11 Best Movies to Watch From Singapore

Staff & contributors
The Sanskrit word Samsara refers to the wheel of life and roughly translates to “continuous flow”. And, indeed, Samsara takes us on an entrancing journey, chronicling the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth that life, big and small, goes through—at least according to the religions that were born on the Indian continent. Shot on 70mm film and utilizing computerized camera movements as well as time-lapse photography, this film by American director Ron Fricke delivers absolutely breath-taking visuals. Whether it's awe-inspiring vastness or the close-up of a human face, its narration-less narrative integrates every aspect of human and natural life regardless of scale or location. The scope of this effort is truly awe-inspiring and the clarity of it has to be seen to be believed. An unusual and magical film!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Balinese Tari Legong Dancers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Olivier De Sagazan, Puti Sri Candra Dewi, Putu Dinda Pratika

Director: Ron Fricke

Rating: PG-13

Though only currently available on Prime Video Philippines, Carlo Francisco Manatad's critically acclaimed drama boasts the kind of directorial vision and technical brilliance that deservedly kept it on the international festival circuit throughout 2021 and 2022—and that deserves to be seen around the world. Through textured cinematography and sound design, and art direction that situates its story halfway between reality and a dazed state of mind, Whether the Weather Is Fine isn't so much a factual retelling of life after Typhoon Haiyan but a meditation on what home and freedom mean to those who no longer seem to have it.

Manatad's background in experimental short filmmaking shines through in how the film seems comprised of so many irregular parts, but the emotional through line is unmistakable. Three incredible performances—from Daniel Padilla, Charo Santos-Concio, and Rans Rifol—illustrate the different ways that people try to escape or cling to hope in the wake of devastation. It's the furthest thing from "resilience porn," as the different perspectives of these characters clash and inevitably push each other away. And while that might not sound like the film offers a constructive point of view on disaster management, its intense psychological focus feels like something we haven't seen on screen before.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Charo Santos-Concio, Daniel Padilla, Francis Magundayao, Johnny Manahan, Joji Alonso, Mercedes Cabral, Nico Antonio, Rans Rifol

Director: Carlo Francisco Manatad

This is the type of movie I completely fell in love with but cannot articulate exactly why. Maybe it's the mixture of beauty and pain portrayed, maybe it's the intricate sounds and beautiful imagery, maybe it's the story, maybe it's all of the above. A woman is hit with sudden disability after an accident and calls on an unlikely companion, a night club bouncer by the name of Ali. Together they explore her new predicament and its implications, while forming a special bond. This is a movie that will call upon your internal strength, while portraying how us humans can become strong together. Most of all it provides an immensely powerful, ultimately simple story that is both touching and will stay with you for a very long time. Directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet).

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Armand Verdure, Bouli Lanners, Celine Sallette, Corinne Masiero, Fabien Baïardi, Françoise Michaud, Irina Coito, Jean-Michel Correia, Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Mourad Frarema, Yannick Choirat

Director: Jacques Audiard

Rating: 15, R

In the early 1990s, Singaporean teens Sandi, Jasmine, and Sophie set out to make the country’s first indie movie. Incredibly, in between college, day jobs, and very limited funding, they manage to do just that with the help of their wise but mysterious mentor, Georges. Shirkers, as the project came to be called, seemed primed to revolutionize the burgeoning Singaporean film industry. It was ambitious and bonkers, unlike anything the country has seen before, and it lovingly contained tributes to the makers' cinematic heroes (among them Wim Wenders and David Lynch). But before it could see the light of the day, before it could even be viewed and edited by the girls who conceptualized it, Shirkers’ raw footage was whisked away by Georges, who fled the country without a trace. 

The potentially pioneering film was never to be seen again—that is, until 20 years later when it resurfaces in near-mint condition (sadly, the audio could not be recovered). Fascinated by the journey of the lost film and mystified by Georges’ motives, Sandi decides to remake Shirkers as a documentary. The result is an artistic and personal interrogation into what made their small beloved film possible, how its loss affected the people behind it, and how this all led to Shirkers, the documentary, which is a testament to how art always prevails in the end. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Georges Cardona, Jasmine Ng, Jasmine Ng Kin Kia, Sandi Tan, Sophia Siddique Harvey

Director: Sandi Tan

Rating: TV-14

At the height of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, a small Singaporean family scrambles to keep their middle-class status afloat. The parents shave their expenses and work extra-long hours, but their busyness causes them to neglect their misbehaved son. When his misdemeanors prove to be too much, the mother is forced to hire a stay-at-home nanny, and her presence (along with other external pressures) brings about a change in the house. Suddenly, everyone becomes a bit more aware of their limitations and potential, and from this, a shared empathy grows. In other hands, this story might come off as bare and forgettable, but under first-time-feature director Anthony Chen’s helm, Ilo Ilo comes to life in rich detail, thoughtful shots, and captivatingly natural performances. Despite its many heartbreaking scenes, the film rarely dwells in sentiment, and it's this restraint that makes Ilo Ilo all the more gripping to watch. 

