The sand is from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodian. The workers are from Bangladesh and China. However, the crime and the film are definitely Singaporean. This season, all Netflix awards buzz focuses on The Irishman, but they are also carrying all of Singapore’s Oscar hopes and dreams. The local construction industry might not have been overly thrilled about it, but Singapore opted for Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined as its official international feature film submission for the upcoming Academy Awards.
Lok is a massively jaded cop, who is almost as surprised by his efforts to find missing Chinese migrant worker Wang Bi-cheng, as the dodgy land reclamation company that employed him. Frankly, they think they did well by Wang when they kept him on as a driver at half-pay when his arm was injured in an industrial accident. It was during that time Wang befriended Ajit, one of the Bangladeshi workers, who also mysteriously disappeared.
As we see in flashbacks, Lok’s investigation of Wang’s disappearance retraces the steps the Chinese worker’s efforts to find his Bangladeshi friend. In fact, Lok starts to feel an affinity for Wang, due to their mutual insomnia. Clearly, the company is up to its neck in shading dealings, but Mindy, the goth femme fatale managing the neighboring internet parlor is decidedly no angel either.
Eventually, the film takes a rather Robbe-Grillet-like turn, as the personas of the cop and the subject of his investigation start to blend together. Yet, in many ways Land Imagined is a noir in the B. Traven tradition. The only thing more dangerous than the crooked system for the trapped laborers are their own character failings.