Friday, December 3, 2010

Point(less) Of Entry - a rant

Everything the show is NOT!

Everyone has probably heard it too many times before: a disgruntled viewer complaining about the upsetting state of the local entertainment scene, particularly the television shows turned out by MediaCorp. I will readily admit that I am among the scores who turn away in shame when the title screen of a locally-made television series appears on the screen.

MediaCorp has just debuted a new "action" TV show, the English-language Point Of Entry, which had its pilot episode aired last night. I heard about the show some time ago from a friend who knew people who was working on it, and anticipated it with cautious optimism. I have always thought that the best way to break into the mainstream was with a genre that crosses all language or cultural barriers: action. Let's face it, people love the excitement and escapism of an action film or TV show. Every film industry from Hollywood to Hong Kong has made action films, and many amateur filmmakers enjoy trying their hand at shooting action scenes.

However, Singapore has had a history of getting it all wrong when it comes to action. And, very very regrettably, Point of Entry is yet another festival of unintentional comedy. Let's get this clear, I wanted it to be a good show. I wanted to enjoy a locally-made action television show. I really did. But in the end, I didn't.

Point of Entry follows "Team Epsilon", a specially-trained covert strike team of the Immigrations and Checkpoints Authority (ICA). The team tracks down and arrests smuggling rings and helps prevent illegal smuggling and trafficking. Well first off, there's the concept. It's not long before the show becomes a one-hour long propaganda film for the ICA, endlessly glamourising and glorifying the job. I appreciate the work that real-life employees of the ICA do; it's important to keep our borders safe. However, contrary to its intention, the show mocks and degrades the ICA.

The show opens with a disclaimer that "any relation to real persons or events is purely coincidental". And then, the next screen announces "inspired by true events". So far, so insipid, and we're less than a minute in. We begin "somewhere in Myanmar", where a brother-and-sister pair are preparing to journey into-illegally, of course-Singapore. The actors in this scene are quite good, and appear to all speak Burmese pretty well.

Then we have the obligatory opening action scene. The team is shown to be on pretty good terms, apart from the tech specialist doubting the skills of the rookie on the team. They enter a warehouse, and, spoiler alert, the team leader gets shot in the head. The sniper rifle looks unconvincing to begin with, but they had to add a CGI effect of the bullet leaving the barrel, creating shockwaves and hitting the guy in the head.

Let the unintentional comedy begin!

As if to completely nullify what little drama that moment had, the baddies take aim at the token chick of the group, played by Pamelyn Chee. She dodges the bullet by bending backwards, Matrix-style. O-kay. So, team leader is dead, everyone is really grumpy, the veteran of the group is stewing over it and plotting his revenge against the baddies.

The new team leader and de-facto male lead Glenn Chua, played by Hong Kong actor Carl Ng, is introduced. The new team leader is portrayed as an utter douchebag, being arrogant, insensitive and unkind to the team who is still in mourning, and sporting a pretentious American accent. He introduces himself by going to each person and rattling off their personal details that he had read from their files, as if just to tick them off. Then he goes over to his office, which still has the name of the dead guy on the door. "Oh, and...change my sign", he says, as he flicks the card out of the slot.

Let's play "count the number of landmarks we squeezed into this title card"

This is our male lead. We're probably supposed to like him. But I'll give the creators of the show the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they made a show with an unlikeable main character on purpose. Or even worse, they'll attempt to soften him up as the show goes on.

More blabber, a foot chase to track down the informant who had set the trap for them, Glenn meets with an old friend through contrived coincidence, we follow the subplot of the siblings being smuggled into Singapore, there's a ridiculous flashback with Glenn as a kid (and inexplicably redubbed with the voice of the adult Glenn), Team Epsilon goes to the causeway checkpoint (cue more glamourising of the ICA officer), crack the smuggling ring, the sister dies of asphyxiation, Team Epsilon (apart from Glenn) turn up at the cemetery to mourn their dead former team leader, the brother weeps over his sister's body at the morgue.

And lest I forget, there was the theme tune, which was an awful throwaway synthesiser piece that sounded like the "Crimewatch" theme. This would have been almost forgiveable, if they did not reuse that musical cue about 17 times during the show.

As a viewer, I was in complete disbelief. It was not only that Mediacorp had made another bad show - they've done that about 247 times earlier - but that it appeared that they weren't even trying. Not one bit. It appeared that they had learnt nothing from the mistakes they had made in the past, had taken into account none of the feedback they had received, and further proved their non-commitance to producing entertaining and quality programming for the masses.

It has often been said, "you're one to talk. Let's see you do better!" I'll gather up all my clout and say yes, perhaps I can. Maybe this is me blowing my own trumpet, but perhaps I can. I've heard things about MediaCorp from people who have written for the station. I won't repeat those things here. It seems no wonder that the actors appear half-hearted - if I was an actor and were given a script like that, I probably would've turned in a slipshod performance as well.

Come on, it's not impossible to make a good action TV series. The budget isn't the problem. We've proven time and again that we can sink impossible amounts of money into anything we're interested in. The problem is that those who work for the television station have come to accept the mediocre as the norm. There's no point in making good television. Nobody will care anyway right?



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