Profile: Anthony Chen

Published on 7 June 2016

Following the success of Ilo Ilo, film director Anthony Chen releases Distance, a movie made with “lots of heart”.


When Anthony Chen made up his mind to be a film-maker at 15, he had no inkling at all if he had any talent. Enthralled by foreign-language films, he set his sights on Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Film, Sound and Video course — then the only film programme in Singapore — when he realised overseas film schools were beyond his reach.

He bought a second-hand video camera with his savings; and while he doubted his ability, he noted, “Every short film I made seemed to affirm that maybe I knew something about film-making.”

His graduation short film, G23 (2005), travelled to 50 festivals worldwide and bagged seven awards. His second short film, Ah Ma (2007), was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 60th Cannes Film Festival; and his third short film, Haze (2008), for the Golden Bear at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival. In 2009, he was accorded the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award.

“But I was struggling. I didn’t even have money to top up my EZ Link card!” reveals Chen, who holds a Master’s in Film Directing from the National Film and Television School, United Kingdom. Whatever prize money he had was pumped back into making films. “I was at a crossroads in life, on the brink of quitting. So I gave myself one last chance: to make my first full-length film, and hope for a sign.”

That full-length feature was Ilo Ilo, which not only clinched the Camera d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, it went on to sweep 40 awards internationally — including four Golden Horse Awards — and was Singapore’s official submission for best foreign language film at the 86th Academy Awards.

This June, Chen releases his second feature film in cinemas across Singapore. Chosen as the opening film for the 2015 Golden Horse Film Festival, Distance is about confronting relationships from the past. While he is credited as executive producer, he was hands-on from the start. “I brought the three directors from Singapore, Thailand and China to London, rented an apartment for a week, and locked everyone up to brainstorm!” discloses Chen, who works out of London and Singapore. “We shot across four countries, and I was on set everyday. It’s definitely a piece made with lots of heart.”

Distance is the first project by Chen’s new company, Giraffe Pictures. “I truly believe there’s lots of talent in this part of the world, but companies are too quick to write off these film-makers as being too ‘arthouse’. We hope to offer a protective space for them to make the films they want.”

For more on Anthony Chen’s upcoming productions, visit

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