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From:The Straits Timesposted on 14 December at 2:00 PM
14 December at 2:00 PM

HBO Asia's Serangoon Road starring Joan Chen and Chin Han up for Australian awards

By Boon Chan, Media Correspondent

bchan@sph.com.sg

Serangoon Road has run its course on television but there are more original offerings to come from HBO Asia.

The period detective series, which was co-produced with Australian Broadcasting Corporation, was the outfit's first foray into original scripted drama.

Viewers here have mixed feelings towards it but the show, starring China-born Joan Chen and Singapore actor Chin Han, has been nominated for Best Drama Series at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards, which will be announced next month.

The international cast included Australians Don Hany and Maeve Dermody as well as Singaporeans Pamelyn Chee and Alaric Tay. The series ended its run on Nov 24 and is currently on repeat on HBO until tomorrow. It returns for another run on HBO Signature from Jan 2.

HBO Asia is a cable TV broadcaster that airs major Hollywood movies as well as original programmes produced by American cable TV network HBO, known for its cutting-edge, award-winning content such as Game Of Thrones (2011-present) and Sex And The City (1998-2004).

The 10-part Serangoon Road is set in 1960s Singapore and follows the investigations of a private detective agency owned by a widow searching for answers to her husband's murder.

HBO Asia chief executive officer Jonathan Spink, 53, says response to the series has been broadly positive. He says: "Our cable partners are very pleased we are getting into the whole area of production and putting a local spin on things. And we've been very, very pleased with the viewership numbers."

He adds that ratings were "incredibly good" in markets such as Malaysia and Taiwan, although the company declined to give specific viewership numbers.

While fans of the show have praised the acting and authenticity, there were also viewers who took potshots at it.

Media planner Penelope Siraj, 37, decided to give the show a try because of the marquee HBO name. She gave up after two episodes, calling it "terrible" and adds: "It had terrible acting, played into the whole little Asian woman stereotype and it looked like it was going to continue in that direction."

Civil servant Alvin Wong, 43, says he could not even get past the trailer: "This seemed like a made for the West mini-series and the location of Singapore seemed like a romanticised after-thought."

He caught bits of the show when channel-surfing and adds that "even Mata Mata was more entertaining". Mata Mata was a Channel 5 period cop drama that was also shot on the same set as Serangoon Road in Batam.

However, freelance copywriter Low Mei Yen, 33, enjoyed the series. She says: "I like the costumes and I like that everybody in the show has great hair from Joan Chen to Chin Han. I'm not very sure about the historical accuracy but the street vendors seem to lend an air of authenticity to the show."

Aside from Batam, Serangoon Road was also filmed in iconic places here such as Raffles Hotel. HBO Asia has declined to reveal its production budget.

Ms Low adds: "There was no bad or mediocre acting to take away from the story." But she feels that the finale felt too rushed as there were too many plot strands to tie up.

Britain-born regional director at an energy information firm, Mr Mike Morrison, 34, also gave the series the thumbs up. He has lived in Singapore since 2001 and says: "I've watched a lot of TV here and Serangoon Road is a huge step forward in terms of production values."

The only thing he spotted that was not authentic for the 1960s was an electric gate, he says with a laugh.

Mr Spink says there are no plans for a second season "but it's certainly not beyond the realms of possibility".

Meanwhile, there are other projects in the pipeline. Up next is a suspense thriller slated to start production in March next year, to be screened later in the year. The aim is to produce one show a year next year and in 2015 and then "start ramping it up" beyond that. He adds: "It's a question of financing and stories. We're new to the game and we don't want to just rush and do any old thing. We want to make sure it's got merit."

Beyond more original offerings from HBO Asia, the hope is that Serangoon Road might spark greater interest in production in Singapore from other players.

At his opening address at Asia Television Forum & Market and ScreenSingapore 2013 last Wednesday, Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim mentioned the series and urged international companies to come to Singapore to produce original Asian stories, given that "we understand Asian sensibilities" and there is also strong government support.

As Mr Spink puts it, the series has helped "put Singapore on the map, in terms of helping develop Singapore's production expertise and highlighting local talents in one of the first major international series produced here".

Serangoon Road is currently being repeated on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) at 12.45pm today and tomorrow. The encore broadcast is from Jan 2 at 10pm on HBO Signature (StarHub TV Channel 603). New episodes air weekly at the same time.

This review first appeared in ST Life! on Dec 12, 2013.

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