HBO Asia's Invisible Stories shines a light on untold stories of Singapore's heartlanders

Teng Yong Ping
Lifestyle Editor
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HBO Asia's Invisible Stories

Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann and Taiwanese actor Devin Pan in Lian, Episode 1 of HBO Asia's Invisible Stories. (PHOTO: HBO Asia)

SINGAPORE — We reported a while back that HBO Asia was shooting an anthology series set in Singapore using the Yishun estate of Chong Pang as the main backdrop. Well, the show, Invisible Stories, is set to air on HBO beginning this Sunday (5 January).

Although the series was filmed mainly in Chong Pang, the fictional HDB estate in the show is called Sungei Merah. (The Housing Development Board, or HDB, is the government housing agency.) The series director, Ler Ji Yuan, chose Chong Pang as the setting as he felt that the town represents the typical old heartland estate that he was trying to portray.

HBO Asia describes the series as such: “Invisible Stories brings to life stories of everyday people – their joy, their struggles, their sacrifice, with each episode following one neighbour as he or she navigates through everyday life and its challenges.

Filmed entirely on location in Singapore, each episode in the six-part half-hour drama series focuses on a different character, but they all live and interact within the same fictional town of Sungei Merah.

Invisible Stories is Ler’s way of imagining the stories of typical denizens of Singapore who we might walk among everyday without thinking much about their inner lives. The series appears to mark a sharp contrast from the histrionics that we often see in Channel 8 dramas.

The first episode of Invisible Stories, starring Yeo Yann Yann as a mother struggling with an autistic son, premiered at a special screening during the Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards in November last year. Coincidentally, Yeo won the Golden Horse for Best Actress at the same awards for her role in the Singaporean film, Wet Season.

Other characters in the series include a taxi driver who moonlights as a spiritual medium; sex workers who operate out of a flat; a banker with a secret alter ego; two foreign workers in love; and an aspiring teenage influencer from a broken family. The cast includes Wang Yu Qing, Gavin Yap, Rosalind Pho, Sunny Pang, Suchada Muller, Aden Tan, and Sekar Sari.

Yahoo Lifestyle spoke to Ler recently at the launch of the Singapore International Film Festival, during which the first two episodes of Invisible Stories were screened. He said, “I’ve lived in HDB my whole life. The inspiration for Invisible Stories came from the people I meet, the stories I hear, the people I see.

“For example, there’s a tang kee (Hokkien for spiritual medium) two doors down on my corridor. And then we see foreign workers as part of our neighbourhood; they’re very much part of the milieu of HDB life. This is really a series about the special lives of these very ordinary people.”

HBO Asia, an offshoot of its parent network HBO, has been producing original content for Asian audiences by collaborating with regional storytellers and filmmakers. Previous series made by HBO Asia include The Teenage Psychic, Miss Sherlock, Halfworlds and Serangoon Road.

Invisible Stories premieres on 5 January at 10pm on HBO GO and HBO.