Review: Still Standing (2019) @SGIFF

Tan Wei Ting’s Still Standing tells the story behind the construction and attempted conservation of Singapore’s iconic Pearl Bank Apartments. Built in 1976, and the subject of multiple en-bloc attempts, the residential building is currently slated for demolition. The short film had its world premiere at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival, as part of the Singapore Panorama programme.

Tan's Pearl Bank Apartments is a warm and homely place.  Neighbours know each other. They trade recipes and chatter. In the words of young Tan Cheng Siong (Darren Guo), the architect, it is a “high-rise kampung”.

Tan Cheng Siong is the hero of the film. He remains unbent and idealistic throughout the years, both against a naysaying boss who saw no possibility of realising his proposed design of the apartments, and in his old age (Allan Wong), against the ambitions of Alex Poh the speculator. I liked the older Mr Tan’s proposal of applying to the Urban Redevelopment Authority for plot ratio adjustments in order to preserve the building. Addressing the residents of Pearl Bank Apartments, his voice was quiet and tireless. Very realistic, and very Singaporean.

In a world where things can be made and unmade very quickly, the physical uniqueness of Pearl Bank Apartments didn't come across to me. I’ve seen CapitaLand's One Pearl Bank and there is a clear reference to its predecessor. What made Pearl Bank Apartments irreplaceable? I wanted to see more of the building itself. What happened during mealtimes? Where did children play? Where was everyone's favourite nook and cranny? In other words, I wished I heard more from the building, than from talk about it.

Nonetheless, Tan created a sense of community within a very short space. Though we know very little about the characters in Still Standing, that they came together as a group was clear. They were at home in the unit where they gathered. The palette of the film was less lively, but a reminder that the characters’ struggles had passed.

Singaporeans with fond memories of Pearl Bank Apartments might take comfort in its preservation on film. Still Standing is one record of the things we lose and cherish as the nation pushes ahead.

Written by Teenli Tan

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