Movies, books, and songs to capture the essence of Singapore and get you in the mood for travel

Movies

Saint Jack (1979)
Ben Gazzara plays an American ex-patriot and pimp for the Hong Kong mob in post-colonial Singapore. Director Peter Bogdanovich never got official government approval for the unflattering depiction of the city-state and the movie was banned from showing in Singapore.

Rogue Trader (1998)
Ewan McGregor plays the infamous Barings Bank trader Nick Leeson who, while living in Singapore in the mid ‘90s, brought down one of the oldest and most storied banks headquartered in England through a series of bad financial trades and cover ups.

I Not Stupid (2002)
Directed by Jack Neo, this satirical, locally produced film examines the Singaporean school system through the eyes of several students who have been deemed slow learners, in a system where weak performers are left behind.

That’s the Way I Like It (1998)
A Singaporean Bruce Lee fan gets dragged to a showing of Saturday Night Fever and finds his life transformed forever when he embraces disco, white leisure suits, and the cult of John Travolta.

Books

King Rat, by James Clavell (1962)
Clavell’s novel examines life in Singapore’s Changi prison during Japanese occupation during World War II. Since Clavell was a young POW held at Changi, the novel resonates as a first-person account into the brutality of life in wartime Singapore.

Foreign Bodies, by Hwee Hwee Tan (1997)
Hwee Hwee Tan’s novel looks at Mei, a Singaporean lawyer who has to defend Andy, her British English-teacher boyfriend unjustly accused of being the ringleader in an international soccer gambling operation. Lightly examines the Singaporean justice system, as well as a modern cross-cultural romance.

The Battle for Singapore: The True Story of the Greatest Catastrophe of World War II, by Peter Thompson (2005)
Although strategists said it could never happen, “fortress” Singapore fell to the Japanese shortly after Pearl Harbor. Considered one of the great defeats of the war.

From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, by Lee Kuan Yew (2000)
Often referred to as the “Father of Singapore,” Lee Kuan Yew examines his three-decade struggle to transform Singapore from one of the poorest nations on earth, to one of the wealthiest.

Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore, by Ben Slater (2006)
In 1978, Peter Bogdanovich made a movie in Singapore about prostitutes, starring Ben Gazzara. Here is the story of how it was made, the ensuing controversy when it was released, and the eventual ban by the Singapore government.

Singapore: A Pictorial History, by Gretchen Liu (2001)
A carefully researched book of 1,200 drawings and photographs that detail Singapore’s transformation from a colonial shipping port run by the East India Company to a wealthy, independent business center.

Music

Singapore doesn’t have much of an original music scene. Most of the “native” music is from elsewhere: Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, or Malaysia. However, the HMV music store in the Heeren, 260 Orchard Road, has a selection of local artists. Most local pop music is produced in Mandarin.

My Story, Your Song, Sun Yan Zi (Stefanie Sun)
A new pop and rhythm and blues compilation in Mandarin. Sun Yan Zi is one of the most popular contemporary vocalists in Singapore.

Westside, Lin Jun Jie (JJ Lin)
Love songs and rhythm and blues.

Release, A-Do (Do Cheng Yi)
One of the most popular Mandarin pop albums in Singapore.

Goodbye and Hello, Cai Jian Ya (Tanya Chua)
New to the local Mandarin pop scene.

Life, Dick Lee
Lee, a local actor, singer, and stage personality, released this compilation of original English songs in 2004.

All Because of You, Taufik Batisah
Hot with young Malay women, Taufik Batisah’s All Because of You, and Aliff Aziz’s new CD Aliff.

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