A New Look at Cinema in Southeast Asia from Former LKC Fellow Gerald Sim

Gerald Sim, a former Lee Kong Chian Fellow with the Southeast Asia Program, explores how Southeast Asian identities, histories, and cultures are portrayed in film in a new book, ‘Postcolonial Hangups in Southeast Asian Cinema.’
[Left] Gerald Sim, [Right] the cover of 'Postcolonial Hangups in Southeast Asian Cinema'
Gerald Sim, a former LKC Fellow at APARC's Southeast Asia Program and his new book 'Postcolonial Hangups in Southeast Asian Cinema.'

The 2018 blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians is many people’s first and only experience seeing Southeast Asia portrayed onscreen. Kevin Kwan’s enthralling, uber-rich characters jet-set across glittering scenes of cosmopolitan Singapore and paradisiacal beaches in Malaysia. But for Gerald Sim, APARC’s 2016-17 Lee Kong Chian Fellow at the Southeast Asia Program, the scope of cinema in Southeast Asia is much broader than the occasional Hollywood breakout success.

In a new book, Postcolonial Hangups in Southeast Asian Cinema, Sim examines how countries in Southeast Asia navigate the legacies of their unique colonial histories through film media. His writing focuses on Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia and how their cultural identities and postcolonial experiences are stylistically portrayed across commercial films, art cinema, and experimental works.

Sim explores the nuance of these works beyond the typical tropes of hybridity and syncretism in postcolonial identity. His analysis unpacks themes such as Singapore’s preoccupation with space, the importance of sound in Malay culture, and the ongoing investment Indonesia has made into genre and storytelling. Taken together, the book helps situate the regional cinematic traditions and local ideologies in the broader narrative of globalization.

The book builds on research Sim undertook as a fellow at APARC with support from the Lee Kong Chian NUS-Stanford Fellowship on Southeast Asia. He is currently an associate professor of Film and Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University, where he continues to teach about and research the thriving but understudied contributions of Southeast Asian film to world cinema.

Postcolonial Hangups in Southeast Asian Cinemas will be available for purchase from Amsterdam University Press on September 1.

Read Amsterdam University Press' interview with Sims about the book.

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