While traveling in Eurasia, I read so many articles about how finally “there was an Asian movie for Asians,” or something like that, and none of them rang true. Upon seeing the movie I was impressed, though it was not what I was expecting. It is mostly a dystopia cloaked as a homage (just to be clear, personally I love Singapore, and its people, and have been numerous times). The underlying message seems to be “Singaporeans are mostly greedy, superficial, uncultured, too brand-conscious, and somewhat unpleasant, unless redeemed by contact with America or Chinese-Americans.” And their supposed pathologies are presented as very directly and specifically Asian and also Singaporean. With only a slightly different framing, this film could have been dismissed as unacceptably racist. And where are those Malays anyway? And the only two Indian characters are the caricatured Sikh guards? Really?
Nonetheless as cinema this works, and it is a thrill for me to see Singapore on the big screen and in a #1 movie at that. On top of that, the female lead is an economics professor at NYU who does game theory. Here is my earlier review of the book, which I also enjoyed. For balance, however, you might wish to see Ilo Ilo as well, though that is not a representative sample of Singapore either.