Known for her Singapore-focused documentaries, Tan was the talk of the town in 2014 when she released the controversial To Singapore, With Love - in which she interviewed nine political exiles, presenting them in a sympathetic light. The film received NAR (Not Allowed for All Ratings) classification and was banned in the country.
Now, Tan's In Time to Come will open at Filmgarde Cineplex at Bugis+ on September 28, making it the director's first feature-length film to be screened at a mainstream cinema in Singapore. It seems the film will steer clear of any political undertones.
Or will it?
The story centers around the opening and closing of two time capsules: one's just been unsealed and contains memories and tokens from 25 years ago - from a bottle of water from the Singapore River to a copy of Yellow Pages and a phone charger. The other is about to be buried, filled with artifacts from recent years. Following these scenes are beautifully edited clips of the daily lives of Singaporeans at school assemblies, haze-inflicted residential districts, fire drills, sport activities, etc.
Filmed over a period of four years, the documentary provides viewers with a chance to reflect on how much has changed, and will change in time to come. While seemingly free of political commentary, it's a clear look at the impact the Singaporean government has had over the decades. Tan herself said, "Though this film is more contemplative, I don't see it as any less political in so far as any representation is political."
Perhaps pure coincidence, but the timing of the screening is interesting, with a big change coming up for the small island nation: Singapore is about to swear in its first female president, of Malay ethnicity to boot. Change is inevitable.