Shirkers (2018)

shirkers poster 2018 documentary
8.0 Overall Score

The Shirkers movie looks great


Movie Info

Movie Name:  Shirkers

Studio:  Cinereach

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  January 21, 2018 (Sundance)/October 26, 2018 (Netflix)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

shirkers sandi tan today

Searching for answers in the past

Tan and her friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique felt like they didn’t belong as they grew up in Singapore. Always wanting the latest and greatest art films and pop culture from the world, they often had to resort to clandestine actions to see films like Blue Velvet. When they meet an enigmatic film instructor named George Cardona in 1992, magic began to happen for Sandi. Sandi felt George understood her and her dreams, and Sandi wrote the film Shirkers with his encouragement. As the filming of Shirkers began, something strange began to happen…and now more than twenty years later, Sandi Tan is trying to put her past to rest.

Directed by Sandi Tan, Shirkers is a documentary film. The movie premiered at Sundance in 2018 and was picked up by Netflix. The film was largely met with positive reviews.

I heard Sandi Tan talking about her film on NPR and thought the story sounded interesting. While I expected a bunch of amateur filmmakers putting together a low-quality film in Singapore in the 1990s, the documentary surprised me not only with the mystery surrounding the film’s fate, but the film-within-a-film.

shirkers george cardona

Who are you?

The movie is largely based around the odd and largely invisible George Cardone who disappeared with Shirkers and later died. Cardone’s life was a big question mark and Cardone often embellished or just made up events in his life as if he was so desperate to be interesting. Like the movie Big Fish, there was some basis in the stories that were true like growing up in Louisiana and maybe not being the basis for James Spader’s character in sex, lies, and videotape, but knowing people on the crew of the film. The documentary tries to answer questions about Cardone but more just arise.

While doing this, you get to see into Sandi Tan. Sandi’s friends call her out about her behavior at the time and how she always turns events back on herself without examining herself. Sandi doesn’t edit this from the film even though you could argue it makes her appear shallow or self-absorbed (at least the younger Sandi Tan during the making of Shirkers). For Sandi, Shirkers is a mystery, but for Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique, it is a bad memory of a relatively wasted period of their life because of what unfolded. Despite what happened, all three women grew from the event, and you could argue their success and what followed in their life spun out of the failure of Shirkers.

shirkers 2018 sandi tan documentary

Too bad we can’t see an edited version of the film Shirkers…even without sound

What is the saddest part of the documentary is that I have to say that Shirkers looked really interesting. The story (as described) was much smarter than I expected and ahead of its time. As watching the film I kept thinking about Rushmore (1998) and Ghost World (2001), and Tan later in the documentary admits that she saw those two films in her script and movie. Shirkers deserved to live and that was taken from them by Cardone.

What was Cardone’s motivation and what did he expect to happen? Was he just jealous and spiteful deep down? The answers will never be known because even those who “knew” Cardone admit that they didn’t really know him. It seems like Shirkers would have made him a name, but in doing so, it would have also exposed him and the lies in his life. As much of a mystery it is to the viewers, it is more of a mystery to those who lived it…and Sandi Tan will always have to wonder.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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