Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Ultimatum - Singapore Chinese Drama Serial

The serial ended with no end of disapprovals from the public. So it was understandable why a projected blockbuster became a failure in a matter of weeks because the majority of the viewers were so critical of the serial. Everything about it was negative according to these household critics - the plot, the stars, the setting etc.

Two sisters were switched at birth and went to families at the opposite ends of the wealth spectrum. The rich kid was raised by a demented mother and the poor kid lived in the lap of luxury. While on the verge of inheriting great wealth the poor kid found out about her own identity from her mother who was eager to claim her back. That led to a series of killings and deaths attributed to the poor kid desperate to keep her identity a secret and to continue living the life she was used to.

In defence of this drama serial I would say that:

  • The plot was not important, the drama was fast-moving and the music score was exciting
  • Zoe Tay was superb, never mind her slightly visible wrinkles, she was unbeatable!
  • Fann Wong was eye-candy on the screen but she was a fantastic actress too.
  • Li Nan Sing was great as two different persons and when he appeared as the real Zhang Feng, he was just so handsome and charismatic!
  • Tay Peng Hui was as usual, stylish in his acting, intense and deserves more love from the viewers.
  • Terence Chao was just so cool and played his part with conviction.
  • The supporting cast was outstanding in the roles they played respectively.
People compare our actors and our dramas with those from Hong Kong and Taiwan and then rate ours at the bottom of the scoring chart. I don't bother to compare them because I seldom watch drama serials unless they can hold my attention. I can only say that for a short drama like this, the impact made by the actors is not inferior to those from Hong Kong and Taiwan. For me I think drama serials like Housewives' Holiday which was the top drama serial in terms of viewership is popular because most people could relate to the happenings in the lives of the families featured - children, study problems, infidelity, money problems.

For me, the Ultimatum is like a breath of fresh air because it goes on its own steam and it does not remind me the problems of daily living. It does not care if the plot is plausible or not because it just develops day after day and each episode ended too soon each time. Well done TCS actors and actresses! I had a great time watching the Ultimatum just as I had a wonderful time watching the Little Nonya.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gran Torino

The Grand Torino is a car but the movie is not about this car. It is about why the hero has to die - that being the question a teenager who saw the show with me asked. To a young person, heroes never die because they represent the hope on which aspirations and dreams are pinned. From the perspective of a person who is the mother of a teenager, heroes are not necessarily invulnerable nor do they always have to be there like Batman, Spiderman and Superman.

The hero of the movie is a grumpy, grouchy old man who found out he was gravely ill after his retirement and after his wife died leaving him alone amongst a neighbourhood of immigrants whom he could not stand at first. Against his will, he became their hero when he was seen to be their defender against the neighbourhood thugs.

In the end, he died not because of his illness but because he was machine-gunned by the thugs, the way he had planned for them to do so. I had expected a pretty violent show with lots of action when I saw the trailers a few weeks ago. Instead, the movie is heavy on dialogues, rich in emotions, humour and was propelled along without a boring moment by these unlikely elements in these days when people's attention span is pretty much hinged on action.

So what did I like about the story? It is sad that the hero died like the one in The Shinjuku Incident. You could say that they died to pay for their wrongdoings - one carried out during World War II and one in gangland wars. Contrary to expectation, they did not fight to the death as is usually the case in movies of this type.

Steelhead in The Shinjuku Incident was defenceless against the knife wielding gangsters and Clint Eastwood in Grand Toreno only had a lighter which was meant to trick the thugs into pumping endless rounds of bullets into him. The self-sacrifices of the heroes allowed justice to prevail. Good always triumphs over evil. That is the message I guess. So unlike my young friend, I see the demise of the hero in each of these movies as the reality of life. Death does not indicate the end of dreams and ideals. In each of the two situations, death allows life to be led with dignity and pride (Grand Torino) and points out the senselessness of greed and violence (Shinjuku Incident).

The Grand Torino was a gleaming 1970s beauty that was kept by the hero as a reminder of the good things that humans represent and its preservation despite attempts to steal it by the bad guys represent the hope for human kind. The thumb drive that Steelhead gave to the police with incriminating evidence probably shows that evil has been fought with weapons of technology but in the end, technology is a double-edged sword. There are always checks and balances in life. We have to account for our deeds and our past always catches up with us. The important thing is to live life honestly and with dignity. This way we can die with no regrets.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Shinjuku Incident

I heard that this was a good movie and so I went to watch it. It is indeed a good movie because I cannot stop thinking about the various parts of the movie and the messages I read in flashes throughout. From the dehumanised roles of the illegal immigrants to the extreme violence of the gang disputes and clashes to the relationships between the bad guys, the good guy and the bad guy and the good guy and the good guy turned bad, thoughts just passed through my mind in waves.

The key message is that crime does not pay but there were also others - There is no fate worse than that of being stateless, homeless and despised in a foreign land; No matter how magnimous one's actions may be, there is always a selfish reason at the bottom of it. Never trust subordinates to run the show according to your wishes while you become a sleeping boss because 'power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. There is so much we all take for granted in our lives - material comforts, family, peace. The only thing we should not take for granted is that we will never lose them.

This is a very thought-provoking movie. It can be depressing and it can be nauseating in parts. Then again, movies like this make us think about what we are blessed with and how we should treasure them.