The Struggles of Two Generations in Singapore

Caught between his parents’ traditional expectations and new opportunities offered to him as a young adult, Thomas Lim took the latter path, living around the world over the past 20 years. Now he’s back to honor his late father and early years in Singapore with a new film “The Fourth Sister” that examines the struggles between two generations of Singaporeans amidst heart wrenching family tensions and spectacular dance performances.

By Thomas Lim | 6 September 2021

“Travel will teach you everything you need to know about yourself,” says Thomas who backpacked through 30 countries before he turned 30!

The struggle between the traditional expectations of the older generation, and the new opportunities available to the younger generation in the late 90s and early 2000s is what everyone feels at that time, but seldom discussed in a way I’m about to in my next film: a rare US-Singapore co-production movie – “The Fourth Sister.” 

Born and raised by traditional parents in Singapore, I was basically expected to do three simple things in life to meet their expectations – get a stable job, married, and have kids, and visit them at least once a month. Sounds straightforward, but unfortunately, for the most part of the past twenty years, I’ve done none of those. Instead, l lived across the world in London, Beijing, Macau, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and finally Los Angeles, all in the pursuit of my filmmaking dreams. It was something my parents never understood as my generation of Singaporeans is the first to have easy access to higher education, the English language, and computers. And of course, the Internet also took over the world. All this meant my worldview became very different than my parents, and that is what my new film is really about: the traditional expectations of our parents, and the new opportunities made available to my generation of Singaporeans.

The story of “The Fourth Sister” is loosely inspired by the true story of an Indian-Singaporean girl I was in love with as a teenager. She was the youngest of four sisters in her family. Her eldest sister was 20 years older, the second 18 (years older), and even the third sister was a good eight years older. So, she’s like a generation younger than everyone in the family and as a teenager in the 90s in Singapore, was caught between the traditional and the new. She chose the latter and ran away from a marriage her dad almost forced her into and came to the U.S to pursue her dream of becoming one of the very few Indian ballerinas in this world. Once she gets to the U.S., I also incorporated real-life events from my own struggles from growing up in suburban Singapore, to putting together Sundance and Golden Globe nominated films in Hollywood.

Yes, things are much better now, it hasn’t always been this way.

I’ve lived in L.A. for seven years, and the first three were dark and lean years of being pretty broke and somewhat hopeless. But as I was making my second film during that time, I met my dear friend and current boss Alex Dong who made me Head of the L.A. office for “Sun Entertainment Culture,” a prominent film financing, production, and distribution company headquartered in Hong Kong. Then, everything changed. To have Sun, which made commercially successful films such as “Operation Red Sea,” “Operation Mekong,” and “Chasing the Dragon” that made over US$1 billion at the box office, behind me meant a complete turnaround in my career!

Becoming friends and later working for Alex Dong, Chairman of Sun Entertainment Culture, was a major turning point in Thomas’ career. It taught him the importance of “circles” in life.

Under Sun and our American partners, “Limelight Productions,” we began to make both American and Asian projects. We were off and running, and our first American film called “Palm Springs” (starring Andy Samberg) sold for the record sale – US$22.5 million — at Sundance Film Festival 2020 and received two nominations at the Golden Globes this year!

The following films, “The Starling” (starring Melissa McCarthy), sold to Netflix for US$20m, and the third film, “Cowboys,” won Best Script and Best Actor at Tribeca Film Festival 2020 (a top-three film festival in the U.S). Finally, our most recent film, “Lakewood” (starring Naomi Watts), will premiere at Toronto International Film Festival in September 2021 and has already sold to overseas territories at a profit. This string of success kept us excited and thrilled all through the pandemic!

And now, it’s my turn. My turn to make a film as a writer-director for Sun Entertainment. I wanted to make something that represents my journey to America as a filmmaker and connects deeply to my roots. So I searched deep into my past and created “The Fourth Sister.” We are currently casting the film from America, India, and Singapore, and I expect the film to start prepping in January, shoot in March, and be completed by the end of summer next year. After that, we would do the festival circuit and release the film in 2023.

With Sun Entertainment behind “The Fourth Sister,” it makes me confident this film will go far commercially and critically. I’m passionate about getting as much Singapore involvement in the film as possible and welcome readers here (I’m guessing all of us are related to Singapore somehow) to be involved in some shape or form. Be it for opportunities to become financiers, producers, interns, or even cameo roles in the film (Haha!). Hopefully, we can all make this one to remember, and the first of a string of US-Singapore films I plan to make with my resources here in Hollywood and my identity as a proud Singaporean.

Reach out to me at “lathomaslim” on IG and Facebook or email if you’re keen on joining us!

Watch Creative x Fest now!

Catch Thomas at Creative X Fest! where he and Netflix’s Bling Empire breakout star Kane Lim share about the many challenges behind the glamour of showbiz in the US, and advice for aspiring performers.

About Thomas

Born and raised in suburban Singapore, Thomas Lim is the Head of Los Angeles for Sun Entertainment Culture. The company’s first Hollywood film “Palm Springs” sold for the biggest sale at Sundance in 2020 and received Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor and Best Picture in 2021. The following films, “The Starling” (starring Melissa McCarthy) and “Lakewood” (starring Naomi Watts), will both premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2021, with the former title set for theatrical and Netflix releases the same month.

Prior to Hollywood, Thomas was a notable filmmaker in the Macau industry, having directed, written, and produced “Roulette City” and “Sea of Mirrors.” Thomas has traveled to 30 countries before turning 30 and lived across the globe in the U.K, China, Japan and the U.S in the past 20 years.

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