10 Little-Known Facts About Singapore’s Movie Industry Anything Goes

This may be no Hollywood, but the local film industry has its share of glamour too. By Sharifah Nursyafiqah

Local filmmaking has been gaining momentum in recent years, with Singaporean movies making waves both at home and around the world. What secrets can this burgeoning industry hold? Read on to find out!


1. It’s true that some of your favourite cinemas screened propaganda films in the past.

A photo posted by DREAM (@dreamintsg) on

In the 1930s, more than nine cinemas sprung up from Dhoby Ghaut to Katong, including Cathay, Capitol, Marlborough, Palacegay, Pavilion, Roxy, Surina, Tivoli and Wembly. When the Japanese invaded, western films were banned. Many large cinemas, such as Capitol, Oriental and Majestic were renamed in Japanese names, and they were then used to screen Japanese propaganda flicks in an attempt to justify their invasion of Asia.  


2. Did you know that Singapore once had its own open-air drive-in cinema?

The Jurong drive-in cinema was opened in 1971 by Cathay Organisation, and located at Yuan Ching Road, next to the Japanese Gardens. This cinema could accommodate 900 cars and an additional 300 people in its walk-in gallery. Unfortunately, the cinema closed on 30 September 1985 due to poor attendances (partly due to the tropical storms we experience!) and increasing competition from video pirates.  


3. You can still visit Singapore’s first film studio after World War II.

This studio was Malay Film Production Ltd, located at 8 Jalan Ampas, and was set up by the Shaw Brothers in 1947. The filmhouse produced stars like the regionally famous late P. Ramlee, who wrote scripts, songs, acted and directed in many acclaimed movies. Though the studio is no longer in operation (it closed in 1967), you can still visit the historic site located near Balestier Road!


4. There was a Hollywood movie that was entirely shot in Singapore!


In 1979, Hollywood auteur Peter Bogdanovich, backed financially by Playboy magazine magnate Hugh Hefner, shot the film Saint Jack entirely in Singapore. It featured places like the former Empress Place hawker center and Bugis Street. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Paul Theroux, and centers around Jack Flowers (played by Ben Gazarra), a man looking to open his own brothel in Singapore.


5. Local actress Zoe Tay kisses a certain Games of Thrones actor onscreen, for this arthouse film.


The film was Mister John, which made its debut at the 4th Southeast Asian Film Festival in 2014. It starred Zoe Tay as Kim, a widow who recently lost her husband John, and Aiden Gillen (or Littlefinger from Game of Thrones) as Gerry, John’s brother. Directed by husband-and-wife film- makers Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, this film also marked Tay’s first official role in an English language film. Mister John is a riveting murder-mystery film that sees Gerry try to step into the brassy and flashy life of his brother, to answer questions surrounding his death. In fact, it has been speculated that the parallels between this story and the aforementioned Saint Jack, allows Mister John to be viewed as an epilogue of sorts to the 1979 film.


6. Singapore’s first full-length English film cost a whopping $2 million to make!

The film Medium Rare was produced by Errol Pang, with its plot loosely based on the creepy Adrian Lim ritual murders of the early 1980s. Though making the movie came with a hefty price tag, Medium Rare only grossed S$130, 000 in box-office earnings upon its release in 1991.


7. We have many film events in Singapore, but this is the longest running one.


Did you know that this year would be the 26th installation of the widely acclaimed Singapore International Film Festival? Started in 1987, this festival has done a lot to raise the profile of local and regional filmmakers, and exposing them to international audiences. This year’s festival is held from 26th November to 6th December. To celebrate, you can now bring the festival home with their festival merchandise!


8. Ilo Ilo is not the only Cannes-worthy film we have.

Before Ilo Ilo, there was 12 Storeys, the first Singaporean film to be officially invited to participate in the 50th Cannes Film Festival in 1997. This critically acclaimed film received by Eric Khoo received numerous global accolades and was screened at over 60 film festivals, held all over the world, including at Ivy League festivals such as Venice, Berlin and Rotterdam.


9. Remember local horror flick The Maid?


Incidentally, Ilo Ilo was also not the only Singaporean film about a Philippine maid in a Chinese family that garnered awards. Local horror flick The Maid won an award for Best Asian Film of the Year, and it holds the box office record in Singapore for the horror genre, making close to a million dollars on its opening weekend!


10. Fan of Star Wars? We have our very own ‘Sandcrawler’ building in Singapore.

sandcrawler film

sandcrawler sg
Spot any similarities?

Located at Fusionopolis View, the sprawling ‘Sandcrawler’ campus is 22, 500 square metres large, and is the regional headquarters of digital animation film studio Lucasfilm. No surprises on the design then – the California-based Lucasfilm studio was founded by Star Wars director George Lucas. The ‘Sandcrawler’ features a Yoda fountain, a 100-seat theater and state-of-the-art digital production capabilities to support the growing digital animation landscape here. Fun fact: Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) division in Singapore had partially produced the film Rango, which won the 2012 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Bonus point:

11. We are producing more local films than ever!

mee pok man

Singapore independent film industry saw a resurgence in the 1990s, with prominent movies like Eric Khoo’s Mee Pok Man and Yonfan’s Bugis Street. Both films mark their 20th Anniversaries this year, and you can catch the classics in the upcoming Singapore International Film Festival. Back in the 1990s, the Singapore film industry produced only an average of one film a year. Today, we are producing four to six films a year on average. Go local films!

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