Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dawn of Chinese Dramas

In my view 1 Feb 1980 was the turning point for local productions especially Chinese Dramas. On this day RTS became a statutory board Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. The late Ong Teng Cheong was appointed Chairman Cheng Tong Fatt General Manager and the late Wong-Lee Siok Tin the Deputy General Mnager. According to Chairman Ong “ Western values and standards alien to our society are being introduced all the time. We must therefore produce our own programmes with standards and values suited to our society.” With this direction local entertainment productions increased and the Chinese Drama Production Division was set-up. It was not easy for our locals to meet the challenges of this venture. Production experts from Hongkong were recruited and on-the-job training started. The first drama produced with the HK producers was a film titled the Seletar Robbery – a true story about three men robbing a construction site. This was followed by the Army series in 6 parts telecast in March 83. Viewership climbed steadily. And the best series I ever watched was the 26-episode The Awakening – the story about Singapore immigrants from the 1920s. I could identify it with my father’s early days when he came to Singapore in a tongkang from Swatow. Then came Flying Fish a 8-part series on swimmers. After that there were many more successful ones. Please refer to Wikipedia for a full list.
I remember some of the incidents that happened during early stage of Chinese drama productions. I was the engineer-in charge of TV Studios and Outside Broadcasts. There were incessant complaints from the HK experts that our locals were not creative, our talents were dumb-dumb for example. In one of the post mortem on Seletar Robbery the producer pointed out the actor just took the money under his arms and ran and his facial expression did not appear that he has robbed someone. In another incident, a bird in a cage used as an extra flew out and could not be retrieved. The producer had to change the script to a cat instead. In another incident in TV Studio 4 the producer banged the production panel and shouted to an actress (she is with us till this day) “Cry , Cry damned it cry..” No tears came out. There were many retakes. After the recording the actress went behind a backdrop and cried this time for real! And there was this diligent HK producer who could not work without smoking in the TV Studio...........

Please email me if have any interesting memories of the early days of Chinese drama productions.

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