New film shines light on migrant laborers’ lives in Singapore

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Photo: YouTube screengrab

A Land Imagined, a new movie that highlights the plight of migrant workers in Singapore, can perhaps be considered to be the anti-Crazy Rich Asians.

The film was first shown at the same time as the top-grossing romantic comedy, but shows a starkly different part of life in the Lion City.

While the Hollywood blockbuster featured the lives of the exceedingly wealthy in the country, A Land Imagined zeroes in on the life of a migrant worker from China who disappeared while at work on a construction site, as well as the detective assigned to find him.

The film noir has received critical acclaim for shining the light on the dangerous existence these migrant laborers sometimes have, winning the grand prize at the Locarno Festival in August.

Yeo Siew Hua, the film’s director hails from Singapore. Mr. Yeo said that the purpose of the movie was to generate awareness about how migrant workers who come from economically disadvantaged areas in Asia have come to Singapore for a better life, but are treated as “outsiders.”

There are currently 280,000 foreign workers who are part of the construction force who build high-rise residences and offices.

He said,  “When we talk about the migrant workforce in Singapore, there is a certain blindness, especially in mainstream society. The film tries to show them as humans, as people with hopes and dreams.”

A Land Imagined is about the life of Wang Bi Chen, who migrated from China and comes to Singapore to work for a land-reclamation company. He stays at a shared dormitory and makes friends with a woman who works in the cybercafe where he whiles away nights playing computer games, as well as another laborer from Bangladesh, who is working hard to pay the debts he incurred just to get to Singapore for employment.

One day Wang disappears, and the detective assigned to his case, Lok, has his eyes opened at the poor living conditions the migrant workers endure.

NGOs and advocates for foreign laborers have praised the film for its gritty and realistic look at the lives of these men and women, from poor living conditions to long working hours to insufficient wages to employers keeping the laborers’ passports to get them to stay in the country longer.

Ethan Guo, from the NGO Transient Workers Count Too, said, “When we tell Singaporeans about the issues that the migrant workers face, they say ‘no, no, Singapore is a country where we have very good laws, and these things cannot be happening.’ I think general awareness of the plight that these migrant workers go through is what we feel is needed more in Singapore.”

A Land Imagined will also be shown in film festivals in Vancouver and Hamburg, and will be shown in cinemas in Singapore later this year.