A Grimy, Working Class Singapore Unfolds in “A Land Imagined”
By Lauren Lola
A sleepless police investigator is tasked with looking into the mysterious disappearance of a Chinese migrant worker at a reclamation site in Singapore. The clock is flipped back in time prior to the migrant worker’s disappearance, where a series of events unfolds that demonstrates on how he too is sleepless, and the barrier between dreams and reality slowly becomes nonexistent.
This is just a little bit of what to expect from the plot uncovered in “A Land Imagined;” the second narrative feature film directed by Siew Hua Yeo that closed out the second iteration of the Cinematografo Film Festival on Sunday November 11th. While audiences can expect the plot to play out similar to that of a Haruki Murakami novel, the qualities that makes this film particularly unique beyond its style are both its setting and who these characters are.
“A Land Imagined” is set in Singapore; a Southeast Asian city-state that, within recent time, has gained a lot more prominence for doubling as the setting for a little, groundbreaking film that hit theaters over the summer called “Crazy Rich Asians.” Audiences who saw that film were exposed to the glitz and glam of Singapore’s elites, alongside familiar sites such as Marina Bay Sands and the Supertrees of Gardens by the Bay.
In “A Land Imagined,” none of that is featured, as the film focuses on the mysterious events in and around a reclamation site. Most of the scenes take place at night, with an aesthetic a la “Blade Runner.” It’s the grimy, understandably not-as-well-known part of Singapore, and the characters that are featured throughout speak for themselves.
None of the characters hail from the same kind of luxury as the characters of “Crazy Rich Asians;” particularly in the case of Wang, the migrant worker who eventually goes missing. He’s one of many construction workers who hail from outside Singapore, whose salary is only so much. After he injures his arm, he’s tasked with driving the lorry for only a third of what he is already being paid. He also can’t simply return home whenever he wants to, due to the boss holding the passports of everyone who works there. His residence is in a stuffy dorm and spends sleepless nights at an internet café. He’s living life as much as he can with what little he has.
In a way, “A Land Imagined” and the opening night film, “Signal Rock,” serve as bookends in a way for this year’s film festival, as they both involve the subject matter of people working abroad. While none of them that appear in the former are Filipino women, it still does the topic justice with what they have to deal with to get through life, day by day.
“A Land Imagined” very much aligns with Cinematografo’s theme for the year, “Breaking Down Walls,” and in several ways. It breaks the walls of what is reality and what is considered a dream, the part of Singapore that is otherwise not as well known, and of course, the lives of migrant workers who struggle their way through the circumstances they’re in.