Usually for Friday film seminars we have filmmakers giving us a talk after watching their bodies of work. This week was pretty different as we have a Singaporean film critic speak to us about the identity of Asian films. Personally I love film criticism and this is a wonderful opportunity to have someone discuss the direction of Asian cinema. Cheah recounted an experience meeting with the Chinese 5th-6th generation filmmakers as a journalist for the Straits Times. What struck him is how the experiences of these filmmakers have translated it to their films.


Here is the summary of the films we watched before Phillip Cheah came on stage…..


Gourmet Baby (2001) directed by Sandi Tan

Personally I enjoyed this film because of the way how director Tan used Singapore’s love for food to talk about Singapore society. Here Cheah shared his background before he became a film critic and the state of Singaporean film criticism.


Water (2006) dir Haobam Paban Kumar

Here Cheah discussed the importance of having a voice when it comes to making films. Within this film, shot in a cinema verite style, we follow a man who is searching for water. What does this water mean? Cheah remarked that he loved this film because it’s open to your interpretation – it could be a commentary of Indian society or a philosophical outlook on life’s questions. Cheah talked a trend in Asia that affects filmmaking which is reverse to colonisation and gave a recent example of Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth to show the result.


Kancil (1995) dir Garin Nugroho

As we move on from fiction works to a documentary film about the street children in Indonesia, this was heart-wrenching to observe accounts of children who survived the tough streets and at the same there is a haunting air of Indonesian society being controlled by the government. The two songs the buskers sang ‘San Francisco’ (flowers in your hair) and ‘Love Me Tender’ harks back to America in the 50-60’s experiencing change. Yes it’s hard to chew on for many but it gives me the message of whenever nationalism actually benefits Indonesia itself. Here we could see the director’s voice.


After that seminar I had the opportunity to speak to Cheah and ask him 3 questions with regards to today’s seminar.


Catherine Tang: Why did you choose these 3 films for this seminar, i.e., Gourmet Baby, Water and Kancil?

Philip Cheah: I chose Gourmet Baby and Water as it allows you to have your own output of these films. I chose Kancil to show the perspective of culture in film.

Catherine Tang: How do filmmakers learn from film critics?

Philip Cheah: Filmmaking is a process of perspective in general. Film critics take the film in a detached perspective. Filmmakers need that perspective to make the films better.

Catherine Tang: What is your advice to budding film critics like me and my fellow student filmmakers?

Philip Cheah: You have to learn to be free; it’s a tough thing to learn. The film Kancil said that freedom is in your hands.


To me, the lesson that Cheah is sharing through this seminar is that we must be fearless in getting our voices heard, whether it is making a statement in your film or writing about a film. After all, aren’t we individuals who wish to have our perspectives heard?



Catherine Tang is a Level Two student and is part of the Editorial Committee.