The Sunday Times editorial (22/06/2008 ) on “Stars at home or aboard – let’s cheer them both” threw up the quandary of how Singaporeans are generally apathetic in showing support for talented local individuals.

For the purpose of this discussion, we shall overlook local born-and-bred MediaCorp TV artistes, who generally film local drama serials without any real opportunities to break into the overseas market. These artistes naturally appeal to the mainstream masses, as watching television forms one of the most popular pastimes in the country. This is especially so for the local evening drama serials filling both the 7pm and 9pm slots. Of course, there are instances when local drama serials are marketed overseas (for instance, The Return of the Condor Heroes in 1997, which ignited regional fan bases for local stars such as Fann Wong and Christopher Lee), but that is another story. As such, it is hardly surprising that most of them make their mark and are popular among locals alike.

On the contrary, for other Singaporeans pursuing other fields, reception from fellow countrymen, as mentioned within the editorial, is generally lukewarm.

It certainly takes more than sheer luck for Singaporeans to make it big overseas as compared to making it big within the country itself. For once, on the international arena, these artistes will have to compete with the global talent cohort for a chance to make their mark in their respective fields. It is no longer about standing out to a crowd of 4 million people, but about leaving a deep impression on the world.

Naturally, there will be both hits and misses. Let us take a look at the Chinese pop scene first, where the number of local artistes seeking breakthroughs is countless.

Stefanie Sun, Tanya ChuaThe likes of Stefanie Sun, JJ Lin, Tanya Chua, Kit Chan, Mavis Hee and A-Do have all become household names around the region. On the contrary, they all have one thing in common – all of them based themselves in Taiwan first, gaining considerable success there, prior to turning their focus onto the Singaporean market. It remains to be seen how successful would they be if they had based themselves locally first instead. Meanwhile, in 2005 when Tanya Chua clinched the Best Female Vocalist award at the acclaimed Taiwan Golden Melody Awards, she had griped at how she was widely regarded as the shoo-in for the award in Taiwan, but was regarded as a dark horse in local reports.

Singing competition “Project Superstar” produced alums such as Kelvin Tan and Kelly Poon, who are widely popular within the country, having emerged victorious in the competition where audience polls are a decisive factor in the results. However, they have failed to emulate their success on the regional arena as their debut album in Taiwan failed to create ripples.

Kaira GongHowever, lukewarm reception to singers such as Jones Shi Kangjun and Kaira Gong has resulted in similarly lukewarm reception here.

Meanwhile, Singaporeans seem to be a forgetful bunch as with the case of Joi Chua. Her story is a roller-coaster one with her debut effort based in Taiwan in 2000 falling prey to poor sales. Neither did that effort raise her popularity locally, resulting in her being dropped by her record company then. Venturing into the local music scene again in 2004, her breakout release was a success locally with a number of chart topping hits. However, her popularity seemed to have fallen here as she turned her attention to the regional market instead for her subsequent albums. While she is currently widely popular in China, her latest effort translated into critical acclaim but not sales in Taiwan.

It is worth noting that in the forthcoming 19th Taiwan Golden Melody Awards, Singaporeans Stefanie Sun, Tanya Chua and Joi Chua have all been nominated for the Best Female Vocalist, an unprecedented first for the country as locals take up half of the nominations for the category.

Olivia OngIn English music, will local songbird Corrinne May shift albums off the shelves in Singapore had she not been successful in the United States? How about Olivia Ong, a jazz singer based in Japan? What about the lukewarm reception which local bands such as Electrico, Ronin and The Great Spy Experiment receive at their gigs?

While young local designers are setting sights on international runways, these ripples are not being felt by Singaporeans who subscribe to tried and tested fashion labels such as Gap and Topshop. As reported in the International Herald Tribune article in the previous link, a new generation of young Singaporean designers is “trying to break away from the cosy domestic market, where it is relatively easy to be a big fish in a small pond”. Designers such as Jonathan Seow (head honcho of design label Woods & Woods which has been presented in Paris but remains relatively unknown in Singapore), Andrew Gn and Ashley Isham have their own influences in Europe before venturing back into their home countries.

Similarly, it seems, for movie directors. Eric Khoo is the only Singaporean film-maker to have three movies premiere in Cannes, with the latest offering “My Magic” up for the prestigious Palme D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, but how many Singaporeans have seen them? It appears that the more “arthouse” or critically-acclaimed the film is, the more turned away the local crowd is towards actually supporting them. The key, it appears, lies in mass appeal. Jack Neo is certainly mainstream in his films which depict the everyday lives of Singaporeans in an everyday manner. On the other hand, his films have yet to make much of a critical impact. Royston Tan had debilitating box office results with his earlier releases such as “24” and “4:30”, but earned a box office hit with the mainstream “881”.

