Friday, December 19, 2008

So, what is really wrong with “Little Nonya”?

I have been chasing the latest Channel 8 Drama series “Little Nonya” every night. I must say that the storyline is a rather welcoming change. For once, the storyline is unique on Paranakans’ culture and that it was set in the 40’s. It has been a long time that we ever had a local TV drama that was set in period times. For some time, many of the drama produced were in modern context and that all of the stories line sounded so similar that I almost could not tell one story apart from the other one. I practically watch only Cable TV shows then and it was until Li Nan Xing’s “Golden Road” that I started watching Channel 8 again.

Hailed as a big production and the annual Mediacorp’s anniversary drama, “Little Nonya” was heavily publicized and had garnered rather much attention from people even before it started showing. However, the first episode was practically drowned by criticisms and is still drawing criticisms episode after episode. There were people commenting that the lead actress, Jeanette Aw’s acting was poor and that the storyline was lousy.

I thought the criticism on Jeanette Aw’s acting was a rather unfair comment to her and many of them did not even elaborate on why her acting was poor. To clarify first, I am not a Jeanette’s fan, but I thought her acting was acceptable and she actually improved a lot. I find her role as Juxiang a rather good interpretation of a deaf and mule girl.

The only part that I thought she was unnatural was that she gestured too much. It is like there are gestures/expressions for every sentence of thoughts. However, this is a very common flaw in local TV drama. I attended a short film course sometime ago. The lecturer pointed out local TV drama will act “extra” in order to make it easier for people to understand. For example, when an actor is exiting the scene through a door, he/she would say I am leaving, and then open the door and leaves. However, you will not see these “extra acts” in film (excluding Jack Neo’s flim) or real life. The actor/you and I would just open door and leaves. (I might not be able to explain in his exact words, but this is roughly what he meant.)

Then the complaint about her voice is really far-fetch and cruel. I do not remember her natural voice to be that low-keyed in her earlier drama. She obviously put in a lot of effort to suppress that kid-ish tone and had improved a lot on her intonation, but those people who criticize it did not manage to hear that and still criticize her like for the sake of criticising despite the effort. That, I find is personal attack already and it is very mean to put people down like that.

Anyway, Jeanette’s acting skills should be the least of concern now. Recently, I find it harder to follow up with the storyline as it is getting more and more confusing on the facts. Some parts were so absurd that it is beginning to spoil the big production. The problem should lie with either the Scriptwriter or the Director.
I have listed some areas which I think is problematic or questionable. Do read them and see if you agree with my observation.

Poor Execution and Missing Punch

Yamamoto brought Juxiang out to the field to take photos. Halfway through the bicycle ride, Yamamoto stopped and asked Juxiang to wait for him. He disappeared for a while and Juxiang began to panic and went to look for him. He re-appeared into the scene with some wild flowers on hand for her.

I believe this scene set the tone for later on why Juxiang is so insistent and convinced that Yamamoto will return from the Japan, but the execution on the scene is poor. It barely leaves an impression and the hint of setting the tone is too subtle.

Yueniang’s Mama (Xiang Yun) just came back from hospital. They were having dinner in the living quarters when Pan Ling Ling walked in. She wanted to move Xiang Yun upstairs where they had prepared a room for her. Xiang Yun rejected and replied that she is more comfortable in the servant quarters. Pan Ling Ling went on to make some snide remarks on how their food belonged to Huang and she would have approved it if she had asked for permission first.

I think the punch line was not delievered. It makes me questioned if she had come in to point Xiang Yun that she was to stay at the servant quarters or she had come in to check on what they will be eating. In either case, she was not snide enough and the motive were confusing and unclear...

Loopholes: Explanation needed
  • Yamamoto was killed in the forest. Why would the Japanese soldiers bother to carry Yamamoto’s body back to the headquarters?
  • How did Yueniang manage to travel from Singapore to Malacca alone and during war-time? Not forgetting that she is only a kid...
  • Her mama had trained her for some years to be a proper Nonya, but yesterday plot, Lin Mei Jiao revealed that she had only stayed in UK for 2 years…… So how come all the children grow up so fast? They were still kids when they boarded the steamship to UK… Suddenly, they all come back as adult and look old...

Besides the above examples, there are many more which I did not list down. So, what happened? Didn't they double-check the storyline before it was pushed out? It is not the first time that poor execution and loopholes in storyline had spoilt a drama.

