Released in 1995, Mee Pok Man carved a slice in Singaporean history. It might not have been the first film to be made in Singapore since establishing independence in 1965—but it was the first film made by a Singaporean director. Mee Pok Man was also the first Singaporean film to be entered into a film competition, and the first to win the FIFPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Award. A cheerful start to Singapore’s film history, it paved the way for Anthony Chen and Singapore’s most decorated and well-known films: the Golden-Horse winning Wet Season, and Caméra d’Or winning Ilo Ilo.
But Chen is not the only filmmaker, and his are not the only films that show and represent Singapore. There was Forever Fever, 12 Storeys and I Not Stupid, alongside a slew of television shows, like Fighting Spiders and Mata Mata. Though not having yet reached the same heights as Western counterparts like Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey, series such as Last Madame, which saw Mediacorp trek into new waters with its risqué take on a brothel owner in 1930s Singapore, and the gentle love story of Beijing to Moscow, are a first for a Singapore drama. These tales follow themes of Singapore, whether that be nostalgia for a time long since gone as seen in Titoudao, the consequences of giving into gambling and financial desire in Greedy Ghost, or the uncertainty of being an immigrant and watching the country you left behind slowly go to turmoil in Wet Season.
Set against HDB blocks and old shophouses, mosquito fogging against early morning bird calls, hawker centres and getai stages all appear in these uniquely Singaporean stories—all up on Netflix just in time for National Day. So curl up, turn up the volume, and enjoy Vogue Singapore’s handpicked selection just for you.
1 / 7
Beijing to Moscow
Following an accident, Kaixiang (River Huang) loses his memories save one: that of a trip to Moscow from Beijing with his girlfriend Kloudiia (Felicia Chin)—to the dismay of his wife, Xiaoqi (Jojo Goh). Determined to jog his memory, Xiaoqi, and his friend Kenneth (played by the late Aloysius Pang) take him on the same trip again, to try and find Kloudiia’s whereabouts, in the hopes of restoring his memories. Having swept the Asian Academy Creative Awards, as well as winning Best Drama at the Star Awards, this film was shot beautifully on location in Moscow and Mongolia.
Watch Beijing to Moscow from 4 August
2 / 7
Based on theatre director Goh Boon Teck’s play about the life of his mother Madam Oon Ah Chiam, Netflix picks up the television adaptation of the life of a Wayang star. The show follows Oon Ah Chiam (Koe Yeet), one of twelve children, who had to fight to remain in her family before discovering a Chinese opera troupe. There, her hard work and perseverance rose her through the ranks and transformed her into the lead actress. Filmed in Malaysia, Titoudao chronicles the sacrifices Madam Oon made to ensure the success of her dream, and is a heartwarming encouragement to continue chasing your goals, no matter the hardships.
Watch Titoudao from 5 August
3 / 7
Set against the sumptuous background of colonial Singapore and split between 2019 and the late 1930s, Last Madame follows the saga of a brothel owner, Fung Lan (Joanne Peh), and her great-granddaughter Chi Lang (Fiona Fussi). Returning to Singapore to collect her inheritance, Chi Lang finds that instead of cash, she’s been gifted her great-grandmother’s brothel, and now has to decide what to do with the building. Fung Lan’s past begins to reveal a murky world where lies run rampant and murder threatens to undo them all. With a slew of awards from the New York Film Festival, Busan International Film Festival and Asian Television Awards, this thriller is a wonderful escapist treat.
Watch Last Madame from 6 August
4 / 7
Funeral parlour worker Lim (Kang Kang) discovers a mysterious book at his workplace that despite having no words, has something much more valuable—a “book spirit” (Mark Lee), who offers him financial advice. Wanting to strike big, Lim eventually discovers that the spirit has given him all this money for only a small price: his own soul. Also starring Brendan Yuan and Henry Thia as Lim’s friends and hapless gamblers, this dark comedy is a harsh warning against the dangers of greed, and the hilarity of being forced to continue doling out financial advice long after you’ve shuffled off your mortal coil.
Watch Greedy Ghost from 6 August
5 / 7
In Time to Come
Filmed over four years, this documentary focuses on the opening of state time capsules as another one is prepared to be closed, as Singapore grows and declines in the background. Shots linger on malls emptying and filling, or a lone figure tracing the sidelines of the KPE as open light pours through the entrance. Schoolchildren sit in rows silently reading as a time capsule’s contents are pulled out with gentle, gloved hands, and stand to attention as uniforms are packed with tissue paper to be put in another capsule. Director Tan Pin Pin, who filmed the astounding From Singapore, with Love in 2013 asks: Which parts of Singapore will you remember? What will be forgotten?
Watch In Time to Come from 7 August
6 / 7
Based on the iconic video ‘Unbelievable’ that went viral in 2015, Mr Unbelievable, starring Chen Tianwen, follows a getai singer attempting to get famous in a declining industry. Not one to be deterred, he decides to try something a little daring—adding English lyrics, no matter how nonsensical, to Hokkien songs. What follows is the fame he’s always wanted—but at the cost of those around him. Regular film-goers might not recognise Chen from his role in the Golden Horse-winning role as the father in Ilo Ilo, with a strange wig and shades, but this zany comedy is sure to delight regardless.
Watch Mr Unbelievable from 8 August
7 / 7
This award-winning drama by Chen made waves with its release in 2019, and to this day still tops the list of best Singaporean and Asian films. The film is focused on Ling (Yeo Yann Yann), a Malay Mandarin language teacher who is trying to get pregnant as her marriage begins to slowly crumble. As she starts tutoring a new student (Koh Jia Ler), her life begins to change in a way she never expected. An elegantly filmed story set against the backdrop of Singaporean thunderstorms, this piece touches on familial connection and the theme of belonging, as done in Chen’s Caméra d’Or winning film Ilo Ilo, which coincidently featured Yann and Ler as mother and son.
Watch Wet Season from 9 August