Successful Singaporean films

Box office smashes, award winners, crowd pleasers — we don’t need to rely on Hollywood to provide top-notch entertainment 

I Not Stupid Too (2006)
I Not Stupid Too (2006)
22 Jan 2016

I Not Stupid Too (2006)

  • Box office: $1.4 million within a week of opening
  • Honours: Children’s Jury Award at the 2006 Moscow International Film Festival for Children and Youth
  • International or film festival screenings: Cannes Film Festival, Singapore Season film festival in China, Moscow International Film Festival
  • Fun fact: I Not Stupid Too beat Jet Li’s Huo Yuanjia biopic Fearless to the top spot at the box office


The follow-up to Jack Neo’s I Not Stupid was released 10 years ago, almost to the day (January 26). At that time, it rose to the rank of Singapore’s second-highest grossing movie after Money No Enough.

I Not Stupid Too featured largely the same cast as its predecessor, but the plot wasn’t a continuation — it focused on poor intergenerational communication and strained parent–child relationships, rather than academic elitism and pressure. Though some critics called the storyline’s execution a let-down compared to I Not Stupid, the young actors’ performances were praised and the movie spawned a remake for television.

Click on for a recap of some of the best cinematic works this country has birthed.

Related:
Catch up on the I Not Stupid television series here 
Local child artistes: Where are they now? 

Photos: MediaCorp Raintree Pictures

Unlucky Plaza (2014)
Unlucky Plaza (2014)
22 Jan 2016

Unlucky Plaza (2014)

  • Honours: Best Director at the Tehran Jasmine Film Festival, Best Actor at the International Film Festival Manhattan
  • International or film festival screenings: Toronto International Film Festival, Warsaw Film Festival, Singapore International Film Festival, Kolkata International Film Festival, and more; New York City, Los Angeles


Director Ken Kwek’s earlier film Sex.Lies.FamilyValues (2012) earned the dubious honour of being banned in Singapore and Malaysia, but Unlucky Plaza, a tale of a foundering Filipino restaurateur who kidnaps an unlikely quartet and broadcasts the hostage situation on the Internet, premiered in Toronto before a sold-out audience.

The title of the film might limit the appeal of the movie to non-Singaporeans, a critic wrote, but no matter — Unlucky Plaza was shown in New York and Los Angeles this month, and it has also been picked up by Philippines-based film distributor.

Related:
Unlucky Plaza: A curious case of good people doing bad things 

Photos: Kaya Toast Pictures

Ilo Ilo (2013)
Ilo Ilo (2013)
22 Jan 2016

Ilo Ilo (2013)

  • Box office: $1.2 million, against a $700,000 budget
  • Honours: Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Singapore’s first Cannes award; Best Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best New Director and Best Supporting Actress for Yeo Yann Yann at the 2013 Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards; and more
  • Fun fact: Ilo Ilo is named after a city in the Philippines, but the words are never mentioned in the movie


Anthony Chen’s debut feature film is based on his own childhood of being cared for by a Filipino domestic helper in the late 90s. Quintessentially Singaporean in its portrayal of working-class averageness, the movie stars “Mr Unbelievable” Chen Tian Wen and Yeo Yann Yann as working parents who fall on hard times during the Asian financial crisis. Further strain on the family comes from their only son’s disciplinary problems and his tense relationship with the family maid at the start of the film.

Related:
The Moneymaker: Yeo Yann Yann 
'Unbelievable' gives Chen Tian Wen his big break in movies 

Photos: Fisheye Pictures 

That Girl in Pinafore (2013)
That Girl in Pinafore (2013)
22 Jan 2016

That Girl in Pinafore (2013)

  • Box office: $550,000
  • International or film festival screenings: Shanghai International Film Festival, Taoyuan International Film Festival, Vancouver Singapore Film Festival, and more
  • Fun fact: That Girl in Pinafore’s supporting cast features twins-of-the-moment Hayley and Jayley Woo in their first role together


Having Liang Wern Fook’s ‘Friendship Forever (Xi Shui Chang Liu)’ as its theme song makes this film a xinyao (Singapore folk music) precursor to the late-2015 Channel 8 mega-production Crescendo. Riding on the winning formula of schoolyard romance à la You Are the Apple of My Eye (2011), That Girl in Pinafore is set in 1993 at the time when xinyao was the Taylor Swift of its day, and Julie Tan and Daren Tan star as teenagers who meet and fall in love after taking part in a xinyao competition.

It was director Chai Yee Wei’s third film after his two horror movies, Blood Ties and Twisted, and his love of xinyao inspired him to take a chance with this film. And when Our Times reprised the coming-of-age teenage romance plot last year, you know people can never get enough of such flicks.

