serangoon road ep10

In the final episode of Serangoon Road, we suffer through flashbacks of Winston’s last night, solve Winston’s murder, and I am fooled so thoroughly by how the show ends that I clapped my hands in delight.

We open with Winston’s Last Night, weirdly energetic fight-kissing with Joan (who isn’t wearing a cheongsam!!) and Winston on the ground. In a series of flashbacks we establish that Don passed by Winston (they conversed briefly), and that after visiting Second Wife he ended up tracing a path towards the Unionists Headquarters. How they do some of this detectiving is a mystery to me as they leap from Dixon Road looking for his favourite kopitiam to some other road and the union headquarters located upon it. I wish Don wouldn’t mumble so.

The effort to solve the mystery of Winston’s murder steps up its pace, as the well-dressed murderer from the previous episode is let out on bail and disappears into the streets of Singapore. While combing the streets with Joan, Don meets Claire’s gaze across Dixon Street. I laugh because it’s so awkward and I don’t want them to get back together. Don visits Professor Union Leader (E07) in jail, who is ALIVE after being SHOT IN THE HEART and arrested for being a unionist which I thought was a treasonous act? Who admits that he had a meeting with Winston but Winston never turned up so he thought nothing of it. Then he heard he was killed, and he knew his brother had paid for someone to intercept Winston but never mentioned this before? And that they had a meeting because Union Professor had paid Winston to investigate his brother James Lim? And Don just accepts this. Apparently. I don’t even know.

Pamelyn lays it on thick with how if CIA dude doesn’t help them find out about James Lim (the businessman from E03, and Professor Unionist’s brother) then the detective agency will close and her family will make her marry a Peranakan boy and she’ll never get to go to America with the love of her life. I roll my eyes so hard they’d fall out of my head if they hadn’t already done so at CIA dude’s horrendous Mandarin. Fortunately, Don makes fun of him on my behalf.

CIA dude does some snooping and discovers the file for James Lin exists but is empty; Big CIA Dude comes in and admits he knows CIA dude is the leak to MI6. This leads CIA dude to sass MI6 dude, and tries to play him, asking MI6 dude for stuff in return for directly helping him to get a position in Washington. In more white boy news, Frank comes to find Don, and the cinematography is excellent; Don is in the Black Orchid, laughing as he shakes hands to seal a deal with some Chinese dudes. Frank is actually excellent here, as a character though not as an actor, telling Don that he and Claire are leaving Singapore, but he wants Don to make his case to Claire because he’s not gonna spend the rest of his life with Claire if a part of her never leaves “here.”

Back at the Agency, CIA dude tells Pamelyn there’s no file on James Lin, like a big lying liar, and Joan’s songbirds are dead! It’s a threat! (“I can get her some for cheap, maybe even throw in a duck,” says my loveheart Alaric). Don however decides this is enough, and storms over to James Lin’s office where they can hear fighting about a key and JAMES LIN AND THE MURDERER DUDE ARE FIGHTING and then the murderer dude CUTS OFF JAMES LIM’S HEAD. It goes rolling down the stairs!

it's where i keep my heads
it’s where i keep my heads

There’s a safe in the office, and Alaric and Don decide to break into it by using explosives. Yes. Excellent. As they’re setting it up Don asks how Alaric knew his gf was the one; “There’s only one Ju-E and I like her. There’s nobody else.” NO DON DON’T GO TO CLAIRE NO. Don asks if they’re using too much explosives; “what else am I gonna use this for?” which as you may suspect goes super well, but works to break open the safe. Alaric, after his financial woes, delights in dancing around as money falls from the sky and he shoves the cash into his pockets; Don is more interested in the folder lying there, with negatives and documentation.

A flashback reveals James Lin having dinner with a white dude; as if there’s ever any doubt, the white dude turns out to be Big CIA Dude. Don confronts Big CIA Dude (his name is Wild Bill, by the way), who is playing card games with other white dudes in some bar populated solely by non-Asians. Don threatens to take it to Ario, the murder of a chinese citizen, if Wild Bill doesn’t fess up; he fesses that James Lim had a silent partner, and Wild Bill didn’t care if James Lin dealing with the CIA went public so he’s not the one who had Winston killed but James Lim had political aspirations so probably didn’t; and maybe the silent partner cared…? IS IT THE TONGS I BET IT’S THE TONGS.

doom don storming in to talk to white dudes
doom don storming in to talk to white dudes

Back in the Agency, Joan makes a discovery and hears a sound, assumes it’s Don but obviously it’s not; it’s murderer dude. Joan cowers, is afraid, gets thrown around a lot but then she brains him with the giant rotary phone before stabbing him in the hand with a letter opener and then Don comes storming through and beats him like fuck.

After tying him to the couch and…leaving him there…Joan and Don decide to tell the Tiger General that Kay Song has been in partnership with James Lim to sell land to the CIA, on the grounds that the Tiger General would kill him for it.

In the Dragon House, the Tiger General is watching his coffin being made, as is a tradition. They ask for an audience (in English?!) and explain what’s been going on (IN ENGLISH?!) and when Kay Song gets his men to beat up Sam, Joan starts calling out for help IN ENGLISH out IN FRONT OF THE TONG HOUSE like that would ever help. Joan. Geeze.

The Tiger General gets mad at Kay Song: they come and they go and finally we have Singapore for ourselves, and you help the Americans take it. This is obviously a completely open and explicit discussion of colonialism and the possibility of being complicit in that; and perhaps a discussion of older Singaporean values versus more modern Singaporean values. He says “do not let me see the body,” of Song Ge; and then Song Ge suffocates Grandfather Dragon as they all just watch. He speaks softly; My grandfather had a heart attack, he says. We have witnesses. I’m sorry you had to be here for this sad day, Mrs Cheng, Sam. You may now leave me to my grief. It’s such a quiet, compelling, amazing scene of a psychopath and a community in the middle of a whole bunch of stuff that makes no sense.

song ge doesn't want to know
song ge doesn’t want to know

In the CIA compound, or wherever these guys hang out, we find out that Wild Bill is being sent away and CIA dude gets to stay. MI6 dude is going to Washington, and hands over Pamelyn’s file to CIA dude. CIA dude makes him promise it’s the only copy. I kept my word, MI6 dude says. I hope she’s worth it. CIA dude basically chews the scenery through this entire section, as he always does.

We wrap up in a series of scenes across the Agency. Joan is looking at a photo of Winston; Don is looking pensive. Uncle Owner is dancing hilariously. Alaric and Ju-E are cuddling, CIA dude turns up to talk to Pamelyn, and Don is having memories of Claire. I bet he goes back to her, and I’m so boooreeedddd.

I realise that it’s Moon Festival, which is nice! There’s lanterns like I had as a kid (like I still have now), and family and moon cake and Joan gazing into her wine and she’s all “go to her” and I’m all NO JOAN WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT.

LANTERNS OF MY YOUTH
LANTERNS OF MY YOUTH

So Don is running and Claire and Frank are getting into the car Frank steps away. Don says he loves her; she slaps him. Don talks about how great they are and what they’ll do tonight instead of her leaving Singapore, and she makes out and she’s like “and what about tomorrow?” and he says “We’ll work it out” and “I love you” and Claire says “I’ll always love you” and “it’s too late” and then she walks away and gets into the car which has already started to drive away (I guess Frank thought she was gonna stay) and she just looks at Frank and gets in the car and doesn’t look back and I shriek and clap my hands in delight. CLAIRE YOU’RE THE BEST.

We cut to MI6 dude pushing a copy of the Pamelyn file into an envelope addressed to Wild Bill. “Take that, you little piece of shit,” he says, as he seals it. I laugh and clap my hands in delight. You were a jerk but well played, that man.

In Serangoon Road, Don turns up as everyone gathers in the street and watches the awkward CGI fireworks. There’s dragon dance (I don’t dragon dance at moon festival, but sure, I guess) and firecrackers and people smiling warmly at one another, and that’s where it ends, content and not-revenged and Chinese (with two interloping white guys) on Serangoon Road.

mooooon cake
mooooon cake

Hey so that was a series! As a finale it went where it needed to go, tying up all the loose ends and giving us an ending. The major season arcs of who and why Winston was killed, and boring white romance thingies, were resolved. But we didn’t learn any more about Alaric’s gambling, which was such a major thread in earlier episodes, and Ario was completely wasted. He spent so much time letting Don dictate things, despite being a police officer, and I’d like to know why. There was some effort towards lines towards a second season, primarily the postage of the file to Wild Bill and Song Ge’s dismissal of Joan and Don, and of course in the celebration of Mid-Autumn Festival, but all in all it felt like an end.

This final episode was also about relationships and connections. A lot of the flashbacks were about Winston’s relationships with the people around him (dancing and making out with Joan and teasing her; Don offering him help as they passed by one another; being firm with Second Wife and the boy). There was Pamelyn establishing boundaries in her relationship with CIA dude, Don trying to work out his relationship with Claire (and Frank trying to establish where his own relationship lies), the reaffirmation of Alaric and Ju-E’s relationship. Even the storyline as it extended out beyond Winston’s murder was about relationships: the Lim brothers spying on one another; Song Ge’s relationship to his Grandfather, and Joan and Don’s relationship to the Red Dragons. It was excellent in just this way, because if you’re going to tell a story of Singapore you need to be telling a story of families and relationships.

Speaking of families, I’d love to know if there was non-Asian confusion about Joan suddenly being Auntie and Second Wife and the boy being considered family (explicitly, with “中秋节 being a time for family”), as it isn’t something that needs to be explained but given the explainy-ness of other parts of the series, perhaps it does?

hanging on the streets
hanging on the streets

Sometimes in my reviews I think I came across as hating this series. I didn’t hate it at all. I loved the feelings of familiarity and home-ness I got from watching this, and the way my heart warmed and the way I felt homesick whenever they got something right (or even close to right); and the way it jarred when it was so wrong. I appreciated when the terrible things were accurate, like pompous Westerners (men and women) in their cooled, tidy, clean, separated enclave, too precious to dirty themselves near locals, not bothering to learn any of our dialects or languages (my father was one of those people, in fact). But this was not a great series, even on its own; and it was an awkward one when you remember it’s not only from My ABC, but from HBO Asia as well, when HBO is so well known for amazing television. This was not worthy of that – at times it was awkward, clunky, and filled with average writing and dialogue that was pedestrian and added no real character quirks, merely served to push the plot along.

But I still enjoyed the ride.

I have a wrap up post to come, which will be going up at Peril Magazine, talking about some of the themes of Serangoon Road after I’ve had a chance to percolate on them. Some things I’m gonna be talking about include: Don’s total disrespect for everyone in his constant refusal to clothe himself properly, I mean seriously, that is more inappropriate than the Mr Darcy goes swimming scene in the 1995 BBC P+P; Colonialism and westerners in SEA in the mid-20th Century; interracial relationships in SEA in the mid-20th Century; race relations; the representation of SEA in western media; the sense of home on my tv here in Australia and what that means.

Uh but if you wanna chat about this on twitter, fb or in the comments here. PING ME. Do it now.

joan says come back
joan says come back

A Miscellany

  • DON DRESS APPROPRIATELY HAVE SOME RESPECT. EVEN THE DUDE IN JAIL CAN DO IT.
  • Old people memory dancing, so awkward
  • Pamelyn, Secretary of my Heart, makes CIA dude apologise for lying about the file. I know you can’t tell me all about your work, she says. Just say no comment.
  • When Joan tells Pamelyn about Second Wife and the baby, she says “your Uncle Winston had another family,” which is the exact right way to say it. At the mistress’ house, the boy calls Joan Auntie and implies that she’s paying for his new school, which, nwaaah. Family.
  • Language watch: Joan says kopitiam but Don says coffee shop. Whhhhy? No Hokkien for like a million years. Lots of lols Mando, but technically should have been more also.
  • After all that give give give help from Ario to Don, nothing came of it! Ario why you helping this mat salleh what.
  • They tie murderer to the couch, bandage his hand, and then just leave him there?
  • Wild Bill: so amazing with the lines. “Make sure you find them before they find you,” he says to Don in the bar about the silent partner; “You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”; “It’s not that you did it, it’s whatever he’s got on you that made you do it.” This entire scene had some cliched lines but was still somehow excellent. “I can’t use you. Everyone crosses the line; it’s important you look back and you can still see it.”
  • Grandfather Tiger also excellent lines, mostly to Joan and Don: “Speak.” to Don: “Not you.”
  • Were the negatives in that file they gave to Grandfather Tiger (which Kay Song then burnt)? Could use that for future!
  • WHERE WAS AUNTIE FORTUNE TELLER.
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serangoon road s1e09

In the ninth and penultimate episode of S1 Serangoon Road, I kind of don’t understand the point? An Indigenous Australian wakes up next to the body of a girl he’d been on a date with, there’s lots of ang moh shenanigans, once again we try to talk about Black-White relations this time from an Australian POV, and Fortune Teller Auntie makes the most adorable faces.

kissy face
kissy face

We open with some super white previouslies, and then in on MR ERNIE DINGO (for non-Australian readers, Mr Ernie Dingo is a very well-known older Aboriginal Australian actor). He’s making out with the random journalist bartender Ange from two episodes ago, and making fun of chicken feet. He pauses at the making out: Ange says “it’s the 60s, we can do what we want.” FORESHADOWING GUYS. Next thing he wakes up NEXT TO A CORPSE (Ange). CREDITS BOY WE ARE MOVING TODAY.

Don is brought in by the always adorable Ario, to find Ernie in a jail cell; he says he doesn’t know how Ange ended up dead. Macca comes storming across to yell “I will do everything in my power, to see that prick hang” in front of the Police Station which, Macca, stop making a scene in the streets in Singapore. Have you no dignity? It quickly becomes clear that Macca is convinced that Ernie did it both because a) Racism and b) he ignored Ange’s attempts to get him to mentor her as a journalist, and so he doesn’t want her death to have been about the story.

Through a serious of blue flashbacks, we learn that Baby Don was helped by young officer Ernie in Changi, when Baby Don was looking for his father who’d gone missing, after his mother died.

JOAN because I can't believe she doesn't feature until like halfway through this ep.
JOAN because I can’t believe she doesn’t feature until like halfway through this ep.

