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These two shows are very Singaporean. By this I mean that they contain many elements which are unique to my country, elements which only within the paradigm of our society will resonate with local viewers. Homerun, an Asian remake of the internationally acclaimed Iranian movie Children of Heaven is a movie directed by Jack Neo, who is a local celebrity best known for his comedic prowess and the many comedy shows under his name. Police and Thief is a relatively new weekly half-hour sitcom shown on Channel 5 which has yet to set a foothold in the heart of local audiences.
These locally produced shows use, essentially different techniques in many areas to present the story to us while making use of our experiences as Singaporeans to help us understand and appreciate the shows from their story/plot to the surprises and nuances contained within. I will proceed to show you how the techniques used are also more different than similar. A distinction between the two shows is the element of narration. Cause and effect is employed to effectively present the story or stories in the shows. It is not uncommon to find secondary stories in an episode of a situation comedy or sitcom.
These are often inserted into the plot and often come together in conclusion at the end of the episode. In Police and Thief, the show starts off on this episode with Lee Tok Kong the main character of the show wanting to get under the blanket with his wife and due to common reasons of tiredness and falling asleep quickly, has his pleas ignored. This scene is related to how Tok Kong later reacts to the wiles of a less than archetypical femme fatale. There is another story inserted in between, which shows how the neighbour’s sons, Rudy and Rafi having an unspoken conflict over a common love interest.
This plot development has no explicit and implicit impact on the main story mentioned earlier. It almost feels like tokenism has taken place, either to fill up the half hour of screen time or to give emphasis to the other characters in the sitcom. In Homerun, it is quickly established that poverty leads to a lack of options and hence with the losing of shoes early into the movie, we see the main ’cause’ in the show that explains later effects. The show revolves around how the main characters are thwarted at every attempt to obtain a new pair of shoes or retrieve the old pair.
We do not see scenes that have no relation to any other. In fact the entire narration of Homerun is about a search for a cause-shoes. Both the shows have different range of stories. There is less suspense buildup in Police and Thief and this is probably due to restricted narration where both the audience and the characters in the show know the same information at relatively equal times. The only example of unrestricted narration in the recent episode was when Rudy cheated on his promise to his brother Rafi behind his back to get a chance to go out with the girl, Cecilia, they both like.
Rafi only found it out in another scene when Cecilia whom similarly does not know of the conflict called their home. In this case, we know more than several characters in the show at a particular time. In Homerun, during the opening sequence of Chew Kiat Kun running errands for his family, it is quickly established that a rag-and-bone man had taken away the pair of shoes which Kiat Kun had put down. Kiat Kun has no idea how the shoes had mysteriously disappeared and hence his sister Seow Fang too. In this scene alone, a beautiful play on camera angle suffices to keep us in suspense till much later in the show.
This seemingly passing top down close up scene of the gnarled hands removing the shoes helps to tug hard at our heart strings when we later realize the rag-and-bone man is blind. The above is a good example of how both restricted and unrestricted narration can be developed from one scene. We know who had taken away the shoes (unrestricted narration) but like the characters in the show we have no idea he was blind (restricted narration). These two shows belong to the 2 commonest genres in Singapore. Police and Thief can be classified as belonging to the “HDB” genre.
In fact this plot of this particular sitcom revolves around the conflict faced by two men who live in close proximity. It has an appeal particular to local viewers who are able to appreciate the familiar settings. One example which we can relate to is the scene of Lily, Tok Kong’s wife who repeats a punch line in a scene where her face is framed in the center of our common older HDB window panes. It is common to see neighbours walking and talking from the same angle for those who have lived in HDB flats.
Homerun is a social commentary and even as it is based in 1965, the year Singapore became independent, it reflects on socio-political situations which were prevalent during the time of filming i. e. the water issue between Malaysia and Singapore. Another genre which is mixed into both these shows is the coffee shop genre, featuring many scenes of meeting and interactions at local coffee shops. We see this in Police and Thief where Tok Kong was being interviewed by a lady near the beginning of the show and in Homerun, Kiat Kun helps out his teacher from school who is close to collapsing from shortness of breath at a roadside coffee shop.
There is obvious stereotyping in Police and Thief. Tok Kong is your typical gangster or “Ah Beng” in colloquial terms. He has wild, pointy gelled hair and wears colourful clothing, even for sleeping attire (Opening scenes). His heavily accented Singapore Colloquial English (SCE) (“Don’t play with my heart”) and his love for techno music scream “Ah Beng”. He is put in direct contrast with his neighbour and antagonist in the show Sergeant Dollah who is a policeman. Dollah is characterized with short hair, very neat and righteous.
These stereotypes alone set the premise for tension and conflict as neighbours. It is akin to Phua Chu Kang versus his sister-in-law Margaret. The stereotypes in Homerun broadly differentiate the rich and the poor. A simple comparison can be made between Beng Soon and Kiat Kun, friends of opposite ends of the economic spectrum whose relationship sours then mends in the course of the show. Beng Soon is cast in shirts, clean with well-gelled hair (in school) and stands at a good head taller than Kiat Kun.
His friend however is almost always dirty, with smudges on his singlet and/or face. Even during a game of soccer, Beng Soon provides the soccer boots and he is the only one on the field with soccer socks. Tok Kong as the gangster also becomes an icon easily associated with local shows of similar genres. There is no obvious icon in Homerun. It uses a motif rather, to play out the story. There were multiple scenes of close ups of your ‘Bata’ white or dirty shoes (in the shops or in the background with Seow Fang’s face in the focus).
Many scenes of tension started because of shoes e. g.the shoes slipping off and into a canal full of rushing water and even in the scene where Seow Fang’s teacher paces as the children are exercising). These scenes feature changes in music, close ups with dialogue in the background, all to draw attention to the motif in the show. During the scene at the well with the confrontation between the two groups of boys, we see wealth being equated with power, that Beng Soon who was the rich one could actually decide who got to use the well. This is perhaps the director’s ideology portraying the way Malaysia hordes over us in the water issue.
The premise of Homerun revolved around three things: shoes, intelligence and power being associated with wealth. Jack Neo parodies the socio-political situation between Singapore and Malaysia using the three elements with shoes being the water, Singapore being the more intelligent country and power that Malaysia holds over us due to their superior water resource. The two shows end differently too. The end of the sitcom is close without answered questions while the cryptic ending of Homerun leaves us pondering what the director would have us think as we leave the cinema.
There is no element of suspense left in Police and Thief to entice the audience to look out for the next episode, unlike a soap opera. Even as both shows make use of our experience to enhance our appreciation and understanding of the shows, they obviously use several different techniques and some similar ones to bring forth the essence of each individual story. These different methods highlight certain elements essential to the plot of the stories and ultimately help us to enjoy the shows as Singaporeans. Word Count: 1512.