Sunday 28 January 2018

Caught: My first Pokemon Run

So I joined the Pokemon Run with my daughter late yesterday afternoon.

My first running event of the year and it’s a 5km fun run.

The start line was at Marina Barrage.

Yes, I was wearing an action camera on my head. I’m one of those guys.

We skipped the Fire Zone obstacle because of the queue.

We did the Electric Zone obstacle because the queue was short.

It turned out to be the most fun part of the run.

Back to the barrage.

My daughter struggled up the big slope before the finish line.

I laughed when she complained about it because I had complained about the same slope at the
Newton Challenge. Twice.

It’s no longer a bug. It’s a feature.

After crossing the finish line, I queued for half an hour for the free cotton candy...

... while my daughter queued for an hour for the free popcorn.

One last picture with the giant Pikachu before heading home:

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Shirkers: Long lost S’pore film premieres at Sundance after 26 years, gets good reviews (UPDATE: And wins directing award)

The film was called Shirkers and was shot in Singapore in 1992. It was written by Sandi Tan, who also acted in the lead role.

Shirkers was never released.

Until now.

Sort of.

What was originally conceived as a road movie is now a documentary about why the film was never released.

And this version premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, USA, on Sunday to some positive notices.

The Guardian gave it five stars, calling it “a magical documentary about an unrealised film project that celebrates the power of youth and friendship”.

IndieWire gave it a B+ and said:
“Shirkers” has the handmade delicacy of a scrapbook come to life, blending ample footage from the original production with candid modern-day interviews and photography. Equal parts travelogue and archival rescue mission, the ensuing drama becomes a microcosm of broader themes.
The Hollywood Reporter called it “An alluring mystery spun from the joys and perils of collaboration” and said:
The film is also a fascinating rebel's-eye view of an authoritarian culture. Under Singapore's single-party regime, the country was a safe but boring place for a teenager in the '80s. Chewing gum was banned and, as Tan's voiceover narration notes, with a lingering sense of insurgency, family and the state were "in your face."
LA Times called it “a smart, idiosyncratic, one of a kind examination of the vicissitudes of cinema, and of life”.

The New Yorker called the film "gloriously, gleefully idiosyncratic".

I'm happy for Sandi.

Before she moved to California, where she now lives, she was a movie reviewer for The Straits Times for a while.

In 2012, she published her novel The Black Isle.

But back in 1994, when I was the editor of a magazine called Man Life & Style, I hired her to write an article for me.

The article was about Shirkers, of course.

So to commemorate the film’s long overdue premiere, here is that 24-year-old article, which now serves as a prelude of sorts to the documentary:

UPDATE: Sandi won the Directing Award for Shirkers in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at Sundance on 27 January 2018

According to the Sundance update:
Tan, who is out of breath and animated behind the podium: “I wish I had something to read but I guess I have to improvise.

"Making a film is like keeping a secret for a very long time. For me it was 25 years. I’m whispering in your ear 25 years later and it’s magic.

"Making this film is me finding collaborators from around the world. Two years ago I was here and [Sundance Documentary Film Program team members] Tabitha Jackson and Kristin Feeley believed in me from the start and here I am with the finished project. Cinereach believe in crazy stories and people. "

"Thank you my Shirkers family. We pieced this movie together and put them up in a condo and they love each other and it’s fabulous. We’re all here for this crazy movie.

I think cinema is magic and you just have to keep believing in it.”

Tan tries to run off and grab her prize at the same time, creating a charming in-between moment, not knowing where to go.

Monday 22 January 2018

Out of reach: I've never heard of these influencers MOF paid to promote the Budget

What’s the big deal?

So what if MOF paid social media influencers for mentions?

Why is this news?

Restaurants do this all the time.

I went to MOF My Izakaya in Lot One Shoppers’ Mall in Choa Chu Kang a few years ago.

It was okay, I guess. I’m just not into Japanese food.


What do you mean MOF doesn’t stand for Ministry Of Food?

Did the recent cold weather freeze your brain permanently?

Let me show you. M stands for Ministry. O stands for Of. F stands for Food.

Hence and therefore, MOF stands for Ministry Of Food.

What? MOF stands for Ministry of Finance?

Does it have an outlet in Lot One?

Wait, you mean Ministry of Finance, the actual ministry?

Since when did the Ministry of Finance get into the F&B business?

The Ministry of Finance wasn’t promoting a restaurant but the Budget?

The Singapore Budget?

Why would the Budget need promoting? It’s a Budget. Not a Jack Neo movie.

Though the Budget may have more entertainment value.

I just checked the Singapore Budget website.

There’s even a Budget 2018 logo with this overbaked design write-up:
“The warm shade of salmon pink represents our pursuit of a caring and inclusive society, where Singaporeans are free to pursue their dreams and aspirations.

“The four hearts come together to form the logo that symbolises a united Singapore, undivided by our differences and bonded by a common determination to overcome challenges ahead.

“The family at the centre reminds us that our families and friends will always be at the heart of what we do, no matter how far we progress as a nation.”
I think Budget 2018 may have too much budget.

