Between Land Reclamation and Labour, Empathy and Asian New Wave Film : Fungibility in Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined 幻土

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-16
Journal / PublicationWasafiri
Issue number4
Online published20 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


Yeo Siew Hua's film A Land Imagined (2018) is interspersed with long scenes at a work site. The camera often rests on the droning work of machines and workers carting and sorting gravel. But for all the movement that is displayed, no change has taken place. Piles of gravel are demolished and moved to make new piles. The persons in the film appear similarly fungible: an injured laborer can become a driver, a corpse may or may not explain a disappearance. Ultimately, the site is revealed to be a land reclamation site which reveals that movement of gravel is not a closed innocuous system, but is part of a zero-sum game, in which one country grows bigger by cannibalizing those around it. Using Sadiya Hartman's work on fungibility as a lens through which I consider the modern-day ‘coolie' in the film and Lisa Lowe’s writing on immigration and citizenship, I argue that Yeo allegorizes the movement of land across bodies of water for the similar movement of indentured laborers in order to critique the invisibility of foreign low-wage labor in Singapore, at the same time that the products of their labour are put on brash display. Critics like Hartman and Lowe, whose critical interests connect exchange, labor, and transnational movement across oceans and bodies of water, offer a critical framework with which we can think about how the film takes up the racial, national, and gendered intersections of these issues. Finally, in drawing from and inserting itself within an extant body of work by Asian New Wave directors, A Land Imagined ultimately enacts an imaginative and responsible form of transnational assemblage, connecting cultures and people across oceans not through labour or even soil, but through art. © 2023 WASAFIRI.

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