As a repressed space that lies behind the national heartland and beyond the purview of the dominant ideological contestation between official and cinematic discourses over this heartland, Singapore’s “inter-Asian hinterland” denotes the spaces where three key interrelations play out: geopolitical relations between Singapore and its regional neighbors; legal relations between Singaporean citizens and temporary nonresidents from these neighboring countries working in Singapore’s low-wage labor industries; and racialized relations between Singapore’s Chinese majority and the South and Southeast Asian minorities who are presumed by official multiracialist and Asian values rhetoric to locate their “uncontaminated” cultural heritage in these other countries. As two simultaneously gendered and racialized figures embodying these three relations, the female Indonesian domestic worker and the male Indian manual laborer are respectively the subject of imaginative narration in No Day Off (2006) and My Magic (2008), both directed by Chinese Singaporean auteur Eric Khoo. In these films, Khoo allegorizes these three relations to construct the inter-Asian hinterland as a counter-discursive space informed by a critical regionalism that undermines the supraracial, pan-Asianist ideology of the Singaporean heartland. Parodying aesthetics of documentary realism (namely its indexical relationship to social reality), Khoo develops his mockumentary syntax, which best characterizes his cross-cinematic imprint, by self-reflexively implicating the voyeuristic penetration of media surveillance into the lives of the socially marginal to comment on desensitized apathy toward the abuse of migrant workers and the disparities of inter-Asian labor migration in Singapore.
Mockumenting Migrant Workers: The Inter-Asian Hinterland of Eric Khoo’s No Day Off and My Magic
Brian Bernards is associate professor of East Asian languages and cultures and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. He is author of Writing the South Seas: Imagining the Nanyang in Chinese and Southeast Asian Postcolonial Literature (2015) and is currently working on a manuscript on inter-Asian cinema. He is coeditor (with Shu-mei Shih and Chien-hsin Tsai) of Sinophone Studies: A Critical Reader (2013), and his work has appeared in Periscope: Social Text Online, Asian Cinema, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literatures, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, and Postcolonial Studies.
Brian Bernards; Mockumenting Migrant Workers: The Inter-Asian Hinterland of Eric Khoo’s No Day Off and My Magic. positions 1 May 2019; 27 (2): 297–332. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-7334436
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