Monday 30 April 2018

Crushed like a cockroach: Crazy Rich Asians trailer reminds me of Masters Of The Sea

A crazy rich family in Singapore. A domineering matriarch.

Inconsistent accents. A show starring an Asian-American.

And Tan Kheng Hua.

What is this?

The trailer for the film adaption of Singaporean Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel, Crazy Rich Asians, starring Constance Wu from US sitcom Fresh Off The Boat?

Or Masters Of The Sea?

No wonder Singaporeans hate the Crazy Rich Asians trailer.

Singaporeans hated Masters Of The Sea too.

For those of you who weren’t born when Masters Of The Sea premiered on Channel 5 to much derision in 1994 or too young to remember Singapore’s first locally-produced English-language TV drama series, lucky you.

It was so long ago Mediacorp wasn’t even called Television Corporation of Singapore yet. It was still Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC).

I should know. I was working at SBC at the time as a research writer on a variety show called Live On 5 hosted by a nobody named Gurmit Singh.

You know Wong Lilin?

The ex-wife of Allan Wu was in the news last week when The Straits Times reported that she will be stepping down from her role as executive director of the Public Hygiene Council after less than a year in the job.

ST helpfully added that the former actress had no academic or work experience in the area of public hygiene before getting the job.

Wong was described as being best known for starring in the old Channel 5 cop show Triple Nine, but her first big role was in Masters Of The Sea.

That goes for Ng Chin Han as well. Who knew then the actor would later be in such Hollywood blockbusters as The Dark Knight and Captain America: Winter Soldier? He is one Singaporean who should be in Crazy Rich Asian but isn’t.

Neither Wong nor Chin Han was the star of Masters Of The Sea, though.

Because Masters Of The Sea was Singapore’s first English-language TV drama series, of course SBC hired an Asian-American named Donald Li to play the male lead since, you know, no English-speaking Singaporean actor was good enough at the time.

That is, until the second season (yes, there was a second season) when Li left the show and local actor Lim Kay Tong took over as the lead before redeeming himself later in the less hated Growing Up.

The executive producer of Masters Of The Sea was also American, a 60something woman named Joanne Brough, whose credits included 80s soaps Knots Landing, Falcon Crest and Dallas, which Masters Of The Sea was modelled after.

So it was a miracle that Masters Of The Sea’s domineering matriarch wasn’t played by Barbara Bel Geddes but an actual Singaporean, Margaret Chan.

While many remember Chan for the line “I’ll crush you like a cockroach”, what I recall she actually said was “Crush him under your foot like you would a cockroach” because in those pre-Phua Chu Kang days, SBC was fastidious in ensuring that the English spoken in all local productions was even better than the Queen’s.

No Singlish allowed.

And that is the big reason Singaporeans hated Masters Of Sea then and why we hate the Crazy Rich Asians trailer now.

Even though both are supposedly set in Singapore, there’s very little we can relate to as Singaporean.

Too foreign. Not representative enough of the real Singapore.

And judging by some of the local shows on Channel 5 in the 24 years since Masters Of The Sea, it appears that Mediacorp didn’t quite learn its lesson.

At least Crazy Rich Asians has the excuse of being made primarily for the US market.

Masters Of The Sea didn’t.

Though apparently, it was shown on Indonesian TV dubbed in Bahasa Indonesia.

You’re welcome, Indonesia.

Oh yah, did I mention Tan Kheng Hua was in Masters Of The Sea too?

- Published in The New Paper, 30 April 2018

UPDATE: Crazy Rich Asians should have been called High SES Chinese & starred Scarlett Johansson

Monday 16 April 2018

Rampage in Imax 3D: Dumb giant ape movie made more enjoyable by audio glitch

Dear Shaw Theatres,

Last Thursday morning, I went to see the giant ape movie Rampage starring Dwayne Johnson at Lido.

Of course, I watched it in Imax 3D because, ahem, high socio-economic status (SES).

Other people of high SES drive BMWs and let the petrol station attendant pay for their petrol.

I like to watch the latest blockbusters wearing cumbersome 3D glasses.

Even if it’s a dumb giant ape movie like Rampage starring Dwayne Johnson.

I leave the regular 2D movies for the lower SES and maybe later when the movies start streaming on Netflix.

In the Lido Imax theatre, there were perhaps only about a dozen people with me and my daughter for the 11.40am screening.

We high-SES types are an exclusive bunch.

The movie opened with the Warner Bros logo, which was normal.

What wasn’t normal was a disembodied male voice describing the logo.

The voice then described how the WB logo transformed to the logo of New Line Cinema.

That was weird.

Initially, I thought maybe the voice-over was part of the movie as some sort of meta, fourth wall-breaking gag. You know, like in Deadpool.

But the first scene of the movie was an intense action-filled sequence that wasn’t jokey at all.

And the disembodied voice continued to describe what was happening on the Imax screen.

Now I knew something was definitely wrong.

Somehow, the movie was being shown with the audio description for the visually-impaired turned on.

I've come across this option before with movies on Blu-ray. But in the cinema?!

And me without my remote control to turn it off.

That’ll teach me to watch the first screening of a movie on opening day.

And I foolishly paid extra for the Imax 3D too (because, ahem, high SES).

Imax is supposed to be an immersive experience, but the intrusive voice-over just took you out of it.

I understand why you would have the audio description for the visually-impaired, but for a 3D movie?

