Sandcastle (Boo Junfeng, 2010)


Joshua Tan (En), Elena Chia, Bobbi Chen, Ng Jing-Jing. Screenplay by Boo Junfeng. Directed by Boo Junfeng. Running time: 96 minutes.

The Singaporean film industry is far from the world’s most ferocious. In fact, it’s practically non-existent. Nevertheless, Sandcastle has escaped commonplace censorship and has been shipped off the island across to the West, reaching Britain this week as part of the London Film Festival. It is primarily a study of familial ties, and despite being nothing to shout too loudly about, it is nevertheless a steady and quietly good piece of cinema from a country that has so far in its short history lacked any such productions.

The viewpoint is that of a boy in his early 20s – fatherless due to his dad’s exile for communist activism as a student, and with a mother and grandparents he is strikingly close to. When put like this I realise very little happens in Sandcastle‘s ninety minutes. It is, ultimately, an effort in observation. It references local belief in reincarnation in a way Uncle Boonmee should probably take note of in the name of accessibility, and it’s generally ‘about’ Singapore and that country’s odd national identity, as much as it is about our protagonist’s situation specifically.

I was perplexed to find Joshua Tan – the film’s main actor – tell me in person before the film started that he wished us to focus on the family-related issues the film raises, as opposed to its more ‘political’ side. This is confusing firstly because there is no politics underlying the film that’s blindingly explicit, though perhaps even using the word ‘communist’ is deemed sufficiently political to raise eyebrows in this part of the world. But secondly, even if the film were political, it is odd that its main actor would seemingly thus shun at least half of its director’s vision.

At any rate, Sandcastle seems to be an insightful but quiet look at Singapore’s sensitive past and present, channelled through a decently worked scenario. Its quietness is necessitated by its government, but I have a feeling Junfeng wouldn’t have wanted the film to be louder anyway. The feel can only be described as tranquil, and it works surprisingly well and turns out to be a real treat.


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