What next? A Funko Pop figure of Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat?

Influencers could just be the beginning.

According to The Straits Times article:
“In an effort to reach out to younger Singaporeans, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) has paid for over 50 social media ‘influencers’ to post on Instagram to promote the Budget process.”
Notice the subtle shade ST threw on the influencers by putting quote marks around the word “influencers”. Burn!

The ST report continued:
“At least 30 posts by these young social media users have popped up since December last year, asking viewers to visit the Budget website to learn more about the Budget, or to share their feedback with government feedback unit Reach on its website and at its physical ‘listening posts’ this month.”

Ohhh, so it’s not to promote the Budget per se, but to get younger Singaporeans to participate in the Budget process. Now I understand.

Did MOF get local social media stars like Xiaxue and Mr Brown?

No, MOF got such influencers as Shanel Lim, Chelsea Teng and Royce Lee.

In preparation for Budget 2018, REACH has organised Pre-Budget 2018 Listening Points across Singapore. These Listening Points are easily accessible, open booths for Singaporeans to give their views in person 🙋🏻‍♂️ Do join me at today’s Listening Point from now till 2.00pm at the covered area close to the Multi-Purpose Hall at Tanjong Pagar Complex - loving the heritage feels and free ice cream heh 😂 Alternatively, you may visit the last Listening Point on this Friday 12 January, at SMU (near Koufu Foodcourt), from 11.30am to 2pm. You may also provide your feedback via the REACH Budget 2018 microsite, (check out the link in my bio) until 12th Jan. Go on to let your voice be heard :)) #royceshares #sponsored #sgbudget2018 #mofsg #reachsingapore #mofsgxstarngage
A post shared by #emceeroyce (@theroycelee) on

Who the hell are Shanel Lim, Chelsea Teng and Royce Lee?

The reason I’ve never heard of them is probably the same reason MOF chose them — I’m not one of the younger Singaporeans MOF wants to reach.

I’m too old.

Talk about ageism.

Doesn’t MOF want not-so-young Singaporeans to participate in the Budget process too?

What has MOF done to reach middle-aged taxpayers like me?

Was there a TV commercial? I don’t know. Millennials aren’t the only ones who stopped watching television on television, if you know what I mean.

Ironically, it’s the debate over the effectiveness of MOF using influencers to promote the Budget that made an old fart like me aware that the Government wants feedback for the Budget.

So whatever amount MOF paid the “influencers”, the ministry certainly got its money’s worth in terms of publicity.

It even makes me feel like Japanese food for lunch.


- Published in The New Paper, 22 January 2018

Thursday 11 January 2018

When your old TV shows come back to haunt you like Fiona Xie's ghost in Maggi & Me

Yesterday, I received this message from someone I don't know via Instagram (of all things):
Hi there sir. Forgive me i am super desperate to find out what happened to the ending of the tv series "maggie and me" haha ... can i have an explanation for it please ?
So apparently, this person watched this old Channel 5 comedy series Maggi & Me starring Fiona Xie and Adrian Pang (probably on Toggle), got really into it but was stumped by the series finale, saw my name under Executive Producer in the credits, found my Instagram account and here we are.

I didn’t reply because I honestly don’t remember much of the show.

I mean, the final episode aired almost 10 years ago in February 2008 and most people nowadays probably don't even know the show even existed.

But like Xie’s eponymous ghost character in the show, Maggi & Me has returned to haunt me.

And that wasn't the only one of my old shows that came back from the dead recently.

Anyone remember Ah Girl?

The sitcom ran for three seasons starting in 2001 on TVWorks, which later became Channel i, which later became defunct.

I created the show but quit the production after writing a few episodes.

Then last August, I got an email from the star of Ah Girl herself, Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie:
Hi SM,

How have you been? It's Cynthia, aka Ah Girl. I thought you left the country and I tried looking for you on Facebook and voila, someone told me where to find you! I am writing because someone is interested in producing Ah Girl the movie and wondering if you would be interested to be part of it by writing it please? If the rights is still owned, then we would use a different name/title.

What say you? Let me know your thoughts please? We could meet up and have a chat about it.
OK, there's a lot to unpack here.


I haven't seen or spoken to Cynthia since the early 2000s and I'm shocked she even remembers me.


She thought I left the country? Am I so low-key? I thought I was this semi-famous newspaper columnist. Well, that was humbling.


She tried looking for me on Facebook and someone had to tell her where to find me. Really? She could just Google my name and be directed to this blog with all my social media links. I mean, even the Maggi & Me person found me on Instagram.


Someone is interested in producing Ah Girl the movie? I would be less shocked if someone wanted to do a Maggi & Me movie.

Anyway, because of my bad experience with the Phua Chu Kang movie, I was reluctant to write another movie based on a sitcom and I told her so in my reply to her.

But she sorta insisted I should be involved and so I agreed to meet the producer and give my input - and I haven't heard from Cynthia since.

Which is just as well.

