The year 1965 saw the release of the musical film The Sound of Music. Besides that, the year also saw the expulsion of Singapore from Malaysia on 9th August, when the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew announced Singapore as an independent state and took charge of the new nation as Prime Minister. The film 1965 depicts this event, and the months that led up to this significant point in Singapore’s history.

Made and produced by Singaporean filmmakers Randy Ang and Daniel Yun, 1965 sees veteran actor Lim Kay Tong playing the late Mr Lee, along with a host of other actors. They form an ensemble cast that portrays typical Chinese and Malay families in a multi-racial society that would be Singapore.

Chinese actor Qi Yuwu stars as Cheng, a police inspector tasked with maintaining law and order in the streets rife with racial tensions. Star Search 2010 finalist James Seah plays Cheng’s brother Seng, and Joanne Peh plays Zhou Jun, a coffee shop assistant and Seng’s love interest.

Malaysian actress Deanna Yusoff plays Khatijah, a native Malay lady and mother to four children, the oldest being Adi (Sezairi). Radio DJ Mike Kasem plays Raj, a photojournalist and the sole representative of the Indian minority.

In the year leading up to 1965, Adi scores his first job as a policeman. He happens to be the only Malay officer in the police station, and a subordinate to Cheng. Fights were a common occurrence among the Chinese and Malay people, and amidst a particularly large tussle, Khatijah loses contact with her son. When they do make eye contact again, an injured Khatijah is unable to reach him.

Cheng arrives just in time to witness the outburst, but is unable to hear or react to Khatijah’s pleas for help among the confusion. Caught in the fight, a horrified Khatijah witnesses her son take the brunt of an unintentional blow that adds to the fatality. Her affected impression of the Chinese worsens, and Adi is left helpless trying to convince her that Cheng, his superintendent, is a good man.

1965 is a delicately-handled dramatic thriller and an engaging look at Singapore in the 1960s leading to independence. As Ang’s second film after Re:solve and Yun’s debut as co-director, the many characters and overall plot structure are both balanced and developed adequately. The characters in both Cheng and Adi’s families are fleshed out and given sufficient screen time.

Most importantly, as most of the Chinese majority consisted of immigrants from China, the dialects they carried with them were captured in the film. Thus, a mixture of dialects – including Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese – can be heard at critical points in the movie, something that the older generation of Singaporeans can passionately relate to.

As 1965 underwent its finishing touches earlier this year, it happened to occur at the same time as the passing of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Director Yun made sure to capture moments during the period of national mourning, footage that eventually made it into the movie. These would prove to be most poignant for viewers, especially Singaporeans and the elderly folk.

As a film that depicts Singapore in the 1960s, the sights and sounds of an era long gone is delicately and meticulously brought back with detailed set construction. Released in time for SG50 and a week prior to National Day, this film has arrived at an excellent time, and is definitely a movie that every Singaporean has to watch.

1965 opens in theatres 30th July.

Directed by: Randy Ang, Daniel Yun
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Running time: 130 minutes
Rating: 4/5

Mandarin with English subtitles