In celebration of the everyday Singaporean
People & Society Articles

In celebration of the everyday Singaporean

Wee Li Lin and her crew

Homely vibes: When filmmaker Wee Li Lin (centre, in purple) was approached to direct the music video for this year’s National Day Parade, she knew immediately that she wanted to portray authentic scenes featuring real people in the spaces they feel connected to, and are comfortable in. Photo credit: Bobbing Buoy Films

Local singer-songwriter Charlie Lim enters the frame at the start of what would be a nearly four-minute music video. As his melancholic and husky voice serenades the audience over the screen, various familiar scenes flash past.

Capturing nostalgia on film, he sits down at a retro photo studio to watch an Indian family take a family portrait. Next is a group of women – old schoolmates – dressed in white, then a couple, and another family whose children proudly don their military uniforms.

The camera goes on to depict more modern scenes outside the studio – a Malay family and their cats, a social entrepreneur who gives free haircuts to migrant workers, a young family that runs a hawker stall, a Singapore Airlines stewardess, a plus-size beauty pageant winner, and an embroidery artist, among many others.

The music video is this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) theme song – a remake of the 1987 classic “We are Singapore”. It also features other local musicians Vanessa Fernandez, Aisyah Aziz, Shak’thiya Subramaniam, Joanna Dong, The Lion City Boy, and the ITE Show Choir.

For award-winning filmmaker Wee Li Lin, 44, who directed the music video, it was all about portraying scenes that were authentic and had a romantic feel to them.

“The video features real people in the spaces they feel truly connected to,” she said. “When I first showed the final edit to my husband, who’s a visual artist, the first word he said was ‘homely’.”  

In some ways, the music video is a reflection of this year’s parade theme. Creative director Boo Junfeng said it will not just be a spectacle, but also an introspective look into the lives of Singaporeans who have overcome adversity.

“It really is about how we can look at the personal. Unity is also about our own experiences as human beings and the challenges we face every day,” he added at an earlier NDP media showcase. “These are things that bond us.”

Painting beautiful portraits of Singapore

Screenshot of We Are Singapore music video

Snap, snap! The song – a refreshing take on the 1987 classic ‘We Are Singapore’ – ends with a snazzy snap of the fingers. Photo credit: Bobbing Buoy Films

Wee’s involvement in the music video began in January, when she got a phone call from Boo asking her to work with him on the project.

Saying yes came easily. Apart from being hypnotised by singer Charlie Lim’s voice in an early demo, she was also drawn to the opportunity to work with Boo.

One of the first things Li Lin, known as a master of short films, did was to turn her passion for photography as inspiration for the music video.

“I wanted to do something along the lines of my passion – to ‘paint’ portraits of everyday people who represent what’s beautiful about Singapore and people I feel we should be celebrating,” she explained.

Real people being themselves in their environment was a must, she added, citing the examples of locals with their pets, special needs citizens in their work environment and representations of the modern Singapore woman. 

Her favourite scene? The last shot where all the singers were gathered in the studio singing the song. It ended with a snazzy snap of the fingers.

“When I decided on it during the scripting phase, I thought the ‘snap’ would be a spontaneous yet casual way for the singers to collectively signal an end to the song,” Wee said.

Little did she know that it would spawn references to Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War – specifically to how antagonist Thanos, wearing powerful infinity stones in his gauntlet, was able to snap his fingers and wipe out half the universe.

Amid the superhero references, she is happy to have brought her own touch to the video.

“I’m just glad I got the opportunity to bring in my vision for this year’s NDP music video. It has been an honour,” she said.

Aspirations for the future

As one of the pioneer female filmmakers here, Li Lin has set high standards. She won several awards locally and internationally, including Best Director at the Singapore International Film Festival in 1997 for her short film Norman on the Air.

Her works range from short films to feature-length movies, such as Autograph Book (2005) and Gone Shopping (2007), which were screened at prestigious festivals including the Tribeca Film festival in New York and the Short Shorts Film Festival in Japan. One of her latest works, Areola Borealis (2017), tells the story of a conservative mother who tries to upstage her daughter at her untraditional wedding.

What motivates Li Lin is telling a compelling narrative about people and places.

“Stories excite me,” she shared, highlighting that some of the personalities in the NDP music video were featured as they were involved in the main NDP film, another feature of this year’s show.

Li Lin, who has her own production company Bobbing Buoy Films and teaches screenwriting at schools, is optimistic about the future of Singapore film.

Her hope is for Singapore filmmakers to create more varied stories and exercise less self-censorship while creating more films and documentaries that spark deeper conversations within the community.

Similarly, she hopes this year’s NDP music video will spark deeper conversations about inclusivity, authenticity and what home means to Singaporeans.

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