Yeo Siew Hwa’s “A Land Imagined” – 2019 Hong Kong Film Review

“A Land Imagined” has a number of loaded plot elements going for it, notably the perpetual reality of land reclamation in Singapore and the ephemeral professional livelihood associated with the foreign migrant workers hired to construct it.  But this cinematic attempt at film noir barely manages to scratch the surface of these issues, while trying too hard to showcase a side of Singapore that is the polar opposite of the squeaky clean image advertised in tourism brochures.

Certainly, the three lead actors cannot be faulted if the audience doesn’t manage to care about their respective plights; they simply don’t have much material in the script to work with.  A lackadaisical cop on his way to retirement (played by Peter Yu) and his partner are assigned to locate a missing Chinese lorry driver named Wang Bi Cheng (Liu Xiaoyi).  (Also missing, in a supporting role, is a Bangladeshi construction site worker named Ajit.). Both the policeman and Wang encounter – for different reasons and at different times, as shown in an extended flashback – a jaded worker (Luna Kwok) at a seedy gaming cafe across the street from the site. She may very well hold the key for the chaser to find the chased, but it’s a languid race at best, with no sense of urgency from any of the parties involved.

The glare from neon signs and computer screens, and the dull blank stares into space from the story’s sleepy main players, as half-hearted attempts to set the mood aren’t enough.  While dreams seemingly blur into reality and vice versa, the effect is more pretentious than anything else, rendered as an aimless meandering through a kaleidoscopic labyrinth that yields little in return. As a result, the film is an enormous missed opportunity, and presents a view of a country that really is no different than the spotless mall-lined sidewalks of Orchard Street.