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A Land Imagined

Opening Date
21 Feb 2019
NC16 Some Coarse Language and Sexual Scenes
95 mins
Mandarin/ English/ Bengali with English & Chinese subtitles
Mystery, Thriller
Yeo Siew Hua
Peter Yu, Liu Xiaoyu, Luna Kwok, Jack Tan, Istiaque Zico, Kelvin Ho, George Low, Andie Chen
The first Singaporean film to win the Golden Leopard award at the Locarno Film Festival. A Land Imagined is set in industrial Singapore, police investigator Lok must find missing migrant worker Wang. Wang suffers a worksite accident and is anxious about repatriation. Unable to sleep, Wang starts frequenting a dreamy cybercafé in the dead of the night. Hoping to look for some form of human connection in this foreign land he feels alienated from, Wang forms a virtual friendship with a mysterious gamer that takes a sinister turn. When Wang suddenly disappears, Lok digs deep into the trail leading to a land reclamation site, in order to uncover the truth beneath all that sand.
By Razi  21 Feb 2019
Rigourous, symbolic, abstract, surreal, and overly intellectual, A Land Imagined's opaque narrative and low emotional stakes makes it a tough film to engage with, even if it takes on important issues of Singapore's migrant labour and land reclamation
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For some time now, there seems to have been a failure of imagination as to what a Singaporean film can be. On one end of the camp, there is the commercially conscious, mass-appeal (to a fault) cinema of Jack Neo and on the other, there is the socio-realist sensibility of Eric Khoo’s “film-festival-calibre” cinema at the cost of a much smaller audience. This common dichotomy has rarely, if at all, been bridged by a local film that is both a profitable crowd-puller and a compelling narrative reflection of our society.
A Land Imagined does little to change that.
Why should it? Shouldn’t filmmakers be free to make whatever films they want? Yes. But in this case, let’s look at intention. At the gala premiere, director Yeo Siew Hua was heartfelt in his gratitude for the film finally having come to Singaporean cinemas – because it was made for the people of Singapore. In an interview with film critic and curator, Maggie Lee, the sophomore filmmaker qualifies the main message of his film as follows (paraphrased): to feature the harsh conditions of foreign construction workers but more importantly, to humanize their plight and undo their label as an Other. Why? So as to bridge their distance from mainstream society and make us feel that “we are all one humanity”.
The fim’s press kit reveals further layers of intention, but for any of it to come through, the film has to be reasonably accessible and coherent. It is neither.
The plot is essentially about a needlessly broody cop named Lok (who resembles no police officer you’ve ever seen in Singapore) in search of a missing migrant worker, Wang Bi Cheng. The point of view switches from Lok to Wang early in the film (and it won’t be the last time), removing any sense of mystery the trailer might have led you to believe existed. From there, viewers have to meander through a series of scenes that, if lucky, occasionally move the plot. Along the way, it features secondary characters who come and go, often as fleeting thematic mouthpieces with only minor semblances to actual people.
Rife with rigourous symbolism, abstract techno-surrealism and the occasional philosophical musing, the appeal for intellectual appreciation is well apparent. Unfortunately, more than Wang Bi Cheng, the emotional stakes are what’s really missing in the story. It’s hard to care what happens next when you don’t feel for the people it’s happening to. What’s worse, is that nothing much really happens anyway.
For a film that’s digitally painted with such rich colour (thanks in part to the meticulous flair in its production design), it’s ironic that its derivative characters lack a more complex shade and its bleary narrative seems like a pale photocopy of far more masterful films and genres shuffled together.
Like its main characters often do, A Land Imagined will make you look longingly into the horizon… hoping for the day a superior Singaporean film reclaims our shores.
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