Fast Five Facts about Singapore Films

Fast Five Facts about Singapore Films

It’s alive! The local movie industry in Singapore, that is. With the recent success of the two Ah Boys to Men movies (now the top grossing local film to date), will we see the local film industry finally rising from its recent slumber? It’s certainly no Hollywood with its big budgets and over-the-top special effects but local films have more than made up for in their great story-telling.

This was heavily relied on in the 1930s when the film industry in Singapore was just beginning. Though spoken in the different mother tongues and not English, they were usually stories of interesting folklores that audiences from different races and cultures could appreciate. Hence, the industry gained a lot of success in the 40s. Unfortunately, their popularity quickly ceased during World War Two when the Japanese banned Singapore theatres from screening any local or western movies.

Here are five things you need to know about our very own still growing film industry.

1. The Golden Age of film making in Singapore was due to the great competition between two cinema giants.

Posters of some Malay films
Photo sourced from

After the war in 1947, Shaw Brothers started a Malay Film Production studio and introduced the Hollywood style of movie-making, hiring their own full-time group of directors, production crew and on-screen talents. This birthed many successful Malay movies, immensely elevating the star status of actors like the legendary P. Ramlee himself. In an attempt to keep up with the new boom in the industry, Cathay Keris began producing their own films and for about 20 years, both made over 200 Malay and Chinese movies in total. This period became known as the Golden Age of film making in Singapore.

The industry started its great decline in the late 1960s when both closed their production houses. When Singapore declared independence from merger with Malaysia, Shaw’s biggest star P. Ramlee left for Kuala Lumpur who seemed to be an irreplaceable talent. As for Cathay, they lost their founder Loke Wan Tho in a plane crash. Following these events, the movies produced did not turn out as successful as before so they stopped.


2. Indian directors were behind the successful Malay films during the Golden Age.

Roomai Noor with director and filming crew / P. Ramlee started in showbiz as a back-up singer
Photos sourced from and

When Shaw Brothers started producing their own Malay films, they hired Chinese directors. But they soon realized that the Malay audience enjoyed Indian films more because they liked the Bollywood song and dance style and could relate to the cultural stories. Recognizing this trend, they replaced with Indian directors such as Balden Singh Rajhans who made memorable hits like Singapura Di-Waktu Malam starring the beautiful diva Siput Sarawak and Cinta that featured for the first time P. Ramlee’s singing voice for the lead actor Roomai Noor.


3. The first full length Singapore-made English movie was a huge flop but became a box office hit when it was remade six years later.

God or Dog (right) was well done and Medium Rare (left)… not so much
Photos sourced from and

Known as The Medium or Medium Rare, the first full length English movie was loosely based on the horrible real life events surrounding Adrian Lim and the murders of two children. It was highly anticipated to reawaken the local film industry, even making headlines in the news. Even though executive producer Errol Pang and his team struggled with production problems in terms of finance, personnel and sponsorship, the movie was released in cinemas a year later in 1991. Unfortunately it did not get a favourable reception and was considered a big box office flop.

Despite the failed attempt, it still showed clear potential for revival for the industry, inspiring other local directors and talents. In particular, Hugo Ng who directed, wrote and starred in the remake of said film managed to redevelop it successfully. It was named under a different title, God or Dog, and received positive reviews.


4. The Teenage Textbook was the first movie to feature all-Singaporean music soundtrack.

Singer/songwriter John Klass wrote the soundtrack for the book-turned-hit movie
Photos sourced from and

This 1998 movie release directed by Phillip Lim was adapted from a book of the same title written by Adrian Tan. John Klass, homegrown radio personality and singer, was commissioned to produce and write the soundtrack for The Teenage Textbook such as Falling in Love and When Things Seem So Wrong.


The promotional posters for three of the most popular local films
Photos sourced from,,

This started a trend with the movies that follow like One Leg Kicking that feature Gurmit Singh’s Calling and Ah Boys To Men’s theme song Recruit Anthem written by one of the cast members Tosh Zhang. However in  Chai Yee Wei’s That Girl in Pinafore, they used remix and covers of xinyao songs instead of the normal pop music.


5. ‘Ilo Ilo ’ is the first Singapore film to win the most prestigious prize at Cannes Film Festival.

Anthony Chen and the cast of Ilo Ilo at Cannes Film Festival
Photo sourced from

The movie Ilo Ilo received the Caméra d’Or award also known as ‘Best First Feature’ at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong congratulated him on the achievement on Facebook! The movie was inspired by director Anthony Chen’s own relationship with his family maid who had taken care of him and his siblings when they were young. However, this was not the first time his work was submitted to Cannes. His short film Grandma won a special mention in the Palme d’Or short competition in 2007.

It looks like there is nothing but a bright future ahead for the Singapore film industry. Let the achievements of our local directors give all budding film makers the encouragement they need! Support local!

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