In the Black Lotus (because of course), Nightclub Friend confirms that Ange and Ernie were in the club together, that Ange came by often to hang out, thought it was all exotic, like all the backpackers here. I love her undertone (later continued) that the backpackers are just ridiculous and shouldn’t be in Singapore, coming to Singapore for the wrong reasons to just exotify us all. It’s this Singaporean POV and commentary that really keeps me holding on to Serangoon Road, even when the other bits disappoint me.

i over estimate you
i over estimate you

Alaric offers to help Don with the investigation, and they head back to Ange’s apartment. It’s all locked up, so Don goes to climb to the second story and break in. Alaric protests. “You always underestimate me,” Don complains. “No, I over estimate you. I think you will do something quieter, and smarter.” Alaric is my favourite. Inside the apartment Don finds someone riffling through Ange’s stuff, and they fight. Outside the apartment Alaric tries to grab the guy; he BITES OFF THE GUY’S EAR and the dude jabs him in the balls. He makes Don hold the ear as the dude escapes, but at least they’ll be able to identify him. Inside the apartment they find lots of notes and a traffickable amount of hash, and Don goes off to yell at Macca. Macca continues with his being convinced about Ernie’s guilt, despite all the suggestions of maybe triads (and Ange’s obsession with Triad drug movements), and though I’m not tense about this at all. It’s Ernie Dingo and it’s so obvious!

Out in Bugis Street, Don discovers a dude (not missing an ear) who makes a habit of spiking the drinks of foreigners. Why is it always Don? After Don and Alaric catch him with some unconscious girls he admits to spiking Ernie and Ange’s drinks, but they got into a fight with a big dude and so spiking guy left. I cannot even with this.

the perils of backpacking in singapore, i guess, ladies.
the perils of backpacking in singapore, i guess, ladies.

Meanwhile, Ernie has been sprung and left at the Agency. Uncle Owner is shaving a dude outside, threatens Ernie. Pamelyn freaks out because she’s reading an article with a picture of Ernie’s face, then looks up to find Ernie. “It’s all right, I won’t nick anything,” he says, to continue reminding us about racial stereotypes and racism, and I like this bit better, because Ernie plays it so sad, and so resigned, and it works. It’s just – it exists. Joan puts him to work fixing things around the Detective Agency.

uncle owner shaves
uncle owner shaves

Macca caves to Don’s pressure and reads the draft Ange had given him; it’s good, he confesses, and Ange was on her way and also ‘nuts’ – going to the docks at night by herself, talking to dealers. The draft contains secret codes to do drug deals, so Don and Alaric decide to go and do so. They find a dude with a missing ear – but having taken Ario and some Polis along with them, discover that earless dude was in the cells the night of the murder, and in the alley behind Ange’s apartment they’ve found a knife with blood and Ernie’s service number, so they go off to arrest Ernie.

Maybe he did it, Alaric implies – if his drink was spiked, sometimes drugs make you crazy. He gives Don a shifty eyed look, and I hope Don’s drug use turns up in the finale.

Ernie is drinking tea when the Polis arrive, so he politely hands his tea cup to a police officer, and then RUNS FOR IT – I laughed really hard at this part, and the following few moments where they apparently lose an Aboriginal Australian in Singapore’s Chinatown, which seems unlikely.

From their friendship and history, Don works out where Ernie has been hiding and they discuss the options: Don has a plan for working it out, which, Don, why didn’t you try this mysterious plan earlier; or, Ernie says, he has a captain friend on a ship that’s leaving tonight. The captain is a mate and can get him through immigration, but he’d never be able to return to Singapore. Don’s plan, it turns out, is to recreate the experience, which DEFINITELY Don why didn’t you try this before. So they retrace Ernie’s steps with Ange, through Bugis and a little fight with a dude eating noodles, ending in the alley behind Ange’s apartment, where his memory gives out. Maybe I don’t want to find out, Ernie tentatively suggests, maybe there’s nothing to find out except that I did it. Anyway handwave handwave, Ernie remembers the noodle guy coming to grab Ange’s handbag, having a knife, fighting, Ernie dropping his own knife, noodle guy picking it up and running at Ernie, Ange not feeling very well, noodle guy stabbed Ange and they were so drugged they didn’t notice? I KID YOU NOT also how exactly does one prove that? Ernie is feeling very guilty because he was the one who bumped into the noodle guy, and Don is all it was fate and just bad luck and clearly has no sympathy, which, Don, buddy.

Don finds and drags noodle guy into the police station, where Ario is skeptical but accepting (agrees to run tests on the knife, background on the dude, etc). I would love to know what is going on with Ario, why he’s always so amenable to Don’s ideas and ridiculousness. I hope this comes up in the final episode!

ario doesn't know what's going on
ario doesn’t know what’s going on

Episode ends with discovery that noodle guy was originally one of the suspects in Winston’s murder, and Winston’s file is missing so what does it all mean? What are Joan and Don going to do about this? Don visits the High Commissioner to give a report on the final outcome, and the HC reveals that Claire told Frank about her affair and Don is all GASP and now I’m worried he’s gonna go back to her. Lady Penelope agrees with me that he should just leave Claire alone because he can’t offer her anything and also ugh love doesn’t conquer all guys, I mean come on.

This episode is (obviously) quite heavily about race; and it feels more comfortable with this discussion than it did in the very heavy-handed episode one. The Australian High Commissioner calls Don in, and notes that “Canberra’s trying to be a bit sensitive to the black issue – there’s a referendum in the air;” then continues, “Bloke’s obviously as guilty as sin.” “Abo. Booze. Woman dead,” he says, as if that’s all the evidence one requires. Don points out Ernie was a war hero; “Oh geeze, Aboriginal war hero, framed. That’s the last hero I wanna see.” Macca continues with his tirade despite growing evidence that maybe it was someone else. Don being the rest of Australia, telling Macca that Ernie fought and then returned to Australia to find his house repossessed and his kids stolen. The High Commissioner throws shade on both Macca and Ernie, too, saying “I suspect that Aborigine, and walkabout, will feature” about Macca’s headlines, which he wants Don to convince Macca to tone down. The HC also clearly doesn’t know Ernie’s name.

At the same time, it’s randomly not about race. Nightclub Friend talks about Ange meeting up with someone: “A big older guy, Aussie I think.” That time period, of course she would say black! It’s completely weird that the Australians are being all horrible about indigenous people but the Singaporeans aren’t. Maybe a nightclub owner is more flexible or something.

buddies
buddies

This episode is also about trust and friendship. Don and Ernie’s old trust; Macca’s lack of new trust; Ario’s weirdly high levels of trust in Don. And Don and Ernie’s friendship was a nice thing to see, as was Don and Alaric working together as they once did, without the Import-Export to get in the way.

This episode was also a return to the not great acting. Geoff Morrell as the High Commissioner did his best with his frankly terrible lines, and Ernie Dingo did some excellent work, as did Joan when she tries to convince Ario to let her look at Winston’s files. But overall, choppy plot, weird dialogue, way too much hammer over everything to move the plot along. I am disappoint.

So here we are with one episode to go. I hope that Don and Claire don’t get back together (I hope that Claire and Frank do indeed leave and never come back). Don can pine over Claire for a bit (if there was a second season) and then move on. I think we’ll find out who killed Winston, but it’s just the beginning of the mystery. Kay Song perhaps will have something to do with it. It’s all stereotypes and sad faces from me. Maybe there will be more Singapore as Character. STAY TUNED.

singapore's docks: totally not this atmospheric now
singapore’s docks: totally not this atmospheric now

A Miscellany

  • Not enough Pamelyn
  • Don for serious, do up your shirt at the very least, have you no respect
  • Ernie you did your best with this script, I’m so sorry. “She had the whole world in front of her” Ernie I’m so sorry.
  • Fashion note: some repeated outfits! I love everyone. Don refuses to do up his shirt, even when visiting the Ambassador: I hate everyone.
  • Ernie wakes up fully clothed in bed under a doona. In Singapore. No, guys. Just no.
  • Ernie was in the actual credit sequence? Seems weird just for one episode, but maybe they’ve been doing this for all the eps and I just haven’t noticed.
  • White Spy Subplot: MI6 dude schools CIA dude on being polite with spycraft; CIA dude is actually terrible about it. I hate MI6 dude more as he says the phrase “taking in the exotic Asian surrounds.” MI6 dude gets CIA dude to break into Wild Bill’s office for something about Vietnam, and CIA dude almost gets caught; sasses MI6 dude. Guys get your filthy white paws out of South East Asia already, I hate you all.
  • Why was Baby Don chopping wood?
  • Chow mein is that what Australians in the 60s would have called it? It’s certainly not what they’d call it now.
  • Fortune Teller Auntie’s faces were the best thing about this entire episode. She makes sex jokes and kissing faces, she’s the best.

serangoon road e08

Today on Serangoon Road, everything happens in just one day, Don stars in an action movie (AND continues on in his state of undress damn dude tone it down), and Joan cries beautifully. Also I can’t find the title for this episode.

The episode opens with two white girls running through a corridor with lots of doors and someone chasing after them. It is basically a horror movie on a boat. They scramble for a room and someone breaks down the door; lots of screaming; credits.

horror movie cold open
horror movie cold open

At the wet market, all ang moh are inappropriately dressed. Claire has a very low cut back to her dress, and Don continues to wear his singlet with his overshirt. Dude I am a girl in 2013 and I wouldn’t dress as inappropriately as you are in 1964, what is your problem, do you have no respect for Singapore. Claire tells Don off for getting high, and he shrugs it off, classic addict.

In the Detective Agency, some Australian girls are missing, and one of them has a very wealthy father. They were on a freighter bound for London; they had tickets but their families definitely didn’t know. Some Australian was to meet them in Singapore and take them home, but they never got off the boat. Wealthy Father is a close friend of the Prime Minister. Joan’s FACE when she realises this means they have to agree to find them. Some Australian and Don go to visit the Captain, revealing nothing; Don visits Fortune Teller Auntie who makes him hand over money before she admits that there were some men from the boat around, yes. Don gets in a fight in the Black Orchid saving the dude he needs to talk to, who pees on a wall and says the Captain harassed them when he drank, and they’d been hanging about with some Chinese dude named Hawk. He has a hawk tattoo. He’s a known associate of the Red Dragons.

IGHT FIGHT FIGHT
FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT

Meanwhile Girl from the club takes to following Joan, and tells Joan that she gave birth to Winston’s baby! During Seventh Month she left the watch (as appropriate); Joan assumes she is asking for money. Joan gets mad; goes to the Black Orchid to see what she can see, and it’s strangely empty except for Kang’s Bar Friend. She says she never saw Mei Lin with another man, but cannot say if or if not his baby. Outside the bar, she flips her shit, and when she sees Claire she gets SUPER MAD on Don’s behalf, telling Claire not to ruin Don’s life. (This happens shortly after Claire tells Lady Penelope that she’s left Frank – so Lady Penelope orders two double gin and tonics for them)

joan noooo
joan noooo

A ransom demand is dropped at the Consulate demanding $10K or the girls will be killed. Some Australian thinks it’s Red Dragons despite Don telling him it can’t be, because the Red Dragons are strictly old school (drugs, prostitutes); he starts making demands of Ario, goes over Ario’s head, Ario is not impressed because now he has to go raid the Tong premises and like that’s not gonna bite him later.

Police start their raid, my boyf Kay Song, the leader of the Red Dragons, appears sharpening his cleaver. Nothing comes of the raid except for Kay Song being mad, and Ario being mad. “Why do you Colonials always think you know best,” he snaps at Don as he leaves. WHY INDEED also Don why are you even on this raid. A Tong Goon turns up and holds a gun to Don’s head as he demands “走了.” Kay Song’s FACE in this scene is so unimpressed, and so great, Chin Han you’re the best. He’s gently picking away at his meal (a delicious looking fish why am I vegan regrets regrets); he asks Don to tell him about the raids, and mentions that Hawk is no friend to the 13 Dragons.

Man Laughing With Fishie
Man Laughing With Fishie

Grand baba, who is also eating, gives Kay Song permission to let him deal with this dishonour. He deals with it by shooting at the Polis! Ario super unimpressed.

Ario
Ario

Having officially been bought out of the Import-Export by Alaric (“you know, how some people make great friends, but lousy business partners,” Alaric says as he hands over 500.), Don has to pay to get info on secret ways to get people off the big ships that come in. He asks Alaric to find out if there was a milk run the night the boat came in – when pimps take prostitutes to the ships for crew who can’t come ashore. Alaric finds out that there was a run, and two extra girls came back. He ends with “Eh, bring them back yah.” I like that after last episode’s break up, Alaric has voiced these boundaries and that a business break up doesn’t have to mean a relationship break up, and obviously his positive encouragement just reinforce that. It’s cool.

Man Inappropriately Dressed
Man Inappropriately Dressed

Don wanders around a kampung asking if people have seen the girls in his photo. Just as someone says yes, Don sees a dude with a hawk tattoo leaving a shack. He gives chase, but ultimately loses him as Hawk pulls a pile of crates down and makes a run for it. No matter though: in the shack is a girl! She is shaken and freaking the fuck out, and is on her own and very dirty. I fear the worst. In the Detective Agency she reveals after the Captain harassed them, Hawk offered to get them off the ship. He made Singapore sound great with Raffles and monkeys in parks, which, those monkeys are vicious, why would you want to go near them seriously I’ve been injured by them, my sister has been injured by them, they steal food and they are just nope.

So Wealthy Daddy won’t pay up, now that his girl is safe, even though Gina is still missing. But the money has already been wired, so Sam takes the money and goes to make the drop. Pamelyn and Joan tie up Some Australian, so he has an alibi, that they stole the money from him.

Don Hany Stars In: Some Video Game
Don Hany Stars In: Some Video Game

Hawk takes the money, they lose him, Sam runs up a ladder and spots him over the rooftops (HOW CONVENIENT), watches Hawk set up a decoy Chinese dude and run into a place. It’s true, I guess, that no one ever looks up, but you think people would learn eventually. Sam spots Ario and they meet up; while they’re spying to see what’s happening, there are gunshots! They enter to see a white girl being used as a hostage, and some Chinese men exiting. Ario recognises the men as Kay Song’s, so he’s gonna try to get Gina back.

