Cast: Ishtiaque Zico, Jack Tan, Liu Xiaoyi, Luna Kwok, Peter Yu
Golden Leopard, 2018 Locarno Film Festival
Welcome to Singapore noir, set in a postcolonial world of stolen land, missing migrant workers, and a palette the color of video games and dragonfruit. But like most noir, the more you look, the darker it gets, and plotlines don’t lead to the most obvious places. Yeo Siew Hua’s lushly cinematic film whispers Blade Runner and Jia Zhang-ke while delivering all the genre pleasures – moody music, a dead-eyed femme fatale and relentless hard-boiled detective – wandering sleeplessly within a fascinating and seedy underworld ripped straight from the headlines. As one of the richest, and smallest countries in the world buys itself a larger footprint with Frankenstein’ed parts from Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, A LAND IMAGINED dwells in the dubious underbelly of alchemizing repatriated sand into Singaporean land, and the imported labor to work it.
With the haze of a waking dream, Detective Lok searches for missing Chinese migrant worker Wang Bi Cheng and Bangladeshi Ajit, who seem to be the only hearts beating in an insomniac universe of confiscated passports, cramped dormitories, and hyperreal nights of industry’s monumental scale and miniscule handwork. A seductively jaded cybercafé worker, a mysterious online troll, and menacing factory bosses take Lok through a disorienting maze of confused reality.
With the unending steel knocking sounds of Singapore making itself, Yeo fills the screen with towering verticals and strangely blank, crane-filled horizon lines, a nighttime that fills in with digital colors, and daytime that returns the washed out light of suffocating, dust-filled air. Without sensationalizing the very real stories at its heart, A LAND IMAGINED is sensory and satisfying cinema, letting noir do its thing in the murkiness of oceans kept in an artificial and perpetual low tide.
– Christina Ree