Singapore: Nine Must-See Movies

The Crossing 1 Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Beijing Galloping Horse Film Corporation

The Crossing 1 Still - H 2014

From John Woo's latest action epic to social commentaries from Egypt and Taiwan, to a local romp all about condoms, here are some highlights from SGIFF

The Singapore International Film Festival is back after a two-year break for its 25th anniversary and largest programming lineup to date. Running Dec. 4-14, SGIFF features 147 films from 50 countries, screened across 11 sections. Here's a sampling of some of the highlights.

The Crossing: Part One (China)
Director: John Woo

John Woo returns with the first installment of an epic romantic drama based on the real-life sinking of a steamship in the Taiwan Straits in 1949. The film premiered in China on Dec. 2, but has yet to be released in other markets, so Singapore audiences will get a relatively early look at the action master's latest epic, which has been dubbed the "Chinese Titanic" since Woo announced the project to considerable hype at Cannes in 2008. Assuring that the film will soon be nearly everywhere in the eastern hemisphere, The Crossing features an all-star pan-Asian cast, including China's Zhang Ziyi (who will be present in Singapore to present the film), Korean starlet Song Hye-kyo, Japan's Takeshi Kaneshiro and Magami Nagasawa, not to mention Chinese A-lister Huang Xiaoming.

Rubbers (Singapore)
Director: Han Yew Kwang

Singaporean cinema gets risqué and outlandish in this omnibus of three stories revolving around condoms. According to the festival program, the film touches upon: "a suicidal magical realist condom, a 'Nordic' plumber, an egghead vendor of sexual apparatuses, and the 'best sucker' in the world." Featuring Singaporean starlet Yeo Yann Yann in her most suggestive role to date, this title is sure to attract a tumescent crowd.

Meeting Dr. Sun (Taiwan)
Director: Yee Chih-yen

For those interested in gauging the fury Taiwanese youth feel towards the status quo in their country—a sentiment partly behind the ruling Kuomintang's crippling defeat at the polls last week—director Yee Chih-yen's heist-comedy provides a timely pointer. A story about a group of poor young students who make a farcical attempt to steal a famous statue, the film is a sharp indictment of the disadvantage faced by the new generation—despite its charming, comedic tone. Meeting Dr. Sun won the best script award at the Taipei Film Awards.

Alive (South Korea)
Director: Park Jung-bum

Indie director Park Jung-bum tests his characters'—and audience's—endurance in Alive, an epic chronicle of a construction worker's struggle to survive and care for his mentally ill sister and niece in a gritty, unjust contemporary Korea. Writes THR critic Clarence Tsui: "Alive is taut, riveting and visually striking throughout its mammoth three-hour runtime, an achievement made even more impressive by the Korean director's nuanced performance as the lead character himself."

Décor (Egypt)
Director: Ahmad Abdalla

Director-in-focus Ahmad Abdalla's latest feature is part contemplation of female emancipation in Egypt and part an homage to the country's long cinematic tradition. Shot in resplendent black and white, the film marks the veteran director's first foray into studio-backed commercial filmmaking. It tells the story of a successful film production designer who finds herself slipping into the life of a married housewife as pressures mount on the set of her latest movie.

Clouds of Sils Maria
Director: Olivier Assayas

Clouds of Sils Maria has traveled widely since its premiere at Cannes, but with star Juliette Binoche in Singapore to discuss and promote the film, local audiences will be treated to some behind-the-scenes insight from one France's most beloved screen icons. Says THR's lead critic Todd McCarthy: "Clouds of Sils Maria is an engaging, if rarefied, inside look at the private world of a star. By turns wispy and sharply dramatic, French director Olivier Assayas’ English-language character study benefits greatly from the magnetic and naturalistic lead performances by Binoche as the 40ish veteran, Kristen Stewart as her ever-present personal assistant and Chloe Grace Moretz as a teen sensation whose time is now."

40 Days of Silence (Uzbekistan)
Director: Saodat Ismailova

Proof of the SGIFF's eye for pioneering, socially-committed art, this Uzbek feature about a village girl foregoing speech to cleanse her sins is defined by director Saomat Ismailova's feel for striking imagery and Jacob Kirkegaard's delicate sound design. Featuring an all-female cast, the film is a potent meditation on the burdens women bare with grit and grace in a patriarchal land.

From What Is Before (Philippines)
Director: Lav Diaz

After a triumphant run on the European festival circuit—including a Golden Leopard win in Locarno—Filipino director Lav Diaz returns to Southeast Asia with his five-hour-plus piece about the ominous social climate during the first days of Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship. Art house-lovers rejoice; popcorn movie-goers beware.

The Undertaker (Philippines)
Director: Andrea Capranico

Three years in the making, Manila-based Italian documentarian Andrea Capranico's film chronicles a community of vibrant squatters defying morbidity in setting up home in a cemetery in the Filipino capital. The film's voluble protagonist gives the proceedings a levity its weighty setting might not otherwise suggest.