I have some questions during this scene. A) why is Don taking command over a copper. B) Why is Ario letting him. WHY IS DON TAKING COMMAND OVER THE COPPER.

Man Laughing With Banquet
Man Laughing With Banquet

Outside Tong Place, there are guards. “Touch me and you’re dead,” Sam says to one, and I laugh out loud. Inside, Song Ge is sitting down to a banquet with many people. He grins at Sam. I have restored honour, made a lot of money, and killed my enemies, he tells Sam. I should thank you. When Sam demands Gina, he continues: You should be grateful I don’t kill you where you stand. But in concession to Sam’s point (“I should thank you”), he clarifies: When my men arrived, your princess was counting money with Hawk. So don’t go shedding tears for her. But he admits, like Sam said to Some Aussie earlier; we don’t kidnap (and kill) white girls.

Sam finds Gina in some gardens, because of THE CLUE dropped earlier about monkeys in gardens. It’s all about money and Camilla losing heart and Gina having no money to go on alone and feeling betrayed. He hands her over to Some Aussie, but doesn’t mention she had a hand in it. “If he’s smart enough, he’ll work in out for himself,” he tells Joan.

Joan is quietly processing what she’s learnt this episode. After going to Black Orchid she went to find Mei Lin, who reveals that Winston visited the baby on Wednesdays (which was when he told Joan he went to Mahjong). But the night he came, he believed someone was following him, and gave the watch to give to Joan for proof. He didn’t love the girl, only the baby. The baby doesn’t even get a name in this, which argh. Anyway Joan acts the shit out of both the scene with the mistress, and the later scene with Don, looking beautiful with tears in her eyes and as she raises her arm in frustration. “I don’t even get to scream at him, slap his face, and chase him out of the house,” she says, and admits his family wanted him to cast her aside, because nobody wants a barren woman. “Our culture,” she clarifies for anyone who might not be sure.

We close out the episode with a Claire who is unsure, but really only because other people who she’s come to trust are making her doubt herself. She’s been told by Lady Penelope that she doesn’t belong in Chinatown (“where do I belong?” she rebuts); then when she finds Don after what she describes as an awful day, he tells her not to leave Frank. “It’s no life here. You don’t belong here,” he says, so it’s a good thing she hasn’t told Frank and can go back to him. OH WAIT; I shake my hands at the screen as she agrees she hasn’t told Frank and can therefore go back to him. I also realise that today in continuity Claire was supposed to get her stuff from the house, so what happened to that. I don’t really understand what she is doing? Claire. I don’t care yet, but I’d like you to make sense.

This episode was delightfully low on CIA and MI6 dudes, but sadly made up for it in whiteness with excessive Australianness.

classic 60s-70s white dudes in SEA
classic 60s-70s white dudes in SEA. colonialists. ugh.

Two episodes left, and I still don’t know where we’re going. We’ve found out where Winston’s watch went but we still don’t know who killed him; Don and Claire keep breaking up and getting back together and who even knows; spy shenanigans will PRESUMABLY involve either Australians or Singaporeans again soon otherwise what even is the point; and the strongest story lines, as always, are the ones involving the Singaporeans. This series would be so much stronger if there were more Singaporean story lines and less of the other things, there are some AMAZING local actors in this production and they’re just not being used.

looking exotic woooo
looking exotic woooo

There was also, as there often is, a lot of ~atmosphere~ in this episode, lingering shots on random things, and sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s scene-setting or exotification. Either way, at least it’s comforting and familiar to me.

A Misc

Pamelyn doesn't take CIA dude seriously
Pamelyn doesn’t take CIA dude seriously
  • Cinematography: SO GREAT.
  • Pamelyn and the CIA dude: Pamelyn looking fine. CIA dude still not worthy of her. They could run away to Australia if she’s denied her Visa. After she has her degree, she might let him marry her, which, show, you haven’t sold this yet! Also no.
  • Spy storyline: SURPRISE MI6 dude convinces CIA dude to spy for him. “The shame goes away,” he says, when CIA dude slinks off. “Chin up, you’re a real spy now.” So funny. This picture is perfect though, so colonial it hurts, white clad white dudes, buzzing of the mozzies at night, out in the air no regard for the rest of us. Bet there’s some malay butlers bustling around off screen.
  • In further gross MI6 business, “Those Australians have got their knickers in a twist. It seems they’ve lost two of their breeders.” Did I hear this right? Because I’m actually unqualified to analyse this, breeders is a term queers often use about straight couples having kids but ALSO it is an Englishman referring to Australians so maybe it’s just misogynistic and paternalistic and gross rather than also confusing.
  • When Joan checks her makeup before knocking on the door: so great.
  • Malay watch: adorable and mostly untranslated. Mandarin watch: eh. Singaporeans acting great in mando though.
  • “What an awful day,” says Claire to Don as she falls into his arms. I laughed because of how different and yet how terrible their days were.
  • Next week: ERNIE DINGO. So I assume it’ll be racism against Indigenous Australians.
would you wear this dress?
would you wear this dress?

Serangoon Road s01 e07: My Girl

In episode 7 of Serangoon Road, Pamelyn and the CIA dude keep on making out, Alaric is accused of smuggling explosives into Singapore, and everybody actually makes a compelling attempt at acting.

Characters are introduced to the episode with romance: Pamelyn and CIA dude make out in the dark after possibly having had a date; angmohs are spooning and Claire is gonna stay in Don’s apartment. Pamelyn, over CIA dude’s shoulder, notices some late night workers: turns out to be a bomb! CIA dude tries to chase them down but instead the dude gets SHOT IN THE HEAD and CIA dude gets punched out.

At the Detective Agency, Pamelyn and Joan talk about who might be responsible for the bomb and how happy Pamelyn’s parents will be that she was interviewed as an eyewitness (not at all), and James Lim, whom you might remember from episode three (he had a dead wife and a live girlfriend who was also another man’s wife), turns up to say that his brother Professor Lim is under suspicion because he believes Malaysia for the Malaysians and he just wants him to be safe!!!

Everyone believes him.

this is my believing face
this is my believing face
...

They accept the case, in part because Pamelyn was once a student of Professor Lim’s. Don goes detectiving, and Ario turns up looking for Alaric, whom he claims is a known associate of the bombers. Meanwhile in other detectiving, after failing to actually make a difference in the bombing, CIA dude has been noticed “at Langley” and has been raised a class or something, and gets to read some files that MI6 has finally decided to share because they want to protect against the commies! What a coincidence!

Alaric lies to Don about who he’s smuggling for, and what, and then fires a warning shot: “you can tell Mrs Simpson that Singapore’s very small. When someone sees something, everyone sees it.” Pamelyn meets up with a friend, another ex-student of the Professor’s. We learn that Pamelyn and Felix the friend once dated, but she broke up with him because he was boring. Felix has some super nerdy glasses, and also knows where Professor Lim is! They head to his car and he tells her she has to get into the boot! I am worried at this point but it’s all good, they get to meet Professor Lim and he says ‘thanks but no thanks,’ as opposed to Felix kidnapping her which I was mildly concerned about, god Pamelyn, haven’t you ever heard of telling people when you’re getting into the trunk of an ex-boyfriend?

what a wise decision
what a wise decision

Meanwhile CIA dude has been reading the files. He finds a file on Pamelyn! She has pigtails and looks adorable. Old MI6 Dude and Old CIA Dude turn up, and Old MI6 Dude knooooows about the Pamelyn file, he knoooooows he conveys it with his smug ang moh face. After they leave, CIA dude turns back to Pamelyn’s file: the informant was Felix! CIA dude later asks Pamelyn about this; “Why would he lie about me?” she asks. CIA dude can’t pronounce Yao.

omg baby pamelyn is a communist! GASP
omg baby pamelyn is a communist! GASP

Alaric takes on some crates of what look like baijiu. He checks them, all looks good, off he goes but at the boat house THE POLIS. Under the baijiu is explosives! ALARIC IS IN JAIL IN HIS TIGHTY WHITIES! Alaric admits to Don that he’s been running alcohol for the unions, but definitely not explosives or anything. Don gets to make a deal with Ario that if he can get the professor, Ario will consider letting Alaric go. Otherwise he’s getting hanged for something something.

omg those pants
omg those pants

CIA dude follows Felix, breaks into his room and threatens him in a fairly hilarious way. I laugh SO HARD. Felix admits he placed the report because Pamelyn broke up with him, what a loser. CIA dude drops the report in a street fire which surely is pointless, because 10SGD says MI6 dude has a copy.

HAHAHA
HAHAHA

Alaric admits to Don that he has no idea where the Professor, as head of a union section or movement, lives or is hiding, but he does know where he prays. Don heads on out, first being followed by a man on a motorbike (whom he beats up, and throws on a table in front of James Lim), and then staking out the place of prayer (Professor Lim goes in for some incense, unsurprisingly). Don follows the professor to a union meeting, where the professor is sad about the violence and some other guy is like NO WE MUST THROW OUT THE 外国人. The polis crash the party with guns and smoke grenades, and Don calls out a come with me if you want to live to the professor. While they’re escaping, the professor gets shot by a man in a mask, who is later revealed to be one of James Lim’s goons. Is it because his brother is a threat to his attempts to be a politician in Singapore? How did the polis and/or James Lim’s man find where they were? What is going on?!

In the boathouse, Alaric is out of prison and they fight because it was Alaric who told the police (and/or James Lim) where to raid, and also maybe he has been smuggling guns for the unions. But not explosives and he’s Singaporean, damnit, he’s totally allowed! Don gets angry because now the professor is going to die (from his wounds, presumably); Alaric reminds Don that he was about to be hanged and Don was the one who made the original deal with Ario. Don, somewhat understandably but also somewhat inexplicably, becomes upset and breaks the partnership up. “I always knew you’d plan an angle, I didn’t have a problem with that. But I never thought you’d lie to me like that. We’re done,” he ends, but Alaric gets the last word. “We’ve been done for a while.”

mostly i just capped this cause shoesforall wanted the clothes
mostly i just capped this cause shoesforall wanted the clothes

Outside of the Expat Hangout, Claire breaks up with Frank (her husband, you may remember him but he’s been pretty boring so far so no problems if you don’t), who asks, “you think that will last?” She heads over to Don’s place and knocks and waits and knocks and waits and he’s not there. Instead he is GETTING HIGH, which he hasn’t done in an age. Claire tries again at the Agency and Joan answers the door; takes her to the boathouse where Alaric is getting drunk and, reluctantly, leads them back into Chinatown to the den where Don is getting high.

SO DISAPPOINT IN YOU
SO DISAPPOINT IN YOU

Joan is disappoint (but pretty). Alaric promises to bring him home in the morning, and I’m worried about Alaric’s motives. On the beach he was reluctant, is he trying to sabotage Don? Show if you ruin Alaric you’re in so much trouble.

questionable choices
questionable choices

CIA dude and Pamelyn sit in a boat house on some water, chatting about how she’s gotten into her USA universities and she needs to not make trouble or it’ll get her VISA revoked. She has an adorable fringe and makes fun and he’s all grumpy until she agrees. Then MI6 dude turns up with photos of them together (…is it a secret?) revealing they’ve both been followed, and therefore photos of him threatening Felix, and CIA dude realises that MI6 wanted him to find the file in order to incriminate himself. NOW HE HAS TO BE AN MI6 PATSY.

oh NOPE
oh NOPE

In a way, this episode is about questionable choices. CIA dude chooses to scale a drain pipe and harass a guy in his own apartment. Claire chooses to leave her husband for a guy who passes out in a drug den. Alaric chooses to smuggle for the unions and then lie to his business partner. These choices will have ongoing repercussions, and I hope they’re AWESOME, but continuity has not been amazing so far so I’m sceptical.

This episode had its ups and downs, and after CIA dude found out about Pamelyn’s file I noted “ugh so far this episode so boring”, but by the time it wrapped up I was cheered and totally into it and whilst I could remember writing it down, couldn’t remember feeling bored! So second half, excellent; first half, not so much. Not a lot of gross colonialism in this episode aside from all the ‘we must keep Malaysia for the British!’ and ‘KEEP US FROM THE COMMIES’ which as usual was accurate and I hate everyone.

The advertising and branding for Serangoon Road has been all about it being against the backdrop of Singapore becoming Singapore, and despite Joan getting caught up in that mob in episode three and the bombing that started it all in episode one, this is the first time I’ve really felt that it’s all had an impact on what’s going on in any meaningful way.

what a cute fringe
what a cute fringe

Script-wise, I loved the bringing back of James Lim from several episodes ago, keep up the continuity. And there was some excellent acting here, the relationship between Pamelyn and CIA dude felt genuine and believable (even if the build up still doesn’t); Claire really did struggle with leaving Frank; Alaric is upset and stressed about by what he feels is Don’s disinterest. Really the only one who didn’t feel compelling was Don. Interested to see where we go from here, with only three episodes left; but with only three episodes to go, it feels like it’s only just hit its stride and I’m not sure it actually has the momentum to keep my interest held and that cool stuff going. We’ll see.

A Miscellany:

  • As always, Singaporeans very excellent.
  • Not enough Joan in this episode
  • This episode title is relevant, at least superficially, to the story lines of the episode! Good work everyone.
  • Lots of untranslated Mandarin in this episode, which I loved. Totally adorable, and also interesting choices at times – when Alaric and Joan are talking on the beach and Claire is with them, they’re using Mandarin. An exclusionary tactic? (I dig it) (Haha sometimes we ARE talking about you) Interestingly, in the scene on the beach the translations are quite different from the actual Mandarin. Spoken the conversation is “I’m looking for Sam. You know where he is?” “Not here.” Translation reads “Sam didn’t come home. You seen him?” “No.”
  • There needs to be more eating! Only eating in this episode is Don eating noodles from a hawker while staking out the temple and Claire having lunch with Rachael Blake.
  • Claire can pick up her stuff tomorrow, after Frank’s gone. Is he gonna sabotage her stuff?
  • Love Uncle Owner, who disapproves of Claire staying over but also knows about back alley doctors and takes Don to them to find Professor Lim.
  • No Auntie Fortune Teller 😦
  • Will the new, attractive journo in the bar mean anything in upcoming episodes? (ps Macca sleazed onto her, surprise)
  • WHERE IS THE KOMBI?!
  • Next episode: Aussie girls missing; my boyf Song Ge; “now you’re a real spy” hahaha.
where does the dress end and the flowers begin?
where does the dress end and the flowers begin?

serangoon road s01 e06: tracks of my tears

In Episode 6 of Serangoon Road “Tracks of My Tears”, it’s time for the Hungry Ghost Festival! Kay Song’s sister goes missing, a mysterious adorable baby is left on the doorstep of the detective agency, and boring ang moh things happen. Also I get more grumpy about colonialist attitudes in Singapore. And who comes up with these episode titles? 

