At the heart of the Singaporean tragic condition lies a desire, a search for and an attempt towards 'the unattainable'. We will discuss this through a close examination of four texts (two films and two plays) - Kelvin Tong's 'Eating Air', Eric Khoo's '12 Storeys', Haresh Sharma's 'Those Who Can’t, Teach' and Alfian Sa'at's 'The Optic Trilogy'. While redemptive elements are present within these texts, possibilities of attaining answers or making meaning out of their suffering in order to procure a sense of hope are, however, ultimately deferred. Hope and meaning are left suspended, inscrutable and out of reach - for the character and/or the audience. This sense of the unattainable dream, connection or meaningfulness is a condition that, when paired with insatiable aspiration, creates disillusionment and dissatisfaction. This condition is central to the generation of tragedy in these four texts, and is also one that we postulate to be a microcosmic representation of the Singaporean tragedy in film and theatre.
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Eating Air by Kelvin Tong

In promotional posters and on the DVD cover, Eating Air–written by Kelvin Tong and co-directed by Kelvin Tong and Jasmine Ng–is summarized as a “kungfu-motorcycle-love story”. An online review of the movie describes it thus: “Following the chronicles of Ah Bengs, Ah Boy, our anti-hero protagonist played by Benjamin Heng, introduces to us his gang … Continue reading

12 Storeys by Eric Khoo

In his film, 12 Storeys, Eric Khoo takes up the theme of urban isolation and alienation in modern Singapore. Four sets of narratives – ‘Sister’s Keeper’, ‘San San’, ‘China Bride’ and ‘Spirit’ – are built and set within one Housing Development Block (HDB) block, all of which come together to portray a day in the … Continue reading

Those Who Can’t, Teach by Haresh Sharma

“The play throws up questions on the roles of parents, students and teachers, but does not collapse into an impotent tirade against society. The script is joyous. The laughter is warmly wry, not caustic.” – The Straits Times “Those Who Can’t, Teach does much to do away with the stereotypes and fallacies of the teaching … Continue reading

The Optic Trilogy by Alfian Sa’at

Dark humour marks the trilogy. As Woman puts it in “Brilliance”, ‘fate has a sense of humour. It’s fond of cruel pranks’. In “Transparency”, both the social escort and client turn out to be locals although Woman wanted a Caucasian escort so she can keep her pretense as a tourist and Man hints that he … Continue reading

Putting the Pieces Together: The Picture of Singaporean Tragedy

Thematic Unity Across Texts These four texts that we have discussed are united in that, across time and context, all demonstrate the pervasiveness of the Singaporean tragic condition; everyone experiences their daily tragedies in the quotidian, perpetually pushing against the impenetrable walls that divide them from their aspirations. The characters in general comprise the common people … Continue reading

Our Tragic Conclusion

Photo by Chen Yingxuan The attainable – unrequited love, unachieved dreams, undermined effort, unavailable answers, unfulfillable longing. Redemption and meaning are within view, but out of reach. Together with the Kevin Tong, Eric Khoo, Haresh Sharma and Alfian Sa’at’s characters, we are suspended in confusion, oblivion, and relentless longing. We know what we do not want, … Continue reading