Sometimes your reaction to a film can be strongly influenced by what you
were expecting versus what you end up seeing. I was thrown off here in the
most simplest of ways – the picture on the DVD cover of an apparently happy
smiling family led me to believe this would be a warm hearted comedy of sorts
with a family pulling together to make good. Not exactly. In fact, the two
directors (husband and wife) seem intent on angrily puncturing a hole in
the supposed Singapore façade of an orderly society where everyone
lives well. This has become a common theme in recent years with directors
such as Jack Neo and his gentle satiric comedies or Royston Tan showing a
seamier dead end side of Singapore that didn’t please the authorities all
that much. Here the family unit is used as the pretext to explore and condemn
the inherent class hierarchy and overt class consciousness as well as the
materialistic nature of the Singaporeans. The five C’s are what Singaporeans
aspire to – cash, condo, credit card, car and a country club – and if they
don’t achieve these status symbols they look upon their life as a failure.
Goh and Ten Yen Woo
The Loh family would be classified as lower middle class, living in public
housing but by no means poor. Living under the same roof is the debt ridden
father (Richard Low), an old fashioned uneducated mother (Alice Lim), their
son (Dick Soo) who has just returned from university in the United States
burdened by high family expectations and his sweet fiancée Irene (Serene
Chen). There is also the daughter Mei Loh (Yeo Yan Yan) who is married and
lives in her own public housing apartment. This is a stew of barely contained
frustration always simmering with class and family resentment, but it really
only boils over when suddenly the father hits the lottery and becomes wealthy.
With all that money at stake the grasping nature of this family – in particular
the son and daughter - shows its true colors and the infighting begins. Even
here the viewer might likely expect that at some point the family will become
reconciled and realize that family is more important than material goods,
but the directors stick to their message and things go from bad to worse.
Only the mother stays apart from all this – a seemingly simple woman who
doesn’t have much to say other than offering food and drink to her family.
In the end though she turns out to be the moral ballast of the film who understands
everything all too well and deals with her family accordingly. The passive
kindly performance from Alice Lim is marvelous and nearly saves the film
from becoming too harsh, but overall the film paints a much too one sided
nasty depressing portrait of Singapore. The film needed more of an even handed
balance, but it becomes such a bitter polemic against the city state that
it becomes hard to listen to. And harder to enjoy.