Singapore flings on your small screen

Still from documentary series 'Wild City'

One of the things we struggled with in reviewing films in the past was that we were writing a review of a film no one knew how to get their hands on. Something seismic just happened in Singapore last week. Starting 1 August 2020, through a combined gesture by three media companies, Clover Films, mm2 Entertainment and Mediacorp, more than 100 classic Singapore films and TV series shed their elusiveness and were made available for viewing on Netflix. We believe this will engage a good combination of film watchers, fan boys and girls of specific personalities and nostalgia geeks. And what a good chance for some of our reviews to be ‘repurposed’ too.

But it does not end there. Here is another bullet for the ‘stay-at-home’ cause. When you are done with these classics, a brave new world awaits you with a more recent, more accessible and more gilded set of Singapore or Singapore-made content online. As Singapore celebrates its independence day in August, there is no better way to get into the mood and embrace the contemporary Singapore identity by simply watching these films and series from the palm of your hand. Let us give you a guide!

Food Lore  

<5-word summary of the show: Eat Cry Man Woman

Available on HBO GO and HBO

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Let’s start with the lowest common denominator – food! Food content caters to the most fatigued minds. This is the territory of clichés but no one ever gets tired of another morsel of food drama. Food Lore is the brainchild of filmmaker Eric Khoo who himself has been on a roll with gastronomically-themed dramas such as Ramen Teh and Wanton Mee. This is an eight-part series that will stir your hearts while the actors stir the sauce. Eight filmmakers including Erik Matti (the Philippines), Phan Dang Di (Vietnam), Billy Christian (Indonesia), Don Aravind (Singapore), Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Thailand), Takumi Saitoh (Japan), Ho Yuhang (Malaysia), and Eric Khoo himself, introduce some truly exotic eats framed in all kinds of love from the motherly type to the sexy type. And the stories reflect a certain parallel between food and human beings – we start off with entrenched biases, but once we taste something we like, we want to eat up every part of it. Wink.

The film’s episodes have screened at various film festivals with A Plate of Moon & Maria’s Secret Recipe screened at Seriencamp Film Festival 2019, Island of Dreams & He Serves Fish, She Eats Flower screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2019.

Wild City

<5-word summary of the show: Wild otters and others

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There are otter videos aplenty online but the mother of all otter videos can be found in a Channel NewsAsia documentary series named Wild City. The series features these twitchy and adorable creatures in HD coupled with nature’s favourite guest voice - Sir David Attenborough. The novelty in this series is really being able to take stock of what’s left of wildlife in an increasing urbanised Singapore. After all, the government believes love can be made in small spaces, so wildlife has found ways to thrive. Otters aside, some of the more fascinating animal portraits in the documentary include the Raffles’ banded langur, one of the least-known primates on the planet, banded bullfrogs, dog-faced water snakes, maroon macaques and creepy crawlies of course. Do you know almost 30,000 species of animals call Singapore home? That’s enough drama to last more than a Covid year.

Wild City won the Silver World Medal at New York Festivals 2017 and Best Documentary at Asian TV Awards 2016.


Pop Aye

<5-word summary of the show: Taking home an elephant. Tough!

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Still on beasts, Pop Aye is animal porn, road movie, art house sensibilities and some playful kitsch rolled into one. Helmed by an elephant, Pop Aye tells the story of Thana who is experiencing diminishing relevance in his profession as an architect, and even in his position as a husband at home with his wife secretly using a vibrator. So, he finds friendship in an elephant he notices on the streets in Bangkok, which he is convinced is Pop Aye, his childhood companion in the family farm. He buys over Pop Aye and they begin an endearing and affecting road trip back to his village. During the journey, the curveballs they face and the characters they meet, such a haggard hippie and an ageing transgender singer, are not quite fairy tale, but the moments of earnestness and genuine affections take us to Disneyland.

The film won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting at 27th Sundance Film Festival 2017 and also the VPRO Big Screen Award at 46th International Film Festival Rotterdam 2017.


Lion Mums

<5-word summary of the show: These mums are so scary!

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There is one scene in this drama series that has become fodder for a recent post-general election parody. Actress Lina Ng, playing Chae Lian, confronts her screen daughter about messing up in school and her daughter retorts. In the parody video, the daughter represents the voice of the oppressed (supposedly Singaporeans) and Chae Lian is the voice of the whiter-than-white authorities. Of course, expect more familiar struggles of adolescence, child-raising, paper-chasing and rat-racing in this series. Lion Mums is an interesting study of three very different mothers who share the same goals of wanting the best for their children, while committing different degrees of mothering overkill in their own unique ways. Min Yi is a COO and a single mother who is eager to climb up the corporate ladder but struggles to make enough time for her children. Chae Lian plays the familiar domineering ‘Tiger Mum’ who tries too hard. Durrani is a mum who seems to have all the stars in her life aligned from career to love to family, but in reality finds it challenging to be a juggler.

This series won a couple of awards including the Bronze Award Medal for Best Direction for New York Festivals 2018, Best Direction (Fiction) for Asian Academy Awards 2018 and was nominated Best Drama Series for Seoul International Drama Awards 2018.



<5-word summary of the show: Rainbow onesie furballs who grunt

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Furry characters, each in a different primary colour make up Oddbods, an animation series about turning your own oddities into strength! Seven characters, Fuse, Pogo, Newt, Bubbles, Slick, Zee and Jeff, make up the Oddbods who, when lined up in a row, form a politically-correct rainbow (for six colours would have started a culture war). In the different episodes, these naughtier versions of Teletubbies face all kinds of situations, perils and even pranks played on them, and they always manage to find a way to flip these situations around for fun and humour. The series has a tagline: "Embrace Your Inner Odd, There's a Little Odd in Everyone!" And be warned, they speak fluently in grunts, moans, giggles and squeals.

