Fourth Uncle (Wang Lei), Ah Ma (Ng Suan Loi), Ah Xi (Benjamin Tan), Ah Kun (Mark Lee) and Zhao Di (Aileen Tan) recuperate after a fight. (Golden Village Pictures)
Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. HeTweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes atmarcusgohmarcusgoh.com. The views expressed are his own.
Secret ending? No, but the credits are entertaining.
Running time: 107 minutes (~1.75 hours)
“Long Long Time Ago (我们的故事)” is a Singaporean drama about our early years of independence. It follows a widow’s struggles as she lives through the turbulent times of Singapore’s history. It stars Aileen Tan (Zhao Di), Mark Lee (Ah Kun), Wang Lei (Fourth Uncle), Suhaimi Yusof (Osman), Ryan Lian (Ah Long), Benjamin Tan (Ah Xi), Yan Li Xuan (Su Ting), Ng Suan Loi (Ah Ma), Silvarajoo Prakasm (Shamugan), and Charmaine Sei (Ah Feng).
“Long Long Time Ago” is a nostalgic look at Singapore’s past. Even if you’re not born during that time, there’s a sense of community that pervades the show, as we see all the races working together for the betterment of the country. It instils in you a sense of gratitude for what we have today, and shows us just how far Singapore has come from its birth.
Zhao Di and Osman (Suhaimi Yusof) doing business. (Golden Village Pictures)
Aileen Tan’s touching performance as Zhao Di
Zhao Di is the longsuffering widow and heroine of the story. She has so many responsibilities to juggle, yet she never fails to come through for her friends and family. What makes her so endearing as a character is that she’s kind-hearted and forgiving, and willing to help those in need. Her tenacity and bravery personifies the kampung spirit that we all strive to recreate.
Use of mother tongues and dialects
There’s a certain authenticity in having the characters communicate in their mother tongues, with barely a smattering of English to be heard. In fact, there’s very little Mandarin, with the Chinese characters communicating mostly in Hokkien. Not only does this show how diverse we were in the past, but it also removes that sterility that comes with banning dialects from Singapore media.
Portrays the instability of the era
The film focuses on the big events of the 60s, and captures the fear and uncertainty of those times. The common man is shown to be truly at the mercy of the elements and society, with each major change affecting both the country and the people. By showing how unstable life as from the perspective of the citizens, it adds a human element to events that are otherwise far removed dates for the younger audience.
The antagonist are not so much outright villains, as they are everyday people who’ve succumbed to the pressures of that era. They can be surprisingly heroic at times, resulting in fully fleshed out characters that we can empathise with, even if we dislike them. And honestly, the antagonists are so Singaporean that we probably have a friend or two who’s exactly like them.
Ah Xi and Zhao Di are assaulted. (Golden Village Pictures)
Comical special effects
The quality of the special effects is actually pretty OK. But the shots used to implement the special effects are just downright strange. Those scenes are meant to drive home a point, but when the CGI is layered over ugly shots of people in awkward positions, it becomes overly hilarious and you can’t take it seriously. There’s a time and place for such jokes, and by inserting it in those key scenes, the impact of the special effects is completely wasted.
Ah Long (Ryan Lian ) and Zhao Di. (Golden Village Pictures)
“Long Long Time Ago” takes historical events and turns them into stories of human struggle and sacrifice, building our pride in Singapore. It’ll be interesting to see what direction the sequel, “Long Long Time Ago 2,” will take in March.
Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.
Should you buy the DVD? Nah.
“Long Long Time Ago” opens on 4 February, 2016 (Thursday).