STOP10 Oct 2017: 'Timepieces' by Lee Thean-jeen

Timepieces is an adaptation of a short story by Gregory Nalpon from the book ‘The Wayang at Eight Milestones’ edited by Angus Whitehead. It tells the story of Margaret, a kindergarten teacher who receives a sudden death threat, after admonishing a new student for bringing a dog to school. The film is part of Utter 2017, organized by the Singapore Writers Festival. 

Lee Thean-jeen is one of the most prolific writer-directors working in Singapore film and television today. To date he has adapted over 20 published works by Singapore writers and as a television showrunner, he is best known for his works Code of Law and The Pupil. He spared us some of his time to answer some questions regarding his new work.

The film shows the pressures of modern living and how it affects us. How important is it to be aware of these issues and can we mitigate the negative consequences or are they beyond our personal control?

Let me bring it back to the source material and the author, Gregory Nalpon. There was an undercurrent of social commentary in his book, "The Wayang At Eight Milestone," from which "Timepieces" was adapted. Although the stories were written more than forty years ago, many of the social issues underlying his work are as relevant and worthy of discussion today as they were then.

For example, mental health, intergenerational relationships. So I hope the process of adapting the story into film would also allow pertinent questions to be raised about these issues once again. I won't pretend that the short story or the film offers answers or solutions, but if either work can create dialogue or greater awareness, that would be a good thing.

You've worked on various different formats. How is adapting short literary works like this unique and is it rewarding for a filmmaker?

I began my career doing short films AND adaptations of literary works (AlterAsians, The Singapore Short Story Project) so I'm grateful to the Singapore Writers Festival and The Filmic Eye for this brief journey back to my 'roots.'

Utter is a unique project, in my opinion, because of its focus on the process of adaptation - the transformation of a story or literary work from page to screen. So this was a liberating experience for me. It allowed me - and I'm sure it was the case for the other filmmakers as well - to flex my creative muscles to the fullest. Hopefully the resulting film will be a worthy addition to Utter.


Timepieces is a relatively surreal character study piece that injects unsettling incidents into an extremely ordinary life. Lee Thean-jeen’s steady and experienced hand keeps the narrative moving briskly and we remain engaged to the main character, Margaret’s story for the most part. Jae Liew seems more at ease and able to deliver a mature performance, which is refreshingly pleasant compared to her character on the tv series Tanglin.

The short however suffers somewhat from a lack of conviction. It never really feels like it is truly driving home any mood, message or image and results in being slightly forgettable. If the intention is to speak about contemporary urban society and an undercurrent of peril, it almost feels incidental. 

Overall whilst the character of Margaret is interesting and an initial investment of the film can be easily illicit from a very strong premise, it meanders too casually towards its conclusion. Its initial promise of being unsettling also concludes rather tamely and there never actually feels like there was anything at stake.

Written by Rifyal Giffari

Session times and dates:
Friday 29 September
7.30pm – GV Suntec (Link to Tickets)
*Post-screening dialogue with K. Rajagopal, Lee Thean-jeen, Henry & Harry Zhuang and Jerrold Chong
Saturday 30 September
7.30pm – GV Suntec (Link to Tickets)
*Post-screening dialogue with K. Rajagopal, Henry & Harry Zhuang and Jerrold Chong

$10 standard
$8 for Singapore Writers Festival passholders and Singapore Film Society member
50 mins + 40 mins post-screening dialogue
In various languages with English subtitles


Here is the list of the 4 Utter works:

Song of the Waves
Adapted from the book by J.M. Sali
Written and directed by K. Rajagopal
Synopsis: This is a love story about an Indian man who meets and falls in love with a Chinese woman in Singapore by chance, but she discovers that he is actually married back home in India. Told from the perspective of the writer—who is played by more than one actor, and who also plays the character—the film blurs the lines between roles, reality, time and space. The words and text of the writer also interplay with the sound of silence and the actions of the actors and characters.

Adapted from the short story by Gregory Nalpon
From the book “The Wayang at Eight Milestones” edited by Angus Whitehead
Written and directed by Lee Thean-jeen
Synopsis: When Margaret, a kindergarten teacher, admonishes her six-year- old student, Ee Leng, for bringing a dog to school one morning, she is shocked to find a death threat on her desk at recess time. This sets off a chain of incidents that spirals into tragedy in a surreal meditation on the pressures of living in a contemporary urban society and the impact they have on both the young and the elderly.

The Giant
Adapted from Tan Swie Hian’s poetry
Directed by Henry & Harry Zhuang

Synopsis: A school of fishes is washed up on a barren island. While the other fishes choose to swim back to the sea, one redfish decides to venture deeper into the barren island.

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