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Angeli Bayani, Chen Tian Wen, Chen Tianwen, Jialer Koh, Jo Kukathas, Koh Jia Ler, Peter Wee, Stephanie Kiong, Tian Wen Chen, Yann Yann Yeo, Yeo Yann Yann

Director: Anthony Chen

Rating: Not Rated, PG-13

, 2021

Education is a human right, but for many girls around the world, this isn’t necessarily guaranteed– especially if they want to learn past the required years of basic education. Yuni is a coming-of-age drama that depicts a girl in West Java, Indonesia who wants to go to university, but due to the marriage and virginity culture in the area, her main problem isn’t having to pass the entrance exams, or figuring out how to get financial aid. Instead, it’s having to fend off marriage proposals that clearly don’t come from a place of love. Writer-director Kamila Andini depicts the titular protagonist with the freedoms rarely granted to a girl like her, with the happiness and belonging all girls should be able to find solace in, but she also depicts the casual ways oppression lingers in the background, with society just waiting to kill women’s dreams, hopes, and personal goals. Yuni is an honest and powerful portrait of many women around the globe.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anne Yasmine, Arawinda Kirana, Asmara Abigail, Ayu Laksmi, Dimas Aditya, Kevin Ardilova, Marissa Anita, Mian Tiara, Muhammad Khan, Neneng Wulandari, Nova Eliza, Rukman Rosadi, Sekar Sari, Vania Aurellia

Director: Kamila Andini

There's a cruelty to In My Mother's Skin that may seem off-putting at first, but one must reckon with the sheer scale of the violence already occurring before these characters are even introduced to us. The Japanese occupation of the Philippines was a particularly vicious period in the country's history; if Filipinos weren't fighting or hiding from their invaders, many of them were trying to maintain a precariously submissive, neutral existence, or they were being turned against each other due to the conflict of war trickling down between the social classes. All these things are implicit throughout Kenneth Dagatan's film, which doesn't try to reenact World War II but capture the total absence of hope during this period.

Dagatan's style of horror insists on a very slow pace, emphasizing every footstep leading to a horrifying reveal, and not just the main scare itself. This choice doesn't always work, especially as certain beats begin to repeat themselves, but the film's incredibly confident visual style fills every moment with an eerie paranoia. Gothic, shadowy interiors, nasty gore, and one opulently costumed fairy make everything perpetually unsettling—gradually forcing us to accept that these contradictions are just the reality of life under war.

Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller, War

Actor: Angeli Bayani, Arnold Reyes, Beauty Gonzalez, Brian Sy, Felicity Kyle Napuli, James Mavie Estrella, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Ronnie Lazaro

Director: Kenneth Lim Dagatan

When travelling to another place, another city, another town, there’s a certain anonymity that frees one’s self. No one knows who you are, so you’re not expected to maintain a certain personality, and that can be necessary for young people trying to find their way. The Breaking Ice shows this in a fairly sentimental way, juxtaposing the wintry, snowy landscape with the warm but fleeting connection forming between three lonely adults, but there’s just something honest in the way the three try to hide but still share the same youthful ennui, even if they come from vastly different backgrounds. The Breaking Ice might not be daring enough to delve into the queer aspect of this trio, but it’s still a lovely, well-crafted drama contemplating the youth’s melancholy.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Liu Baisha, Liu Haoran, Qu Chuxiao, Ruguang Wei, Zhao Wenhao, Zhou Dongyu

Director: Anthony Chen

As a sluggishly paced, three-hour spiritual drama with little dialogue and even less plot, Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell certainly won't convert anybody who isn't already interested in slow cinema. Even those who don't mind these types of films in which "nothing happens" might feel that it doesn't weave its themes of faith and suffering tightly enough. But there's more than enough beauty to contemplate here, courtesy of Dinh Duy Hung's stunning cinematography, which invites us to simply inhabit the world and to stop looking for answers. This may sound like a copout, but it's quite the experience to have a film force you to rethink how you're viewing it, as you're viewing it.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Le Phong Vu, Nguyen Thi Truc Quynh, Nguyen Thinh, Vu Ngoc Manh

Director: Pham Thien An

All the little twists in the case of Mirna Salihin's murder are intriguing enough to speculate over, so Ice Cold is definitely a true-crime case worth revisiting. The problem is in how the documentary indulges sensationalist arguments and pure speculation with the same level of urgency as it does with expert counsel. A large part of the film has to do with how this trial started to become such a fixture in Indonesian public life, but it feels as if the movie would rather provoke even more baseless conspiracies through its gossipy tone than provide smarter analysis. There's an appeal to how simple this case is relative to other true-crime stories, but this shouldn't be an excuse to haphazardly throw opposing perspectives at each other for the sake of drama.

Genre: Crime, Documentary

Actor: Edi Darmawan Salihin, Jessica Wongso, Marcella Zalianty, Mirna Salihin, Otto Hasibuan

Director: Rob Sixsmith

Rating: PG-13