A very good example would be "Golden Road" where the sloppy ending practically wiped off all the good review for the show. Story did not explain how Li Nan Xiang was able to claim Rou Gu Mei's body out of the mortuary (loophole) and Producer explained how the ending scene for Tay Peng Hui did not turn out as it should be. Tay was supposed to be killed by a robber when he refused to give up his wallet as there is photo of Felicia Chin inside. That scene was to show that some humanity in him and his love for Felicia Chin’s character. However, we only saw Tay robbed and killed by robber...

It is not easy to gain back some trust from viewers, but the company managed to do so. Before viewers really give up totally on local productions, maybe the company would like pull up their socks and showed us that they can still produced good show. A truly good show which we have nothing to fussy about. Something like they used to do in the past, good quality show which all of us would rush back home at specific time, just so that we can catch the next episode.

Would we experience that again?

Read my additional comments on Little Nonya at More on the drama "Little Nonya" and "Little Nonya 3 Minutes Extra Footage - The Final Nail..."


Aaron Koh said...

I also found it strange that Babas and Nonya spoke perfect Mandarin before and after WWII.

fupper said...

Good review and constructive comments about the show!
I myself, liked the show quite abit, but i found that what you have listed is indeed true :D

Anonymous said...

if her acting is good, kindly explain why when acting as a deaf person, she can understand people without facing them

Photosophize said...

Thanks for all the comments! I hope my comments is constructive, so that people will look at it seriously and improves things.

Hi Aaron: On your comment, this is a Chinese drama, so it has to be in Mandarin. I mean we cannot possibly have a Channel 8 drama with all the dialogues in English and Malay, can we? Well, I would think the show would be more relevant if they have included more Malay or Nonya phrases in between the dialogue.

I find phrases like “Chong Po” – Cook, “Tok Pang Jang” – Long Table Feast very interesting and they are uniquely Peranakan. It would have spiced up the show more.

Hi Anonymous: To clarify, I said she improved and that her acting is acceptable. It is a good interpretation of a deaf and mule girl. I read about what you pointed out in many forums online. But which particular scene are you referring to? Let’s state the scene so that we can analyse what has gone wrong. I suspect some of them are camera angle“sacrifices”, rather than Jeanette’s acting fault.

I will elaborate this point in my next entry. This entry is getting too long that I have not even pen down good things about the show. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey please give credit when due.....the Little Nonya has been mediacorps best ever production and to the entire cast they all acted superbly!!Jeanette was exceptionally outstanding as was Ah tao.....not to mention Pierre and the Liu Yi Tao guy.....class 1 acting!!The plot was exciting the show riveting!!
Quit the critisism crap and applaud all who have made this show sooooo stay in at home from 9-10pm Mon to Friday!Couldnt stop thinking of it as i had to miss out on New's Year's eve as i was out.....haha it is that good that after the countdown you just want to rush back to see it!!
Pity it is ending so quickly you know when a good series comes along and you just cling on and never want it to end!!
Cheers to the Stars!!
Let's hope Mediacorp sells the DVDS of this drama cos i sure as hell want to get a copy for my library and watch it all over again if i could!!

Anonymous said...

hi there, im a non- chinese viewer of this show but i absolutely love it. I personally think that you cld have watched a lot more of the show first before reviewing it. it's true abt the loopholes, but i think the overall profuction is excellent. well done mediacorp. well done channel 8.

Photosophize [ 影.像.物语 ] said...

Thanks for the additional comments!

I do think the drama is a good effort from Mediacorp. I enjoyed the show too. If you read carefully, I actually rebutted earlier criticisms that I have read online and in the papers on how Jeanette Aw’s acting is poor and how the show is lousy. I supported her because I see that her acting improved and that this is a refreshing change from Mediacorp’s usual family story drama series.

However, the good storyline was indeed dampened by the numerous loopholes in the storyline and the direction of the drama. I just felt that the production team and the post-production team could have been more careful with it. It is unfair for a good story with strong casting to be spoilt by these preventable loopholes. They undermined the actors’ and actresses’ hard work for they are the first to be criticised and also taking the bulk of the criticisms. I am trying to suggest and also letting people know that not everything are actors’ fault.

I listed out the good’s about the drama in my latest posting, but I guessed you all did not read, thus made these comments… Before you all start commenting that I was biased against Jeanette or Little Nonya, can you all just read carefully and then read the latest entry first?

See this: More on the drama "Little Nonya"

DarKScoRpioN said...

Jeanette Aw is no doubt one of the best actresses in Singapore. totally adore her acting and cute smile. =) Hope to see mediacorp feature her even more in future big productions.