You know about Kevin Kwan’s inaugural novel, Crazy Rich Asians. His debut, that’s loosely inspired by his own family, is about a Singaporean grand wedding and the people caught in its vortex. The satirical depictions of garish opulence and familial bonds were adapted into a movie of the same name; made up of a mostly Asian cast (where are my Indian, Malay and Eurasian brothers and sisters at?) and mostly shot in Singapore. This rom-com, at this point of writing, netted a USD34 million in five days. And that number will only go up.
But this post isn’t to discuss about how Crazy Rich Asians is a win for representation or whether the movie properly depicted the country of Singapore (seriously, where are my Indian, Malay and Eurasian brothers and sisters at? Hell, where are my HDB-dwelling Singaporeans at?); we’re here to recommend other Singaporean literature (by this, we mean ‘works that are by Singaporeans or people who have lived in Singapore’) that can be adapted for the movie and TV medium.
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew
This Eisner-winning graphic novel about the titular fictional cartoonist retelling his life in Singapore through his artwork is a perfect entry into a mix of live action and animation. Eric Khoo could direct this—thanks to his past tribute to Yoshihiro Tatsumi—and Benjamin Chow could play Charlie Chan. If you wanna go meta, the protagonist Chan can lament about how history is always written by the victor and for a moment ponder about his own existence—we cut to Sonny Liew himself before returning to the story at hand.
‘Two Ways to Do This’ by Amanda Lee Koe
Koe is putting the finishing touches on her first novel but I’d like to see her heart-wrenching tale of an Indonesian woman who “was made for love, only she was born in the wrong environs for love to occur” come to life on the big screen. Taken from Koe’s debut collection of short stories, Ministry of Moral Panic, our film follows Zurotul, from her village in Indonesia to Singapore where she undergoes training as a domestic helper. Seen through her eyes, we get a scene of Singapore that even the average Singaporeans do not even experience. I’d wager Kirsten Tan would be ideal to direct this and Koe could write the script for.
The Resident Tourist by Troy Chin
Troy Chin has been slowly adding to The Resident Tourist series; these vignettes are based on Chin’s own life and it plays out like being resigned to serving out a sentence that is life in Singapore. Chin’s narrative calls to front the writings of the poet laureate of Cleveland, Harvey Pekar—a grand tapestry that is ruefulness, humour and nostalgia; we envision this to be a TV series.
Suicide Club by Rachel Heng
Sure there’s a Sion Sono movie of the same name but Rachel Heng’s version is less convoluted and offers up a hook—it’s the future and technology has advanced to a point that people can live forever but what happens when immortality is overrated? It’ll be interesting to see Kelvin Tong’s directorial take on it but imagine the neon-suffused city looking like a cleaner cousin of the Blade Runner world (Omigod, can we get Christopher Doyle please?!)
We’re still undecided about who should play Lea and Anja but Elizabeth Lazan could do either one of them justice.
Annabelle Thong by Imran Hashim
I’m getting some Bridget Jones’ Diary vibes from this chick lit by Imran Hashim. It reads like a jaunty scooter ride through the cityscape of Paris. Given the protagonist’s stream of consciousness narration, Annabelle Thong could be played by Victoria Loke. She looks like she can balance Thong’s flights of fancy while proffering her take on social injustices. We’re also interested to see Michelle Chong taking up the helm behind the lens for this.
Lontar edited by Jason Erik Lundberg
The speculative fiction journal might have ended with its 10th issue but it could still continue living in another medium—a TV series. Think about it: each week on Lontar, we get an hour of the best speculative fiction from all over Southeast Asia. One week, you get an episode about ‘The Last Ten Years in the Life of Hero Kai’ by Geoff Ryman and another week, an episode about a date between the last two Eurasians (‘Blind Date’) by Melissa De Silva.
Detective Inspector Stanley Low series by Neil Humphreys
There is a slew of local mystery series like the Inspector Singh Investigates and Aunty Lee series but we’re gonna go with the hardboiled: Detective Inspector Stanley Low. A creation of Neil Humphreys, Inspector Low is bipolar, cynical, and this close to giving up. We nominate Adrian Pang for the part of Inspector Low. We think he can portray someone with bipolar and world-weary without being hammy.
The Minorities by Suffian Hakim
The premise for The Minorities sounds like a start of a very long-winded joke: a Bangladeshi artist, a Chinese illegal; a gifted lab technician; a ghost and a biracial inventor walk into a plot point. Already, we can see the movie adaptation that’s along the lines of What We Do In the Shadows; it’s a mockumentary about trying to get along. It’s absurdist but not alienating. Rounding up this misfit cast: the Narrator is played by Erwin Shah Ismail; Cantona is played by Haresh Tilani; Tights by Judee Tan (I know Tights is a dude, I’m casting outside of the box); Shanti by Preeti Nair; Diyanah by Munah Bagharib.
We are aware that there are other titles that we haven’t include like The Gatekeeper or A Certain Exposure or Now That It’s Over… but there are only so much we can put in. If anything, what this shows is that there’s really no limit to the wealth of writings and talent we have here stateside. To assume that Crazy Rich Asians is the first Singaporean film is ludicrous; we have already made many Singaporean films prior to that… and on our own merit to boot (12 Storeys; Sandcastle; 881; To Singapore, With Love; Ilo Ilo).
But if Kevin Kwan’s debut opened the doors to Hollywood, by god, we’re gonna bumrush it with our own talent pool that’s as diverse as our country.