Sunday 25 July 2010

Warning: The Phua Chu Kang movie synopsis you're reading could be wrong

Recently, someone showed me a write-up about the upcoming Phua Chu Kang movie in the 8 Days Movie Junkie Guide, which included a short synopsis of the movie.

Except the synopsis was wrong.

But then what do I know? I only wrote the movie.

There’s an old joke about the dumb blonde trying to get ahead in Hollywood by sleeping with the screenwriter. For an enactment of the joke, you can watch Heather Graham as said blonde in the 1999 movie Bowfinger.

The gag is that despite coming up with the story and dialogue, the screenwriter has about as much influence in the production (and marketing) of a movie as a sandbag has in the prevention of flood along Orchard Road.

The exception is when the writer also happens to be the director - and even producer - of the movie, like say, Avatar’s James Cameron and Inception’s Christopher Nolan. And look how badly those two movies turned out.

So even though I’m the writer of Phua Chu Kang The Movie, which will be released on Aug 12, I haven’t seen it (and don't intend to), so I don’t know how much of my script is actually in the completed movie.

All I know is that the 8 Days synopsis is one I wrote for a very early draft of the script, not the final version.

Just a month ago, I was asked to write a new synopsis, which has been uploaded on the official movie website at Why 8 Days didn’t use that synopsis I don’t know.

The publication also mentioned that the PCK movie has been in development for a decade, awaiting the “perfect script” to come along. As flattering as that may be, I know the truth is something else.

One thing you will notice is that among the millions of logos in the PCK promo materials, you won’t find one that says MediaCorp, even though MediaCorp owns the rights to PCK.

The producers had paid MediaCorp a lot of money for the rights to make the movie and hired me to write it last year practically at the last minute.

MediaCorp itself has little to do with the production or financing of the movie, although many of the people involved in the movie, including myself, are ex-MediaCorp employees.

My former employer (which also owns 8 Days, by the way) had been interested in doing a PCK movie since the '90s, but could never pull the trigger. (Even I was asked to come up with a PCK movie idea one during my MediaCorp days, but nothing came of it.)

Instead, MediaCorp’s Raintree Pictures announced two weeks ago that it will produce a movie about radio. I hope it will be in 3-D - or at least stereo. I assume the sequel (or prequel) will be about the telegraph. Let’s see if 8 Days will get the synopsis right.

So how do you tell if a PCK movie synopsis is the right one? If it says that PCK is persuaded by Ah Ma to bid for a job, it’s not.

In the movie, Ah Ma is actually (spoiler alert!) trying to prevent PCK from getting the job by...

Wait. What do I know? They could’ve changed it. I’m only the screenwriter.

And a huge Heather Graham fan.

- Published in The New Paper, 25 July 2010

Sunday 18 July 2010

After cheering on foreign talent in World Cup, we're all patriots for National Day

On the eve of the World Cup final a week ago, I walked by a sports shop in HarbourFront Centre and was immediately drawn to a rack of World Cup T-shirts on sale.

Should I go for Holland? But no one looks good in orange. My complexion looks sickly enough. I don’t need the Dutch national colour to further bring out my natural pastiness.

Spain then - except that the red Spain shirt also had some orange in it. I recoiled from España like a vampire from sunlight. (I mean a regular vampire, not those sparkle fairies from Twilight.)

Then I spotted a white tee with red trim. Ah, good old England. Sure, they were already out of the tournament, but there’s always 2014.

But when I looked more closely, I discovered it wasn’t a England shirt. It had the word “Singapore” on it. What the...?

Wasn’t this supposed to the World Cup rack? What was Singapore doing here with the countries that actually achieved their “Goal 2010”?

Wait. Maybe I could buy the shirt to wear ironically during the final - you know, to point out Singapore’s absence from the World Cup.

But then I remembered that Singaporeans have little sense of irony. People would just think that my Singapore shirt was dorky - and they would be right.

So I left the shop without buying anything.

The final came and went.

In the days since Spain beat Holland, I noticed the Singapore flag popping up all over the place for National Day, which is now just three weeks away. Suddenly, wearing a Singapore shirt doesn’t seem so dorky any more.

How ironic, I thought, that many of these Singapore flag-displaying, Singapore shirt-wearing Singaporeans were heartily cheering on countries other than Singapore in the World Cup just days before. (And you know how much Singaporeans appreciate irony.)

And, yes, many of these Singaporeans are also wearing the shirts of these other countries. Of course, I’m not suggesting that they’re any less patriotic because their choice of apparel shows their support for foreign talent.

By the same token, do wearing a Singapore shirt and watching the National Day Parade (NDP) make you any more patriotic?

But how considerate of the World Cup to end long before National Day so that we don’t have to face the impossible choice of watching either the NDP or a World Cup match.

Raffles Institution even went so far as to declare the day of the final a school holiday. Can a once-every-four-years nationwide public holiday be far behind?

If ever a World Cup match should fall on Aug 9, I believe some rewriting of history would be required to avoid a serious clash in scheduling.