In the meantime, Kelvin Tong and the Pang brothers hit big time with box office hits in their respective horror movies, “The Maid” and “The Eye”, with the latter even going on to their directorial debut in Tinseltown. However, does it seem strange that they were not promoted as local directors in the first place?

This article also highlights the success of local comics artist Foo Swee Chin whose works are being published in a monthly manga magazine in Japan, but alas, she is not a household name in Singapore.

It remains to be seen when, as our auteurs and artistes find their voices and identities and live their mark in their respective fields, the rest of us learn to be willing to discern and advocate their works, instead of following the crowd in supporting tried and tested formulae. Or when, the rest of us will discard our skepticism and bias towards performances which may break the mould, and readily accept local art ventures and local bands as well. All this will definitely go a long way in promoting a unique Singapore.

Where is the Love?

February 19, 2008

Let’s face it, Singapore is an achievement-fuelled nation. That’s the reason why the Singapore Flyer was built to become the world’s highest ferris wheel (at least for now), while all sorts of missions are frequently organised such as to write the nation into the Guinness Book of World Records (Longest popiah, anyone?).

I suppose that is precisely why, despite the numerous believable conspiracy theories abounding that the voting system was flawed, when local contestant Hady Mirza won Asian Idol (which should more effectively be named South East Asian Idol because it only featured contestants from around the region, with the exception of India. What about Taiwan and China, the land of the singing competitions? Are they ineligible just because those countries chose to be original and not rip off the tried-and-tested, yet unreliable, idol format?) against all the powerhouses, his pretty mug was unabashedly splashed all over the front pages of all local tabloids AND the advertisements were replayed over and over again on television.

Total Overkill.The Amazing Race Asia

Now, Adrian and Collin from The Amazing Race Asia 2 have gone one-up on fellow Singapore competitors Sharon and Melody from the previous season by winning the whole damn thing, furthermore on home soil. And they won by being the underdogs too (like Hady), being last for most of the final leg back in Singapore!

That would have been, all by itself already, such a strong media storyline (and I have not gone into the fact that Adrian is the first hearing-impaired contestant ever casted on The Amazing Race. How’s that for a sweet victory?) Yet, their victory was marginalised to small articles within the newspaper itself.

Where’s the front page news?! Where is the Love? The achievements of Hady shagging his lungs out against other vocal powerhouses in the inaugural Asian Idol is probably on par with the achievements of Adrian and Collin shagging their energy out for close to a month against other competitors from around the region, flying 4 continents in the process.

Is this because The Amazing Race Asia 2 is unavailable on free-to-air television here?
Or is this because Asian Idol is more prestigious just because it is shown live?

CNY Movies: Round #1

February 13, 2008

It is interesting how Stephen Chow’s CJ7 and Jack Neo’s Ah Long Pte Ltd emerged the frontrunners of the three Chinese New Year movies given the extent to which these movies were sidelined (especially by Golden Village) in favour of Jay Chou’s (oops, or rather, Kevin Chu’s) Kungfu Dunk.

As reported in the 12 Feb 08 edition of mypaper, Stephen Chow is the undisputed box office champion over the Chinese New Year period in Singapore, making S$2 million. This also broke the record set by Chow’s previous film Kungfu Hustle, which, at S$1.89 million, was the biggest opening weekend for all Chinese films released in Singapore’s history. Jack Neo’s Ah Long Pte Ltd garnered $1.47 million, while Jay Chou’s Kungfu Dunk earned a rather measly $1.4 million (in comparison to the other two movies). Given the similar amounts of advertising of all 3 movies, and the strong popularity of the leads in all the three movies, I admit that Jay Chou’s meagre box office takings do come as a surprise.

Now, just consider this. If local movie distributors had actually allocated even more movie timeslots and larger cinema halls for the screening of CJ7 and Ah Long Pte Ltd, which incidentally played to a lot of sell-out shows, the figures you see will not be just S$2 million and S$1.4 million, but much higher than that (Who knows, CJ7 could have even hit the $3 million-mark!!)

Within the same article, Mr Jack Neo made a preposterous, nonsensical and baffling statement which does not have a reasoning behind.

Quoting the relevant paragraphs from the article:
The strong opening was a morale boost for Neo, whose movie was largely panned by critics. “When I make a film, I insist on quality. My movies are not rubbish. I made them with a conscience.”
He added with a laugh: “I think my detractors are very disappointed”.

