Tiong Bahru Social Club review: Won’t you be my algorithmic neighbor?

The trailer for Tiong Bahru Social Club

Many of us can relate to, have related to, or will relate to Ah Bee, hero of the near-future, tech-fantasy film, Tiong Bahru Social Club. He lives with his mom in a high rise apartment building in Singapore. And as he approaches his 30th birthday, he lives a comfortable but pretty unglamorous life—an office job during the day, a seat on the couch in front of the TV and next to mom each night. With this big round number birthday gifting his family a new level of anxiety, they decide it’s time for a change.

Ah Bee (played by Thomas Pang) suddenly finds himself in a new role as the latest Happiness Agent at the Tiong Bahru Social Club (TBSC), a community living experiment where decisions are driven by an algorithm measuring happiness. TBSC is a developer whose facilities ostensibly serve elderly Singapore residents like Ah Bee’s mother, but each resident gets paired with a younger Happiness Agent who becomes responsible for their happiness. Happiness Agents get new roles or perks at TBSC based on both their resident’s and the overall community’s Happiness Index. And TBSC tries to optimize each agent by constantly monitoring their feelings (agents wear Happiness Rings allowing the company to track how actions impact an agent’s happiness) and offering continual training (everything from improving your laugh to mastering three different hug techniques).

At first, Ah Bee seems to be enjoying his new existence just fine despite being paired with Ms. Wee (Jalyn Han), an older woman who adores cats and clearly prefers one of her fingers over all others. But “fine”—happiness scores hovering in between 40-60—doesn’t keep management at TBSC off your back. New plans for Ah Bee are clearly coming.

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