Related:
Catch up on episodes of Crescendo here 
Watch Daren Tan in Mata Mata season 3: A New Generation 
Jayley Woo’s birthday festivities in pictures 

Photos: mm2 Entertainment, That Girl in Pinafore via Facebook 

Ah Boys to Men (2012)
Ah Boys to Men (2012)
22 Jan 2016

Ah Boys to Men (2012)

  • Box office: $6 million, against a $3 million budget for a two-parter
  • Fun fact: Ah Boys to Men was the first movie shot on Pulau Tekong, and it even managed to get a section of downtown Robinson Road closed off for a day to film a war scene


Ah Boys to Men, about a bunch of army recruits entering National Service, features all the classic rites and jokes you would have heard from fathers/brothers/boyfriends/guy friends by now.

Originally conceptualised as a two-part series, Ah Boys to Men drew such an enthusiastic response that director and producer Jack Neo announced he would film a third installment. Ah Boys to Men 3: Frogmen ended up with the same cast but an entirely different storyline, an alternate reality in which the boys from the first two movies are assigned to the Naval Diving Unit instead.

The core cast — Wang Weiliang, Tosh Zhang, Joshua Tan, Noah Yap, Charlie Goh and Maxi Lim — have gone on to star in other productions and hosting endeavours, and the Ah Boys saga won’t be ending anytime soon: According to Jack, parts 4 and 5 will be out starting 2017.

Related:
Catch Joshua Tan in the lead role in A Selfie’s Tale, part of the Toggle Originals series 
Tosh Zhang & Cheryl Wee pair up for 50s romance in ‘My Love, Sinema’ 
Joshua Tan reveals his past relationship with a single mother 

Photos: Ah Boys to Men via Facebook

881 (2007)
881 (2007)
22 Jan 2016

881 (2007)

  • Box office: more than $3 million
  • Honours: a nomination for best makeup and costume design at the Golden Horse Awards
  • International or film festival screenings: many, including Busan International Film Festival, World Film Festival of Bangkok, Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival and International Film Festival Rotterdam
  • Fun fact: Guan Yin, Qi Yuwu’s character, narrates 881, which is ironic because he’s mute (Guan Yin being a pun on “turn off the sound” in Mandarin)


It doesn’t get any more Singaporean than Seventh Lunar Month getai. The exuberant pageantry of local Hungry Ghost Festival performances got the star treatment in Royston Tan’s 881, in which rival performing duos, the Papaya Sisters and the Durian Sisters, compete for dominance on stage. The former seek help from the Getai Goddess, who blesses them with magical singing voices on the condition that they never fall in love with a man. And elements of wuxia — magic powers, deities, duels, throwing stars and spitting blood from internal injuries — are thrown in to spice up a movie about working-class heartlanders.

Starring Mindee Ong, Yeo Yann Yann, Qi Yuwu and getai veteran Liu Lingling, 881 became 2007’s top-grossing Singaporean movie. Though scholars debated that the movie exoticised the local getai culture, with its loud costumes and blinding laser displays, to bring in the English-speaking and international crowd, it held a great appeal due to its theme of struggling through economic hardship.

Related:
Catch up on the GeTai Challenge here

Photos: Zhao Wei Films

Singapore Dreaming (2006)
Singapore Dreaming (2006)
22 Jan 2016

Singapore Dreaming (2006)

  • Honours: Montblanc New Screenwriters Award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, Best Asian/Middle-Eastern Film Award at the 20th Tokyo International Film Festival
  • Fun fact: Woffles Wu, cosmetic surgeon to the rich and famous, served as executive producer and raised the bulk of the $800,000 budget


Husband-and-wife duo Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen were relatively new to filmmaking when they made Singapore Dreaming, shot in an actual 3-room HDB flat instead of a soundstage. The story follows a working-class Singaporean family headed by television veteran Richard Low, with each member aspiring towards middle-class status symbols but beset by money woes, and even winning a $2 million lottery prize doesn’t catapult them to comfort.

The concept of Singapore Dreaming was born of ‘Paved With Good Intentions,’ an essay the couple contributed to Singaporeans Exposed: Navigating the Ins and Outs of Globalisation, the Singapore International Foundation's 10th anniversary book. In their treatise the New York–based duo discussed the difference between the Singapore Dream and the Singapore Plan, and their personal stories of how they chose to give up careers in teaching and law to pursue other life goals and step off the mindless conveyor belt humming towards the coveted 5Cs.

Related:
Catch Richard Low in Channel 5’s Tanglin here 

Photos: 5C Films 

The Maid (2005)
The Maid (2005)
22 Jan 2016

The Maid (2005)

  • Box office: $700,000 on the opening weekend alone
  • Honours: European Fantastic Film Festival Federation (EFFFF) Asian Film Award at the 10th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival
  • Fun fact: The Maid’s lead actress, Alessandra De Rossi, is half-Italian


Kelvin Tong’s third feature film, about a newbie Filipino domestic helper who arrives to work in Singapore on the first day of the Seventh Lunar Month, broke the box office record for local horror movies and placed Singapore among other Asian horror movie powerhouses, such as Japan and Thailand.

After Grandma Positioning System, part of the 7 Letters anthology, he will mark his return to the horror genre when The Faith of Anna Waters opens in Singapore on March 3. Shot entirely in the Republic, the $6.25 million project will have Kelvin directing Elizabeth Rice (from Mad Men) and Matthew Settle (from Gossip Girl and Band of Brothers), along with Singapore’s Adrian Pang and Jaymee Ong. The first Hollywood flick directed by a Singaporean filmmaker, the movie follows an American crime reporter travels to Singapore to investigate the unnatural circumstances surrounding her sister’s “suicide.”

