Works by Singapore film-makers showing at international festivals

(Above) Writer-director Liao Jiekai’s Light Of A Burning Moth; director Tan Bee Thiam’s Tiong Bahru Social Club; and writer-director Remi M. Sali’s Not My Mother’s Baking. PHOTO: LIAO JIEKAI
Writer-director Liao Jiekai’s Light Of A Burning Moth; (above) director Tan Bee Thiam’s Tiong Bahru Social Club; and writer-director Remi M. Sali’s Not My Mother’s Baking. PHOTO: 13 LITTLE PICTURES
Writer-director Liao Jiekai’s Light Of A Burning Moth; director Tan Bee Thiam’s Tiong Bahru Social Club; and (above) writer-director Remi M. Sali’s Not My Mother’s Baking. PHOTO: STUDIO 59 CONCEPTS

Film festivals around the world going virtual has not deterred Singaporean film-makers from participating and winning recognition.

Among them is director Tan Bee Thiam, 42. His comedy, Tiong Bahru Social Club, has been picked to make its world premiere at one of Asia's most important film events, the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea.

The film, Tan's first full-length feature, has been selected to screen in the Window On Asian Cinema section at the festival, which opened yesterday and runs till Oct 30. It is the only Singapore movie screening there this year. Past Singapore entrants include Eric Khoo's horror satire Mee Pok Man (1995) and the SG50 anthology 7 Letters (2015).

The comedy will open in cinemas here on Dec 10.

With travel prohibitions in place, the team behind the movie will not travel to Busan, or to Taiwan, where the film has also been picked to screen at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, which takes place from Nov 5 to 22.

Producer Huang Junxiang, 31, tells The Straits Times in an e-mail interview that the team would have loved to travel, "meeting film-makers around the world, showcasing a film that represents the joyful side of Singapore cinema to a global audience".

The satirical movie, written by Tan and Antti Toivonen, tells the story of Ah Bee, a man who breaks the monotony of his life by joining the club of the film's title, a cult-like place that seeks to increase the happiness of members through algorithms.

Explaining the film's ideas, Tan says that "in Singapore, the world's most competitive nation, it is only natural that we take happiness and creativity very seriously".

Co-writer and co-producer Toivonen, 42, a Finn based in Singapore, points out: "You don't need to know much about Singapore or Tiong Bahru to appreciate the film.

"The story is written by a Finn and a Singaporean, so it's an odd mix of Nordic and South-east Asian sensibilities. I bet the film will stand out in a positive way and stick with the viewers."

Another film by a Singaporean that will get a world premiere at a major festival is Light Of A Burning Moth by writer-director Liao Jiekai. The Japanese-language drama will be screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF), which runs from Oct 31 to Nov 9.

The film, Liao's third feature, "is a work that defies genre categorisation", says the 35-year-old via e-mail from Tokyo.

In March, he graduated from the Tokyo University of the Arts, where he obtained a master's degree in film directing. The movie was produced by the school as his graduation thesis.

The story details a conversation between two fictional artists, one played by dancer Ha Young Mi and the other by mime artist Arai Han, as they deal with issues both creative and personal.

"It is certainly a more visually-driven film as opposed to it being story-driven or even character-driven, and because of that, I will encourage audiences to watch it on the big screen," says Liao, who plans to return to Singapore next month.

He has lived in Japan over various periods - for work and study - and has with TIFF what he calls "a relationship that has grown in trust and familiarity". His previous two features, the dramas Red Dragonflies (2010) and As You Were (2014), were screened at the festival.

"It does feel like a homecoming each time my film is selected for TIFF," he says, adding that he hopes it can be released in Singapore next year.

Food, religion and culture clashes occur in the romantic comedy Not My Mother's Baking, which relates what happens when the daughter of a Malay-Muslim celebrity chef falls in love with the son of a Chinese roast pork seller.

The film by writer-director Remi M. Sali has been selected to screen at Five Flavours Asian Film Festival in Warsaw, Poland, which runs from Nov 25 to Dec 6. No Singapore release date has been set.

Remi, 45, who has been making shows for broadcaster Mediacorp and independently for two decades, says in his director's statement that the film "is a love note addressing sensitivities pertaining to race and religion in Singapore".

He adds that the independent production boasts a number of Singapore film firsts, among them the portrayal of an English-speaking Malay family as lead characters.

Real mother-and-daughter celebrity chefs Siti Mastura Alwi and Sarah Ariffin play themselves, joined by real father-and-son actors Zack Zainal and Benjamin Zainal. It also stars veteran local actor Vincent Tee.

Executive producer Ho Pak Kin, 52, says in an e-mail interview: "We hope the movie will encourage discussion, respect and understanding between communities in Singapore.

"For the first time, an English-speaking Malay family takes centre stage, with a fluid switch to Bahasa Melayu when it fits the scene. The movie is narrated in Mandarin, with the story told from the Chinese family's perspective."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2020, with the headline Works by Singapore film-makers showing at international festivals. Subscribe