Singapore Dreaming

Director:  Colin Goh and Ten Yen Woo
Year: 2006
Rating: 5.5
Country: Singapore

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.

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.