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Locations are like actors: they play a key role in movies, helping frame the narrative and even at times pushing the story along. Over the last decade, Singapore has become a destination of choice for overseas filmmakers, who through their films have shown another perspective of this city. In the dystopic Equals, starring Kristen Stewart, we see how the Marina Barrage, Henderson Waves and the luxury condominium, Reflections at Keppel Bay, transform into a futuristic habitat. Local filmmakers, however, take a much different approach. They feature everyday spaces, like schools, void decks, and playgrounds, that we take for granted. Tan Pin Pin’s Singapore Gaga shows us how the ambient sounds at a void deck constitute an aural emblem of our identity while That Girl in Pinafore reintroduces Bras Basah Complex as a venue for xinyao, the genre of Singapore songs that is often about life within the country.

Many of these films have benefited in one way or another from the efforts of the Info-communication Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) to make Singapore a destination for filming. Just recently, the agency launched the Filming Friendly Zone @ one-north, comprising of clusters within Mediapolis, Fusionpolis and Biopolis, that opens up locations within the one-north area for small to medium-sized shoot—on top of funding projects and streamlining approval processes. 

We scouted 11 Singapore locations that have appeared in films from the 21st century. If you’re keen to go further back in the city’s history as a film location, we highly recommend the Singapore Film Locations Archive (sgfilmlocations.com) or borrow the excellent World Film Locations Singapore (2014) book from the public libraries!

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Director: Chai Yee Wei
Movie: That Girl In Pinafore (2013)
Location: Bras Basah Complex

This mixed-use complex is known today for its second-hand book shops, Singapore’s most well-known design bookstore, and the nostalgic branch of local steakhouse Jack’s Place. But for the 40-year-old director of this coming of age film themed around xinyao, Bras Basah was also once home to the many concerts of this genre of Mandarin ballads composed by Singaporean teenagers in the 1980s. It’s no wonder when the film needed a xinyao concert scene, this historically accurate location was the safest bet.
 
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Director: Tan Pin Pin
Movie: Singapore GaGa (2005)
Location: 51 Kent Road Void Deck


This documentary about Singapore’s quirky aural landscape features buskers, street vendors, and the ambient sounds of a HDB void deck. There’s no space more Singaporean than the ground level spaces underneath public housing, which are left empty for residents to gather for marriage celebrations, death commemoration, or just a game of chess. Even when there are no gatherings, the sounds of everyday life echo through. This becomes strikingly clear when Tan films renowned pianist Margaret Leng Tan perform John Cage’s 4’33” at this void deck in Ang Mo Kio. As she sits silently with her toy piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, one hears the sounds of Singapore.
 
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Director: Ken Kwek
Movie: Unlucky Plaza (2014)
Location: 97 Siglap Road


In this film about greed, social class, and xenophobia, Kwek employs places as metaphors for what class of society his characters represent. A striking three-storey bungalow in Siglap -an affluent residential district for the well-to-do professionals -is a home for the pompous protagonist and his wife, who seduces her pastor and then leads a Filipino migrant into a rental scam to finance her elopement. The film title, Unlucky Plaza, is a wordplay on the auspicious-sounding shopping centre in Singapore where Filipino migrants hang out—a hint at the predicament of the film’s Filipino scam victim.
 
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Director: Anthony Chen
Movie: Ilo Ilo (2013)
Location: Roof of a block of HDB flats in Teban Gardens


The relationship between school boy Jia Le and his new Filipino domestic helper Theresa had a rocky start. They soon become friends as the two often have only each other to rely on for comfort. What cements their friendship is a private moment on a rooftop where they stand side-by-side—not Theresa behind Jia Le as it often was at the beginning of the film—to admire the skyline view of public housing. Fun fact: Even though the characters live in the east, the scene was shot in the west side of Singapore.
 