Now it is understandable that Mr Neo is driven with all the ecstasy in the world given the positive box office takings his movie has taken in over the opening weekend (He even managed to beat Jay Chou!)

However, on the same note, the following equation which he is trying to imply oh-so-boastfully-yet-delusionally is irksome: Good box office takings = High Quality movies

Since when did such an equation ever exist? High quality movies is merely a subset of movies with good box office takings. Movies with good box office showings does NOT have to be of high quality and critically-acclaimed, they just need to have the right audience appeal.

Mr Neo seems to be implying that his movie is better than those Academy Award-nominated ones such as “Juno”, “La Vie En Rose”, “The Diving Bell and Butterfly”, “Away From Her”, “Atonement” for example, which evidently are unable to match “Ah Long Pte Ltd” in terms of box office showings, due to a lack of mass appeal for the local audiences.

Equating the above theory to the Chinese music scene, it appears that indie musicians such as sodagreen and Cheer Chen, who do not sell as well as boybands like Fahrenheit and Lollipop (Yeah, I know, the names of Chinese boybands are getting from bad to worse. And you thought 5566 was corny enough?), had better start finding a change of day jobs. They do not sell as well as those boybands, so, given the theory which Mr Neo swears by, what’s with their indie credentials? Fahrenheit and Lollipop are the better singers with the better songs what!

All this, is just delusional crap and self-indulgence. Doh.


February 9, 2008

The entire entertainment industry is a total paradox. While it is supposed to entertain, it very so often imposes itself as a double-edged sword on unsuspecting victims. These victims, sadly, are the celebrities who have been so caught up in all the mind games played so realistically in the market.

It is somewhat ironic that simultaneously, while the world has been coming to terms with the unexpected death of one-time Oscar Nominee Heath Ledger, who passed away quietly in his Manhattan apartment due to an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, and the gripping nature of how many purebred talents were lost simply because they have been unlucky with fate, dying young, we have celebrity icons in really really deep trouble at the other end of the spectrum.

The Britney meltdown, in itself, is somewhat unpredictable. From the moment she shaved her head till the time she went around exposing herself without wearing any undies, you see a celebrity who is way past her prime and seriously needs psychiatric help. Now, with custody of her children granted to her ex-husband, her only source of solace being some unknown photographer, and the gossipmongers working overtime to put her down, things just seem to go downhill. What a pity, considering the early success in her career. Too caught up in her own success that it becomes easy to succumb to a few falls I guess? Let’s just say that the signs were there early on when she married her childhood friend only to annul the marriage within 48 hours, albeit amicably, a few years back.

And she’s just the most high profile celebrity meltdown case out of a list of tens of hundreds who are also in some self-inflicted predicament, checking themselves in and out of rehab like it’s a holiday resort. Look at Lindsay Lohan, Amy Winehouse et al. I suppose the hoi polloi like us will never understand how they could get so caught up with their own fame game.

The Edison Chen sex scandal is another incident which has gripped media watchdogs aplenty (as well as all those horny *chee ko peks worldwide of course). What amuses me is how the perpetrator of the photographs actually named himself as Kira, after the lead character in the Japanese Anime hit Death Note. Seems like he wishes to deal a Death Note of his own to Mr Edison Chen, whose popularity has definitely taken a huge knocking. And seems like he is so damn cocksure of himself that he will never get caught by the Hong Kong police, who incidentally have arrested several suspects but have yet to get to the root of the problem. Amazingly many netizens have stood up against the Hong Kong police for doing their jobs because of the elitism attitude they have exhibited in the attention they have showered on the Edison Chen case.

BUT let’s face it. Celebrities will always be celebrities. The media coverage on these celebrity cases are naturally HIGHER than that of non-celebrity mishaps. Do you think it feasible that the entire organisation would want people to think that they cannot handle a high-profile case competently? Of course they will deal with it as a big case lah. There has to be some proportion ratio between the media coverage and the need to get things done. C’mon, let’s face the facts that in every organisation, things are bound to have some practicality somewhat. Of course they’d react strongly to the case. (I mean, let’s lay things clearly on the table – You have two things on hand, one of which will lead you to a lot of recognition while the other does not. It seems like human nature to me to actually concentrate on the former)