The episode opens with prayers and performers during Hungry Ghost Festival, and Kay Song doing some praying! I love that he has Tong Goons to place his incense on the altar for him.

Sam is back in his white shirt watching performers, and he and Kay Song exchange mysterious nods as he leaves and wanders out onto the street. There are a lot of gratuitous lingering shots of people praying and burning hell money and joss sticks. A little kid flips out, calls him e’gui and there’s sinister music and I cry laughing.

饿鬼
饿鬼

We cut from calls of e’gui to blue coloured scenes and the sound of air raid sirens, so I guess we’re in a memory! Two men walk on the grass to a house. Cut to house. It’s Claire’s house! Is Claire living in Don’s childhood house? Surely not because that’s creepy. I don’t understand why Claire is still here she’s so booooring. Claire gets out of bed; Don creepily watches the window like a creeper.

sr6-memories

Sinister music plays over this entire section, which is great. Cut to Joan in the street finding A BABY. The baby has a water-stained note with it to which Don says “it’s definitely written in Mandarin but I can’t make it out” to which I say: a) lol; b) dude you are talking to two Singaporeans. You think maybe they might know that?

More importantly, Pamelyn asks who abandons a male baby; and starts sassing (Mr Callaghan, where were you nine months ago?). Don gets a totally hilarious look on his face.

sr6-money

CHINESE HISTORY NOTE: Or Chinese current note, I guess. Similarly to Europeans, historically girls are for marrying off and boys are for bringing in a new girl to the house. So you never give a boy away because he’s an asset, and also in our patriarchal society he is the one with the family stuff going on, the one in charge of looking after the ancestral tablets, etc etc. This is in part what’s led to the huge disparity in male vs female children and young adults in China since the promulgation of the One Child Policy.

We have a little side adventure with Don that goes nowhere, where he tries to locate a woman named Shuang because maybe he impregnated her? It’s pretty weird, but it comes to nothing because he tracks her down and she’s married and has a baby in the house with her and dead end adventure.

CIA dude drops by on Pamelyn, finds her looking after the baby. “It suits you,” he says; “Conrad if you upset this baby I will shoot you,” is her reply. Go Pamelyn, sass him, he’s not good enough for you!

baby isn't gonna take your shit, CIA dude
baby isn’t gonna take your shit, CIA dude

Back in Serangoon Rd, Uncle Owner is very superstitious, spending the whole episode burning hell money, waving joss sticks and admonishing Don that it’s a bad time to be helping strangers. Song Ge threatens Alaric, asking where his (Song Ge’s) sister Weilin is. Alaric might know because he’s been selling black market LP’s to her. But before the threats get far, a dude comes in and whispers to Song Ge, who runs out. Alaric and Don chase him down, and find him by the water’s edge, where there’s a body floating; it is Kay Weilin.

“Man, don’t go in the water,” Alaric comments from the distance of a bridge far above the water. “Spirits of the drowned are everywhere this time of the year.” A) I hear you, bro; B) pipe for the non-Chinese?

i hope the kay family are into this
i hope the kay family is into this (too soon?)

Down in the police station Ario, as always our token speaking-part Malay, tells us that she died of blood poisoning from complications of giving birth. He reveals that there’s no sign of the baby and that the family didn’t know she was pregnant. Should Ario be giving this much info to Don? Are there gonna be favours owed? I don’t understand their professional relationship. Don realises that the baby is a member of the Kay family and they desperately need to get him out of Chinatown because, Don decides, they can’t leave the baby with Song Ge and his Dragon family.

ario our token malay
ario our token malay

So he takes the baby to Claire, sneaking past Song Ge and Song Ge’s Tong Goons, who are ripping through Chinatown trying to find the baby. Because that’s his only solution? How is she gonna explain this to Frank? They’re only supposed to be acquaintances as far as he knows. Claire at least protests that he can’t just do this, but she takes the baby anyway because she’s a lady.

Investigation reveals that Kay Weilin had an angmoh friend so Don meets up with Pamelyn who coaches him on turning up to an event where they might be able to identify and discover the friend. She tells him he needs to look stern, but that he actually looks like he needs a digestive tea. I laugh because I love Pamelyn most when she’s being sassy. That’s all I want. Sass. Don tells her to do better than CIA dude. “You sound like my father,” she says, which, there’s nothing wrong with that in this instance, you ARE too good for him, Pamelyn!

moar grumpy!
moar grumpy!

Pamelyn discovers the ang moh bestie and attempts to charm her but is literally the worst, and I can’t tell if this is language issues, acting issues or script issues. It’s like with Violin Daughter from ep 2 all over again. Ang moh bestie isn’t buying it and sashays off.

Back in Chinatown they discover that Auntie Fortune Teller, who knows all the Amahs in town (historically quite possible), actually knows who Kay Weilin’s Amah is and they wheedle it out of her by suggesting that if the Kay family finds the Amah first they’ll kill her! Auntie Fortune Teller gets him to promise on his ancestors to keep her safe, which is an interesting thing to get an ang moh you don’t fully trust to swear.

auntie not impressed with you, little ang moh
auntie not impressed with you, little ang moh

In the kampungs, Don gets beaten up until he reveals he knows about the baby; Amah actress not so good, reveals that she left Weilin by herself to go cover up with the family and when she came back Weilin was feverish and then she died, so she gave the baby to the ang moh bestie and consigned Weilin to the water and now Weilin is doomed to come back and seek revenge. We are a superstitious bunch, aren’t we? (I would probably be scared too, ngl). As Amah is tearfully confessing to it all being her fault, Don says, “so [ang moh bestie] took the baby,” which, thanks Don, have some sympathy you’ve only been dealing with us your whole life, I mean seriously.

Back in the office, Team Detective are trying to come up with a new way to get in contact with ang moh bff and get her to spill what she knows. “What about that ang moh party tonight?” Pamelyn asks, as if all ang mohs know each other which given Singapore in the 60s, they probably do hahah. After Claire calls the office for “help” from Don re: the baby (what would Don know?!), we cut to another party which I swear they’re all held in the same place (also possible), and Pamelyn is wearing the same dress she wore on her date with CIA dude! PAMELYN YOU ARE PERANAKAN HAVE SOME RESPECT. Don is wearing a suit. CIA looks like he could use a digestive biscuit.

pamelyn no
pamelyn no

They convince ang moh bff to separate from her parents and she reveals that Weilin thought the boy she was sexing thought he was going to marry her. Awwww! And he’s here tonight! Dude (Chinese Singaporean with an Australian accent which is funny because he’s supposed to be English-Educated Singaporean doing uni in England) is in denial; he never received any letters though ang moh bff swears Weilin wrote them. His father storms into the room and admits he stole the letters! The boy wants to take the baby on but his father won’t let him, making it clear that he should never have gotten involved with someone from a Tong family and now he’s just gonna have to deal with how the father is choosing to fix it. Boy storms off, making it clear he’s not emotionally mature enough to have an infant anyway.

Back in the office, the phone rings. “Guess who,” Joan says, holding the phone out to Don. The looks on her and Pamelyn’s faces are priceless. Don turns up at Claire’s house and I’d like to know where Frank is in all of this? Claire comments that Don is a natural with kids arhghg help. He says he was around kids a lot growing up – in Changi? Claire asks. Claire you don’t just ask someone! Frustrated by not being able to give the kid a home that isn’t in the Kay clan, Don asks Claire, “You know any expat kids who wanna adopt a Chinese baby?” Claire, continuing to show some basic common decency as a human baby, replies “He’s a baby, not a puppy. Given expat circles I think a dog would have a better chance.” Thank you, Claire. DON YOU ARE THE PROBLEM WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM YOU CANNOT JUST PALM OFF A CHINESE BABY TO A RANDOM EXPAT FAMILY ALDKAJFADF.

this is how we all feel right now
this is how we all feel right now

Sorry. Hi. We cut quickly to the detective agency and Serangoon Road. There is a mysterious woman walking the streets holding a package, which she drops on the steps of the Cheng Agency, which is becoming a bit of a pattern. She knocks and runs off, and Joan comes out to discover the locket from episode 3, with the picture of Joan and Winston in it. DUN DUN DUNNN.

Meanwhile, trying to hit an emotional note, Claire advocates for giving the baby to the Kay family and asks “did your life turn out the way you thought it would?” Don has some more misty flashbacks, and we transition to the truck that appears to have replaced the Kombi. “This is gonna get you killed, man,” says Alaric.

I’m so pissed off that it’s up to the white people to decide to give the baby to the Kay family. I get why they spent all this time investigating – if Weilin went to so much effort, given she was living at home, to hide her pregnancy from her family, clearly she maybe didn’t want them to know and maybe she didn’t want the baby to be a part of the Kay family, for whatever reason. But Weilin died without leaving written instructions, her ang moh bestie knew she wasn’t keen on it but didn’t know what else to do, the father can’t take the baby and Kay Song is tearing Chinatown apart for the baby. What does that tell you, you judgemental ang moh?

In what is probably Don’s longest monologue so far, Don gives the baby to Grandfather Kay, and shows honour and respect in returning the baby, and asks that in return he grants a favour: not seeking vengeance. Grandfather Kay is clearly feeling magnanimous and/or wants Don to do him more favours in the future; he grants the favour for the boy and the girl, but he says, a member of my household – “she cannot go unpunished.” Don asks him to reconsider, but Grandfather Kay doesn’t even look at him, he just keeps playing with the baby as he says “It is already too late.” The music over this whole scene is amazing.

Don races off to the kampung to find Kay Amah, leaving behind Alaric who went to get drinks or something (for reals). In the kampung, Kay Amah is cooking and turns to find Song Ge staring at her. He floats into the room, Amah serves him some food and he kneels down beside her at the table. He is quiet and kind of menacing. “I’ve been having these dreams, Amah,” he says. “I would have you sing.” It’s kind of menacing and kind of not, and I honestly can’t tell whether he’s gonna kill her or not, so excellent work my friend. Amah sings and Song Ge lies his head on the table and looks up at her.

Don swings to a stop at the kampung and leaps out of not the Kombi. Song Ge walks into sight, pulling his sleeves down. They face off, Don all puffed and Song Ge all quietly sinister. “I slit her throat and fed her to the crabs” he says, and Don believes him until Amah comes into sight. He’s sending her off to hid! “If my Grandfather finds out, it is you who I shall be giving to the crabs” Song Ge threatens as Amah sails off; doesn’t look back.

In the boat house, Alaric agrees to something with two Chinese guys, without their ang moh partners present. “Don’t worry about him, just keep this between us,” they all agree. ALARIC NO. Why sometimes such good decisions, other times clearly such bad decisions!

Joan plays with the locket and talks out loud. We pull back and discover she is sitting talking to Winston at his tablet. She is puzzled and unsure and I love you Joan. Uncle Owner is still burning money, and this was so superficially about ghosts, I really did expect more instead of this sledgehammer of meaning and just bam bam bam! It really could have been about ghosts, or about the Chinese fear of ghosts (especially in SEA), instead of whatever this mess was.

We end with Claire hiding out in Don’s house, telling him she’s gonna leave Frank. But if she leaves Frank won’t she have to go back to Australia? I find it hard to believe she has her own funds. Then the ang mohs make out and I yell at the screen.

This was a weird episode, with real attempts to make sure that the A plot was basically the entirety of the focus, with only little hints of other things, but it still felt like it lacked whatever was needed to bind it together. The moments with the ghosts and babies and traditions felt forced, not artificially added on but as if they were uncomfortable being there; but at the same time it gave some excellent moments of colonialism and attitudes in Singapore in 1964. I feel very mixed about this episode: I definitely can’t say it was a good one because there were some notes I loved; but at the same time it was terrible.

A, Miscellany:

  • The writing and the acting has definitely dropped again in this episode. WHY MY ABC WHY.
  • Don and CIA dude get into fights over the Singaporeans in their lives. Don threatens CIA dude re: Pamelyn (I don’t care how you treat me but “you upset her, that’s another story”); CIA dude threatens Alaric (he’s on a communist watchlist ?!!? “if we do not stand up against communism it will destroy us.” Americans.)
  • I wish they’d stop trying to make fetch happen with Pamelyn and the CIA dude. It’s so contrived and awful, AND he just keeps pushing for a yes past every one of her nos until she just gently drops into not a no. “I’m repulsed by every single thing you stand for,” Pamelyn says, and I wish they’d stick with that!
  • Alaric: “you know I can’t read white guys.” I hear you, 哥哥.
  • I’m always glad when we get more background on characters, but Song Ge was super upset only this was the only time we’ve ever seen Kay Weilin. Dead lady only in a Singaporean setting for the gangster baddie is still a lady in the fridge. Expansion only with dead ladies is it?
  • Fortune Teller Auntie! So the best. She tells Don to stay out because it’s Chinatown business and I love it, because no matter how much he wants to be a part of it he still always holds himself a little separate, like all ang moh in SEA at the time. Perfect characterisation. Also yes, he should go give sacrifice instead. Baby Grandaddy tells Don “you’re an outsider, you don’t understand;” I would really love it if they keep exploring this aspect through the show, how Don wants to be considered wholly Singaporean but he never will be because he won’t let himself be.
  • Every instance of Joan making fun of Don makes me happy.
  • Why ‘Tracks of My Tears’? Why not something to do with it being 中元节? Something to do with ghosts or…something.
  • Speaking of all ang mohs knowing each other, did I mention that time I was trailing behind my parents at 10:00 in some random shopping centre in Penang and my dad literally bumped into another ang moh he knew when he was stationed at Butterworth 25 years earlier? All ang mohs really DO know each other in SEA in the 60s-70s.
  • No Rachael Blake, no Tony Martin. Boooooo.
  • Hokkien watch: lots of use of ang moh.