I mean, regardless of SES, why would a visually-impaired person pay extra to see a movie in 3D?

The cumbersome 3D glasses wouldn’t be of any help.

What would you do in a situation like this?

I know what I did. Nothing.

Hopefully, one of your staff members was already aware of the problem and correcting it.

Or an audience member (other than me) would go and alert someone.

There were long stretches when there was no voice-over because the actors in the movie were talking.

I thought the problem was fixed.

Then the actors stopped talking and the voice-over returned.


A post shared by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

Then I thought maybe I could live with the audio description and tried to ignore the distraction.

The trouble was that the voice-over sometimes described what happened before it happened, spoiling the surprise.

Like “An albino ape emerges from the foliage” before the albino ape actually emerged from the foliage.

After a few minutes of this, my daughter volunteered to go out to alert someone of the problem.

First, she told the usher outside the door. He came in and listened, but then said he couldn't do anything. He told my daughter to go to the ticket counter and ask for the manager, which she did. The manager came in and stood at the back for a while before leaving.

I thought the audio description would be turned off eventually, but it never was.

Another woman in the audience also went out presumably to complain.

She came back, sat for a few minutes until she couldn't take it anymore and left for good with her male companion.

Then a strange thing happened.

I started enjoying the voice-over as the movie rampaged towards its literal blockbusting conclusion

Because the movie was so dumb, the inopportune audio description actually made it more interesting.

So the glitch turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I now feel sorry for anyone watching Rampage starring Dwayne Johnson without it.

The last words of the voice-over were “Credits roll”.

As I got up to leave, I wondered whether I should even bother asking for a refund.

I needn’t have worried as once we stepped out of the theatre, the usher instructed us to go the ticket counter and ask for the manager to get our refund.

Except it wasn’t a refund exactly but two complimentary Imax 3D passes.

The manager apologised for the audio glitch and explained that the voice-over couldn’t be turned off without stopping the movie halfway, which he didn’t want to do.

Hey, I’m just happy I can watch Avengers: Infinity War in Imax 3D next week for free.

Thank you, Shaw Theatres!

As the BMW driver demonstrated, we high-SES types love free stuff.

Now I just wonder if the woman who left early got her free tickets too.

- Published in The New Paper, 16 April 2018

EARLIER: Hellboy: Why I'm never going to the cinema again

Saturday 7 April 2018

Spelling-gate: Rendangate, rendanggate or rendang-gate? Gee whiz...





Or "rendang-gate"?

One G? Two Gs? One lowercase G, one capital G? A hyphen?

Can we make up our minds?

The original "gate":

Monday 2 April 2018

April drool: Flame-grilled Chocolate Whopper is mouth-watering fake news

I have an idea for tackling this “fake news” problem.

Have you seen the movie The Purge?

Or any of its two sequels, The Purge: Anarchy and The Purge: Election Year?

I haven’t, but I’ve seen the Rick And Morty episode called Look Who’s Purging Now.

And the original Star Trek TV episode called The Return Of The Archons.

There’s also a new Purge movie, a prequel called The First Purge, coming in a few months, for you to binge and purge.

Anyway, the idea is that to maintain order, people are allowed one night a year to go nuts and break all the laws they want to vent the violence and hatred that they keep bottled up.

That’s the movies though.

What I suggest for real life is that we set aside one day a year where we allow people to spread all falsehoods they want to get it out of their system and on that date, you will know not to believe everything that everyone says.

To make the date easy to remember, it could be the first day of the month, like, say, April 1.

We can call it… Easter Sunday.

I’m just kidding, of course.

It would be called Easter Sunday only if April 1 doesn’t fall on a Sunday since the whole purpose of the day is to misinform.

Wait, what?

You mean there’s already an April Fool’s Day on April 1 where people make it a point to tell lies as a joke?

Is that why Burger King introduced the Chocolate Whopper, made of chocolate cake bun, flame-grilled chocolate patty, raspberry syrup, white chocolate rings as onions, candied blood oranges as tomatoes, chocolate leaves as lettuce and vanilla frosting as mayo?

My keyboard is now sticky with drool after I typed that last paragraph.

But when I learnt there was actually no such burger and that it was just a April Fool’s joke by Burger King, my feelings were cheated, my heart was broken and my stomach was unfilled.

This is how fake news does real harm.

Never mind flame-grilled. Burger King should be grilled for six hours by Mr K Shanmugam at the Select Committee hearing.

And Ronald McDonald should be sitting in the public gallery holding up a stack of paper which displayed the cover of the book Complete Guide to GCE O Level Social Studies Volume 1 until he is forcibly carried out by police grabbing under his red-striped armpits.

After re-examining Burger King’s Fakebook - I mean, Facebook page, I also realised that the fast food chain introduced the Chocolate Whopper on Good Friday, not April Fool’s Day.

On the actual April Fool’s Day, which was yesterday, Burger King fessed up and revealed that the Chocolate Whopper was a hoax.

What sacrilege is this? On Easter Sunday too.

It’s a perversion of what April Fool’s Day is about.

What’s the point of having April Fool’s Day if you’re going to spread fake news on days that are not April Fool’s Day?

How would you like it if you were murdered on a night when it’s not The Purge?

You’d be pretty damn pissed, right?

That’s why we have rules.

Perhaps we need more rules.

Let’s have another Select Committee hearing for that.

- Published in The New Paper, 2 April 2018