Related:
Kelvin Tong and the real horrors of filmmaking 

Photos: Boku Films, Golden Village

Money No Enough (1998)
Money No Enough (1998)
22 Jan 2016

Money No Enough (1998)

  • Box office: $5.8 million
  • Honours: Best Director Award at the 1998 Silver Screen Awards
  • Fun fact: Money No Enough held the record for top-performing local film until it was overtaken by Ah Boys to Men in 2012


Tay Teck Lock’s underdog story is about a trio of average people trying to get ahead in life and join forces to set up a car polishing business. Jack Neo was Money No Enough’s scriptwriter and one of the three lead actors, along with Mark Lee and Henry Thia, the Comedy Night regulars.

The social satire flick made a mark for heavily featuring the Hokkien dialect, and it earned praise for bringing the Singapore heartlands onto the big screen, complete with its familiar lingo and locales. In particular the three leads offered convincing performances given their experience in television comedy. Money No Enough also inspired a (non-related) sequel, released in 2008, in which Mark, Jack and Henry play brothers.

Related:
Laughing matters: Funny celebs we love 
Jack Neo and Mark Lee reunite for new film Long Long Time Ago 

Photos: JSP Films, Mark Lee (@marklee4444) and Jack Neo (@jackneock) via Instagram 

12 Storeys (1997)
12 Storeys (1997)
22 Jan 2016

12 Storeys (1997)

  • Honours: Young Artist Award for Film from the National Arts Council, UOB Young Cinema Award at the 10th Singapore International Festival, Golden Maile Award for Best Picture at the 17th Hawaii International Film Festival, NETPAC - FIPRESCI Critic’s Prize at the 10th Singapore International Film Festival)
  • International or film festival screenings: 33 film festivals worldwide 
  • Fun fact: 12 Storeys was screened at Cannes in 1997 in the Un Certain Regard category, the first film from Singapore invited into the official selection at Cannes


An Eric Khoo classic considered a cornerstone of local film heritage, the movie was shot in two weeks after Eric worked on the script for nine months.

The feature film follows the inhabitants of a nondescript HDB building — the spirit of a youth who has just killed himself, an overbearing older brother who lords over his younger siblings, a heartlander struggling with the material demands of his Chinese mail-order bride, and a middle-aged woman who continues to suffer the berating of her verbally abusive late mother and contemplates suicide — forming a critique of Singaporean society and its perceived rigidness, the lack of communication and connection, and the population’s heavy personal burdens hidden under the city’s gleaming cosmopolitan surface.

Photos: Zhao Wei Films 

Army Daze (1996)
Army Daze (1996)
22 Jan 2016

Army Daze (1996)

  • Box office: $1.6 million, against a $700,000 budget
  • Fun fact: Army Daze was film distributor and cinema operator Cathay Organisation Group’s first production since 1973


The OG of army-themed comedy, Army Daze the movie was based on the 1987 theatre production, which was based on the 1984 novel by playwright Michael Chiang, one-half the creative force behind Beauty World the musical. With the tagline “From Real Blur To Real Men,” the movie introduced the country to the well-loved troupe of Basic Military Training recruits — Malcolm, Ah Beng, Johari, Krishna and Kenny — and poked fun at Singaporean stereotypes, in Michael’s words, “from Ah Lians to Mat Rockers, and buxomy Indian girlfriends to flamboyantly fey boys.”

Directed by Ong Keng Sen, the first Singaporean full-length comedy went through repeat stage productions (in 1990, 1995 and 2012) and movie screenings (2006 and 2013, in a digitally remastered format, no less).

Photos: Cathay Organisation

Mee Pok Man (1995)
Mee Pok Man (1995)
22 Jan 2016

Mee Pok Man (1995)

  • Box office: $450,000, against a $100,000 budget
  • Honours: FIPRESCI (The International Federation of Film Critics) Award, Best New Asian Director at the 1996 Busan International Film Festival, Special Jury Prize at the 9th Fukuoka Asian Film Festival
  • International or film festival screenings: 35 film festivals worldwide
  • Fun fact: Mee Pok Man launched the acting career of its lead actress, Michelle Goh, who became the siren du jour and went on to roles in local television productions, including VR Man.


Local art-house filmmaker Eric Khoo’s debut feature, shot in 16 days, is about an intellectually disabled noodle seller with a macabre infatuation with a prostitute who frequents his stall. The movie celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015, and the Asian Film Archive restored it in 4K from the original 35-mm negative for screening at the 26th Singapore International Film Festival last November. SGIFF also saw the Singapore premiere of Eric Khoo’s 2015 offering In the Room, which made references to Mee Pok Man and other works of his, including My Magic (2008)

Related:
Lawrence Wong films steamy “In the Room” love scene in nothing but a loincloth 

Photos: Zhao Wei Films 

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