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