A Land Imagined
- 1h 35min
A lonely construction worker from China goes missing at a Singapore land reclamation site, and a sleepless police investigator must put himself in the mind of the migrant to uncover the trut... Read allA lonely construction worker from China goes missing at a Singapore land reclamation site, and a sleepless police investigator must put himself in the mind of the migrant to uncover the truth beneath all that sand.A lonely construction worker from China goes missing at a Singapore land reclamation site, and a sleepless police investigator must put himself in the mind of the migrant to uncover the truth beneath all that sand.
Singapore is a powerful and rich country with leading prospects in almost all industries, yet barely a film industry. A lackluster industry plagued with the typical HDB (the housing property the majority live in) poverty porn or made for locals, degenerate comedies and an occasional soft core erotic or trashy horror film. Once in an excruciatingly long while, we rejoice, when a film garners international acclaim, one like Boo Jun Feng's "Apprentice" which reflects the true potential Singaporean filmmakers can achieve. However, in the meantime, we get Hollywood to glamourize our rich and our locals to reduce our industry into one that is barely existing anymore.
That is why when a gem like "A Land Imagined" arrives, Singaporeans have to cherish it more. Choosing to explore the harsher reality and a more common side of our bustling city, "A Land Imagined" manages to make Singapore look so foreign, even to the locals. Director Yeo Siew Hua shows us a side of Singapore that is familiar yet we fear to venture. A side of Singapore we are unable to recognize and admit exist easily. This bold direction he chooses to take already puts this film above the safe threshold of other Singaporean works.
On surface, "A Land Imagined" is a noir mystery about a police officer (Peter Yu) looking for a migrant, land reclamation, construction worker, Wang (Liu Xiaoyi). Along the way we meet Luna Kwok's character which links both characters together and brings the mystery slightly closer to being solved. Like any other great American thriller, think "Blade Runner", "Chinatown" and "Heat", "A Land Imagined" takes its time and throughout the film, Yeo Siew Hua pays a respectable homage to other great noir films of the past.
With a mesmerizing synth score at the background, juxtaposed over beautiful wide shots of the reclamation land side or gritty, yet alluring shots of the migrant workers living conditions, this film paints a neo noir look of Singapore which quickly transcends into a deeper contemplative piece. One will quickly realize that Yeo Siew Hua gathers a lot from other films he has watched, yet the end product is something so refreshing for not only the local film industry but the entire film industry. By splitting the film into two distinct perspectives, one of the officer and the other of Wang, the Chinese immigrant, he brings about a shared loneliness from both characters.
Their longing for human connection and a sense of belonging is one that is universal. It is further emphasize through his subplot of land reclamation which ask a deeper question of how Singapore is actually a country made of immigrants. A question about the Singaporean identity that haunts us all. Yeo explores themes of loneliness and desperation in a way that shows how alienating it can be to the rest. By the end, we slowly lose our motivations and purpose, just like the characters in the film, mirroring the real life ups and downs of chasing the Singaporean dream. This is a film about the human condition, or more specifically the Singaporean condition.
The noir-ish elements emulates the best of Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann while the dream like nature quickly takes over and you can see David Lynch taking over the wheel. Atmospheric and alluring, at almost every turn. "A Land Imagined" shifts into its heightened dream state halfway through the film. This is where the cinematography by DP Hideho Urata ramps up. His eye for poignant visuals provided a hypnotizing feel to strangely common settings such as our streetlamps, construction sites etc. Combined with the score, we sit through a journey which ranges from melancholic to trippy.
The longing to become someone else, blends dreams and reality together as Wang and the police officer slowly mirrors one another. In almost a similar fashion to a Bi Gan ("Kaili Blues", "Long Day's Journey into Night") film, we shift away from the plot and fall down the endless pit with Yeo Siew Hua, getting lost into the allure of it all. Just like an immigrant being seduced into the glow of this beautiful country. It's amazing how much influence Yeo takes from Bi Gan, considering the fact that Luna Kwok worked with Bi Gan before on Kaili.
Speaking of Luna Kwok, her character is definitely the stand out of the film. Almost falling into the realm of manic pixie dream girl territory, her character is similar to that of a Wong Kar Wai character, especially Faye Wong's character in "Chungking Express" but grittier. She has a spunk to her and provides a slightly disdain view of Singapore, yet she ties the two perspectives together as if almost knowing as much about the plot as the viewer, serving as our middleman.
Better editing choices could make "A Land Imagined" a little more coherent and give viewers slightly more explanation. The tonal shifts throughout can be quite jarring especially from the cop perspective to the worker perspective and back to the cop. I appreciated the change in perspective for its unsettling vibes but it should have been made to be more uniform. A slight nitpick but score and sound mixing should really be toned down. It a little overpowering, especially during transitions and it could really take the viewers out of the film.
Overall, "A Land Imagined" is not a film that Singaporeans may necessarily want but it is a film we need. A hauntingly important film that speaks about real societal issues the country faces and despite being mainly about foreigners, also highlights the issue of being part of the Singaporean Dream. Do yourself a favor and watch this, instead of the countless other false images other foreigners or even locals tend to paint a picture of Singapore, in their films.
- Feb 26, 2019