is Keluar Baris extended without the Spanish influence. It even has that similar contemplative bus-ride scene. However, it is more didactic and 'drone-some' than the sublime Keluar Baris but equally biting when it needed to be. It is gutsy in the way it directly questions National service. Towards the end of the film at the point of enlistment, his mother leaves him with a note of advice - 'If you have any opinion, just keep it to yourself'. Boy, are we glad it's 2011!


8.Just Follow Law (2007, Jack Neo)
In the film, a blue-collar technician and the events and promotion department director swap souls after a freak accident at a fictional government agency Work Allocation Singapore (WAS). It presents a satirical look at the inflexibility of outdated governmental rules and regulations and the rigid mindsets of local civil servants who go strictly by the book.

Want to order aircon? Must write in and it takes 3 working days. Ordering fans a bit easier, 2 working days. lol! Jack Neo, when he is at his best, is really quite ball of wit. I personally found this comedy (strangely released during Chinese New Year) effective at 2 levels. For stability-loving civil servants, this is funny without trying to be too anti-estblishment. But for more discerning viewers, the film plants a few fleeting yet biting shots at the system. Just like how the trailer starts : 'This is a story about 2 civil servants' and we see the portrait of President SR Nathan and his wife. They omitted the phrase 'highly paid'.

7.Speakers Cornered (2006, Martyn See)
While previous IMF-World Bank meetings have been marked with protests, the only country in which this has not happened because of the ban on public protest is Singapore. This film is a recording of the only public protest held in Singapore during the IMF-World Bank meeting in 2006.

Policemen well-trained from previous National Day Parades put their experience to good use in various formations of human walls. Makes you want to test the sturdiniess of these walls with a bulldozer doesn't it?

6.Invisible City (2007, Tan Pin Pin)
Invisible City is a documentary about documenteurs. The director interviews photographers, journalists, archaeologists, people propelled by curiosity to find a City for themselves. The documentary conveys how deeply personal their search is and how fragile histories are, hanging on only through their memories and artefacts. Interwoven with the interviews is never seen before footage and photos of the City culled from their private archives. In Invisible City, you witness the atrophy of memory, you see a City that could have been.

Pin Pin asks Dr Ivan Pulonin 'Can I ask you?'
Dr Pulonin answers 'You can ask me, but whether you get an answer is another matter. And whether you get a satisfactory answer is very much another matter.' Pin Pin gets people to face the questions and answer them in this documentary. We need you around in parliment Pin Pin.

5.The Blue Mansion (2009, Glen Goei)
The Blue Mansion is a quirky murder mystery about a wealthy tycoon who dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances. He returns as a ghost to try to uncover the secret of his death with the help of his family and the police.

Though this film is no meant to 'play up emotions', it actually makes a very BIG statement about Singapore. It has patriach who controls a BUSINESS and rules the family with a iron fist. He has 2 sons and a daughter. The elder son is expected to succeed the father in the family pineapple business, yet he is the more reluctant one than the other who was hungry for the position was less favoured by the father. Within the resplendent 2-storey Peranakan mansion, the demise of the first wife of the elder son is swept underneath the carpet, and she is succeeded by a bulkier, rather malevolent-looking woman who literally 'wears the pants' in the family. Naturally, she controls the finances too! You get the picture?

By the way, this film is ahead of its time, cos I forgot to mention the pineapple king was already dead at the beginning of the story and only existed as a ghost.

4.Singapore Dreaming (2006, Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen)
This is a story about a family with big dreams, living on a small island. Heavily in debt, patriarch Loh Poh Huat can’t help but feel bitter irony whenever he has to perform his job as a lawyer’s clerk – seizing goods from the homes of credit card debtors. At the end of his career and frustrated by the gulf between his middle class dreams and his working class reality, he takes his feelings of failure and envy out on his family . So when Poh Huat suddenly wins two million dollars in the lottery, the Lohs start believing that maybe this windfall will deliver them from their struggles. But something happens which pitches the family into a battle where the stakes are the very meaning of life itself…

Don't play play! This film endorsed by our President S R Nathan! But then ah, after watching this, he collect his pay check not pai seh ah?

Favourite line from the movie:
'5Cs - cash, credit card, car, condo, country club...... have you heard of the 6Cs? The last one stands for coffin.'

3.Sandcastle (2010, Boo Junfeng)
A gentle and affectionate study of the themes of identity, history and memory, Boo Junfeng’s debut feature Sandcastle is a loving portrait of a young man coming to terms with the lives of his parents and his grandparents, while trying to make sense of Singapore troubled history.

This film makes you think about the future by dealing with the past. Some people've called it one of the most important films in Singapore's history. There is certainly something in this film for every type of concern - national identity, immigration, education, national service, the elderly, and healthcare. In fact, Khaw Boon Wan, ex-health minister should watch this film to learn more about retiring in Johor.

2.Money No Enough 2 (2008, Jack Neo)
3 brothers living in Singapore, each leading a different lifestyle. There is gamble in each of their lives. One gambles with property, the second gets into pyramid selling, the third gambles with ignorance and simply following blindly. The underlying motivation behind all these - cos money is not enough. But as tragedy unfolds later in the story, they discover the deeper meanings in life.

Again, Jack Neo is ahead of his time. This is the quintessential GE (General Elections)2011 film. Elderly with little savings, alarming medical costs, escalating property prices, the F1 race (as a proxy for YOG), what's missing is Mas Selemat though.

1.Singapore Rebel (2007, Martyn See)
This is the film Singapore's censorship board doesn't want people to see. It's the story of opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, who has been imprisoned twice for championing democratic change in the city state. The censors declared it a "party political film" and it was pulled from April 2005's Singapore International Film Festival line-up after the director was warned he could face two years in jail if the screening went ahead.

The video speaks for itself. One year after I have watched this video, Dr Chee sent me a request to add him on facebook. I added him and told my friends who then said in return that I should not have done so because he was 'incompetent'. Such was the extent to which he had been demonished by the media. Looking back, I am grateful to have the company of filmmakers who spoke up for the truth long before the torrent of citizen voices surfaced during this GE.

As the hours pass and we drawer closer to casting our votes, if you care about your future, want to say something but 'don't know what to say', pick a video from the list that best represents what you feel and do the people who made these films a favour, PASS IT ON.

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