The 6 Asian films we’re watching at SIFA’s Singular Screens

After a commendable inaugural edition at last year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), Singular Screens returns for a second year this May. The film programme curated by the Asian Film Archive features an international selection of new, typically award-winning, works—to be screened at the Screening Room in Festival House and the newly opened Oldham Theatre.

While it’s a great chance to catch foreign flicks making their Singapore premiere (we’re eyeing The Dead and The Others, which won the Jury Special Prize at Cannes 2018; and the Spanish Too Late To Die Young, from the producers of Call Me By Your Name), it’s an even better one to zone in on some stellar Asian cinema. From Thailand to Taiwan and right back home to Singapore, here are the directors and their films you should be clearing your calendar for.

Demons (Singapore)

Already one-to-watch among film buffs here, this new feature by Singaporean filmmaker Daniel Hui has been generating buzz since its premiere at Busan International Film Festival and Berlinale Forum this year. It flopped fantastically among international critics, but that hasn’t stopped interest from building locally. In the film, a young actress Vicki gets a role in director Daniel’s new theatre production—which starts her on a path of abuse and manipulation for the sake of art. What follows is a wicked horror satire on power, delivered in Hui’s signature experimental style. The cast includes Glen Goei, Yang Yanxuan, and Hui himself. May 18 & 26, Oldham Theatre

Nakhon-Sawan (Thailand)

In this award-winning debut from young filmmaker Puangsoi Aksornsawang, fiction and documentary come together as one—literally. The film, which too had its world premiere at the 23rd Busan International Film Festival, welds a homemade documentary and an autobiographical fiction film—two seemingly disparate parts that converge on the topic of Aksornsawang’s mother’s funeral. As the family performs the traditional ash-floating rite for the departed on a river in the Nakhon Sawan province, the protagonist (the filmmaker herself) takes the dual opportunity to revisit memory and her past. May 20, Oldham Theatre

Balangiga: Howling Wilderness (Philippines)

Addressing the Balangiga massacre of 1901, this visually poetic feature unravels the tumultuous history of the Philippines through the eyes of an 8-year-old boy. Kulas flees town with his grandfather and their carabao (water buffalo) to escape General Smith’s “Kill and Burn” order. After rescuing a baby from a sea of corpses, the group struggles to navigate and escape their former homeland, now grotesquely ravaged by the American occupation. It’s a war film packaged in quiet, contemplative cinematography—one that’s picked up multiple accolades in the Philippines, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the FAMAS Awards, and Best Picture at the Gawad Urian Awards. May 24, Oldham Theatre

Present.Perfect (Hong Kong)

In a country where all it takes is a Weibo account to become an influencer, it seems apt that there exists a documentary on the obsession of sharing one’s life with the world, 24/7. Chinese filmmaker Zhu Shengze’s third feature tackles the weird and wonderful world of live-streaming, in a raw documentary portrait of Chinese society. Cobbled together from 800 hours of live-streaming footage, the film explicitly highlights the most marginalised of these “anchors”—a man with a growth-hormone definiciency; a cattle farm worker—who somehow find escape from the struggles of the real world in exhibitionism online. Making its Southeast Asian premiere at Singular Screens, the film won the Tiger Competition Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam last year. May 24, Oldham Theatre

Jonaki (India)

In place of a horror film, there’s this haunting rumination on death and loss by Indian director and cinematographer Aditya Vikram Sengupta. 80-year-old Jonaki searches for love in a strange world of decaying memories, as her lover returns to a world she is leaving behind. Constructed of deeply textured tableaus that do away with the inelegance of dialogue, this gorgeous cinematic triumph straddles the dream world and reality in the most surreal way. You could pause the film at any moment and get a great postcard out of it. May 26, Oldham Theatre

Your Face (Taiwan)

Here’s one for experimental cinema fans. Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-Liang presents two works in this double feature: short film Light, which captures Taipei’s Zhongshan Hall, and his newer Your Face, a minimalist series of portraits of strangers on the streets of Taipei. While both hinge on detailing the slow passage of time, it’s the latter that will leave its searing mark on audiences, with its laboured, unhurried close-ups of 12 ageing human faces onscreen. If it gets uncomfortable (and it will), take heart in the fact that the film is scored against a soundtrack by the inimitable Ryuichi Sakamoto—a fitting addition to the Singular Screens line-up, given Sakamoto’s sold-out attendance at this year’s SIFA. Jun 2, Oldham Theatre

Singular Screens happens May 16-Jun 2 at the Festival House and Oldham Theatre. Tickets are $12 a film. More information here.

, The 6 Asian films we’re watching at SIFA’s Singular Screens