Or to compete with the World Cup on its own terms, we could introduce some form of legal betting for the NDP, like wagering on how many members of the marching contingents are going to faint before the parade is over.

Or perhaps one day, we could celebrate National Day by watching the World Cup because Singapore would be playing in it. Hey, I would even buy a dorky Singapore shirt for that.

We can call it Goal 3010.

- Published in The New Paper, 18 July 2010

Sunday 11 July 2010

What’s more annoying than the vuvuzela? Complaining about it

Is this it? Is it finally going to be over?

No, I’m not talking about the World Cup, which ends tonight.

And I’m not talking about the vuvuzela, the annoying horn that World Cup 2010 unleashed onto the unsuspecting world and is now available in Singapore.

I’m talking about all this bitching about the vuvuzela, which has become a din by itself.

Both my fellow New Paper on Sunday columnists, Ho Lian-Yi and Siva Choy, have previously complained about how annoying the horn is.

But like the vuvuzela, this repetitive grumbling about the vuvuzela has taken a one-note, drone-like quality and is perhaps even more annoying.

I was at first surprised by the complaints about the noise that the spectators in the stands were making with the vuvuzelas during the matches.

It’s a football match - isn’t it supposed to be noisy?

It’s like going to an F1 race and complaining about the loud engines.

It’s like going to an Air Supply concert and complaining there are too many old farts in the audience - and on the stage.

It’s like getting married and complaining about sleeping with the same person for the rest of your life.

But vuvuzela haters would insist that the noise the vuvuzela makes is somehow worse than the usual crowd noise at football matches.

Well, not being a connoisseur of crowd noises, I can barely tell the difference between a chorus of vuvuzelas and the sound of Germany coach Joachim Loew picking his nose (and eating his loot).

I believe millions of football fans around the globe hate the vuvuzela simply because it’s new and foreign to them.

I predict that by the next World Cup, the horn will become so commonplace and familiar that it will be accepted as part of international sports like bad refereeing and Venus Williams’ distracting underwear.

It would still be annoying - but accepted.

Having grown up in multi-cultural Singapore, I would’ve thought that Singaporeans would be more tolerant of annoying ethnic musical instruments (although it is debatable whether the vuvuzela can be considered musical).

Listen to this: “Tong tong chiang! Tong tong chiang! Tong tong chiang!”

Imagine hearing that throughout the next sporting event you spectate - or all your life. How can that be any less annoying than the vuvuzela?

Having lived through 40-plus Chinese New Years and endured countless lion dances with their accompanying “music”, I regard the vuvuzela as water off a duck’s back and I’m the duck.

I'm now just waiting for the inevitable complaint about my complaint about all these complaints about the vuvuzela.

How annoying.

- Published in The New Paper, 11 July 2010

Sunday 4 July 2010

How Toy Story 3 and 'filial piety' ad made me cry

I cried in the cinema last week – twice. Of course, I was watching Toy Story 3.

It was when Ken first met Barbie and both immediately knew they were meant for each other, although they didn’t know how they know.

But we in the audience knew. We knew.

And when I heard Gary Wright’s 70s proto-synth classic Dream Weaver played over that magic moment, that just closed the deal and opened the tear ducts for me.

I became so emotional, it was all I could do to keep from bawling in front of my kids. Thank goodness I had the 3D glasses on to hide the my moistening eyes.

Why did I lose it? Maybe it was the added knowledge that Ken was voiced by Michael Keaton, who used to be Batman. From superhero to metrosexual toy boy, the last two decades haven’t been too good to the former Dark Knight. I could relate.

I also cried earlier, even before the movie started – when they were showing the ads.

It was the first time I saw the controversial “filial piety” ad by the National Family Council, where the guy’s elderly mother complained about the meat being too tough to eat.

I almost broke down because I was so jealous of the guy. How I wish tough meat was all my mother bitched about.

But what really turned on the waterworks for me was what happened after that. Upset by the old woman’s contempt for the food, the guy’s wife took the whole plate of chicken and dumped it into the rubbish.

My wife turned to me in the cinema and said: “You would never allow me to do that.”

Of course not! I couldn’t bear to see such wanton wastage of food. If the guy’s mother didn’t want the chicken, the rest of the family could still eat it.

Or put it in the fridge and the next day, shred the chicken meat and make fried rice with it or something. My family could’ve lived on that plate of chicken for half a week. So sad.

Ironically, in the ad, the mother was supposed to be the unreasonable one when clearly, it was the guy’s wife who should be placed in specialised care until she learns to control her destructive impulses.

My own wife was also deeply offended by the ad – but for a completely different reason.

In the ad was a flashback to when the guy was a young boy and his mother took him to a hospital in the rain. To comfort her sick son, she sang a Hokkien song I had never heard before – but my Hokkien wife did.

Later in the ad, it was the grown-up son’s turn to sing the Hokkien song to the sick mother in a hospital.

My wife was outraged that with all the money and effort they obviously spent in producing the ad, they couldn’t get the actors to pronounce the Hokkien lyrics correctly – twice.

It was enough to drive one to tears.

- Published in The New Paper, 4 July 2010