Another old Channel 5 show that I worked on years ago that seems to be having some sort of after-life is Shiver. I was surprised to come across these two Reddit threads on the 1997 anthology series recently:

Does anyone remember this old Ch5 TV show called Shiver?

Anyway to watch an old TV show 'Shiver' internationally?

I was especially delighted that a Shiver episode I wrote (and acted in) about people trapped in a lift was discussed in the earlier thread.

Future MP Darryl David was in it with me.

I remember people hated Shiver (for which I wrote eight episodes) when it first aired, but now there appears to be some weird nostalgia for it, thanks to kids who saw it back then and are now grown up.

Yeah, that makes me feel old.

Ironically, Shiver may be older than Maggi & Me and Ah Girl, but it's the better remembered show.

I guess it could be because more people watched TV in the earlier days.

Someone has yet to send me an Instagram message about that lift episode, though.

Monday 8 January 2018

A more pressing succession question: Who will succeed Zoe Tay as Queen of Caldecott Hill?

2017 did not end with the glorious New Year’s Eve countdown show I had hoped.

Singer Aisyah Aziz covered Symphony by Clean Bandit featuring Zara Larsson, but she was so pitchy that homeviewers probably wished someone covered her with a blanket instead.

Where’s Hady Mirza when you need him?

But 2018 offers a fresh start.

Even though the weather is wet and gloomy, university students are wearing slippers, shorts and T-shirts to class, much to the disapproval of at least one Straits Times forum letter writer.

“We do not see our MPs and ministers wearing slippers, shorts and T-shirts in Parliament,” said the letter writer.

Who knows? Perhaps Mediacorp edited the parliamentary videos with certain bits removed so that we do not see our MPs and ministers wearing slippers, shorts and T-shirts in Parliament.

MP for Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng could be wearing Crocs to Parliament House, but Channel NewsAsia’s video server did not render the video of his footwear properly.

Still, let us usher in the new year with optimism and sunshine smiles despite an MRT breakdown between the Tanah Merah and Changi Airport stations on the first work day of the new year.

We need to be in good spirits to tackle the pressing and longer term challenges for Singapore besides faulty trains and glitchy video servers.

One urgent challenge I would like to see settled is who our next Queen of Caldecott Hill will be.

The current Queen of Caldecott Hill, Zoe Tay, will be celebrating her 50th birthday (or ZT50 for short) on Wednesday.

Yes, the Mediacorp actress had a birthday party last week at Suntec City (to which I wasn’t invited), but her birthday is actually on Jan 10.

Like SG50, ZT50 is not just a one-day affair. All that’s missing is a new Dick Lee song that everyone hates because it’s not as good as (and can never be as good as) Home.

In five short years, Tay will be eligible to withdraw from CPF. Not that I think she is over the hill — even if that hill is Caldecott.

Tay has been the Queen of Caldecott Hill for so long that there is no Caldecott Hill any more. Actually, Caldecott Hill is still there, but Mediacorp completed its move to Buona Vista last year.

So technically, Tay is now the Queen of Buona Vista, which, admittedly, doesn’t quite have the same ring.

Buona Vista is also home to many other organisations, such as the Ministry of Education and shipping company NOL, which may have their own queens with claims to the Buona Vista crown.

This could be like Game Of Thrones but without the incest (one hopes).

It could be just easier to call Tay the Queen of Mediacorp.

But then the new Mediacorp chief executive officer, Ms Tham Loke Kheng, might have something to say about that.

To avoid such complications (and icky sibling sex scenes), let’s just stick to Queen of Caldecott Hill for now.

So who can succeed Tay as Queen of Caldecott Hill?

What about Fann Wong? After all, isn’t she already like the Deputy Queen (DQ) of Caldecott Hill?

The bad news is that just as Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam don’t seem to be in the running to be Singapore’s next prime minister, DQ Wong (who will be turning 47 later this month) appears unlikely to be the next Queen.

Maybe someone younger, like bad driver Rui “Do you know who I am?” En or one-time NTUC Income shill Rebecca “I’m retiring, I’m not retiring” Lim?

I know who it won’t be — Sharon Au.

Last week, the TV host-actress-executive announced that she is leaving Mediacorp after 22 years.

Remember when she acted as Mrs Lee Kuan Yew in The LKY Musical in 2015? That was after she played a supporting role to another politician in real life.

During the 2011 presidential election, she spoke at a rally for then-candidate Tony Tan Keng Yam.

And he won.

At this rate, Au is likelier to be the next Prime Minister of Singapore than the next Queen of Caldecott Hill.

There, Mr Goh Chok Tong, problem solved.

So if not Au or Wong or Rui En or Lim, then who will succeed Tay?

Perhaps there can only be one Queen of Caldecott Hill. The title will probably die with Tay since it’s obsolete anyway.

You could almost say the same thing about the old media she represents.

This is my wish for the new year — a Singapore in good hands, a Singapore where cover singers can hit the high notes in a Clean Bandit song.

Happy New Year and Happy ZT50 to Her Royal Highness!

- Published in The New Paper, 8 January 2018