In Shirkers, now playing on Netflix, teenage film nerd and studious-looking rebel Sandi Tan takes a film-production class and decides, along with two friends, to make a road movie (albeit one without much mileage) in her native Singapore. The year is 1992 and she enlists class tutor, Colombian-American Georges Cardona, as director, a Walter Mitty-type fantasist who encourages the girls to sink their savings into their creation – then absconds with all the footage, never to be seen again.
Twenty years later, unimaginably, Cardona’s widow returns all 70 canisters of the film, which, resurrected by digitisation, becomes the basis of a Sundance prize-winning documentary – ostensibly about the making of the original and its mysterious disappearance, but fundamentally, a backward gaze into early 1990s Singapore and a now unrecognisable life.
So, what of this unlikely scion, written, directed and produced by Tan (with associate producer credits for her two old friends, now talking heads)?
Extensive cuts from the original – paired with a 2017 voice-over and interviews with the 90s cast and crew, as well as family and former friends of the creepy Cardona, who died in 2007 – present a drowsy, pastel-coloured city state of shophouses, questionable fashion, dweeby hairstyles, boxy vehicles and lonely roads.
Tan the teenager and scriptwriter stars as jokey serial killer “S” in the surreal meditations of an artist clearly straining at the physical and psychological limits of home. It is not just a “sweaty little island” of quaint buildings and odd cars we are experiencing – it is a snow dome of forgotten attitudes.
Today, Tan remains bewildered by Cardona’s bizarre behaviour and mournful for the film that never was, but now is … sort of. Yet it’s difficult to dodge the feeling that, for all his deviousness, tall tales and spurious claims of film-industry credibility, Cardona did Tan an accidental favour by making Shirkers an inadvertent time capsule.
In 1992, the film would have briefly stood out as an indie-cult favourite against the corny action features of repressed Singapore. In its new guise, it is an international smash.
Narcos: Mexico – the action shifts to 80s North America and the Guadalajara cartel
It’s a sobering indictment of global habits that writers of television drugs sagas don’t have to look far to mine material. So when it came time to reignite the three-series-old crime drama Narcos, previously South American in flavour, the scenery was simply shifted to Mexico – with no implications for the quality of the show.
Having first featured Colombian cocaine overlord Pablo Escobar and his Medellin cartel, followed by their mortal enemies from the rival city of Cali, for its fourth run the production has become Narcos: Mexico, the better to tell the story of the 80s Guadalajara cartel, a marijuana and cocaine syndicate. And it has picked up the whiff of a movable franchise in the process.
“Inspired by true events” and glowing with that silver-screen quality of cinematography one has come to expect from the best big-budget television programmes, Narcos: Mexico sets DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena (Michael Peña) and Guadalajara kingpin Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna) on a demolition-derby course, as one tries to establish a viable crime-fighting force and the other a powerful conglomerate, with the police in its pocket.
The storylines from start to finish of all 10 episodes, available now on Netflix, are intriguing, the tension almost tangible and the violence often horrifying. And in a case not so much of art imitating life as life putting the boot into an art that had strayed onto its turf, a location scout for the show was shot dead near Mexico City last year. Talk about reality TV.