11 local movies to watch this year

Offerings this year include a Tamil romance comedy, a Mandarin psychological thriller and a road trip with an elephant

Stories about a road trip in Thailand with an elephant, a cheeky Fortune God and making music in Singapore in the heady 1970s are among 10 new local films to look out for this year - 11 if we include erotic thriller Siew Lup, which opens in cinemas on Feb 23, but had premiered at the Singapore International Film Festival last year.

The titles run the gamut from comedy to horror and erotica, and drama to documentary. They are in Mandarin, English and Tamil as well as a smattering of dialects.

That figure might increase over the course of the year as some films might not be on the radar yet. In 2015, there were 20 new movies, including theatrical releases and film festival premieres, as a result of SG50 fervour, and there were 15 new films last year.

Among the offerings this year are a number of feature directorial debuts, including works supported by the Info-communications Media Development Authority's New Talent Feature Grant: Tamil romantic comedy Chennai2Singapore by Abbas Akbar, Mandarin psychological thriller The Tenants by Mike Koh, and Thai and English drama Pop Aye by Kirsten Tan, which is competing at the Sundance Film Festival later this month.

One prominent name missing from this year's line-up is film-maker Jack Neo, 56. He has helmed the top-grossing local movie each year from 2002 (I Not Stupid) to 2016 (Long Long Time Ago), with the exception of 2005, 2007 and 2011.

He tells The Straits Times with a chuckle: "It's a bit unusual that I'm not directing a Chinese New Year movie. I want to give a newcomer a chance. Ivan (Ho), the scriptwriter of Ah Boys To Men 3, has a lot of ideas, so I think he's ready to be a director."

Executive produced by Neo, Ho's comedy drama about ex-prisoners, Take 2, will open in cinemas on Jan 26.

Moreover, there has been a delay in Neo's overseas project - previously reported as a Singapore-China film - over the script. He declines to reveal more about the movie, which he will be directing, but hopes to shoot it this year for release next year.

•Release dates are subject to change.


1 THE FORTUNE HANDBOOK


Mark Lee. PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT

When: Jan 26

Director: Kelvin Sng (Taxi! Taxi!, 2013)

Cast: Li Nanxing, Mark Lee, Christopher Lee

What: Mandarin and English comedy with some dialect

Soh Hock (Christopher Lee) is obsessed with getting rich and schemes to lay his hands on his brother-in-law Hao Xing's (Li) famous Chinese pastry recipe. When a Fortune God (Mark Lee) comes into their lives, his actions have unexpected consequences.


2 TAKE 2


Take 2. PHOTO: JTEAM PRODUCTIONS

When: Jan 26

Director: Ivan Ho (co-writer of Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen, 2015, and Long Long Time Ago, 2016)

Cast: Ryan Lian, Maxi Lim, Wang Lei, Gadrick Chin

What: Mandarin and English comedy drama

Tiger, Huat, Dog and Jianren seek a fresh start after their release from prison, but society continues to stigmatise them. They open an eatery together, only to find themselves embroiled in a gang struggle as their past catches up with them.


3 SIEW LUP


Rebecca Chen and Louis Wu (above). PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

When: Feb 23

Director: Sam Loh (Lang Tong, 2014)

Cast: Sunny Pang, Louis Wu, Rebecca Chen, Melody Low

What: Mandarin erotic thriller

Trapped in a loveless marriage with an impotent butcher (Pang) at a siew lup (Cantonese for roast meat) shop, Mia (Chen) tumbles into a steamy affair with funeral director Wu (Wu).


4 CHENNAI2SINGAPORE


Gokul Anand (above right), Anju Kurian (above left). PHOTO: COMICBOOK

When: February

Director: Abbas Akbar

Cast: Gokul Anand, Anju Kurian

What: Tamil romantic comedy

Haresh makes his way to Singapore from Chennai in search of investors for his dream project. Along the way, he encounters a series of misfortunes and finds unexpected love.


5 LUCKY BOY


Wang Weiliang and Venus Wong (above). PHOTO: CLOVER FILMS

When: May

Director: Boris Boo (Filial Party, 2014)

Cast: Chew Chor Meng, Wang Weiliang, Venus Wong, Chen Xiuhuan, Jeremy Chan

What: Mandarin and English comedy with some dialect

The movie chronicles several decades in the life of Lin Yu (Wang), who seems destined to be surrounded by misfortune. He pines for Qing Qing (Wong), whom he meets in primary school, throughout his life.


6 POP AYE


Actor Thaneth Warakulnukroh and elephant Bong in the film Pop Aye.  PHOTO: GIRAFFE PICTURES

When: First half of the year

Director: Kirsten Tan

Cast: Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Phenphak Sirikul

What: Thai and English drama

 

A disenchanted architect chances upon his long-lost elephant on the streets of Bangkok. Together, they embark on a journey in search of the farm where they grew up.


7 23:59 PART 2

When: Second half of the year

Director: Gilbert Tan (23:59, 2011)

What: Mandarin and English horror flick

National service commemorates its 50th anniversary this year and what better way to mark the occasion than with a horror flick, since there are so many army-related urban myths that circulate among national servicemen? The sequel ups the ante with three spine-tingling tales set in three different eras - each associated with a different, iconic uniform.


8 WONDER BOY


(From left) Chen Yixi, Zachary Ibrahim, Ryan Ang and Benjamin Kheng star in Wonder Boy.PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT

When: August

Director: Dick Lee, Daniel Yam

Cast: Benjamin Kheng, Julie Tan

What: Musical drama in English with some dialect

Penang stands in for 1970s Singapore in this movie loosely based on singer-songwriter Lee's life during his teenage years, leading to the release of his first album.


9 IN TIME TO COME

When: Undated

Director: Tan Pin Pin (Singapore GaGa, 2005)

What: English documentary

A film-maker traverses her country filming scenes and rituals as she contemplates her personal time capsule.


10 THE WAYANG KIDS


Austin Chong (above), Lorena Gibb (above). PHOTO: BRAINCHILD PICTURES

When: Undated

Director: Raymond Tan (Wayang Boy, 2014)

Cast: Eli Shih, Christopher Downs, May Phua, Jocie Kok, Austin Chong, Lorena Gibb

What: English and Mandarin family comedy

A Eurasian girl from China enrols in a Singapore primary school and strikes up a friendship with an autistic boy. They have to overcome language and cultural barriers to represent their school in an international Chinese opera competition.


11 THE TENANTS


Angeline Yap (above, with Alana Lin). PHOTO: DIGITAL BLOWFISH

When: Undated

Director: Mike Koh

Cast: Angeline Yap (with Alana Lin), Eileen Chen, Li Yinzhu

What: Mandarin psychological thriller

A young woman rents out the empty rooms of the family house to earn extra income. Intrigue and suspense move in along with the tenants.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline '11 local films to catch'. Print Edition | Subscribe