Lucky Numbers and Greedy Ghosts: Lottery as Trope for the Singaporean Dream

Conference: The Asian Conference on Media, Communication & Film (MediAsia2021)
Title: Lucky Numbers and Greedy Ghosts: Lottery as Trope for the Singaporean Dream
Stream: Film Criticism and Theory
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Carolyn FitzGerald, Auburn University, United States


A prevalent topic in Singaporean politics and culture is how to define the “Singaporean dream,” often characterized as the search for the five c’s, “cash, car, condominium, and country club membership.” In this paper, I focus on Singaporean films that interrogate the meaning of this dream via the recurrent trope of the lottery, an important motif given Singapore’s status as the fourth largest gambling nation in the world. Films portraying the lottery as trope for the national success story can be broken down into roughly three categories— popular films, such as Lucky Number (1999) and Best Bet (2004), which echo the government’s fairytale for success as accessible to all Singaporeans; art house films that question and critique the meaning of the Singaporean dream, such as Singapore Dreaming (2006) and Ilo Ilo (2013); and horror films, like Greedy Ghosts (2012), which condemn excessive greed and promote traditional Confucian ideology pertaining to respect for family and ancestors. While popular films about the lottery reflect Singaporeans’ ongoing preoccupation with achieving the five c’s, art house films and horror films have sought to redefine the meaning of the national success story in less materialist terms. In doing so, they decry both the negative impact of the lottery and the nation’s rush to riches, and emphasize the importance of cultural heritage and local authenticity in creating a new vision of the Singaporean dream, and in building a native tradition of Singaporean film.

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