Next week: Alaric is caught smuggling explosives and Pamelyn refuses to help clear him. DUN DUN DUNNNNN

serangoon road s01 e05: heatwave

In Heatwave, Episode Five of Serangoon Road, white people try to save brown babies, the MI6 dude tries and fails to be menacing, and CIA dude takes the Secretary of My Heart on a date and is super embarrassing and rewarded for pushing and pushing after she kept turning him down. Also the text explains ang moh, and Tony Martin is drunk. 

The episode opens at the boat shed, where Alaric talks about how with a few more good jobs of easy money, he can buy a new boat. Don is a downer but he is wearing a new shirt!; Alaric takes money very seriously.

Frank, Claire, Black and Macca turn up at the boat shed to go on an excursion; Macca is drunk and declares that Don should “shoot me now.” Alaric is super unhappy that Claire has come along on their first security job. I do enjoy the continuity of Alaric being suspicious of Claire, and I’m hoping that it goes somewhere in the show. It turns out the company for which Black and Frank work is doing aid work in Malaysia, funding and supplying a hospital. Black goes on and on and on about the good work they’re doing here, and I have a lot of issues. Because while aid work and funding is all well and good, the history of especially Europeans of parachuting in and doing a thing and then buggering off is hugely problematic, and this situation highlights all of that.

Alaric speaks for us all
Alaric speaks for us all

I think I can’t roll my eyes any further, but then Claire sits beside a child dying of malaria and the child looks on in wonderment and touches her hair. He’s super ill, and Claire interrogates the nurse, who hints that maybe something is wrong when Claire is all “you can tell me, you won’t get into trouble,” which, Claire, you’re the Australian wife of a businessman in Singapore, you’re hanging out in some Malaysian village and you seriously think you have any power? Let me tell you a thing, my friend, and that thing is that you are wrong.

Claire tries to convince Black and Frank to investigate and Black is having none of it and when she threatens the image of the company Frank gets annoyed and insists that she leave it alone.

There are too many white people in this episode, where are all my hilarious and great Singaporeans? This show is set in Singapore, I don’t need white saviours we got enough of those already!

On Victoria Street, Pamelyn is getting a cup of tea and CIA dude taps her on the shoulder. “You ang moh have the most terrible manners,” she says, and then actually explains ang moh which sure, I guess. Also it’s true, ang moh do have the worst manners. CIA dude talks her into a date; Joan tells her off and makes fun of her. I am pissed off that the text is rewarding CIA dude for ignoring her repeated nos, and that Pamelyn says he saved me from a problem, I can let him take me to dinner, there won’t be a second. Just another boundary that the show is going to erode, I bet, and I’ll be disappointed in you all.

Don bribes a lab to run tests on the medicine that has been given to the malaria kids; it’s been watered down! “Who would do such a thing and why?” Claire asks. Even Don rolls his eyes.

This is the second job that the detective agency has taken from the company; first the investigation to bribes last episode, and now investigating who is watering down the medicine that the company is paying for at the hospital. I’m hoping that this is a developing plot point, and not just lazy writing.

Pamelyn notes “patronising ang moh woman; only she can save the children” at Claire coming along to deliver the new supplies; Alaric asks why is she even here, the question we are all asking. I like that the text is interrogating and questioning the idea of the white saviour and the short term aid work done especially by Western interests; but it’s such a simplistic, obvious questioning. It’s so formulaic, so basic, that it almost begs a question: what even is the point of this? This storyline, this episode, this work and this show?

"patronising ang moh woman; only she can save the children" preach it pamelyn
“patronising ang moh woman; only she can save the children” preach it pamelyn

On the boat to Malaysia, Don asks if Claire and Frank will ever have kids. I seriously don’t care. I know this is supposed to add depth but, especially when Claire mentions that when she thinks of being a mother she thinks of a boy about the age of Amir in the hospital, it simply serves to highlight that any aid work, any investigation and assistance, is only being done to assuage the guilt of white interests, rather than in the interests of real local change and capacity building.

Surprise! At the hospital, Amir is already dead. Claire is sad, and I’m relieved that at least she’s not sobbing, because I was worried it would happen. Alaric continues to say what we’re all thinking: it’s not the first time someone went with the cheapest option, and “short-term do-gooders – now it’s all blown up in your face isn’t it?” Alaric I love you and your anger. You’re beautiful. He points out that Amir died because the other kids had parents who could afford to buy the real stuff on the black market.

Back in not the Raffles, Frank tells Claire to drop the issue, and not to get people mad. So Claire gives an interview to Macca, who doesn’t mention her name but makes no attempt to hide her identity. Don goes to the Duke bar and chokes Macca, making him spill his drink. Macca gets all sassy about Don protecting Claire; “And if it was her, she’s over eighteen,” he snaps, and ends with “and you’re a bloody prince charming yourself, aren’t you?” It’s interesting, actually, that the only people who ever really question Don are Macca, Joan and Alaric. Everyone else just accepts his image. I hope this goes somewhere.

Claire continues to be incredibly naive; she also says that she doesn’t want to stop, and gazes meaningfully at Don.

sometimes the cinematography is really good
sometimes the cinematography is really good

Macca, drunk and in the dark, gets picked up by some bully boys in suits and escorted to see the dude from MI6. I seriously don’t care about the MI6 storyline, but I suppose I should because of the history of the British in Singapore/Malaya/etc. “Is that a threat?” Macca asks. “Of course not, we’re MI6.” I laugh.

Frank is taken off a big project as a punishment for Claire going to the newspapers; Frank gets annoyed, and wants Don to find out what’s going on. In a warehouse in the dark, Don and Alaric watch some guys come to pick up some boxes, put them in a boat, and unload deported unionists who have been smuggled back in. I don’t understand what Alaric is doing here, given he’s only in the Import Export, but I’m glad he’s here!

On the date, Pamelyn wears an awful debutante dress. They are surrounded by white people. Because Pamelyn wants to move to the USA to study, CIA dude has American food served to Pamelyn, including a hotdog on a plate and wine from his father’s vineyard. He says “music is also a part of [her] education,” and a guy comes out playing violin and CIA dude sings Yankee Doodle Dandy in the middle of the restaurant and I’m so embarrassed by how awkward this is that I press the mute button until it’s done, I just can’t deal with it. Is this supposed to be charming? There’s no way she’s gonna consider that charming, I speak as an arrogant, embarrassing to my parents, Gen Y SEAzn and I find that behaviour frankly embarrassing, and I’m not even Peranakan. I call bullshit. Unless she’s rebelling against her parents. Then I buy it.

Back at the Detective Agency, Alaric suspects something and everyone suspects it’s one of the secret societies, because a boat captain on his own wouldn’t be able to pull off something like this. Alaric dashes off into the jungle, discovers the secret lab where dilution is taking place, and there’s lots of Malays smoking and siphoning. Somebody spots him because of course, he runs and is chased and I am worried for him, why didn’t he say where he was going? He does the worst hiding job ever but somehow he isn’t found.

When Don is surprised at Alaric going off to find the lab, he reminds Don – “I said I didn’t pretend to care.” TAKE THAT WHITE PEOPLE. With Ario and the police in tow, they discover the lab has been cleared out, and when they surveil the warehouse Ario lets the boat captain go, but captures the men he’s with. This scene moves fast and frankly could do with better exposition but, we learn that MI6 swooped in to bust the union leaders being smuggled in earlier in the day, and the captain is being let go because he’s their informant. The meds is just whatever.

throwing shade from shade
throwing shade from shade

Joan gives a smile when she reports back to Claire. Nobody is being punished; “Welcome to Asia.” I cry laughing.

There’s a lot of romance in this episode, and it’s bugging me. CIA dude comes to tell Pamelyn that he’s being sent to Saigon, and the implication is that it’s because of what he said to Black in the previous episode. But CIA dude is secretly CIA! How can Black have this much control over CIA dude’s postings? Pamelyn gets sad because despite telling him there will be no second date, they haven’t kissed yet so they do, and then she’s all “oh my god we’re in trouble,” and Pamelyn is working it but I’d find it more moving if it were at all believable, see rant three paragraphs previous.

NO STOP DO NOT WANT
NO STOP DO NOT WANT

Because white people in Singapore in the 60s all knew each other, Claire knows exactly who to talk to despite never having interacted on screen before. She confronts MI6 dude, threatening to expose him, and MI6 dude threatens right back, implying he knows about her and Don getting it on. She backs down, and in a completely excruciating scene Don and Claire officially break up and there’s lots of moody music and they awkwardly hold hands and I’m crying laughing and I just don’t understand why we’re supposed to care.

This scene goes on and on and on and frankly highlights how this episode was just too much white people. I want more Singaporeans!

singaporeans! as background
singaporeans! as background

Next week: SINGAPOREANS. And my Tong Boyf Chin Han.

We’re halfway through the season, and I still don’t know where we’re going with this. There are some amazing beats, some excellent cinematography, and some excellent threads. Joan Chen is basically phoning in her performance, but every now and then she’s given a great bit of dialogue and someone excellent to work off, like in episode two with Xiang Yun, and you see what could have been. Even if it’s often clunky, I’m grateful that the series does present some realities of the era and the setting and attempts to interrogate them, not just being all “wow it was a great time!” – which it was, if you were white.

Serangoon Road has a lot of potential in its themes, in the stories it’s telling, and in the way it’s trying to widen the audience for shows heavily featuring stories and faces that aren’t white. And I do feel like all of those things have been improving from episode to episode. I just wish I could trust it to keep on improving. At some points, only my love of the setting and my familiarity with the Singaporeans is what keeps me going.

A Miscellany

  • Rachael Blake I love you so much, when are you going to actually have a role in this show? “Darling it sounds too hideous for words” yes you’re the best.
  • At Claire’s house, Don takes off his shoes before entering. YES GOOD. However this is ruined by Claire wearing her shoes in a BEDROOM later in the episode. WHITE PEOPLE. YOU ANG MOH HAVE THE MOST TERRIBLE MANNERS.
  • I didn’t want to include all of Alaric’s amazing lines, also including “This is a bad idea. Sorry, this is another bad idea. You never have any good idea.”
  • Macca is so drunk through the whole of this. I love him.
  • MI6 dude on why he doesn’t care about dying brown babies: “there’s a greater good in ensuring the successful transition of the region.” a) oh god, the british in SEA in the 60s ugh; b) UGH
  • Anachronisms of the week: Claire wearing short dresses. Like, I know we’re nearly up to mini skirts here but maybe still too short? Please hold while I ask my mum.

serangoon road s01 e04 Give Me Money

On Serangoon Road 1×04 ‘Give Me Money’, the fantastic gambling B plot becomes the A plot, we get lots of Alaric Tay, Don wears appropriate clothing (and gets hired to investigate the man he’s cuckolding), and once again I talk about white people taking the SEAzns of SEA for granted (those jerks). Also the acting gets better and so it’s a shame about those spiralling viewing numbers for My ABC. 

o rly?
o rly? ps thanks for doing up a button, Don

We open to Alaric Tay counting in Mandarin, and the fortune telling Auntie telling Don’s future. Future dark. Very bad. Don is all ‘非常好,谢谢你’ which is funny because that’s not what the subtitles tell you (the subs say ‘Thanks Auntie I needed cheering up, which a) sarcasm and b) he literally says ‘very good, thanks Auntie’ which yes might be sarcasm but even then! Also some other bits are wrong lah). I love this entire section! Then Alaric gets pickpocketed by a street kid while Auntie is asking for cash and I laugh a lot, genuinely this time and not in making fun like the other episodes.

I realise for the first time that Auntie Fortune Teller is actually sitting right in front of Brother Song’s place of business, and now I’m starting to wonder (hope) that she is something important later on in the series, particularly since later on in the episode Don explicitly asks if Kay Song is in and she says ‘not happy. Come another day.’ Guardian Auntie Fortune Teller?

Alaric attempts to pay Brother Song, who attempts to talk him into more gambling but whilst Alaric is considering, the money is fake! Tong Goon One throws him onto the pool table and Brother Song pulls out a knife and a lighter, starts discussing which eye to take as he sterilises the knife (he’s so courteous). Which eye is he gonna take?!

However before Brother Song can take an eye, a bomb goes off outside! Don protects Auntie Fortune Teller with his body from the bomb blast, what a good boy. The explosion is the opportunity that Alaric takes to run away from Brother Song, grabbing Don as they dash off to find Harry Wong, who gave Alaric the fake money. “Harry Wong when I’m dead I’m gonna come back as a ghost and haunt you,” Alaric yells when they discover that Harry Wong has done a runner.

Cut to the agency, where Pamelyn the Secretary of My Heart can’t find anything on Harry Wong. Maxwell Black, who has the world’s most worrying moustache, turns up; he gets shot down by Pamelyn and told off by Joan, good work Singaporean women I love you all. Maxwell Black wants the agency to investigate a problem in his company, and Don always knows where the bodies are buried. Frank Simpson in particular might be a problem, and a reminder because I never talk about him that he’s the man Don is cuckolding; Pamelyn looks like she’s trying not to laugh. Joan takes the case while Don is all Nooooodundoeeeeet.

NOPE
NOPE
look at that great side-eye
look at that great side-eye

Two Tong Goons turn up to take Don to see Brother Song, where Brother Song is sharpening a fucking meat cleaver. Now, like any good Chinese girl, even this vegan one, I own a meat cleaver and I love it, but holy crap the noise as he drags the cleaver along that whetstone is chilling and fucking terrifying low in my belly. Chin Han totally sold me in this scene, the quiet, serious, slightly psychotic menace that I’ve always assumed Tong leaders have.

He tells a quiet story, about a hawker with legendary char siu bao; his son was a gambler, and the son tried to sell his sister he was so in debt, so addicted to gambling; but he wanted to stop, so he cut off a finger so that whenever he was tempted to gamble, he’d look at his finger and be reminded not to. He keeps sharpening the cleaver as he tells Alaric that Alaric is not as good as that hawker’s son; he is just shit, so he’s gonna have to cut off a finger for him. Don just keeps watching, not saying anything, because he knows he’s been brought to watch this for a reason; one of Brother Song’s men is leaking to the police, and he wants to know which one it is. Don says he has a policy of not working for the gangs, which is a shame, because Brother Song just ties Alaric’s hands in place and keeps going with the prep for cutting off a finger; Alaric gives the best WHAT NO face ever as Brother Song considers cutting off a whole hand, and it’s at this moment that the scene goes from ‘I’m pretty sure Brother Song is bluffing, this scene is overwrought’ to ‘OMG IT’S HBO MAYBE HE’LL DO IT?!’

