Bugis Street (妖街皇后) is a 1995 Hong Kong-Singapore co-production directed by Yonfan, about the lives of Singaporean transvestites in a bygone era. It was a minor hit at the box office with a nostalgic evocation of a seedy but colourful aspect of Singaporean culture, prior to the redevelopment of Bugis Street into a modern shopping district and the eradication of transvestite activities in the area.
In 2015, the restored version of the film was presented at the 26th Singapore International Film Festival as Bugis Street Redux.
Sixteen-year-old Lien, portrayed by Vietnamese actress Hiep Thi Le, is the main protagonist. Despite having worked for a time as a servant in a household whose "young master" adored her in her hometown of Malacca in West Malaysia, the young girl comes across as having led a surprisingly sheltered life. She journeys to Singapore to seek employment as a maid in the Sin Sin Hotel along Bugis Street.
She seems thoroughly content for a time to possess a naïve, romanticised view of the rambunctious goings-on at the hotel where she witnesses "the sad departure of an American gentleman" from the home-cum-workplace of "his Chinese girl". The guest is actually a presently-sober but angry American sailor who has belatedly discovered that the Singaporean Chinese bar he picked up in Bugis Street and spent a drunken night with happens to be a trans woman. Before long, the new employee Lien finds out that many of the long-term lodgers of the budget establishment, whose room rental rate is S$3, whether it be for an hour or the entire day and night, are trans women.
Although her first reaction to seeing someone with breasts and a male lower part is one of revulsion which causes her to contemplate fleeing the neighbourhood, she instead listens to and heeds the cajoling and advice of Lola, the trans hotel resident who has treated her well from the start of her stint. She comes to accept the unique, complex personalities of the unorthodox community, who in turn also begin to accept her. As she learns to look beyond the surface, she is rewarded with the generous friendship of the cosmopolitan and sophisticated Drago, who has returned from Paris to minister to his/her dying but loving and tolerant mother.
While Lien learns the ways of the world via her encounters with Meng, the slimy, often underdressed boyfriend of Lola, as well as night-time escapades on the town with the Sin Sin Hotel's other denizens, she begins to see beauty in unlikely places and to grow despite the presence of ugliness in an imperfect world.