The following review contains numerous spoilers. Please proceed at your own discretion.
It’s been over a year since the death of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew gripped the nation to its core and devastated the productivity of the city-island. The outpouring of tributes and waterworks left many feeling angry and bemused, including the head of the National Neuroscience Institute, Lee Wei Ling. Convinced that her deceased father would have cringed at the hero worship barely a year after his death, she embarks on a personal vendetta to set the record straight, while his brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and Straits Times editor Ivan Fernandez, launch their own crusades to halt her cause.
A surprise contender for Movie of the Year, the accidental box office hit, available for streaming via Facebook, has left many moviegoers applauding the sheer brilliance of the film. The movie, which has since been nicknamed “Descendants of the Father”, follows the journey of Lee Wei Ling, daughter of the late Lee Kuan Yew, as she embarks on her quest for freedom of speech. Facing insurmountable odds, will she be able to navigate through the dangerous political minefield?
The film opens with a series of establishing shots showing a mix of Singapore’s sparkling skyline, state-of-the-art architecture, and world-renowned tourist attractions. A irate voice soon fades in; “My father would have cringed at the hero worship barely a year after his death”. Enough is enough, Wei Ling thought, her fingers furiously typing away at the keyboard. 40 over emails and countless hours spent on an article made for nothing in the end. The woman will never write for the Singapore Press Holdings again, but she needed to make a statement, and a strong one at that. As her index finger flirted with the “Post” button, we cut to a sudden black screen. Her voice makes another aural appearance: “What better way to do it, then to do it on April Fools’ Day”.
The title sequence rolls, and in a few moments, we see an extremely unhappy Ivan Fernandez fidgeting about in his office chair. The associate editor of Singapore’s largest broadsheet isn’t looking forward to dealing with yet another media shitstorm – the fourth in merely a fortnight. “Well, at least this doesn’t involve fences and walking timebombs”, he afforded a meek chuckle. There’s only so much censorship to offer in a country that’s ranked 153rd in the World Press Freedom Index.
Meanwhile, Chief of Government Communications, Janadas Devan, has an issue on his hands. Wei Ling has moved her first pawn. He had reportedly criticised Cheong Yip Seng, former editor-in-chief of The Straits Times, for being “sly” in getting her father, Lee Kuan Yew, to write a foreword for his tell-all book about the intricacies of the local press. It is an open secret that Kuan Yew controlled the media and used it towards his advantage, so it was undoubtedly shocking to see his endorsement on a book exposing his tactics. Wanting to show that her father did not restrict freedom of speech, Janadas wasn’t at all pleased and the two soon traded verbal barbs that ended in an objective stalemate. Amidst the action, I overheard a fellow moviegoer whispering to his friend, “I don’t get why she had to shame him. Isn’t his pain and regret punishment enough?”
It appears Ivan has gotten things under control when we cut back to him a few minutes later. He made eye contact with his laptop screen before shifting his gaze to the printer on his left. On a piece of 300gsm ivory paper (perhaps a metaphor for the ministers and their ivory towers) was the draft for tomorrow’s papers. As the words “Why ST did not publish Dr. Lee Wei Ling’s column” panned across the camera, Ivan understandably lets out a satisfied smile.
How can anyone not after writing such a creative headline?
Wei Ling is crushed. Her efforts to undermine the credibility of the mainstream media was not working. Ivan’s article just went live, and it wasn’t pretty. Accusations of plagiarism consumed her utmost attention for a considerable amount of time. For all the talk about her confidence and prowess, the latest assault does no favors to her morale. Still reeling from the effects from her previous fight with Janadas, Wei Ling has no choice but to go for the jugular. Any more setbacks will surely spell the end of her campaign.
Despite the title of the movie, Lee Hsien Loong makes only his first appearance in the film shortly after. Donning his pink shirt and signature grin, his morning walk was soon rudely interrupted with a major bombshell.
“Your sister just called you a dishonorable son.”
Facing the media, Wei Ling emanated ample zealousness, “My brother and I are at odds on a matter of principle. He has no qualms about abusing his power to have a commemoration. If the power that be wants to establish a dynasty, I will not let my father’s name to be sullied by him.”
What soon transpires will be nail-bitingly unnerving, but I’ll leave you to discover the rest of the saga in your own time. A thrilling, action-packed storyline complemented by a brilliant cast (politicians, after all, make the finest actors), this is a shameless showcase of filmmaking at the highest level. There have been criticisms that the main fight took too long to happen, but the build up invited intrigue and built suspense, culminating in a battle that’s all the more satisfying to enjoy. Other complaints levied include issues with the pacing, an incoherent script, and a general lack of purpose, but the sheer pleasure of watching the characters duke it out more that compensates for the absence of finesse and dimension.
A truly compelling tale that exposes Singapore’s underlying issues, it offers a glimpse into the problems faced by Singapore that’s glossed over by our consistent showmanship when it comes to crime rates, education rankings, corruption numbers, and GDP figures.
Lee Hsien Loong’s portrayal of Hsien Loong is fantastic – with years of experience filing defamation suits and censoring the state media, he is able to mirror the role of Singapore’s prime minister effectively, bringing out the characteristics and lending excellent contrast to the film’s narrative. His ability to code sudoku games and other software left the audience glued to their seats in anticipation of his next move, making his unpredictability and disguised ruthlessness not only trademarks of his, but of the film as well.
Ivan Fernandez, despite his newcomer status, offered glimpses of his solid comedic chops. In a scene where his superiors questioned him about his extended absence from work, he memorably answered, “Well, it’s true that there’s a rise in the MCs I’ve taken, but don’t worry, I’m getting more reliable.” With quotes like this, the authenticity of the film shines through effortlessly.
Janadas Devan, I feel, was under-utilised. His character was well-written and developed, and it felt as though he had something more to contribute to the story. Ho Ching, meanwhile, struggled to inject life into her role of the Prime Minister’s wife. Her only noteworthy moment came when she posted an image of a monkey with his middle finger out on her Facebook, but otherwise, her involvement in the film was minimal at best. Suffering from the same screenwriter treatment Janadas received, she wasn’t given the space to explore her character in full, a stark contrast to her opposite female number, the heavily trailed and empowering Wei Ling, whose performance was absolutely stellar.
The direction of the film deserves endless praise, and it’s a pity the director chose to remain anonymous, although I did venture a couple of guesses. As there are no noodles or nudity involved (god bless), Eric Khoo is more or less out of the picture, and the lack of spontaneous singing in the film suggests Royston Tan is too as well. Considering the movie isn’t named after a Filipino province or something we build at the beach, we can also eliminate Anthony Chen and Boo Junfeng. The movie is decent, so that rules out Jack Neo, but the fact that there’s likely to be a sequel confirms that it’s probably by him.
An instant classic, this is undoubtedly Singapore cinema at its finest. Wei Ling v Hsien Loong will set you thinking about the quality of our governance and the state of the country’s affairs.
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Disclaimer: The article above is satire and is a work of fiction based heavily on true events.
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