A Land Imagined

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
A Land Imagined Movie Poster Image
Noir mystery has violence, nudity, and language.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 95 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Considers plight of immigrants, exploitation of labor in a developing country. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Police officer is determined, has integrity. Disadvantaged Chinese immigrant tries to level the playing field for himself and others. Businessmen exploit those who have no voice. Ethnic diversity.


Character falls down stairs, gunfire, guns threaten, a woman slaps a teen boy, a dead body floats in water. On-screen video game shoot-em-up plays in several scenes.


Male nudity (including side shots showing penis). Men watch internet porn (only glimpsed). Women offers sexual favors to patrons of Internet cafe/bar. In one instance, though not visible, it's understood that a woman is masturbating a man.


Frequent profanity, including "f--k" (in multiple forms), "s--t," "crap," "s--k me off," "hell," "damn," "bitch." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters consume alcoholic beverages (beer, whiskey); in one scene it appears that a group of people is drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Land Imagined is a Singaporean mystery with English subtitles (production languages are Mandarin, English, and Bengali). The movie considers the plight of immigrant workers who are exploited by Singapore's modern-day "reclamation efforts" to enlarge the city-state's inadequate usable land. To tell the tale, the film pits a determined police officer against unscrupulous business interests as he searches for a missing Chinese laborer. Viewers can expect some violent scenes in both the production (gunfire, a dead body floating, characters in jeopardy), and in on-screen shoot-em-up video games. The film includes profanity (i.e., "s--t," "bastard," "crap," "bitch" and multiple forms and uses of "f--k").  Additionally, there's male nudity, a female pleasuring a man and enticing others. With its deliberate pace (read "slow"), as well as mysterious plot and resolution (baffling at times), the movie is best suited to art-house fans, and will probably not appeal to kids. Mature only. 

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What's the story?

A LAND IMAGINED takes place in Singapore where the literal physical size of the country is expanding by reclaiming land from surrounding waters at great expense and necessitating an immense labor force. The reclamation area teems with equipment, laborers, and intense productivity. When a Chinese worker, Wang (Liu Xiaoyi), goes missing, a local police officer, Lok (Peter Yu), is tasked with finding him. Lok, whose trials with insomnia compromise his investigative strengths, is intrigued both by the young man's disappearance and the culture of the reclamation effort. Intercut with Lok's attempts to find Wang is the story of the last days before Wang vanished. Like Lok, Wang suffers from insomnia, and he, too, is searching for someone, in this case, a missing coworker. For both men, sleeplessness leads to an all-night cyber establishment where porn and action-packed video games are equally accessible, as is Mindy (Luna Kwak), the mysterious proprietor. It is there that the two stories ultimately merge and both Lok and Wang find themselves in a mystery of exploited immigrants and unscrupulous business practices that may never be solved.

Is it any good?

Mystery fans hoping for a story that has a beginning, a middle, and wraps up with a flourish won't warm to this suspenseful but perplexing mood piece with global social commentary. Director Yeo Siew Hua, graced with Hideo Urata's stunning photography, takes his viewers into uncharted Singaporean territory, creating a portrait of a foreign government fixated on change and the cultural callousness that results. The search for two missing men unearths a treasure trove of wrongdoing. While purposeful and artistic, the movie's slow pace, unexpected intercutting of different time periods, and uncertain resolution may be off-putting for some. A Land Imagined was the winner of the prestigious Locarno International Film Festival's Golden Leopard Award, a first for a Singaporean movie. The film also received more than a dozen other festival nominations and wins.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can discuss the fact that a movie's setting (location) is sometimes described as a "character" in the story. How were the locations in A Land Imagined an integral part of the story? How did cinematographer Hideo Urata's spectacular lighting and visuals enrich the movie?

  • What is the meaning of the term "film noir?" In what ways does this movie fit into the noir genre? 

  • Films set in other countries and/or time periods enrich our understanding of the world. How familiar were you with Singapore? Were you aware that the economic health of the city-state is dependent upon increasing the land size? About the process of "reclaiming" land? Where would you go to find out more about it?

Movie details

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