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Directed by Tan Bee Thiam

Cast: Goh Guat Kian, Jalyn Han, Thomas Pang

Opening Film, 2020 Singapore International Film Festival

On his 30th birthday, wide-eyed Ah Bee leaves a desk life and doting mother for a new job as “Happiness Agent” at the Tiong Bahru Social Club—a candy-colored world with a noble hard science goal: to crack the happiness algorithm by any means necessary. Surrounded by the best in data collection, communal living, and industriousness, Ah Bee floats in a swirl of lemon-clad coworkers and daily laughter exercises, all while trying to please a subversive cat lady, climb up the employee rankings, and wave away a growing sense of unease. As clients protest and even more happiness looms, Ah Bee wonders what could possibly be wrong.

Kraftwerk-inspired and dizzyingly polylingual, Tan Bee Thiam’s idyllic world is decidedly Singaporean. It’s no accident that Ah Bee and his mother live in two historic housing complexes. Tiong Bahru is Singapore’s oldest planned community, and now a neighborhood of hipster gentrification, while Pearl Bank’s famous horseshoe skyscraper was once hailed as a form of utopic communal living, and its teardown became a site of protests. The lofty urban planning idealism that once drove both gets to the heart of Tan’s retro-futuristic film. In an age where “self care” elbows against “toxic positivity,” and universities study wellness as seriously as curing cancer, TIONG BAHRU SOCIAL CLUB asks: is it possible to engineer happiness?

—Christina Ree

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