The series was nominated for the Magnolia Award (Animation) at 24th Shanghai TV Festival 2018, Best Animated Series at Kidscreen Awards 2018 and the Kids Animation category at the 2017 and 2018 International Emmy Awards.


Ilo Ilo

<5-word summary of the show: A maid-in-Singapore friendship

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This film needs little introduction. Terry, a domestic helper from the Philippines gets hired into a typical Singaporean family of HDB dwellers. She unwittingly forges a bond with the child Jia Ler and his mother is not having it. Then the economic crisis hits (what a familiar feeling) and Terry has to go. The film’s impeccable artistic achievement in every department leaves little to be commented on. And ICYMI, Yeo Yann Yann, who played the mother, actually delivered her real baby for the camera.  You need to watch till the end of the film to see that. Talk about conviction!

Ilo Ilo was awarded the Caméra d’Or at 66th Cannes Film Festival 2013 and later that year, it scored a major coup at the 50th Taipei Golden Horse Awards by winning Best Film, Best New Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Yeo Yann Yann).


A Land Imagined

<5-word summary of the show: Everybody sleepwalks

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A Land Imagined by Chris Yeo was the antidote to the socio-cultural hijacking of Singapore by Hollywood that was Crazy Rich Asians in the year 2018. It told the world poor, working-class people also existed in Singapore. Having said that, this film is not all a sob-fest but more an exercise of narrative hypnosis. Lok is a jaded police inspector, played by Peter Yu, who sets out to investigate the case of a missing foreign construction worker named Wang. And while he is at it, we see Wang’s story seemingly played out in an alternate universe, in which he frequents an internet café where he meets its mysterious female storekeeper. One of the film’s most insane moments is a cinematic conversion of the popular game Counter-Strike de_dust2.

This film together with Ilo Ilo are among the most awarded Singapore films in history. It won the Golden Leopard at 71st Locarno Film Festival 2018, Best Film at 29th Singapore International Film Festival 2018 and Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score at 56th Taipei Golden Horse Awards 2019.


A Yellow Bird

<5-word summary of the show: Yellow Ribbon gets knotty

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Director K Rajagopal said that the film’s title came from his mother who once told him that if you see a yellow bird, you will be very lucky. In considerable irony, the film is about one very unlucky ex-convict whose ‘yellow ribbon’ journey post-prison is saddled with obstacles and people ghosting on him. The film offers a peek into a realm whitewashed from the eyes of the average Singaporean – the underbelly. It’s a dog’s life in there but there are moments of poetry, unrecognisable terrain in Singapore and skinny dipping (yes!). Quite a surreal cinematic escape really!

A Yellow Bird was screened under the Official Selection at Semaine De La Critique 69th Cannes Film Festival 2016. 


Invisible Stories

<5-word summary of the show: Ghetto Tales we sometimes know

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We continue with underbelly tales in Invisible Stories. Rice media calls this ‘The Best Singapore TV Show you will never watch’. Well, we are urging you to do the opposite just to prove their article wrong (for a good cause of obviously). The brainchild of the director of TV series Code of Law, Ler Jiyuan, Invisible Stories is a six-part drama series which features socially-disadvantaged lives including a single mother, an autistic boy, a taxi driver moonlighting as a medium, a domestic helper, sex workers and an influencer…..wait a minute, Ler should have just named this ’12 Storeys Upgraded’.

The series features a diverse cast from the Southeast Asia region, including Taiwan’s Devin Pan (Floating Flowers In The Wind), Thailand’s Suchada Muller (Insects In The Backyard), Malaysia’s Gavin Yap (The Bridge), Bangladesh’s Sudip Biswas (Sutopar Thikana), Indonesia’s Sekar Sari (Siti) and Singapore’s Yeo Yann Yann and Wang Yu Qing.



<5-word summary of the show: Scariest job in the world

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We highly recommend you watch this film with a box of popcorn. No other film in Singapore comes close to its ability to thrill and play with your mind. And when it gets too chilling, chew on some popcorn. About a new apprentice asked to learn the ropes (pardon the pun!) of executing death row prisoners, Apprentice tends to get under your skin a lot with its scrutiny of the execution process, framed in human drama. Based on the book ‘Once a Jolly Hangman’ by Alan Shadrake about Singapore’s longest serving chief executioner Darshan Singh, the film with its religiously accurate references, will paralyse you with fear.

This film has travelled to more than 60 film festivals worldwide include the 69th Cannes Film Festival 2016 under the Official Selection for Un Certain Regard section, the 21st Busan International Film Festival 2016 and the 41st Toronto International Film Festival 2016.


Folklore (PG13)

<5-word summary of the show: Scary Witch Asians

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In Folklore, filmmaker Eric Khoo rehashes an age-old formula – ghost stories anthology, but with a slight twist - every story must be based on an ethnic folk tale. Like Food Lore, this HBO anthology comes in easily consumable form familiar to the streaming platform fans – horror stories in six different flavours, each from a different country, and all Asian (which gives it extra spice). Some of the standout episodes include A Mother’s Love by Joko Anwar, in which a mother and son bump into a pack of creepy abandoned children and their creepier non-human mother; Mongdal about a mother struggling to keep up with a psychotic son who needs to kill a virgin to keep his sanity; and Toyol, a partly satirical film about a politician who seeks help from a beautiful shaman, who is later known to mother a demon child. IKR….mothers are the secret ingredient to good horror!

A couple of the episodes found an audience at several international film festivals including A Mother’s Love & Pob at the Toronto International Film Festival 2018, Tatami & Nobody at the 51st Sitges – International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia 2018, and Toyol & Mongdal at Fantastic Fest 2018.

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