NOPE
NOPE

“Fuck you la I thought you my friend,” Alaric says after Don agrees to work for Brother Song; “You very selfish you know, I got to do everything on my own is it?” I love Alaric so much, I know he’s just here for humour and in this particular instance to move the plot along but I love him so much.

Don meets up with Claire in a garden, and Claire talks about how she wants to see the orchids in Singapore. CLAIRE YOU’RE IN SINGAPORE DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE NATIONAL FLOWER IS. I mean that’s like coming to Australia and saying you want to see a wattle or something JUST OPEN YOUR EYES. Don, because he’s apparently not that good at detectiving (like Claire, who can’t find orchids in Singapore), tells Claire that he’s been hired by Maxwell Black to investigate her husband Frank. Claire is horrified and convinced that Don is completely wrong, but she doesn’t even bother to insinuate that Don is happy to finger Frank for it because he wants to get rid of the competition. “If he was on the take I’d be seeing some of the benefits,” she says, as she flashes around a previously not seen plot device diamond bracelet. “He brought it home from one of his trips – it’s not real he can’t afford it on his salary,” she continues, as if she’s not even thinking about what she’s saying. I hate everybody in this scene, it’s so ridiculous.

Pamelyn’s connections tell her that Harry Wong is back in town, same game different spot, so Don corners him and Alaric walks down the alley with a knife in his hand, so ridiculous looking I love it. He threatens to hack off Harry Wong’s arm with the world’s tiniest knife and Harry Wong caves, telling him that Brother Song told him to pay Alaric fake money. This is clearly a ploy to get Don to work for Brother Song but I didn’t think Don was that good, I’d like a little more show not tell, Serangoon Road. How does Don know where the dead bodies are buried? How does Don get such a good rep that his business partner gets framed to ensure his complicity? What how tell me.

Macca in the bar, where I guess he lives but that’s about right for an Australian journalist in 1964 in Singapore, and he tells Don that Frank Simpson seems like a good bloke – but they all start out like that, “present company excepted” and I don’t know what he means! Did Don start out bad? Are there more backstories?

Don keeps digging, and he ends up talking to a dude who works with Frank, and fingers Frank for it immediately. Implies that Frank enjoys the good life while others try to save to company money. In the officer, Pamelyn and Joan are using Xiangqi tiles to mark out where Frank travels. “We’re building the suspect’s profile, is that correct?” Pamelyn asks, she’s such a cutie. I suspect it’s all a stitch up. Don goes directly to Claire to ask for their tax records because he’s the worst detective ever, and Claire reminds him “If he goes, I go,” which just to remind everyone that’s not a love thing, that’s because she’s just there in Singapore as his plus one.

I get really excited because from this we go to a shindig, and it’s some backstory I assume because Don pulls a box out of a locked drawer and it contains MEDALS. We cut to Frank and Claire getting ready. I would wear Claire’s dress. Claire asks if people change; “people accept things here, cross lines that they wouldn’t at home.” Is Claire thinking about her affair? WHO EVEN KNOWS

(the orchids are behind you, claire!)

appropriate attire!
appropriate attire!

ALERT ALERT, for the first time in this series Don has chosen to dress himself appropriately for the occasion – he is in a white suit and wearing his medals, with his hair slicked back. Malaya? Frank asks. “What attracted you to Singapore?” Don asks him after a moment. “We live like kings,” Frank replies, “you’d be mad not to take it.” Subtle, man. Also, reasons why I hate Australians in SEA in the 60s and 70s, Exhibit A: this fucking attitude. I’m gonna cut you all, for serious ugh. Claire makes some noises about how she lost her dad as he earned those same medals in some war; I didn’t know that, says Don. Claire notes there’s a lot about each other they don’t know. I don’t care.

Pamelyn is at the fancy shindig! She sasses white dudes, and says no again to the CIA dude but maybe not so harsh this time. Meanwhile Don makes off with a briefcase full of tax records that Claire got for him, and runs it back to the office where he and Joan start rummaging through it.

Gross Maxwell Black gets all up in Pamelyn’s personal space and she can’t say no for some reason. CIA dude cuts in when Black starts fondling her arse and telling her she has a great derriere (actual thing he says). Pamelyn just watches while CIA dude is all threatening and Black is like ‘you’re nothing’ and I realise that there’s a reason why CIA dude is always like ‘I’m at this event as the American Cultural Attache’ it’s because he’s UNDERCOVER. It took me four episodes to work that out, was that just me or was it the series failing to tell us that? Pamelyn says “you were quite scary just then” and I am like Pamelyn no, don’t start dating him.

gross
gross

We already know how much I love that Pamelyn is the one with the social capital to shoot him down, and even though he’s all “I’m an amazing white american man! I’m with the CIA and went to Yale! I deserve the whole world!” she just keeps shooting him down. I love that she’s the one out of his reach. And there is a long line of SEAzn women who left SEA by marrying a white military man and going back to their home country in the 50s, 60s and 70s (I am the product of that long line of SEAzn women) and there’s a lot of inequality, imperialism and colonialism built through all of that. So I really don’t want them to start dating. And I definitely don’t want his persistence in ignoring her ‘no’s to pay off. So anyway this storyline is I am pretty sure about to go somewhere problematic, at which point you’re going to hear even more about this shit so stay tuned.

Max shuts down the party and throws everyone out, because as Frank says it’s the team. What?

In the office, Joan is starting to guess something is up with Don and the case, I wish he wouldn’t keep secrets from Joan because why would you, and Claire calls to say they’re heading home so THE STUFF. As Don runs for his car some Tong Goons come for him and there’s this thirty seconds where it gets all very Wu Xia with Alaric. There’s hilarious tension music in the car with Claire and Frank, as Claire tries to convince him to take the long way home. At the house, Don breaks in and Alaric pretends to be a ridiculous local (he is) to delay Frank.

local in the car - could have fooled me
local in the car – could have fooled me

Of course Don gets away with it, and talks Claire into having the bracelet valued – it’s way expensive (no price given to us). Don leaves Claire on the street, in direct contrast with two weeks ago where he was all “don’t go to Bugis Street” and “it’s not Sydney, Claire,” and drinks tea at a street vendor with Joan. As they’re chatting some Red Dragons turn up so he visits with Brother Song. Armed with the knowledge that everyone knows he’s working for Brother Song, they get into a fight and he says he’ll do the work but only in exchange for information about a white man who’s spending more than he should.

In a hilarious scene, Brother Song gives instructions to Tong Goon One in English (WHY), the other gang is I think Malay, there is a melee between the Red Dragons and the rival gang, and a kid (the same kid who picked Alaric’s pocket in the opening) picking pockets. Don ends up in the melee, the police turn up, the scene is literally on fast forward, the kid picks up the gun and shoots it, Don picks up the kid and the gun and runs. Is he about to get done for shooting? NO BECAUSE IT TURNS OUT BROTHER SONG’S LEAK IS THE KID. The kid has been talking to the rival gang but not the cops, so there’s a second traitor! Joan and Don bribe the kid to spin a tale to lure out the other traitor in the Red Dragons and chuck him out.

At their dockside warehouse, Alaric gets mad, telling Don this is just like the story with the goat and the tiger, and Don is the goat. The tiger turns up, and it’s Tong Goon One! Another ridiculous scene occurs where Don is all “this is just like Kalimantan” and Alaric is all “no this is not like Kalimantan” and then they start dancing and singing kalimantan in front of the gun that the goon is holding? I cry with laughter as they confuse the goon and then grab the gun and the goon; and the goon is revealed to not be leaking to the cops, but a three year undercover cop, who was going to kill them to keep his place. This part of this scene is so terrible, a definite return to the poor form of episode one, but thankfully it is over quickly.

Don visits Brother Song, and Brother Song reveals who the white dude is; it’s the other white guy from Frank’s office, what a fucking surprise. “Tonight he’s losing but shows no fear,” Brother Song says. “Plays like a man who can afford it.” The other guy is all “the gambling is for my sins, I went along with it, Frank’s the guy, ask him about the bracelet” and this scene is super average but importantly Don is wearing a different shirt from his white thing! It’s yellow and buttoned up and maybe it’s even been ironed or steamed?! Good work costuming.

Don tells Frank, as opposed to Black who employed him, and Frank and Don agree the other dude was setting him up. Frank says he had no idea the bracelet was worth so much and that the other guy told him to accept it! They agree he should give it back. Joan gets mad because she found out about the bracelet and Don talked to Frank and not Joan.

Frank and Claire wander past the office, and Frank confesses he couldn’t bring himself to give back the bracelet and now it looks like Claire’s just going along with wearing a bribe diamond bracelet worth more than a house and there’s funny looks all around. Frank invites Don to dinner with him and Claire but Don demures, and he better be questioning them in his head! Don I want some continuity here please! SHE DOESN’T KNOW WHERE TO FIND ORCHIDS IN SINGAPORE COME ON.

this is how i feel right now
this is how i feel right now

This episode closes out with a man smoking something and drinking something and looking at pictures of Don and Claire being all smiles in the garden where Claire can’t find the orchids. Obviously someone is surveilling them! This is meant to be sinister but come on what is the real cost to Don here? He’s already questioning his relationship to Claire, he makes this big point of avoiding expats and living within the local community, and he’s cut down his Import-Export business involvement to do more detectiving (which admittedly he’s shit at). What does he really lose if these photos get out? Unless someone tries to kill him ooh I hope it’s Frank.

NO IT’S WEIRD MI6 GUY FROM LAST WEEK UGH WHATEVER I HOPE HE HAS A PERSONAL VENDETTA OR SOMETHING.

Anachronism of the week: when Maxwell Black shuts down the soiree and it’s all ‘for the team’ – concept of team in corporate speak not that big in the 60s, surely?

Hokkien watch: several uses of ang moh.

I actually really enjoyed this episode! The acting is getting better with each episode, and so, I think, are the plots and the dialogue. There’s still some continuity and anachronism issues going on, and it really is very sappy but I don’t think that last is going to change and so I’m learning to love it for what it is, a slightly cheesy Singaporean adventure tale. I wish there was more focus on the local stuff and less on the expats but some episodes I do feel like there’s a lot of local/not-white time, so that’s cool. Though I think Don actually was in basically every scene this week. It’s a shame Australian numbers are dropping so drastically, but I’d be interested to see comparison SEA and USA numbers.

Next week: Joan tells Don to shape up, yay!

serangoon road s01 e03 Ball of Confusion

In episode three of Serangoon Road, the acting and the writing gets a bit better, Don speaks Malay (his Mandarin gets worse and he keeps wearing that damn singlet), an upper class Chinese-Singaporean man in 1964 opens his own front door, actual Malay people get actual speaking parts, and I talk about Colonialism. 

We open with riots on Victoria Street, white people with film cameras, and my excitement that we might be about to see actual Malaysians. A news recording is played over this scene, with the reporter mispronouncing Klang and Geylang which is always hilarious. The voice also confirms deaths of Chinese and Malays, and that a curfew will start at 1800.

We learn that the detective agency is not doing well; so not well, in fact, that Joan is going to brave the riots in order to deliver photos to a client in order to receive payment, risking getting hurt and getting caught in the curfew that is to be enforced as of noon (WHEN DOES THE CURFEW START COME ON GUYS). It was also Winston’s last case, aww! She speaks Singlish to emphasise her point and does kind of okay at it.

Joan gets as far as she can in a rickshaw before she has to get out and make it two blocks in high heels and carrying her parasol. Though this scene is intercut with shots of Alaric Tay griping adorably, and also shots of Malays rioting and getting beaten up, it is fairly obvious that Joan is going to get caught up in the protest and caught out by the curfew. A Chinese man storms towards her and rips the photos she is carrying out of her hands, and it seems probable this is intentional.

wah wah helo

Don and Alaric Tay and the Secretary of My Heart are talking about the curfew and stressing about Joan. Alaric bitches about his useless partner (Don). We get extensive shots of riots, and rioting, and police, and the dirtiness of the streets, before we cut to the lovely whiteness of the Raffles Hotel.

I can’t believe I didn’t realise it earlier, but all the scenes with the Expats swanning around is Raffles ETA NO WAIT I’M WRONG, as dc points out below but I still think my points stand because the bar scenes with Macca are from Raffles /ETA. OF COURSE IT IS. Let’s talk about Raffles, shall we: the Raffles Hotel was named after Stamford Raffles, the white man responsible for the Colonisation of Singapore, and a variety of other colonialist acts; and has for over a decade been a place where expensive foreign things happen (including foreigners). Foreign writers stayed there and named the Raffles Hotel the “Grand Lady of the Far East,” in case you needed a racist and patronising name for a hotel. In the now it’s still a hotel but also features a shopping arcade which includes Tiffany and Louis Vuitton, to give you some idea of its price range.

Anyway in the glaring whiteness of Raffles, Don is speaking in Malay and asking Claire to “keep the ladies busy with a game of bridge” and telling her not to go outside and how bad it’s gonna get. For once I sympathise with Claire, when she gives him her very best “are you shitting me” look.

Some random English dude whose name it takes me forever to work out because Don has gone to mumblestown warns Don to “stay off the streets” because “people are using the riots to settle old scores.” He waggles his eyebrows meaningfully and I consider giving him a moustache to twirl (ala Genevieve).

In blatant disregard of this warning, Don steals a USA embassy car so he can break curfew. He speaks some okay Malay and the show continues with no subtitles. There were several instances of Mandarin and Malay spoken with no subtitles in this episode, and I think I love it because it assumes the intelligence of the audience to work it out, and also I think indicates that this show acknowledges that despite being primarily an Australian production, it knows its audience is multilingual, that its audience knows the words already and if it doesn’t, it’s smart enough to work it out. Thanks for trusting us, My ABC. I had a momentary worry that the non-translation was because that stuff wasn’t vital and was therefore discarded but I don’t think that’s the case, as with the scene later in this episode where the Secretary of my Heart suggests that Don pose as her chauffeur as she poses as a diplomat, and he nods his head, opens the car door for her and says this adorable “boleh.” That’s adorable and totally adds something! Which is why I’m leaning towards textual intelligence.

