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Singapore Dreaming

Despite its innocent-sounding name, Singapore Dreaming is not a movie about fluffy clouds and rainbows at the end of your pillow. It’s, in fact, about the greatest nightmare of all: Reality.

Singapore Dreaming is the first Singaporean film selected to compete in the Zabaltegi selection of the San Sebastian International Film Festival, which is a grand showcase of each year’s most unconventional films internationally. It is also 1 of the 18 worldwide films nominated for the Montblanc Screenwriter’s Award and the Altadis-New Directors Award, which carry prizes of 15,000 Euros ($30,112) and 90,000 Euros ($180,676) respectively.

This internationally recognised film explores the dreams and lives of the Lohs, a Singaporean family with a stereotypically local mindset of chasing after the “5 Cs” (cash, credit card, car, condominium, country club). Singapore Dreaming

Loh Poh Huat (Channel 8 veteran Richard Low) is the head of the Loh family. He works as a lawyer’s clerk and, like most people, dreams of endless riches. Ironically,his job involves claiming property from clients with extended debts. He makes just enough to support his family in their 3-room HDB flat and is often frustrated with the luxurious things that are out of his reach. As a downtrodden man at work, he takes this frustration out on his family –

  • his wife, Siew Luan (Alice Lim Cheng Peng), who abandoned her dreams when she became a housewife years ago and constantly brews “liang teh” (herbal tea) for her family as the only way she knows how to be useful;
  • eldest daughter, Mei (Yeo Yann Yann), who resents her parent’s traditional favouritism towards males in the family and tries to fight her way to middle-class standards, by having at least a few “C”s;
  • Mei’s husband, C.K. (Lim Yu-Beng) who can’t bring the bacon home as he left the army to sell insurance and is thus looked down upon by Loh;
  • his son, Seng (Dick Su), the idealist-perfectionist who keeps tripping over himself in his shortcuts to arrive fast and
  • Irene (Serene Chen), Seng’s fiancé, who has grown to love and be a part of the Loh family, but who tries to hold on to an unrealistic sense of perfection in her relationship with Seng.

When Loh strikes a lottery prize of $2 million, the family is thrilled at having a chance to reach their individual dreams. Inevitably, some of them start to fight over the money, while the uninterested parties can only turn away in disappointment.

Singapore Dreaming

It really isn’t far-fetched considering how fairly common it is these days for families to go to court over their share of the inheritance when some relative passes away.

The acting was nothing less than stellar. Yeo Yann Yann and Lim Yu-Beng gave effortless and believable on-screen performances, just to mention a few. Yeo’s portrayal of a woman tied down by overwhelming obligations, most of which she is unappreciated for fulfilling, was stunning.

So moving was her character that audiences can empathise with her plight and silent frustration. Lim, who plays Yeo’s on-screen husband, suffers from the Singaporean nightmare: working in a small insurance outfit and trying unsuccessfully to peddle this to his Secondary school friends, running out of contacts and prospects, and trying to feel no less the man while making a smaller income than his secretary wife.

Veteran stage actor Lim, who recently won Best Actor at the 2005 Life! Theatre Awards, portrays this inner turmoil well. The 2 work around each other like clockwork so that it seems they’re actually in the fizzled-out marriage.

Dr Woo Yen Yen and editor/columnist Colin Goh, the married co-writers and co-directors, paint a realistic picture of Singaporean living, of complex lives weaved together by family ties. The pair gives astounding insights into Singaporean culture since their last internationally acclaimed work, Talking Cock The Movie.

The characters couldn’t be more genuine than a real friend, colleague, or a stranger you might meet on the street. Many familiar themes of the Singaporean life are dredged up. Examples include sons being favoured in Asian families, as well as wealth and academic certificates being society’s unforgiving measure of a person’s potential and worth. There are no airs about the characters, no quests for honour, no hero and no villain in this movie.

The characters featured are just ordinary Singaporeans going on their day-to-day life and we get to see a reflection of what Singaporeans are really like and how ‘ugly’ we can be. There are light dashes of comic relief, though the story generally takes a dark turn when the characters become victims of circumstances and their closet skeletons are inevitably revealed.

Unlike other local movies such as I Not Stupid and I Not Stupid Too that focus similarly on social problems that Singaporeans face, or even the Singaporean productions on Channel 8Singapore Dreaming does not try to make a happy ending that’s full of tears, regrets and moral realisations. What it focuses on is the growth of the characters and their personal strengths in dire times, although it may not always be for the better and it may not always result in a happy ending for everyone. It becomes apparent that “dreams are for rookies” in our Singaporean culture and is summarised in a (loosely translated) comment from a China waitress to C.K., “You Singaporeans give up your dreams to take up a job you don’t like, to make a living, while I am doing work that I don’t like so that I can reach my dream.” It’s certainly thought provoking.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Movie Details:
Release Date: 7 September 2006
Running Time: 100 minutes
Languages: Mandarin, English and Hokkien
Subtitles: English and Mandarin
Starring: Richard Low, Alice Lim Cheng Peng, Dick Su, Yeo Yann Yann, Lim Yu-Beng, Serene Chen

Kasturba Subba
Kasturba Subba
Kasturba Subba is a versatile content writer and editor, recognized for her proficiency in creating compelling and informative written content. Also, known for her expertise in crafting engaging and informative written pieces. In addition to her writing talents, she is also involved in the singing and painting, showcasing a diverse range of creative talents.


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