Injecting local flavour in TV serials

Please click to enlarge the image.

It’s always easier said than done, but what do we know of the limitations faced by content providers in trying to inject local flavour into local content?

I once spoke to a certain official from a particular government organisation who said he would like to see more colour in our local dramas, especially since we are a multi-racial society, so that should be reflected in our shows. But it’s excruciatingly painful for  someone whose mother tongue is not Mandarin to memorise lines based on hanyu pinyin, and have to act and react at the same time. Also I think there could be a certain rule set by MDA that limits the percentage of alternative languages that can be spoken in Chinese drama. So unlike in American dramas where you see people of different skin colour in every setting, we don’t have a common language to unify us.

But this lack of a common language is what defines us.

In fact, I think the way Singaporeans speak is very uniquely Singapore, (but I’m not sure we are exactly very proud of that). The truth is when we speak Mandarin, we inject a bit of English here, a bit of Hokkien there, and throw in a Malay adjective once in a while, and while we don’t have terrible pronunciation, we are not Beijing-accurate either. Yet we are not encouraged to speak this way on TV, which I think could be due to a certain guideline, but then again I never asked to know for sure. I think though, that even if we are allowed to do so by our directors and executive producers, it would certainly anger some disapproving viewers who think we should be setting a good example instead of perpetuating a less-than-perfect speech pattern.

From what I see, it’s a sticky situation.

It certainly doesn’t taken one person or even a panel of decision-makers to alter the status quo of our local television content. It needs a revolution (or miracle, depending on how you want to see it) that won’t take place overnight. But I think that shouldn’t deter us from recognising the need to solve the fundamental problem that is causing  lacklustre audiences’ response.

Results don’t come if you don’t start from somewhere.


读者认为应该多制作具有本地风味的电视剧,比如《出路》和 Channel 5 目前还在播映的 “Fighting Spiders”.

我呢,则认为,不是以那种年代当背景的电视剧,并不代表它就没有本地风味。毕竟我们的国家已经成长了许多,现在的环境,人民所面对的压力和挑战都和以前不同。那我们要怎么样把这个年代给搬上电视,制作一部脍炙人口的电视剧, 才是接下来应该关注的挑战。



曾经听过某个政府机构的高层说,希望在我们的电视剧里看到更多色彩,既然我们是多元宗族国家,电视剧就应该凸显这一面。可是要一个母语不是华语的演员靠拼音背台词,然后又要演戏,又要作反应,真的会要了他的命! 况且听说有某个政府条规,限制在华语电视剧里能说其他语言的比例。所以我们不象美国的电视剧,能靠一个统一的语言让不同肤色的演员在同一个环境切磋。


我们大部分新加坡华人的其中一个特色,就是平时的对话里常常参杂了不同语言,发音不很差,但也不是特别标准 。(这或许不是每个人愿意接受的特征。)电视剧不鼓励这么做,应该是因为要按照条规吧,我也不清楚,也从来没有人提过可以还是不可以。但是我想就算可以,播了出去也会惹来观众的批评,认为我们应该给下一代树立好榜样。



12 responses to “Injecting local flavour in TV serials

  1. I think it’s good not to mix too many language in local chinese dramas. Not everyone understand the Dialect and English. It’s also a good habit to speak proper English or Chinese at a time.

  2. I liked the then SBC’s drama series more.
    Met a friend who used to work for SBC, then Mediacorp and he explained to us that period dramas need bigger budget cos usually have to travel overseas for the ‘ulu ulu’ settings, and series like ‘Qi Yuan’ (Strange Encounters) or ‘Mi Li Ye’ (Mystery series) were frowned upon by authorities or higher-ups because they are seen as encouraging superstitions.

  3. I think the way we speak is nothing to be ashamed of since our language merely reflects how much Singapore’s culture has evolved since our forefathers arrived 🙂

    hehe and this may be off topic but here goes.. .. I think it’s funny how everyone assumes that all Chinese in Singapore should speak perfect Mandarin when it is a language introduced post war to unify the various Chinese speaking groups. It’s annoying when I keep hearing the older generation commenting that the younger generation has lost our roots just because we don’t speak eloquent Mandarin. If we were to trace our family trees, wouldn’t other types of Chinese (e.g. Teochew, Cantonese, Hokkien etc etc) be our native tongues? Funny how using these languages is not encouraged among younger Singaporeans.

  4. Maybe I’ve lost touch with what’s showing on Ch8 nowadays but my impression is that most dramas revolve around extra-marital affairs, stress at school, heartlander woes… It’s the same story over and over again, told in exactly the same way. And the stories always end in the same happily ever after fashion…

    Look at Boo Junfeng’s films… His latest film Sandcastle impressed me tremendously and touched upon multiple issues Singaporeans face in a creative manner. Yes, some Hokkien and English was spoken but even if it were only in Mandarin, I don’t think the film would have suffered.

    I think Ch5 is doing a better job in this aspect. I enjoyed The Pupil when it was screening. The storylines and dialogue were more realistic and engaging than the same ol’ stuff we see on Ch8.

