A Land Imagined

Written by Michael Clawson


Winner of the top prize at Locarno in 2018, Singaporean filmmaker Yeo Siew Hua’s third feature is a dreamy, fluidly shaped neo-noir about a detective investigating the whereabouts of a missing Chinese migrant worker. It’s far from a straight forward mystery – we shift between the perspective of the cop and the laborer, seem to move in and out of each of their dreams, and our sense of the timeline is slippery. 

Its effect is slightly uneven. There are mesmerizing sequences, such as when we’re taken inside the first-person-shooter computer game that the laborer plays each night at a neon-lit Internet cafe, and he speaks somnambulantly in voiceover as we drift around a digital desert compound. The mood is also often quite compelling, such as when the laborer and a woman from the cafe go swimming together late at night. The camera remains fixed on a beach as they swim out into dark water, the ominous glow of industrial sites off in the distance, and the suddenly piercing score lends the shot a pronounced sense of foreboding. 

Other moments don’t work so well, like those where the cop and laborer get swept up in reveries as they dance, which are a bit hokey. The genre elements also don’t always mix easily with the film’s inclination towards abstraction (Bi Gan pulls this off more powerfully in Long Day’s Journey Into Night). The weaknesses are worth what the movie is in total though: an enigmatic exploration of migrant loneliness, labor exploitation, and stifled protest.

A Land Imagined Trailer

A Land Imagined is currently streaming on Netflix.

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