ALEXANDER KYDONIEFS WRITES – Will Singapore’s MDA (Media Development Authority, which promotes and regulates Singapore media), be able to achieve its masterplan, “Media 21,” and transform the nation-state into a global media powerhouse? Could MDA, in fact, help cinema become Singapore’s newest key sector, as well as create over 10,000 new media jobs?
Maybe. On October 4, we learned that the Singapore/South Korean co-production “Ajoomma” would be the Lion City’s entry for the 95th Academy Awards, in the category of Best International Film. With a veteran cast, including Singaporean actress Hong Huifang and Korean actor Yeo Jin-goo, hopes are high for the film’s debut in theatres on October 27. Yet “no Singapore film has made it to the shortlist of the Oscars,” reminds John Lui from the Strait Times — despite over the years 15 submissions.
Why? Some claim there is a lack of sufficient creative competition and excess rigidity in the Singaporean educational system. According to Sanjaay Babu, author at the online publishing platform ‘Medium,’ “Singaporeans are not as creative as we would hope them to be.” Similarly, writes Jan Chan from Rice media, “Rather than appreciating the value of the different subjects in JCs (Junior Colleges), our students are forced through a rigid paper chase.”
Singapore’s hope to establish a culture of greater creativity challenges decades of entrenched key performance indicators, with its emphasis on subjects such as banking and finance, data science, engineering, and information technology—still the top subjects of study at the college level. Christopher Lingle, previously a senior fellow at the National University of Singapore (NUS), says “the mood of the country’s political leadership” is represented in this fact alone.
Times are changing. While education reforms remain uncertain, the Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged if not brought about changes in its work sectors, so that “workers that are considered ‘entrepreneurial’ and ‘creative’ at their jobs” can receive priority, according to one Singapore survey. Economic losses related to the pandemic and the country’s reliance on maritime as well as aviation sectors help account for this shift.
Is the global public ready? Increasingly, big-time Hollywood films like: “Hitman: Agent 47” (2015) and the globally adored rom-com “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018), as well as HBO’s series “Westworld” (2016), have helped the island-nation in its plan to internationalize media enterprises. Yet the answer to this question is both bureaucratic and cultural, depending in no small measure on the country’s appetite to notch up the government’s attentiveness to the arts. compared to the forging ahead of cinema.
But its cinema rolls on impressively. Consider the four nominations of “Ajoomma” (2023) for Taiwan’s internationally respected Golden Horse Awards: Best New Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Leading Actress, and Best Supporting Actor. These are testament to Singapore’s growing media talent. “Ajoomma” is “definitely the Singapore film of the year to watch!” according to Anthony Chen (who, not coincidentally, is the film’s producer). But Chen does not stand alone. His movie may in fact signal no less than the onset of a creative revolution in Singaporean media and movies.