A restored print of Love and Duty, starring Chinese actress Ruan Lingyu, is one of the highlights of this year’s festival. Photo: SCFF
A restored print of Love and Duty, starring Chinese actress Ruan Lingyu, is one of the highlights of this year’s festival. Photo: SCFF

The Singapore Chinese Film Festival (SCFF), held from April 28 to May 7, may be headlined by award-winning features such as Mad World, Trivisa and Mr No Problem, but there are many other screen gems waiting to be unearthed.

These films may not have major stars but their earnest storytelling and attention to detail are reminiscent of the early works of award-winning film directors.

Asia Times brings you the lowdown on the films that you need to catch at the SCFF with an emphasis on lesser-known directors from different countries. All the films are subtitled in English and Chinese and ticketing information are in the links below.

Crash [22 mins]

A still from the Macau short, Crash. Photo: SCFF

School teacher Cai has a close relationship with his mother who has dementia. One day, he returns home from work to find that his mother has disappeared. Out of desperation, Cai posts a notice on a social networking website. Before he knows it, Cai’s life changes drastically as his notice gains widespread attention.

This short film from Macau is screened together with four other Chinese short films – Seed, an emotional journey taken by a couple who has lost their child; Rice, the directorial debut of theater actress Perry Chiu; Selfie, a lighthearted short film about the consequences of social media abuse and A Sunny Day which won the best short film at the 53rd Golden Horse Awards.

Paper House [27 mins]

Paper House, a Singaporean short by Ler Jiyuan, explores the dynamics of a family set against the backdrop of a traditional Chinese funeral. Photo: SCFF
Paper House, a Singaporean short by Ler Jiyuan, explores the dynamics of a family set against the backdrop of a traditional Chinese funeral. Photo: SCFF

Adapted from Paper City, a story by Dave Chua and Koh Tong Heng, the Singaporean short film is a compelling look at a Chinese family that falls apart with the demise of their patriarch. Watching the film is akin to watching a drama serial condensed into 27 minutes where the main characters are well fleshed out despite the short run time.

The film’s title refers to the Chinese tradition of burning paper offerings to honor the deceased. At the SCFF press conference, director Ler Jiyuan says he shot the film to document the gradually disappearing tradition of this unique death trade.

Paper House is part of a line-up of four other Singapore short films. These include the world premiere of Lullaby about the close ties between a neglected grandmother and her caring grandson; Happily Ever After which explores the evolution of family traditions through three traditional wedding photography sessions across different time periods; Soul 37, winner of the best screenplay at the 2016 National Youth Film Award and Han, which follows a father who travels to South Korea to meet the family whose daughter was killed by his son in a hit-and-run accident.

Read more on our take of the Singapore Chinese Film Festival

Old Stone [80 mins]

Lao Shi Stills -4b
Photo: SCFF

Small-town cabbie Lao Shi swerves his car and hits motorcyclist Li Jiang by accident when a drunken passenger grabs his arm. Being the upstanding man that he is, Lao Shi does the right thing by driving the victim to the hospital for treatment, despite warnings from pedestrians that he will land in hot water. This is just the beginning of Lao Shi’s nightmare as he is gradually saddled by the mounting medical bills of Li Jiang who is comatose.

Director-writer Johnny Ma’s debut feature film casts the spotlight on the perverse nature of China’s law where drivers just need to pay a one-time small fine if their victims die. However, if the victim is injured, drivers are liable to compensate the victim’s medical fees for life.  

The film won the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival’s Best Canadian First Feature Film and the 5th Canadian Screen Awards’ Canadian Screen Award for Best First Feature.

Posterist [71 mins]

Posterist, a Taiwanese film on a reclusive movie poster artist by director Hui See-wai. Photo: SCFF

Posterist is a film about Yuen Tai-Yung a self-taught Chinese artist who has hand-painted more than 200 iconic movie posters. Yuen is known for his knack for distilling the essence of a movie to one scene.

In a career that spans more than a decade, Yuen has created posters for movies starring mega stars such as Bruce Lee, Chow Yun-fat, Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow during the golden era of Hong Kong cinema.

“When I made movies, I wish he [Yuen] could draw my posters,” says veteran Hong Kong actor Kenny Bee, one of the interviewees of the documentary.

Posterist is a passion project for director Hui See-wai, who documented his interactions with Yuen over a period of 12 months.

There will be a post-screening Q&A with director Hui See-wai. Posterist is shown back-to-back with Wind, a documentary on the extraordinary life of Hong Kong cinematographer Christopher Doyle.  

Read more on how a Taiwanese movie painter is keeping the tradition alive

Love and Duty [152 mins]

Love and Duty, a silent black and white film starring Chinese actress Ruan Lingyu filmed in the 1920s long thought to be lost will screen at the Singapore Chinese Film Festival 2017. Photo: SCFF
Love and Duty, a 1931 silent film starring Chinese actress Ruan Lingyu (left) and Jin Yan, will be screened at this year’s festival. Photo: SCFF

Young lovers Yang Nai-fan (Ruan Lingyu) and Li Zuyi (Jin Yan) are separated due to Yang’s parental intervention. Years later, Yang has married and she re-encounters Li with whom she starts an affair. The lovers elope but are eventually forced to face the consequences of their decision.

Screened under the Restored Classics segment, this 1931 black and white silent feature was long thought to be lost but resurfaced in Uruguay in 1990s. It was restored by the Taipei Film Archive in 2014 and has since been shown at a select band of film festivals around the world.