The titular ‘land’ that’s ‘imagined’ in Yeo Siew Hua’s Golden Leopard-winning debut film manifests in two different ways, one explicitly physical (the ever-expanding continent of Singapore, forged through migrant labor via land reclamation) and one virtual (the online-generated ‘worlds’ that serve as a home for a globalized community). This suggests that Yeo’s film is one that interacts with its central political allegory on a philosophical level, where concerns of continental proliferation include a strong emphasis on dehumanization — and for about half of its runtime, A Land Imagined attempts to formulate such a multi-faceted critique. The twisty neo-noir uses the disappearance of a Chinese worker, Wang (Liu Xiaoyi), as its framing device and thematic starting point. This seemingly random event that nobody pays much attention to comes to represent the harsh reality of many foreign laborers – if you were to suddenly vanish one day, you can easily be replaced by five other migratory hirelings.
In flashbacks, we see Wang coping with his hopeless existence by frequenting the eLover Cybercafe, a 24-hour den of Counter-Strike tournaments and despair. It’s here where Yeo reaches for something profound, linking the two distant realms — one fiction and one reality, both constructed inorganically — together through the lens of endless development and a rapid abandonment of individuality. But this also proves to be where Yeo’s critique skews incoherent, as he throws an inspidly spiritual twist into his missing-person mystery that weakens A Land Imagined’s overarching commentary in favor of less ambitious genre conventions.
Published as part of New Directors/New Films 2019 | Dispatch 2.