#LookAtMe Review: A Fearless Portrait of Surveillance in Singapore

Singapore is probably best known outside its shores for banning chewing gum and the Battle Ship-looking luxury hotel, Marina Bay Sands. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a country that is very orderly and clean with a very high standard of living. It is also heavily under surveillance with some archaic laws, particularly against homosexuality. Writer and director Ken Kwek tackles these issues and more in #LookAtMe, a provocative drama that considers the harm that such laws and cultural norms can have on society.

#LookAtMe follows the lives of twins Sean and Ricky (both played by yao). The twins are invited by Sean’s girlfriend to attend a church service, during which the pastor delivers an anti-LGBTQ sermon. He preaches his support of Section 377A of the Singaporean Penal Code, which criminalizes consensual sexual activity between males. Both twins are livid with the pastor’s remarks and abruptly leave the service.

Sean, a wannabe YouTuber, seeks to defend his brother, who is gay, by publishing a video ridiculing the pastor and his sermon. The video goes viral and soon Sean is hauled into a police station for going against Singapore’s laws on public expression. When his apology is found to be insincere, he is formally charged and imprisoned, while Ricky becomes an outspoken activist for LGBTQ rights.

To understand how bold of a film #LookAtMe is, is to understand the history of public expression in Singapore. While considered a constitutional freedom, the ambiguous wording around the restrictions to freedom of speech give way for the government to define how the freedom is applied. And coupled with a non-existent right to privacy, speaking out against government laws and policy is dangerous territory.


Clever shots of CCTV cameras around the city-state, and their convenient absence, are on display throughout the film. They emphasize the lack of privacy and the abuse of surveillance. The twins mother (Pam Oei) expresses outrage at how Sean can be criminally charged for a video he posted on YouTube, and she challenges the country’s extensive policing culture. The central story exemplifies how absurd a law like Section 377A is and the younger generation’s desire for it to be repealed.

Possibly the most visceral moments of the film come from inside the prison showing the terrors of Sean’s incarceration. Just as you don’t think Kwek can get any more provocative, he sets in motion a sequence of events that are disturbing and galling.

To be clear, these moments, and others, in #LookAtMe aren’t mere shock value. They drive narrative and support the message within Kwek’s film, while never being preachy or patronizing. And despite some dark moments, Kwek creates an overall feeling of optimism — change is in the air and will soon come.

The emotional weight of this film is carried by yao who plays both twins very well. Employing subtle differences between Ricky and Sean, yao imbues both characters with depth. In a smaller supporting role, Oei is the beating heart of #LookAtMe. She goes far in showing the desperation and helplessness of a mother’s unconditional love.


It can’t be overstated the courage Kwek, yao, Oei, and the rest of the cast and crew needed to make #LookAtMe. As the film progressed, the same thought, I can’t believe they said/did that, kept repeating in my mind. Singapore needs more filmmakers like Kwek, if not to shake up the culture, but to show the rest of the world what talents exist on that well-manicured island.

#LookAtMe premiered at the 2022 New York Asian Film Festival.