Review: One Hour to Daylight (2016)




In a nondescript HDB flat, a young Chinese woman awakes from her slumber. The haunting strains of music creep into the atmosphere as, seemingly disturbed, she embarks on an investigative journey that takes her to her neighbor’s unit one floor below hers. What follows is a confrontation with her Indian neighbors, whose penchant for cooking curry has incurred her ire. As she rants, the music culminates into a chilling climax, frantic, whirring, tense. A door is slammed, banging ensues, furious shouts echo and then – it all collapses. Such is the beginning of One Hour to Daylight that leaves you pleasantly surprised yet cautiously expectant.

Part of the 2016 Singapore Writer’s Festival (SWF) Utter programme, One Hour to Daylight adapts the works of four Singaporean writers – Alyssa (Kanagalatha), Harmonious Residences (Jeremy Tiang), Per(anti) Mimpi 1.0 (Siti Aisyah Mohamed Salim), and We’d Wanted to Rob a Bank (Chia Hwee Pheng – into a single feature length film. Despite four different stories, however, one soon comes to realize that they are but different threads of the same tapestry, each envisioning a Singapore that is or could possibly be.  

Yet, the challenges of weaving four stories into one cohesive narrative inevitably surface, as the film does suffer from unfortunate choppiness. The story flow is hampered by a jerky tempo, with awkward cuts or unfinished beats diluting the full weight of the emotions playing out onscreen. In addition, the film is at times bogged down by awkward dialogue and chemistry between parts of the cast, which can be increasingly distracting as it jolts one out of the story world. It does take a while to settle into, which can affect the ability to be as invested into each character’s story as one would like to be.  


Nevertheless, it is a bold attempt to tackle real and relevant issues plaguing our nation state, exploring macro issues through a micro focus on different families and individuals. The usual batch of issues crop up – racism, xenophobia, income inequality, the pragmatic Singaporean mentality, amidst others. Subtle in their critique yet starkly assertive, each handles their portion with care, and the unified storyline works here as issues are made more pronounced when allowed to run across overlapping narratives. One stands out among the rest, however – an interesting exploration about the impact technological advancement can have on our lives.

In Siti Aisyah’s Per(anti) Mimpi 1.0, a well off young couple, Andy and Tia, regularly argue over the decision to implant a microchip known as the Dream Device into their daughter’s body, which would give her the ability to complete homework and tasks even while she sleeps. While Tia argues that it would additional stress on her daughter, Andy insists that it would help her get a head start and ultimately a successful career, the supposed equivalent of a successful life.


It is not too far a stretch, I think, to imagine this scenario actually playing out, for we would surely jump at the opportunity technology presents to fuel our desperate need for productivity. At the height of the argument, Tia laments the obsession with modern technology, professing that we have lost the human touch, yet simultaneously is unable to give up the extravagant house (which sports an in-house lift, mind you) and comfortable lifestyle she now has. I particularly relate to that moment, contradictorily both a scoffer of modern technology and helpless prey to its attractiveness and convenience.

Moreover, only children who attend a costly, prestigious school known as Aegis International have access to this Dream Device, immediately delineating across socio-economic lines. The portrayal of a widening chasm between socio-economic classes is scarily accurate, and made more menacing as we witness the impact trickle down to even the formative years of children.


Disappointingly, however, this storyline never properly wraps up. As compared to the others, I am left wanting in vain. It is a pity, I think, to simply be satisfied with settling for that one argument and a conciliatory happy ending to finish the story, when it could have still been pushed more and given a more realistic ending. Overall, all four films make a worthy attempt to peel back the layers, yet they never quite hit the core, leading me to envision what it would be like to encounter extended versions of each story.   


For all the doom and gloom, there is perhaps a silver lining in each story. Familial ties are restored, a civil servant is awakened to the ruthlessness of the monotonous career climb, a foreign worker weeps uncontrollably at his boss’s casket, the imprint of an unlikely friendship forever stamped and sealed. Notably, Utter 2016’s creative producer Nicholas Chee remarks in a CNA interview that this is a film about chasing away the dark. Perhaps. Perhaps in a haphazard, tumultuous landscape where we try to find our footing as a people, we would firmly grasp our humanity and refuse to relinquish it to affluence. Perhaps we are only one hour to daylight.

One Hour to Daylight was re-screened last week as part of Utter Redux 2018, co-presented by the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) and Sinema Media. Over the last seven years, SWF has been commissioning a series of films, dramatic readings and theatre pieces under its Utter adaptation platform, which celebrates the best of Singaporean writing across different media and across languages. Since 2013, Utter has produced 18 films altogether, comprising 10 live-action shorts, seven animation shorts, and One Hour to Daylight, its first feature.

Written by Jessica Heng

Jessica has a particular love for Asian film, counting the likes of Hou Hsiao Hsien and
Hirokazu Koreeda as her favorites. Passionate about social concerns, she believes in the
power of film to shed light on such issues. She has a penchant for all things sweet, and can
be found frequenting the pool. She is currently in her third year at the Wee Kim Wee School
of Communication and Information.


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