Friday, September 22, 2006

The Singapore Dream is still pretty much like the American Dream of the '50s. If you work hard enough now, one day you'll have accumulated enough wealth so that you won't ever have to work again. Then you can retire, live out the rest of your days in a big house, drive a big car, ad nauseum.

We've all heard this tale before. This myth is our defining characteristic as Singaporeans, our national identity. We can't tell stories of ourselves without using it as the overarching theme, or the central tenet. "Singapore Dreaming" is no exception.

Like many of its predecessors, Mr and Mrs Goh's tale reminds us that beneath the successful, sparkly-clean, luxuriant veneer that we like to show off to our foreign guests and visitors, there are still people for whom the dream hasn't yet become reality.

But the daily grind is our reality, with its physical and psychological pressures at work and emotional stresses at home, particularly for those of us who face an ever-widening gap between our experience our expectations.

Every character in the movie has a failed dream, a dashed hope. Whether it's wedded bliss, parental approval, or material comfort (even if not wealth), these aspirations remain elusive to them.

Only Pa (Richard Low) makes it in the end, sent off in style at a lavish funeral. In effigy, Pa is swimming in hell money, surrounded by paper models of opulence, all consigned to the flames for him to enjoy in the afterlife. As we watch the paper mansion burn and collapse into a heap of ashes, we have to ask ourselves if that's all there is to look forward to in life. Well, at least Pa died with his Dreams fulfilled. The rest of his family still have the rest of their lives to fulfil theirs.

Though Seng got what he deserved in the end, even he has my sympathy. It isn't easy being the One everyone pins their hopes on to raise the family name a notch up the social ladder. It's the life of the fatted calf -- given the best of everything while the rest of the family skimps and saves on themselves, knowing that at some point he will have to pay everything back twofold or more. Seng isn't seen so much as a person, but rather as a family asset with an unrealistically high return on investment (ROI). Even at the funeral, Seng still has to follow his father's path, unable to break away and chase after his girlfriend, Irene, whom he loves(?) and owes so much to, who is leaving him.

So even here in luxuriant, opulent Singapore, life sucks. But the PRC beer girl (NBS, the role was made for you!) makes an interesting counterpoint. Singaporeans passively wallow in their suffering only seeing the hopelessness of life. We give up our dreams so that we can make money. She, on the other hand is willing to suffer to make money so that she can realise her Dream someday. With that kind of attitude, no wonder China is on the rise while we appear more hopeless and helpless every day.

Although Mr Goh has a regular funny column in the Sunday papers, and a funny web identity talking his cock on Singaporean issues, the movie isn't a comedy. The plot is tight and tense, events winding the characters up towards their breaking points. So, will the family remain intact through it all? Telling would be spoiling. Haha.

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