Don continues his search for the missing Joan, stopping and discovering her bag with some blood on it. How did he know to stop there? Secretary of My Heart disappoints me by basically phoning in her phone conversation with Don, with the amazing line “I have a really bad feeling about this” which is never a line which should get past any sort of script development ever.

We cut back to the Raffles, where the Malay guards are preventing people coming in trying to escape the riots, and Claire pulls and tugs until they let a Tamil family in. I know this is supposed to be about the development of Claire’s story so this makes me pretty grumpy because yes of course the first actual Indians shown in this series need help from a white person, but also wow, a Tamil family is given refuge in the Raffles by a well-meaning white lady and Malays try to stop them and could this point be any more unsubtle? And also wrong, come on my friends. I hope no one actually thinks that the British colonising Malaysia and Singapore was in any way a good thing, like, yes we can’t change the past and the way both Malaysia and Singapore are now has a lot to do with the British colonisation and nobody get in a tardis or anything because you’re gonna be in so much trouble, but to have this lovely little message of COME SHELTER IN THE RAFFLES particularly when contrasted with all the other controlling white powers are doing in this episode, it’s enough to make me very angry.

So while I’m getting angry about white colonialism, Joan wakes up in some sort of complex and is helped by a photographer before the police storm it, and she escapes. Don runs into a police station and is told he is being silly looking for one single lady, so he yells in AWFUL Mandarin and then Joan just appears and I don’t understand? It is very funny though. I literally can’t work out what he says, he starts with 今天 and ends with 吗 and that’s all I can tell you.

Remaining with Joan’s bag is one last picture from the case she was couriering; the Secretary of My Heart recognises the one person in the photo whose face is fully visible as a wealthy Singaporean Chinese man. I love how she always knows the high flying Singaporeans; it is presumably because she is Peranakan and also awesome.

They find out that the person who ordered the surveillance is in fact the dead wife of the dude in the photos, a Chinese businessman named Lim.

The Secretary of My Heart functions as the pipe in this episode, and with her educated faux-British attempts makes me saaaaad. She’s all “this is real detective work, we’re peeling an onion” and “he lied, you know that?” I laugh.

Don continues to wear his white singlet with an open thin shirt on top of it. I know it’s warm but seriously, I cannot believe he’s still wearing it and also that’s just rude, can’t you dress up to meet any single person on the whole of Singapore HAVE SOME RESPECT MAN.

I claw my eyes out as Claire gives orders in the worst Mandarin I’ve ever heard, it’s pretty bad and I’ve watched Firefly is all I’m saying. I literally have no idea what she says, but Don asks her to help identify who’s in the photo based on the clothes.

Don goes to Macca who is a) drunk and b) helpful, and helps him work out who the Malay photographer is. At his newspaper, Malay photographer declares “you are part of Malaysia’s problem” which, he is not wrong, because expats who shun the other expats and pretend like they’re locals and aren’t contributing to the Colonialism, particularly in this critical period of the 60s, were totally an issue.

My favourite quote of the episode is probably “The Empire’s stuffed and noone’s seen the memo” and I loooove it, simply as an entry point to talk about all the ills of Colonialism and Imperialism and all the things that have been left behind. This is part of why I love the little nods here and there about how Westerners treat Singapore and SEA and how much they are unwanted. Macca is the best giving us this exposition, it’s obvious but he means it and I love it. Macca also reveals that MI6 is filming everything (and using 16mil).

ARIO

We spend some more time in the police station, because Don has been arrested along with Malay photographer, who has been arrested for allegedly setting off some explosions, and Don feels compelled to get him cleared, and in the hopes that clearing him will help him work out who attacked Joan. In the police station we are hanging out with Ario Bayu, who EXCITING SPOILERS is going to be with us for a while as an actual named Malay, so that might be good? Or it might be terrible, only time will tell. (Though Ario is himself an actual Indonesian, which leads us to other problems)

Don and CIA dude walk and chat in the makanan, and CIA dude eats his bowl of noodles as they walk. I’ve never really seen this much walking and noodle eating in my life, is this seriously a thing? Anyone? He confirms the existence of secret MI6 movies that he really wants to get his hands on but isn’t allowed to, because MI6 are babies who don’t share.

sr3-market

We see Don staring into the fan at his house and considering the clues, and I laugh a lot because I thought this scene was going to be ominous and it’s actually not. Don ends up really sweaty and is all shirtless, and this show continues to fan service. Later, Alaric Tay confesses after a small fight with Don that maybe MI6 gets film deliveries once a week, and they wander off to steal it.

I am super sad that I used a cap from the credits in last week’s review because it turns out that cap I used is actually from this episode! It is Don doing crime! I’m totally into this scene, where Alaric Tay is ridiculous-ing for all he’s worth, stopping the van in the road and annoying everyone, and Don steals the film that MI6 has had processed.

The Secretary of My Heart meets up with the CIA dude and flirts with him, telling him she saved him some kacang putih hahaha and letting him think he has a chance for about thirty seconds by telling him she wants to see a film with him. She reveals it’s a film that Don stole from MI6, and his little heart falls though he gets to keep the footage, which he does. “You still owe me though, Sam,” CIA dude says as he crunches kacang putih like he’s watching a poorly edited movie (and the Secretary of My Heart whispers to him, “don’t dirty my floor.”) Someone on twitter points out this footage looks like it’s from WW2, not 1964, but now that I’ve just watched a season of The Hour I’m not so sure I agree anymore. Anyway this scene closes out on riot footage and Don’s smug face and slightly better acting from everyone all round, good work team.

Having saved their new Malay friend (who I hope turns up again in the future!), it’s time to get back to the mystery of the dead wife and who attacked Joan. Claire works out who the woman he’s having an affair with is, and warns Don away. This is all very sinister and then also comes to nothing? Joan sasses Don, and Don goes to visit Lim, the Chinese businessman, with a print out of the Chinese man who assaulted Joan taken from the MI6 footage. Lim, an upper-class Chinese-Singaporean in 1964 with a property so large it has a back yard, a front yard, a long driveway and two storeys, answers his own front door. I mean, I have Chinese-Singaporean friends in Singapore who don’t even answer their own doors now, let alone in 1964, I am just saying. Don confronts him and he brings out the man from the footage, who is all like “yeah tell the lady I’m sorry,” and is then dismissed with a 没事 which I think is interesting given the dude ANSWERED HIS OWN FRONT DOOR even though we have already SEEN HIS AYI. Don refuses to leave until they also resolve who ordered the work to be done, given the dead wife; Lim takes him out into the back lawn to meet the lady with whom he is dallying, who is just sitting around in the back patio waiting for Don? I’m not sure, but she fesses up to having him followed and Lim pays Don some money to keep it all quiet and then Susannah skips off into the distance and I have no idea why any of this happened.

As the two men watch her go, Lim gives words of warning and advice about having affairs with married women, and we cut to Don standing outside the police station watching Claire. I roll my eyes again, because sometimes I think this show is doing better and sometimes it tries to hit me over the head with a sledgehammer.

joannnnn

Joan basically floats into the office (an aside, I just discovered that Joan played Guan Yin in a 2010 tv adaptation of Journey to the West and she is adorable in it, and Guan Yin historically does a lot of floating, so we should draw some parallels between Patricia and Guan Yin, I’m just saying), and shows the Secretary of My Heart “our first dirty money.” They reminisce about the first time they were paid in chilli crab, and I was talking about how much I miss chilli crab just yesterday, but this is the sacrifice SEAzns make when they go all properly vegan and stuff. The Secretary of My Heart softly comforts her and Joan just nods sadly and and it’s all lovely. I stand by my claim of last week, the best scenes in this series are the quiet ones, especially the quiet ones that involve Joan.

We end the episode in the bar, where Joan does the Beijingren 八 with her hands to indicate 8 (for 80-20%), offering Alaric Tay that great deal so she gets to steal more of Don’s time for detective-ing, and Alaric gets more of the proceeds from their Import-Export business. I’d take it, Alaric! From behind a beaded curtain, a tiny Chinese girl says “that’s her, isn’t it?” and she’s told to say nothing; so she follows Joan out of the bar and fondles a fob watch, which when opened contains a photo of Joan and Winston. I’m taking bets on whether this girl is secret mistress or secret daughter.

A Miscellany

  • Don spends so much time making sure Joan is safe in this episode. Shipping it? I sure am.
  • I am not shipping CIA dude with Pamelyn, on the grounds that no.
  • Needs moar Alaric Tay, so far he’s really just comedic relief and extra helping hand
  • Good work with the continuity! Don attacked in episode one, resolved in this episode. Nice!
  • Was this episode confusing? I found it super confusing. I can’t believe it’s called ‘Ball of Confusion’ I mean really
  • Hokkien watch: use of ‘ang moh’

Next week: my boyf Song, something something something. Maybe I’ll talk some more about Australians perpetuating colonialism in SEA.

serangoon road: s01 e02 reach out

In this week’s Serangoon Road, Macca the Journalist convinces Don and Joan to take on the case of a woman’s missing husband, I fall in love with Xiang Yun, Alaric Tay is devastatingly absent and I have some feelings about the attitudes of Australians in SEA in 1964 and even now. So many spoilers, for history and for this episode.

We open to some Singaporean cops searching two small boats, shining lights in faces, and asking to see identity papers (this is the English translation, which distracted me so I can’t remember what the Mandarin was but it wasn’t identity papers). A lady looks stern and silent (it is Xiang Yun and you should love her); she jumps over board without moving a facial muscle and I flip my shit.

Look at that stone cold acting from Xiang Yun
Look at that stone cold acting from Xiang Yun

We move to the boring white lady hanging out with Don Hany, where he warns her that Bugis Street is “not Sydney or Paris Claire, it’s dangerous” and please, I don’t even need to bet you $10 that she goes to Bugis Street in the next ten minutes.

bikes in singapore: quaint thing of the pastThis cap comes to you courtesy of the credits, which I actually quite like. Reminds me of being at home, with the Chinese calendars all my family always has hanging on some random hook in the house or apartment.

The next scene in Bugis Street had me crying with laughter which I am almost certainly sure was not its intention. Don Hany glimpses his white lady chatting and smiling to a local Malay vendor (NOT EVEN TWO MINUTES) and as Don gets distracted by his white lady, Alaric Tay gets distracted by porridge and this is basically the last we see of him all episode, bye Alaric I love your delivery of “I’m going to get porridge.”

Claire who adds nothing of interest and fun to this show follows the Malay trader down an alley where he gets aggressive and tries to sell her some sex and then his buddies come to steal her purse and Don comes to rescue her, which a) racist and b) oh what a surprise, thanks everybody.

Today’s A-Plot mystery of the week is about Xiang Yun, who moved from China to Singapore when she was 18, and whose husband sent her away during the war and then OH NO NO MORE HUSBAND and Xiang Yun has just smuggled herself back in to Singapore to see if she can find him. I actually quite enjoyed many elements of this week’s A-Plot (most especially Xiang Yun) but I have some questions: 1) if she was living in Singapore for several years, now that she’s back, why is she considered an illegal immigrant? Would like to know her status at that time. 2) it is hinted that it took her a long time to get the money together to smuggle herself back into Singapore and out of China and I can attest to that on a personal level but twenty years? with no risk of indenture at the Singapore end? hmm. not sure.

Don and Joan take on the case, and start by trying to locate where Xiang Yun used to live. Now, this show has some bad acting at times, but usually the Singaporeans can be relied upon to be excellent actors. Except apparently not in this scene, featuring some terrible acting by Singaporeans and I retract the ‘adequate angmoh’ I granted Don Hany’s Mandarin last episode.

Singaporean terrace houses! Love them
Singaporean terrace houses! Love them

This episode’s random incursion to the lives of white expats introduces us to Nicholas Bell playing Maxwell Black, who tells us “it’s all very civilised once you get used to the heat” and that it’s key to marry “keepers” because they’ll stay with you and not fly away; I expect next episode we’ll be meeting another expat who is going to tell us to marry a local woman and I’m going to raze everything to the ground. The thing is this scene is not wrong. It’s averagely acted and poorly scripted but the thing this show is doing right is the condescension to the environment and the situation and the locals, as if nobody matters but themselves and their opinions. It’s perfect, I am a product of this time and it is so perfectly written I want to kill everyone.

The one thing that jars in this characterisation of every Australian in SEA in this period is when Claire tells Don that their taxi driver pointed out the ‘Tiger Dragon,’ leader of the Red Dragons and grandfather to my boyf Song 哥, eating in a noodle house. Unless their taxi driver is their regular driver and it’s just a dialogue issue, local driver isn’t going to tell two whities that info.

Upon arrival at the makanan, Don gets beaten up and Song blows him off before Song’s grandfather delivers a deadpan “等一下” and Song covers, inviting Don in. I cry with laughter. Grandfather passes on apologies to Joan, and I wonder what is going on. We cut to Joan buying vegetables in the wet market, who is definitely a much better actor in this episode than in the previous one.

BLOOD
really broke the costuming budget on that one

Don and Xiang Yun visit a house she is sure she used to live in; she yells “this is my teapot” and “this is my hair piece” while pulling out a hair piece from a woman’s hair and it’s great. I never catch this woman’s name and you know I’m just going to spoil it for you so I’m telling you now that she’s Second Wife, and she’s pretty great. She later confesses to Xiang Yun that she met Xiang Yun’s husband because she was dressed like a man to avoid being taken as a comfort woman, they were all taken in a truck to be executed (this is the Sook Ching massacre, if you want to learn more) and Xiang Yun’s husband shielded her and she was saved and he died. I start making notes about how unlikely this is since the bodies were always checked so there’s no way she got away with it, and I’m glad to know this was a hole in Second Wife’s story and not the plot. Joan, Second Wife and Xiang Yun act the fuck out of this scene, which makes me happy, and Second Wife puts the hair pin into Xiang Yun’s hair and it BLEEDS and NOBODY SAYS ANYTHING and I’m like WHAT EVEN. I remain confused for the next twenty minutes. Meanwhile, Joan and Xiang Yun share a quiet moment about sadness and loss and I really love them, it’s an understated scene between two seasoned, wonderful Chinese actresses and it’s the best scene of the whole series so far. Joan’s quiet little “sorry” underscores this really sad, lovely scene, and I wish more of the series was like this, but I’m not optimistic. I love you, Joan.

love you, Joan

Working out why Xiang Yun collapsed and how she was poisoned was super obvious. When Second Wife put the clip in Xiang Yun’s hair there was the trickle of blood and nobody mentioned it on the show so I thought I’d imagined it, which is not a feeling I appreciate when watching a show. However when she collapsed I may have started flapping my hands at the television in disgust over how plodding and predictable it was, of course it was the clip and of course it was Second wife. There are procedurals and then there are procedurals, 我的朋友, and this one is not that clever.