What really baffles me is the sheer stupidity in which Edison actually sent the computer with all those sleazy pictures of himself and other female artistes for repair. It is pure common sense that when sleazy photographs of oneself gets into the hands of another stranger, it spells doom. Even in Singapore, which is a supposedly conservative society which has supposed respect for privacy. (Remember the NYP Incident?) Let alone in Hong Kong, the land of sleazy entertainment gossip magazines. So, case in point: If your computer dies and you know there’re indecent photographs of yourself in it, BUY A NEW COMPUTER. (Yes, I know I’m typing with the assumption that the photographs are real and they originated from his own computer, but face it – all those photo-imaging experts can’t be wrong)

With all these sagas going on, let’s give due credit to the people who actually manage to do their jobs well, stay sane, and not flirt with trouble or controversy. While the media is bound to find them boring, they can, and should, be seen as a breath of fresh air in the polluted entertainment industry.

At the end of the day, it depends on how the artiste involved actually picks up the pieces which determine whether his career bombs or peaks at new heights. Local actor Christopher Lee managed his entire hit-and-run accident jail term well, coming to terms with his ordeal and took responsibility for himself. Will all those artistes have the guts to stand up for themselves?

Meanwhile, let’s take a moment of silence to honour the works of the late Heath Ledger, a great and versatile actor.

* Dialect for pervertic

*Written by aR

The tides have changed, the trends have shifted, the fad has passed, the world has evolved. (ok you probably get the gist)

mrbrown made the acute observation that most screens in Singapore are only offering 4 movies throughout this CNY festive season – Ah Long Pte Ltd, CJ7, Kung Fu Dunk and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Meanwhile, let’s take Sweeney Todd out of the picture of our discussion as it is evidently sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the other CNY feel-good movies. (The movie genre sticks out like a sore thumb in the first place, albeit in an interesting sort of way – a macabre gory musical – nice!)

The sad observation I have made is that, amongst GV screens at least, there seems to be a certain belittling of the King of Chinese Comedy in terms of box office draws and people pull, by said movie distributorship organisation. And this is in spite of the fact that Stephen Chow movies have been affirmed box office hits throughout the years. 

If you pay close attention to the Golden Village movie timeslots, of the three Chinese festive movies, it is Kung Fu Dunk which has been assigned the most movie timeslots, opening on more screens than the other two. And if you have bothered clicking on the timeslot links, you’d notice that the halls assigned for Kungfu Dunk seats more people than the halls reserved for CJ7 and Ah Long Pte Ltd

What, so they think Stephen Chow and Jack Neo cannot hold their ground against Jay Chou, who incidentally is more renowned for his music than his movies? As opposed to the former two who have made the movie industry his bread and butter throughout the years?

It has now become apparent that, through some close monitoring of their seats availability page (as I intend to catch a movie or two), seats in halls for Stephen Chow’s CJ7 and Jack Neo’s Ah Long Pte Ltd are ‘selling fast’ or ‘sold out’ despite it being so early in the day and the movies only being shown at night. Why then, do they not cater bigger halls for these movies, since movies by these directors have been confirmed box office draws in the past?

Of course detractors are bound to argue that in economical terms, more timeslots and bigger halls will eventually lead to a more even distribution of audiences for Jay Chou’s movie. On the other hand, why let this happen in the first place? Why not ensure a more even distribution of audiences for the other two movies as well?

The following are some screenshots of the seat availability of the three movies at selected cinemas at timeslots close to each other. (CAA 8th Feb 2008, 1205hrs GMT +8.00)

GV Tampines

Stephen Chow - CJ7 @ 2305hrs
CH7 @ 2305hrs
Jack Neo's Ah Long Pte Ltd @ 2240hrs 
Ah Long Pte Ltd @ 2240hrs

Jay Chou's KungFu Dunk @ 2250 hrs
Kungfu Dunk @ 2250hrs

GV Jurong Point 

GV Jurong Point - CJ7 @ 2130hrs
CJ7 @ 2130hrs
GV Jurong Pt - Ah Long Pte Ltd @ 2100hrs
Ah Long Pte Ltd @ 2000hrs
GV Jurong Pt - Kungfu Dunk
Kungfu Dunk @ 2105hrs

[Legend: Light blue means the seats are available, dark blue means the seats are taken, purple means the seats are “blocked” due to ongoing transactions]

On a sidenote, realise how people technically go “Jack Neo’s Ah Long Pte Ltd” and not “Mark Lee’s Ah Long Pte Ltd” or “Fann Wong’s Ah Long Pte Ltd”? Until someone actually goes Kevin Chu’s “Kungfu Dunk”, all the limelight is being taken away from him! (Though I doubt anyone can name him in the first place)

*Written by aR