Arts and Culture

“Shirkers” The Cult Classic That Never Was

In late October Netflix released yet another installment of its intriguing series of documentaries simply titled, Shirkers. This spectacular documentary follows the story of Sandi Tan who in the early 90’s in Singapore, set out to make a quirky and vibrantly beautiful feature film with herself, her fellow film students/friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique, and their dubious and enigmatic film teacher, Georges Cardona.

The original Shirkers movie was intended to be a road film that followed the journey of a young teenage assassin named “S” played by Tan herself. The title comes from Tan’s belief that in life, “there are movers. There are shakers. And there are shirkers.” a tagline thats a love letter to those who evade responsibilities, and try to evade, destroy or redefine the confines of society, who don’t do as they are told or don’t do what they should.

The world that was created for this movie is rich and deeply enchanting, filled with vivid imagery straight from Tan’s alluring and fascinating imagination. When filming and production was completed, Tan and her friends/fellow crew members returned to their colleges and universities in other parts of the world while their mentor, Georges Cardona, was to develop the film and send it to one of Tan’s friends to be edited. However, the film was never received, and Georges Cardona mysteriously disappeared, along with Shirkers.

Shirkers movie poster. Photo retrieved from

The first half of the documentary is filled with clips of the movie itself, resurrected from years of isolation and storage. Tan and her old friends recount old stories of the film’s production and most interestingly the enigma of a man that was Georges Cardona, and in the later half, it follows the old crew reuniting once more.

Before she started making Shirkers, in high school Tan and her best friend Jasmine Ng, would create visually powerful zines and send them to various publications. While there had not been much of a creative scene like this in Singapore before, Tan and her friends admirably tried to create their very own. Tan believed that one could “find freedom by building worlds inside your head.” The Shirkers documentary in addition feels like a homage to the Singapore of yesteryear, one that no longer exists, a Singapore that was slightly less urban, one that had not quite yet traded small adorning buildings of local shops and businesses and jungle for tall and omnipresent skyscrapers.
Shirkers was a film that was so ahead of its time and so strongly reminiscent of other unique films that came out years later in the late 90’s with movies such as Rushmore by Wes Anderson and Ghost World by Terry Zwigoff. As the film progresses you start to feel how much of a tragedy the loss of this film was, how culturally influential the film could have been, how famous these young filmmakers could have become and the sheer frustration in knowing that such a beautiful masterpiece will never be fully completed. The Shirkers documentary reminds us all of the burning passion of youth, and what it means to believe that anything is possible. Although Tan was unable to completely bring Shirkers back to life, due to the fact that all the audio from the film was gone, through the documentary they were able to “give Shirkers an afterlife.” Almost 30 years since the original film was made in 1992, the sheer earnestness and sincerity behind the project shines through in all of its originality and gracefulness, a true homage to the road film genre.