STOP10 Feb 2017: 'Time Tomorrow', starring Ng Chin Han

Remember that early scene in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, when the mobsters of Gotham meet in a nondescript kitchen with some guy on a TV screen, just before they are interrupted by the Joker?
This guy

The Joker does not approve
The target of the Joker's disapproval is played by none other than Singaporean actor Ng Chin Han, now often credited simply as Chin Han in such Hollywood fare as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Roland Emmerich's 2012 and the upcoming adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. (His actual surname was probably too formidable an obstacle for American audiences to parse.)

But before Ng made his foray into Hollywood, he developed his acting chops in the Singaporean television scene of the 1990s. This included his starring role in Time Tomorrow (1993), the first English-language telemovie made in Singapore, which will be screened this February as part of Objectifs' Watch Local 2017 festival.

Three Reasons Why You Should Catch Time Tomorrow on the Big Screen

1) Witness a younger Chin Han in action
How does a Singaporean actor make his way into Hollywood? A good start, it seems, is to master the kind of atas Queen's English elocution that was sought after by the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC)—which soon became TCS, and later the Mediacorp of today—for its baby steps at what would evolve into the Channel 5 dramas of the mid-1990s like Growing Up.

This elocution is harnessed in Time Tomorrow for the winning meet-cute between Jen (Chin Han) and Laura (Suzanna Ho), two students at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, in which one of them enunciates perfectly to the other, "Can I have some plain water please?" (Listen for all those plosive 'p's!) This Anglo-centric milieu is a perfect backdrop for us to discover that 'Jen' is actually short for Lin Jen Wan—an amusing irony in hindsight, given the eventual fate of Chin Han's own name. Time Tomorrow further indulges this Anglo-centric irony, unwittingly or not, by giving us a scene where Jen fumbles through an attempt at Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, still a keystone for romances in the English language, in a bid to charm Laura.

Jen (Chin Han, on left)
... meets Laura (Suzanna Ho, on left)

2) Enjoy a time-warp genre film

Yet Time Tomorrow is also not content to settle for being a straightforward romantic comedy. Instead, it sharpens its dramatic teeth by revealing, in its opening scenes, that Laura was shot to death by someone robbing a shopping mall, leaving behind a bereaved Jen. His grief is complicated, however, when he bumps into Laura two weeks after her funeral. Is this a sign of Jen's grief manifesting into a resurrected Laura, or is this a Laura imposter who harbours more sinister motives? Furthermore, what should we make of this new Laura's frequent flashbacks to, and encounters with, the man who supposedly killed her?

As it turns out, Time Tomorrow doesn't quite want to be a Singaporean hall-of-mirrors version of a classic film noir, even though its plot seems to draw inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) or Otto Preminger's Laura (after whom the telemovie's lead female character might have been named). Rather, Time Tomorrow commits more readily to the kind of populist scifi B-movie aesthetic associated with the Doctor Who franchise, as implied in the wibbly-wobbly choice of a title like Time Tomorrow. This new Laura, it seems, has been hurtled forward in time from ten years back, as suggested by a sequence filled with earnestly cheesy footage of lightning storms and roiling thunder clouds. What results is an hour-long feature that dabbles in light musings about romantic fatalism, reminiscent of other genre pieces like The Time Traveler's Wife or The Lake House.
Star-crossed by time itself

3) Relive your 90s nostalgia

As is befitting of a movie so bound up in time, Time Tomorrow also offers up the pleasures of a time capsule. The telemovie is replete with throwbacks to the 1990s, starting with everyone's fashion sense: oversized glasses, side-slicked hair and roomy shirts for the men; pearl jewellery, coiffed hairdos and tanned skin for the women. Locales visited include a pre-ION Orchard Road and a university snack stall selling 'Titbits'.

Anyone who grew up or lived through the 90s will have a blast with every bygone thing that pops up onscreen, including those squat orange payphones or the white-and-red SBS buses. Indeed, one character actually takes the time to explain the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) to another ("You know, like the underground trains in London?"), which might be a welcome shock to audiences that have always known it to exist. "We have to make the most of our time together," says Laura at one point, and nothing testifies to that more than the once-familiar sights that populate the movie but that no longer remain in our lives.

Despite its title, then, Time Tomorrow might be best appreciated as an ode to a Singapore of yesteryear: at the cusp of a Singaporean actor's Hollywood career, at the dawn of a television corporation's foray into the English-language medium, and as a peek into one era of modern Singapore even as it moved into the next.

Written by Colin Low

Time Tomorrow will be screened on 11 February at 2pm as part of Objectifs' Watch Local 2017 series, at the Objectifs Chapel Gallery.
Entry by donation.
Register via Peatix:

For the full list of February 2017's 10 films under STOP10, click here.
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