I was frustrated by Second Wife and by Violin Girl. Second Wife as an actor was great, I loved her, but was frustrated by the script she was offered, because she’s all “I did it for you” and also is an unfortunate Indonesian stereotype and I hope, along with the Malay thieves and lack of Malays and Indians in the script, that we’re not going to have to be all stereotypes and racism (though I would like us to deal with racism in the text, it being a very critical component of Singaporean politics of the decade). I was glad when Daughter turned out to be Violin Girl, it explained her non acting, and her ridiculous slapping of the Secretary of my Heart, in the scene where the Secretary of my Heart was code switching like a champion and non-sequitering like the best of SEAzns.

Xiang Yun wakes up to find her husband staring at her, and it’s all very sappy. I like the cinematography in this scene, which I think borders on ‘too sappy’ but actually ends up okay. I hope desperately that Don doesn’t let this send him back to his white girl because he deserves better. This is all so sappy lah that maybe I should just accept that but I expected better than this from my ABC.

creepy grandfather (alive and dead, seriously, guan gong)
creepy grandfather (alive and dead, seriously, guan gong)

Don and Joan go to see my boyf Song 哥 and his grandfather and they have found the criminals bothering Joan (and beating Don up in the last episode). It was an accident, he says, but “if you like you can watch” because “my grandfather can have them killed.” Joan is horrified; I can’t work out why this conversation is in English when it should be conducted in Mandarin. Joan is given a statue of Guan Gong in compensation; Don thinks it’s a warning; the Secretary of my Heart thinks it’s bad feng shui; I think it’s probably got drugs inside it CHECK THE BOTTOM. Joan’s face as she says “the bad forces gave it to us” is priceless.

Joan tells us that she needs justice, and I ask aloud what kind of Singaporean she is.

The episode closes out with ‘Love Hurts’, the original version by the Everly Brothers, over Macca the journalist typing and looking at a picture of Xiang Yun and her husband (a photo in which two Chinese people are smiling? I think not!), Don and his white lady staring soulfully out of (separate) windows across the streets of Singapore, and Joan Chen doing some paperwork before smelling her pen (??!!) and tearing up. As she strokes a photo of her husband there is lightening and thunder. Because we are supposed to feel sad, everyone. NOBODY MOVE, EVERYBODY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT LOVE IS HARD. Maybe I just need to accept that this is a sappy kind of show?

I’m super happy that Don and Claire broke up. Yay!

Anachronisms of the week: Don’s hair continues to be long. I overlooked it last week but this week he went into a super exxy formal event with long scruffy hair and a blowing white shirt over a singlet; Singapore used to deny men entry to the country if they weren’t tidy enough, there’s no way he got into that building looking like that, even if he was waving his Aussie passport around. And also “partners” instead of “wives.” I know I prefer the term partner to the term wife but it’s awfully out of place in 1964 Singapore.

This script is much better than the previous episode’s script, but still not amazing. I continue to be disappointed by my ABC in this regard, especially as everyone on twitter kept talking about Wildside because Tony Martin and Rachael Blake and I’d just like to remind everyone that Wildside is the greatest Australian drama ever. Thank you for your attention in this regard.

wtf dialect

Some odd Mandarin/language issues this week – the Secretary of my Heart comments that she can’t read the book about poisons because she doesn’t “even know what dialect this is” but it is Chinese, how hard was it to read in 1964 it was all traditional so it should all be good okay?

I love all the shade that the Singaporeans constantly throw onto the Americans. This week the Secretary of my Heart shut down the CIA dude (who was talking during the violin recital!) and she’s all “or are you just not one of the brighter ones” and basically the best. I also enjoyed learning her backstory this week, that she breaks up with boys when her parents approve of them and she’s Peranakan and can trace her family back 500 years; usually in these things it’s the whiteys with the background and the Asians who are considered second, and I’m glad to see this subversion here.

I’d really like to know how they got so many great actors into a show that’s this bad; I’d also like to know why so many of them are acting so badly. I know how well they can do! Tony Martin here as Macca the journalist; Rachael Blake makes an appearance (I hope to be repeated) as Lady Penelope, looking all suave and lovely; JOAN CHEN who is usually so amazing and yet not that great in this (though much better this week than last).

A Miscellany

  • Ugh so much awkward white person sex. Must we?
  • Rachael Blake as Lady Penelope looks like she has vampire teeth. I keep hoping she’s secretly a vampire.
  • Xiang Yun’s accent was very Singaporean for someone who was only supposed to have lived there for sixish years.
  • The scene where Don and the Secretary of my Heart talk to the poisons experts was so terrible, it was weirdly scripted and very poorly acted and I’m disappointed in everyone in that scene. Nice to see got some uncle speak Hokkien though.
  • Clothes somewhat anachronistic in this episode, how hard is it to get clothes from the sixties I have clothes from 60s SEA and I wasn’t even born for another two decades. (谢谢妈妈)
  • Don Hany’s pufferfish face was so ridiculous but I loved it.
  • Minus two Singaporean ladies – where were Malina and adorable headband girl?
  • Why did the Secretary of my Heart sit down at the front of the recital when she was only going to have to get up and leave at some point? Along with this and talking to herself and non-sequitering, I’m not sure she’s a great detective.
  • Rachael Blake and Tony Martin have been married since 2003. a) how did I never know this? b) I LOVE THEM SO MUCH ARGH OMG. For non-Australians this is what happens when two actors you loved and whose characters you shipped on a show they filmed when you were a kid, get together. You die of glee.

Next week: Disrespect of Chinese and Singaporean customs; lots of explosions.

serangoon road: s01e01 shotgun

Sunday saw the premiere of Serangoon Road, a new collaboration between my ABC and HBO Asia. I’ve been pretty excited about Serangoon Road, because Joan Chen! And also because Don Hany, and a detective series! And Australians in Singapore (I am frequently an Australian in Singapore, occasional land of my misspent youth).

I was excited, especially after seeing the trailer! But this first episode failed to deliver, and it’s really only my loyalty to my ABC and my love of each of the Singaporean actors and the gambling B plot in this episode that is keeping me tuned in.

Please be warned this review contains extensive spoilers. Also contains a slur to refer to trans people (as used on the show). Also also hover over the caps for further commentary.

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Serangoon Road is a detective series set in 1964 in Singapore. It stars Don Hany as Sam Callaghan, a man who was imprisoned in Changi as a child and though Australian has chosen to remain in Singapore, avoiding the expat community and running an import-export company with a local partner. It features Joan Chen as Patricia Cheng, left with a detective agency after the death of her husband, and an old friend of Sam’s. It seeks to explore the racial tensions running through Singapore as it moves through Independence, along with the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Colonialism and the whole thing going down with Malaysia.

It opens with a confusing flashback of two children, one ultimately being shot blank in the face. This leads to close ups of Don Hany’s face, in bed (a bed surrounded by a mosquito net! Oh stars my youth) with a lady. She stiltedly attempts to talk to him about his dream, he turns on the radio and they start dancing.

We cut to some American sailors in Bugis Street, eating hawker food, partying and having a good time. One of these sailors is a black man; it is clear this will be A Thing. There is a commotion, he is yelling, his friend is stabbed, he is holding the knife when the other Americans turn up, it is not looking good for him! Then the street explodes.

Don Hany runs out of the house to a brand new VW kombi, and drives off to save some friends in the explosion. How did he know his friends would be there? Later we learn his friends work in a club on Bugis Street, but it is this random, unexplained, slightly anachronistic tone that sets the stage for the episode.

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In adequate angmo Mandarin (I could understand him) Don is informed that Joan Chen has come to visit him. An aside: I love that sometimes the use of Mandarin and Malay is subtitled; but sometimes it’s not! That’s cute! Less cute for you if you don’t speak English and Mandarin and Malay, but you lot can’t have it all, I suppose.

I love Joan Chen, but she is almost pointless in this episode. Her husband has died, leaving her with a detective agency that she can’t run but if Don Hany will do just this one tiny favour for her… it’s the Americans… It’s just a tiny favour… Don Hany guesses it’s the CIA. We meet Su Ling, Joan Chen’s secretary, and soon to be secretary of my heart. She starts throwing shade around and wanting to meet the Americans. She is a Chinese Singaporean with a curl in her hair and I love her.

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I’m not sure what accent Joan Chen is going for here. It’s certainly not Singaporean, but it doesn’t feel like it’s American or Australian, either. I love all the other Singaporeans, Su Ling and Alaric Tay (who, when Don Hany abandons him on an Indonesian island later in the episode, declares “fuck you man I got no shoes” in classic pissed off Singapore accent) and Chin Han as bad guy Kay Song, looking so hot I would do him immediately. I love the Singaporean fortune teller Auntie who looks at Don Hany and tells him he’s not sleeping enough, swaps between Mandarin and English as it suits her (in particular around the CIA agent), and giggles delightedly as she sits in the air of Bugis Street.

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I loved the character of Singapore in this, a Singapore well over before I was ever born but one with which I’m familiar, like a great grandparent one has never met but hear stories about. Singapore in 1964 was just coming into its independence, recovering from wars and keeping its distance from the Vietnam War and tiptoeing around the imminent racial issues about to explode out of Malaysia (and the way one of the police officers says Malaysia in that perfectly excellent SEA accent ugh I love you all). A special Bugis Street backdrop was created for this, because Singapore has changed so much over these almost 50 years that it’s so dissimilar now, and it was excellent to see. Singapore was also a major character in the b plot of evil mobster Kay Song and gambling addict Alaric Tay (who tries to wager his half of the boat he and Don own).

But the acting was average at times, and the script was poor. It was very tell not show, and I know in a Australian-Singaporean production for Asia and Australia and presumably the USA (given the HBO collaboration) there’s a lot of assumed lack of knowledge, but when the penguin (hilariously what one Singaporean refers to the American Seals as) shoots Don Hany and runs off, and it’s clear it’s a blank because Alaric Tay runs in and slaps Don in the face, he also says “just a blank, doesn’t hurt as much,” as if we’re completely ridiculous and wouldn’t be able to work that out ourselves. This scene also contains the most painful good cop bad cop I’ve ever seen, which feels intentional given the imminent fake shooting but at the same time it’s hard to tell in a script this patchy. Other eye-scratchingly awful scenes involved Don Hany’s ‘is he about to get high? is he not?’ lying down on the floor; Don asking the CIA ‘is this a racial thing?’ about the black sailor, and Don telling the black sailor “it’s 1964, it’s a brand new world out there sailor” when Don’s just smuggled him to Indonesia and told him to buy an illegal passport and work out if he’s going home. “There’s nothing there for me”, Crosby says. Nice work, everyone.

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The script gives the audience no credit, and makes no attempt, and it shows. The Seals attempt to drown Crosby, our black American sailor, who they have handcuffed but not shackled – surely a sailor can at least eggbeater kick?

There’s a lot of shade thrown on Australians and a little bit of shade thrown by Australians to Americans, and a completely random black tie event that must have been hell in 1964 Singapore with no air conditioners that served to demonstrate how half-hearted it all was, but was also classic white Australian in SEA colonialist attitude (cf everyone my father was friends with in the 70s). I did enjoy the “untie me now and I’ll pretend this is an Australian idea of a joke” from a US Seal, and “they all look the same” about the Americans.

But this is all average complaints, right? Nothing major? AND YET: Malina is introduced as just another lady character and she’s flirting with the CIA dude and she’s cagey but it’s all good. It’s later revealed that she is trans, and she was paid off by some Navy friends to go flirt with the Seal until he could grope her and find out, as someone says, “She is in fact a he.” Don Hany is all yeah she is, matter of fact and calm, and then it turns out the Seal killed his friend and let the black sailor take the fall because how dare they let him hang out with a trans person. On the one hand, I like that there’s a trans character and it’s no big deal to her friends and coworkers (one coworker says ‘she’s a bitch’ because she stole her customers but makes no mention of anything else, and I think that’s acceptance), and she wears pretty clothes in poorly lit scenes and I can’t cap her for you, and it only becomes a big deal because others make it a big deal. Trans women were definitely an obvious part of the community in the area during this time period, and to have trans women entertainers on Bugis Street is correct. On the other hand, “he discovered she was a he” and ‘you wanted them to pay for making you “feel up a tr***ie”‘ WOAH WOAH WOAH nope. My cis friends, that word is a slur and I would ask you to never use it in any circumstance, not even to demonstrate who is naughty and who is not. Everybody is naughty here and I am super disappointed in my ABC.

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Also: despite all the Malays meandering around in the background no actual Malay characters? (Polisi don’t count) Also no people obviously of Indian descent, I expected them at least as background. Disappoint.

The episode closes with three scenes: Joan Chen suggests keeping the agency open whilst the secretary of my heart cracks nuts and throws them in her mouth like she doesn’t care; Don Hany is having an affair with some bland white Australian chick and it’s super boring; Don gets beaten up in the most unconvincing beating up scene I’ve ever witnessed. I don’t understand how this script got approved by anyone.

In summary: loved the Singaporeans and the Singaporean Gambling B Plot featuring my new boyfriend Song 哥; disappointed in chronic underuse of Joan Chen and also her unexpected unenthusiastic acting; disappointed by overall script quality; very, very very disappointed in the transphobic slur and plot thread; very conflicted about tuning in for episode two. My ABC, I am so disappointed. Also we never learn why Bugis Street exploded.

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Anachronism of the week: Malina describes an American sailor as stepping outside for a smoke. Really? In Singapore in 1964?