What does Singapore hide beyond her flawless facade of glass walls and high rise buildings? A Land Imagined by director Yeo Siew Hua gives us a glimpse on the underside of this island’s bright lights and first world glamour. Taking us back down to the ground from the illusion that is Crazy Rich Asians, this gritty and dark film hits home in more ways than one.

Spotlighting ethics and the implications of a fast-growing metropolis, the 95-minute film pleases the eye with its neon-drenched scenes while picking at a wound that has bothered Singapore for years. A wound that we placed a bandaid on and wished would naturally go away, but of course it really isn’t going to be this simple when it is a social issue.

“Out of sight, out of mind” does not work for real life, and it should not.

With a Chinese national (Wang played by Liu Xiaoyi) disappearing from his work site, Detective Lok (Peter Yu) goes in search of him with nothing more to work with than his name and his dormitory. Retracing Wang’s steps, Lok discovers more than this man he has never met – including parts of himself that he struggles to reconcile with. In this world where Bangladeshi workers like Ajit (Ishtiaque Zico) form a community away from home and China national Mindy (Luna Kwok) yearns to be anywhere but here, the film questions the very foundation that this nation is built upon and its implications.

Dreamlike and blurring the lines of reality, the visuals seduce the viewer with the focus on pace, lights and attention to detail. The film takes the most ordinary of things around us and reintroduces them through a new perspective – be it of hand massaging neck, piles of sand or just waves kissing the shore. It offers us pause and makes a convincing argument that Singapore bends time and space, depending on where you are at and what you see.

And with the various scenes pulling for your attention, each so different in nature, you begin to wonder which is the true face of Singapore. Then again, is any nation truly coherent in all its glory?

And what is the consequence of this glory that we are all so ready to get behind? Is the cost worth it and can we measure this worth when the lives that got us here are invisible to the average eye?

The idea and expression of land intrigues me in this cinematic journey. Land is being presented in all ways possible – figuratively, metaphorically and of course, literally. Sand has become mountains to be climbed while the physical human body untouched, confined and territory unexplored. Roads stretch on for eternity and yet spells anything but freedom. Land reclamation should be an expansion of the mind and space conquered, but instead it has become an expansion of space where a single person can own other human beings.

Then there is the land we ourselves perceive it to be. It might not be what is truly happening, but we will it into reality through our own perception and judgement. Where does the physical land end and the perceived land begin? The characters go about their days almost with a sleepwalking quality, a trance perhaps – eyes glazed over and looking beyond what is actually in front of them. If eyes are truly the window to the soul, then the sheer curtains are let down and reality murky.

What makes the land – ground we stand on or the people living on it?

I can only wonder.

Though its non-linear storyline might not appeal to all, I appreciate it as visual poetry – its visuals building another story above the dialogue and text. Removing either element renders this film incomplete, making it no surprise that this work has swept 15 awards so far at international film festivals.

But beyond the awards and the validation of film critics worldwide, this film speaks about people – the only resource Singapore naturally has and perhaps, have learnt to come and abuse in more ways than one. Explicitly or implicitly, I will let your imagination make its own judgement.

Instead of the Marina Bay Sands’ brand of diamonds and luxury, A Land Imagined brings Singapore closer to where her heart truly lies – with the people building us up from the shadows of a dimly lit alley way or from lonely dormitories in forgotten corners of this country.

This land may be imagined to most of us, but it sure as hell is a reality for a lot of people trying to find their way home.

To watch the film trailer, click here.

Stills credited to Akanga Film Asia / MM2 Entertainment Singapore

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