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Director: Royston Tan
Movie: 3688 (2015)
Location: Dakota Crescent


As part of his mission to preserves places in Singapore through film, Tan shot this film in one of Singapore’s oldest public housing estates after hearing it may be redeveloped. 3688 is a musical movie that centres around a parking attendant who dreams of becoming a singer. Supported by a backdrop of iconic low-rise and brick-clad flats, she is often featured singing and dancing at Dakota Crescent’s carpark. Tan told The Straits Times in an interview that the neighbourhood’s residents were so welcoming that a coffee shop even let them use their electricity for filming!
 
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Director: Boo Junfeng
Movie: Sandcastle (2010)
Location: Cheung Cheng High School


An 18-year-old En is uncomfortable with his mother’s new romance so he seeks solace with his grandmother, who suffers Alzheimer’s and mistakes him for his late father. In her home he discovers a collection of photographs and letters that reveal his father’s participation in student activism in the 1950s and 60s when anti-colonialist sentiment ran high. In search of his father’s past, En visits Chung Cheng High School, where one of the student rallies occurred—in the movie and also in reality. Through En’s exploration of the school grounds with his camera, we a get a sense of his desire to understand his father, and also to recapture a fading memory.
 
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Director: Aleksander Bach (Hollywood)
Movie: Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)
Location: Gardens by the Bay, CBD


In search of futuristic-looking locations for this Hollywood action film featuring genetically engineered assassins, Bach flew his crew to Singapore to shoot. The result is a thrilling manhunt by agent 47 (Rupert Friend) as he seeks out his creator - a journey that takes viewers through Singapore’s Central Business District, the Esplanade, and of course, the Gardens by the Bay’s Supertree Grove, a canopy of gigantic artificial trees that harness solar power, collect rainwater for irrigation, and moderate temperatures—in real life.
 
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Director: Roland Emmerich
Movie: Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
Location: Marina Bay Sands


This icon of Singapore was an easy choice for the filmmaker when Emmerich needed places to “destroy” in this apocalyptic movie. Marina Bay Sands was a landmark that “people can immediately recognise”, so viewers will know exactly where in the world the story was taking place. The integrated resort couldn’t have actually been destroyed of course. The destruction was done by a visual effects company which built a replica based on images it got off Google Maps.
 
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Director: Osman Ali
Movie: Sinaran (2015)
Location: Little Guilin


Where’s a romantic place for two dancers to date in densely-packed Singapore, considering they need ample space to do their occasional twirls? The nature reserves! This Malay-language movie about a budding romance between two college student dancers, was filmed at the MacRitchie Reservoir and also Little Guilin, where towering granite rocks meet tranquil lake. Away from the curious stares of Singaporeans, the lead characters practise their dance moves to the songs of Malaysian jazz pop-singer Sheila Majid, while not forgetting to make flirtatious eye contact too.
 
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Director: Drake Doremus
Movie: Equals (2015)
Location: Reflections at Keppel Ba


The film director’s brief for places that are unrecognisable led to some lesser know locations in Singapore. This sci-fi flick about a dystopian future where emotions have been genetically suppressed was shot at Marina Barrage, which unlike the Marina Bay Sands isn’t the postcard image of this city. Another shoot happened at Reflections at Keppel Bay, a waterfront condominium which perfectly frames the characters from another dimension with its glass walls, floating walkways, and out of this world lighting design.
 
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Director: Rakesh Roshan
Movie: Krrish (2006)
Location: Sentosa beach


When Krishna was a tourist in Singapore back in 2006, there wasn’t a Universal Studios theme park for him to be swung around and tossed in the air. But he didn’t need the rides anyway, because the superhero in this Bollywood film was born with kungfu skills that allowed him to hop from one car to another at Robinson Road—without denting any of them. The character, played by Hrithik Roshan, also leaped across the Singapore River, and through the Fountain of Wealth at Suntec City, in order to catch up with a helicopter carrying his evil nemesis—who unfortunately is a Singapore resident. It’s not a Bollywood film without song and dance, so Krishna also successfully romances his love in the waters of Sentosa beach and eventually gets that kiss.