Slang images: On the 'foreignness' of contemporary Singaporean films

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After having lain dormant for some 20 years during 1973 and 1991, the Singaporean film industry is experiencing a revival. Films produced since the early 1990s have been resolutely 'local' in their portrayals in an effort to ground this emergent cinematic modernity. Only a handful of these films have, however, received any international attention; most remain 'too local', 'too colloquial' to be exported further afield. This paper explores those visions or versions of the local presented in contemporary films from Singapore that simultaneously manufacture a brand of foreignness assimilable by international audiences. Through an overview of films from the revival period, this paper will show that the images that do travel successfully overseas are those that portray the dark side to Singapore's road to economic modernization, the failed processes of an Asianized modernity. It is these images, representing one vision of an 'authentic' social reality, that is recognizable by international audiences in the context of previous successes by Asian films utilizing a shared form of (local) expression. My question is whether we can read these images as a particular kind of 'slang' - a vagabond expression that represents a filmic vernacular that also strategically invokes a cinematic modernity for the Singaporean film industry. This argument may extend to other (emergent) Asian cinemas that also participate in the production of this particular brand of foreignness. The paper will therefore provide some initial speculations towards the regionalization of cinema and ask whether such a move might be desirable and what its purpose might be.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-98
Number of pages18
JournalInter-Asia Cultural Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2006


  • Foreignness
  • International film festivals
  • Local productions
  • Singaporean films
  • Slang

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