    • Hi J,

      Thanks for your comment. I guess most stories we watch are the same stories, but usually what makes it interesting is HOW the story is told and the chemistry between actors, which could be affected by the dialogue.

      I’m learning about American television series scriptwriting now, and wow, it’s daunting to a newbie like me but probably picked up effortlessly by experienced writers. I do hope to complete my TV series some day!


  5. Hi Joanne, I am still very very puzzled how TVB series can be so creative and original in their scripts. I must say they are a very talented pool of people especially the script writers. Anyway, I think Fighting Spiders is really good and really do hope Mediacorp can improve more on Channel 8 series. Erh… Don’t want to make too many bad comments on the series that were produced in Channel8..

  6. Firstly Joanne you made a valid point. I for one am one of those (many) singaporeans who no longer or shall lost interest in local tv productions. I mean local films are okay. Some are surprisingly good. But local tv shows, well i grew up watching channel 8 serials, even though I m Malay a can’t speak madrin except well maybe to save my life, but no longer. I do wish to see more colour in our local production. Last i saw was a fat malay dude playing a lousy cop in police n thief. How much more degrading can that be? Seriously is the roles that we the minority are all that the script writers/ directors can cook up with. Why can’t you like have a lead falling for a non Chinese dude or something. Be like a love interest.

    But to be honest that still won’t get me back to watching tv since you can easily stream or download a show from the US. The 7 and 9 pm slot no longer captures my attention like it use to. So you are right the local tv seen needs a miracle.

    p.s I found your blog through wiki. Wiki rocks (“,)

  7. True, the way the actor/actress speaks their lines can affect the quality of a a drama. However, I feel that the way most of our local artistes speak is not a major problem, yet. I believe that it’s more of the scripts that will affect the quality and viewership.

    A good drama does not necessary need to have a strong local flavour. We can have a very simple storyline or theme, but how the story is going to be presented matters a lot, ie the plot, storyline, etc. Is it going to be predictable or typical? Is it too exaggerating ? If it is, would the viewers like it? There are many such questions that the production team should ask themselves before airing (or perhaps even before filming) the drama. Why not, put yourself in our shoes, and ask what exactly do you want to watch? Do not produce a drama just for the sake of producing or filling up the 9pm slot.

    Another important point is the confidence from the audience. Most would agreed that overall, the Channel 8 drama productions for this year are much better that that for last year. However, why do the the viewership and criticisms shows otherwise? There are people who simply give up on our local dramas, without even giving it a chance. Or some may even find it “disgraceful” to be watching them (well, I guess it is mostly the younger ones). Hence, other than the content, the branding and promotions of the dramas matter. The media plays a very important role here. If they are going to make a drama goes on the headline for that few picky people who call/write in to complain, how is our local dramas going to progress?

    Well, like what you have said, it’s always easier said than done. But as long as efforts are being make to improve, I believe one day, we will see our local dramas standing strong again. It’s just how long do we need to take…

    (Anyway, it’s good that at least, a local artiste is taking the effort to face/identity this problem.)


  8. hi joanne. I believe that local dramas can gain acceptance if they are done in a way that appeals to viewers. I like those 温馨小品, where they are of dramas of 20 episodes and that they don’t contain too much violence and sex. HK dramas of recent history appeal to me because of that. Take note that I say HK dramas of recent history. The reason for saying so is that they also face a brain drain of good scriptwriters, which has caused much of its dramas to be not as good as before.

    I think the best will be to outsource drama production to production houses, where they can produce great content and not being controlled by Mediacorp in terms of content, budget and so on. I think there is some improvement in the quality of some dramas from Mediacorp, which in this case is Mrs P.I by Mediacorp. I also liked dramas from WaWa pictures like 魔幻视界. I also watched the telemovie 等一等爱情 and I liked the show and your acting. That goes to show that production houses can do better than MCS and this hopefully will drive better content for local dramas.

  9. I believe everyone have their point of view and it make ideas grow big with each different comment, we can develop different kinds to suit different group of people.

    Not only apply to media but everywhere like a simple project. Some people likes to watch love drama and yet there’s people who thinks that it’s just simply boring and so those drama can mix and match to suit everyone.

    But yet, not everyone will be happy or accept what is presented, so sometimes it is those that had forced some decision to focus on big group than to smaller ones. It’s just my 2cent worth of words.

  10. TV serials here just don’t have strong enough personalities.

    Friends obviously took place in new york city but that wasn’t important cause no one can forget any of the characters. There was little change in scenery, static camera angles, no face close-ups, no special effects, hardly trying to use new york city as a selling point because seeing the characters was enough. Same goes for a lot of other sitcoms, everyone loves raymond, how I met your mother, little britain, etc.

    What I’m getting at is that tv here focuses on showcasing things besides the most basic stuff like how characters endear themselves to the audience and interact with other characters.

    I’m a pop culture dinosaur but anyone agree with this?

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