Singapore films get more exposure in Covid era
Without Hollywood blockbusters competing, local film-makers seize their chance
Despite lingering uncertainties about Covid-19 and cinemas here operating at reduced capacity, for local film-makers Jack Neo, Ong Kuo Sin and Tan Bee Thiam, there is no better time for their latest movies to be hitting the big screen.
The Diam Diam Era, Number 1 and Tiong Bahru Social Club are the first three local films to be released this year, and industry players have expressed cautious optimism going into next year, even though the pandemic has hurt box-office takings.
While conditions may not be ideal, Singapore has recorded zero cases in the community for two weeks, and Neo said this was the best time to release his period family drama The Diam Diam Era, which opens today.
He told The New Paper: "A lot of the big Hollywood films have not been brought in (because of being dropped from the 2020 release schedules) so this gives our local films a chance. Without Hollywood blockbusters competing, we can get into more (cinema) halls and the film can be screened for longer."
Early figures have been encouraging, with The Diam Diam Era collecting $130,000 from sneak previews last weekend.
For Number 1, which snagged two Golden Horse Award nominations and won for Best Makeup and Costume Design at the ceremony on Nov 21, word of mouth has been key. While Mark Lee missed out on the Best Actor prize, the drag queen comedy has grossed almost $500,000 since its release on Oct 22, and box- office takings have grown stronger.
Ong told TNP: "It is a really surreal experience for us to be releasing this movie with the Covid-19 situation. With all the restrictions, of course the box office takes a hit, but the numbers are encouraging."
Number 1 was initially slated to open on Jan 1 next year, but was brought forward to capitalise on the Golden Horse Award buzz.
Ong said: "We are grateful that it is marketing itself now through word of mouth, which is the most beautiful thing that happened in 2020."
Tan, who directed the whimsical comedy Tiong Bahru Social Club, said its Dec 10 release builds on the momentum of its recent film festival premieres.
He added: "With the gaps left by Hollywood studios, it is indeed a good opportunity for audiences to lend support to local films."
Golden Village (GV) said it expects these three films, as well as other Asian tentpoles it is bringing in, to reap similar box-office takings compared with titles of similar genres and languages released pre-Covid-19.
It said audiences are still driven by quality content and performances of Chinese films released last month, such as the Gong Li-headlined Leap and My People, My Homeland, have not been dampened.
The pandemic has also given GV opportunities to exhibit different kinds of films, such as the Arabic war documentary Mosul, which played to several sold-out sessions during its Nov 19 opening weekend.
But mm2 Entertainment, which owns Cathay Cineplexes, said full houses are still rare despite cinemas here operating at less than half its capacity.
"People have gone out for bigger films, like Mulan and Tenet, but the typical box-office takings are now a fraction of what they would have been during better times," said a spokesman.
But there are silver linings.
Number 1, for example, has bucked the usual trend of box-office takings petering out after the opening weekend.
Said mm2's spokesman: "We think The Diam Diam Era will also enjoy that for now, but come Chinese New Year, it is hard to say. There are a lot of Chinese-language films that were delayed due to Covid-19 so you are actually going to see a glut if they can be released."