The must-see Asian films at this year’s festival
Good news, cinephiles: From November 28 to December 6, the annual Singapore International Film Festival will return for its 31st edition, featuring a curated lineup of arthouse and independent cinema from all over the world. In light of COVID-19, this year’s festival will be a hybrid event, combining physical screenings at theatres alongside virtual screenings, due to tighter capacity limits and public health concerns.
Whether you choose to enjoy these films on the big screen or from the comfort of your home, the one thing that remains constant is the high quality of SGIFF’s discerning selection. From critical darlings like Chloé Zhao’s Nomandland to buzzworthy entries like Francis Lee’s Ammonite, there are plenty of big titles from the West on offer. Similarly, there are also exceptional films from across the region, including Southeast Asia and the Middle East, to look out for.
Here are ten Asian showcases from this year’s festival that you shouldn’t miss.
1 Tiong Bahru Social Club (Singapore)
Tan Bee Thiam’s whimsical and imaginative directorial debut is set to open the festival. Billed as “Wes Anderson meets Black Mirror”, this pastel-hued film follows 30-year-old Ah Bee, a bored office worker who leaves his humdrum job to join the cult-like Tiong Bahru Social Club – an exclusive data-driven pilot programme that aims to create the happiest neighbourhood in the world.
This quirky comedy looks to be a dreamy, thought-provoking satire that questions Singapore’s social constructs and its citizen’s sensibilities, while simultaneously serving as a stylish love letter to the architecture and eclecticism of the country’s famed neighbourhood.
Showing November 26 at Shaw Lido and online. Check here for ticketing details.
2 You And I (Indonesia)
Fanny Chotimah’s directorial debut is a sensitive and heartfelt documentary that centres on the friendship of two elderly women, Kaminah and Kusdalini, who met in jail in 1965 as political detainees. After their release, they lived together in Surakarta, Central Java, and have grown well into their 70s side by side, surviving on the kindness of neighbours and the crackers that they sell. You And I observes the simplicity of their beautiful friendship, even as they are faced with the heartbreaking realities of growing old.
Showing December 2 at Oldham Theatre and online. Check here for ticketing details.
3 The Salt In Our Waters (Bangladesh)
First-time director Rezwan Sumit crafts this exquisite Bangladeshi drama that’s set on the Ganges Delta. The film follows a sculptor named Rudro as he travels to a remote fishing village to find inspiration. A young local woman secretly falls in love with him, but the rigid traditions of the village forbids any possible relationship. And when the fishermen’s catches are threatened by natural disasters and climate change, Rudro and his blasphemous sculptures are scapegoated. Exploring the conflict between modernity and spiritual beliefs, The Salt In Our Waters is a nuanced look at the ravages of social and physical storms.
Showing November 29 at The Project GreenRoom and online. Check here for ticketing details.
4 Aswang (Philippines)
Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s unflinching documentary examines the impact of the Filipino government’s brutal “war on drugs” under President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime. Comparing the police and vigilantes who kill with impunity to the shapeshifting Aswang (nocturnal monsters in Philippine folklore), this film plays like a quietly nightmarish vision of dystopian social breakdown. Following a child whose parents are in prison, and an activist who fearlessly documents the extrajudicial murders, Aswang looks at the targeted terror unleashed upon the urban poor as bodies mount in the streets of Manila.
Showing November 29 at Shaw Lido and online. Check here for ticketing details.
5 Sementara (Singapore)
Helmed by Chew Chia Shao Min and Joant Úbeda, this documentary explores the lives, values, beliefs and anxieties of the disparate people who call Singapore home. Filmed during Singapore’s 2015 golden jubilee celebrations, Sementara intertwines casual interviews with people from varied walks of life – each subject sharing deeply personal stories and their perspectives on issues such as religion, race, identity and mortality. By threading the arras of philosophies, differences and commonalities of strangers, Sementara hopes to paint a sensitive portrait of the country’s protean identity.
Showing November 29 at Oldham Theatre and online. Check here for ticketing details.
6 Milestone (India)
Ivan Ayr’s sophomore film Milestone (Meel Patthar) is a deeply profound and layered tale about a man grappling with obsolescence and his own debilitating loneliness. It’s a slow-burning character study of Ghalib, a Punjabi trucker in New Delhi who has achieved what no other trucker has done: covering 500,000 kilometres. One day, he finds his life stalled by a workers’ strike, the passing of his wife and a recurring pain in his back.. Soon he begins to wonder what this has left him, and what his eventual destination is. Milestone looks to be a lyrical and unhurried depiction of neglect, displacement and aging.
Showing November 29 & December 2 at Filmgarde Bugis+. Check here for ticketing details.
7 The Wasteland (Iran)
Ahmad Bahrami’s second feature-length film is an incisive look at life on the outskirts of Iranian society. Following a community of desert labourers who toil in one of the country’s last traditional mudbrick factories, The Wasteland delicately fleshes out the individual lives of each worker, their specific problems, and varied cultural backgrounds. As the country’s economy shifts to cheaper cement for construction needs, the workers realise that their livelihoods are coming to an end. Bahrami’s film uses this doomed industry to humanise its forgotten workers and illuminate their multi-ethnic tapestry.
Showing December 3 at Filmgarde Bugis+ and online. Check here for ticketing details.
8 Wife Of A Spy (Japan)
Set in 1940s Kobe, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest is an absorbing period drama backdropped by the Second World War. Following a young Japanese wife who discovers her silk merchant husband is intent on revealing their country’s horrific secrets to the Americans, Wife Of A Spy navigates a dangerous web of political and military figures to bring their treacherous discovery to light. Part passionate romance, part espionage thriller – and part exposé on the role of filmmaking as propaganda – this elegantly old-fashioned movie is a thoughtful war story with massive stakes.
Showing December 3 & 5 at Filmgarde Bugis+. Check here for ticketing details.
9 The Woman Who Ran (South Korea)
The Woman Who Ran unfolds as a cosy slice-of-life story centered around Gam-Hee (played by Kim Min-Hee), a woman traveling around without her husband for the first time in years. As she pays separate visits to three different friends, Gam-Hee earns a glimpse of the differing textures of womanhood, each offering insights into potential pathways that her life could have taken. Helmed by Korean auteur Hong Sang-Soo, these seemingly mundane and meandering conversations between women are buoyed by precise performances and yield complex character studies.
Showing December 1 & 5 at Filmgarde Bugis+. Check here for ticketing details.
10 The Cloud In Her Room (Hong Kong)
Chinese filmmaker Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s debut feature looks to be a moving meditation on relationships, transience and homecoming through the generations. The Cloud In Her Room follows a 20-something named Muzi who returns to her hometown of Hangzhou for Chinese New Year. Shot in monochrome and with experimental flourishes, this film snapshots Muzi’s journey of self-discovery as a series of ephemeral encounters with her friends, family and lovers. Lu Xinyuan’s take on a young woman’s identity caught in flux between the familiar past and shifting future promises to be a poetic watch.
Showing November 28 & December 5 at Filmgarde Bugis+. Check here for ticketing details.
The Singapore International Film Festival runs from November 28 to December 6. For more information on other films and programmes, visit its official website.
By : Hidzir Junaini – NME