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[NYAFF] ‘Tiong Bahru Social Club’ review: Unique look at technology and happiness

Happiness in technology.

Tiong Bahru Social Club explores an increasingly common topic in a completely different way. In recent years, more movies and television shows have begun to explore the notion of finding happiness through technology. This usually becomes a commentary on the importance of humanity or the overdependence on gadgets. It can be funny, but it is usually snarky. 

Playing at the New York Asian Film Festival, this film from Singapore is working towards the same message, but gets their in a unique way. Ah Bee has just lost his job and has applied as a Happiness Agent at the Tiong Bahru Social Club. The goal is to use data to build the happiness neighborhood in the district. Even he is offered the chance for a new life. But is manufactured joy genuine? 

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Tiong Bahru Social Club is eye-catching. It is filled with vivid colors and has a retro futuristic look. The architecture and clothing are all very inviting. The movie presents a friendly world. It is almost as if it is trying to recreate the happiness the Social Club promises. Like similar films, it is satirizing the modern world. This is seen in the “happiest neighborhood in the world” and in the often unnecessary narration. Unlike others, it embraces the world. The commentary of Tiong Bahru Social Club is not biting and at times can be poignant. It does not want to skewer today’s society; it wants to reexamine it. 

This gives the whole film a charming light-hearted feel. Tiong Bahru Social Club is content to color inside the lines instead of relying on outrageous examples. The humor is a little more genuine and less judgmental. It covers a familiar topic but does so in a way that adds a dimension of fun.

The New York Asian Film Festival takes place from August 6 – August 22. Screenings are live and online

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