Singapore can seem like one big shopping center, where everything is neatly arranged and price tagged in air-conditioned comfort, and local film director Li Lin Wee knows it all too well.

Wee's first feature-length movie, Gone Shopping in theatres this month, was inspired by the national pastime and centers on three characters - a lonely socialite, an abandoned Indian child and a dissatisfied young corporate executive - who seek comfort, love and fantasy in shopping malls.

The mall is the most idyllic place. It's like our national treasure, like our Grand Canyon, she told Reuters in her studio.

Where do you go to see the glorious and pristine Singapore? You go to the malls. What else do we have to take our mind off things? the 33-year-old director added.

Wee said that she spent much of her college days hiking and horseback riding in Rhode Island, but often finds herself in shopping malls in Singapore.

It's the hostile weather -- if it's not raining, it's very hot. And I feel that the infrastructure of the city herds us into shopping centers. You can do everything in shopping centers, she said.

Shopping is perhaps the leisure activity of choice for many Singaporeans who throng the malls around the island to shop, watch movies, eat, indulge in retail therapy and to escape the sweltering tropical heat.

Last October, VivoCity, the country's largest shopping centre, saw 2 million visitors -- equivalent to half the population -- within a month of its opening.


Wee says that Aaron, one of her lead characters in the movie, sums up the shopping centre culture of the city-state best in his line: Singapore is one big shopping centre, all our work, leisure, culture, history even nature are all brought together, air-conditioned and price-tagged.

Wee spent a lot of time watching patrons of shopping centers while writing the movie, which was nearly all filmed in malls in over a three-year period.

The tai-tai is a shopping centre character that fascinated her. Tai-tai -- Mandarin Chinese for wife -- is a term used locally to refer to wealthy, well-coiffed, married ladies who do little more than lunch and shop.

The tai-tais that you often see in television or in film are larger-than-life, said Wee, who created the character of shopaholic Clara, a shy and forlorn socialite in the movie.

I wanted to write about a very quiet, lost tai-tai.

Wee has spent so much time in shopping centers researching and filming Gone Shopping that she has not gone shopping since the premiere of the movie.

I have ruined the romance of shopping for myself, said the director, who is married to a visual artist who prefers just about anything over shopping.

But she is keen to explore the country's lesser-known old and dingy shopping centers for her next movie.

It's the Singaporean in me. I am just drawn to shopping centers.