Film Review: SHIRKERS (USA 2018) ***1/2

Shirkers Poster

A woman explores the events surrounding a film she and her friends began making with a mysterious stranger decades ago.


Sandi Tan


Sandi Tan (a film by)

SHIRKERS tells the story of Los Angeles-based, Singapore-born film-maker Sandi Tan, whose first feature, made when she was still a teenager in 1992, was stolen before it could be completed. Twenty years later, when she was miraculously reunited with the unseen footage, Tan decided to return to Singapore and revisit the making – and losing – of the film that haunted her for decades.

SHIRKERS is a documentary that arrives with the caption 25 years in the making.  Another film Orson Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND also debuted this year with the caption 40 years in the making.  The caption is not really true.  What it means is that the film was never completed till 2018.  Both film share this fact but under different circumstances.  WIND was never completed because Welles ran shot of funds, went party crazy and then passed away.  SHIRKERS never got competed because its original director Georges Cardona stole the cans of film and disappeared.  Only after his death did his wife email Sandi Tan who then completed and made this documentary.  While WIND is artistic crap, SHIRKERS is on the contrary, a low budget well thought of film, well ahead of its time when made back way back when.

SHIRKERS are people that get themselves excused from work for whatever lazy reason.  The ‘shirkers’ in the film are Sandi Tan the film’s writer, director and actress and her friends Georges Cardona, Sophia Siddique Harvey and Jasmine Kin Kia Ng.  The original film is a road movie about a serial killer made in Singapore that showcased houses, street and old buildings.  It was revolutionary filmmaking as the film industry was just budding.  This reviewer is from Singapore, who at the time of leaving the island state in 1982, Singapore had no film industry.  This doc has a special place in this reviewer’s heart as Sandi like himself was a teenage cinephile.  But Woody Allen films were never released in Singapore as there was no market demand for them nor do any foreign films for that matter.  The government is also ultra strict (remember the banning of chewing gum?) that films glorifying violence, drugs or freedom were banned.  Examples of films banned include A CLOCKWORK ORANGE , CHINATOWN and even SKATEBOARD because skateboards were banned.  This fact was mentioned by Sandi in SHIRKERS  She got to watch all these films by getting them recorded overseas.  Myself, I saw these films in the British cinemas in the army camps  while doing National (army) Service and learnt French at the Alliance Francais so I could see French films.

But this re-edited and remade SHIRKERS is a doc on what happened when the film got stolen and the events that got it completed.  It is also story of Sandi and her friends.  SHIRKERS at its best captures the spirit of young cinema lovers who would do anything to propel their love for film.  The film also documents the various stages on how Sandi finally got herself into the picture.  She initially did not want to be in it.

SHIRKERS is the film that Orson Welles should have made.  The film has also won many awards in festivals worldwide including Sundance’s prestigious World Documentary Prize.