2019 / 6月
Taiwan and Singapore Collaborate on All Is Well
Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Eight Ge Man Production /tr. by Geof Aberhart
In August and September All Is Well, the first television drama coproduced between Taiwan and Singapore, will hit the airwaves. In it, two storylines are tied together by an international bank robbery, and viewers will get to watch as Singaporean actors venture through Taiwan’s charming scenery and Taiwanese actors showcase their acting skills in Singapore’s urban jungle. This intersection of cultures and settings is certainly something to be eagerly awaited.
Early this year, the Grand Hotel in Taipei became a veritable Walk of Fame as director Wang Shaudi announced the commencement of filming on All Is Well at a press conference. The show, boasting a formidable cast, would be a coproduction between Taiwan’s Eight Ge Man Productions and Taiwan Television, and Media Corporation of Singapore.
Taiwan and Singapore together
Taiwanese variety shows and dramas are a frequent feature on Singaporean television, and so Taiwanese entertainers are far from unfamiliar to Singaporean audiences. Singaporean TV stations also often invite Taiwanese actors to take part in Singaporean dramas.
The annual Asia Television Forum in Singapore features wonderful works from Taiwan, as well as facilitating exchanges, rights negotiations, and investment agreements. Similarly, Singaporean films have been part of the Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan, with Ilo Ilo, for example, taking four awards including Best Feature Film and Best New Director in 2013.
Exchanges between the two sides in film and television are frequent and show no signs of slowing down. With this latest venture, director Wang Shaudi has taken things from simple exchanges to partnership.
In 2017, Wang was invited to Singapore to teach performance classes by Media Corporation of Singapore (Mediacorp). It was while she was there that the idea of a coproduction began to brew in her mind as the two sides hit it off. It was almost like fate. After more than a year of discussions, the two finally formulated a drama with two storylines that could be seen as both independent and intertwined, which would become All Is Well.
The show is inspired by an incident from 2016 when a transnational hacker group stole some NT$83 million from Taiwanese ATMs. The group began by infiltrating an ATM at a London, England, branch of First Bank, working their way into the Taiwanese head office’s systems step by step so they could remotely activate ATMs in Taiwan. This meant the getaway driver could make off with a substantial sum without touching the machine, and in the course of one night, the group was able to raid over 40 ATMs across Taiwan. The case spurred cooperation between Taiwanese law enforcement and their opposite numbers abroad, ultimately nabbing the culprits.
Wang chose to break the story down into two tracks. The first follows Blue Lan’s character, the Singapore area manager of a fictional Taiwanese bank, and Desmond Tan’s, the son of the boss of a Singaporean shipping group, as the two go through the world of corporate conflict in Singapore. The second track follows Elvin Ng’s honest hacker and Romeo Tan’s aspiring chef, in Taiwan to learn his trade, as the two are drawn into a theft and find themselves on the lam.
Each track has its own independent narrative structure and could be viewed as its own Singapore- or Taiwan-based drama, but the two can also be viewed together, giving a clearer overall picture.
For example, in the Singapore version viewers may see Blue Lan’s character calling Taiwan to assign someone a task and then carrying on with the Singapore strand of the plot, while in the Taiwan version they will see the other end of that call and what that person then goes on to do.
Familiarity through proximity
On the Taiwan side, Taiwanese director Ko Chen-nien and Singaporean director Doreen Yap were at the helm, while in Singapore Taiwan’s Tzeng Pei-shan and Singapore’s Martin Chan led the way. These partnerships each worked with local crews, a big shift from the usual practice, which sees directors bring their own crews when shooting abroad.
The four teams shot in four different locations across the two countries, and between that and the separate storylines, preparations for the production required substantial discussion between the Taiwanese and Singaporean sides. The way of working and the shooting specifications had to be negotiated between the two, and they also had to work to seamlessly combine the cultural characteristics of both sides into the show. While both sides may speak Mandarin, cultural differences nonetheless make themselves apparent even in how each side talks. Singaporeans, for example, are much more used to throwing in words in English or in other varieties of Chinese, and sometimes the English words are cut down to just a syllable or two when used as adjectives. Elvin Ng gives an example, noting that when a Singaporean says “Don’t be so ‘emo,’” a Taiwanese person might have trouble cottoning on to the fact that “emo” is short for “emotional.”
Singaporean movies have also often featured the locals mixing Chinese and English in their speech, as well as parts of speech not used as often in Taiwanese Mandarin, creating a distinctive “Singlish” that has come to be one of the lasting impressions of Singaporeans among Taiwanese. Wang had hoped to make a lot of use of Singlish in the dialog of the Singaporean actors, but as the cooperation developed, she came to understand that Singaporean film and television are now required to use “standard” Mandarin, with no mixing of languages. Given that, the directors would often shoot two versions of scenes, each using different dialogue.
A Singaporean in Taiwan
Mediacorp has fingers in many pies, from television and radio to artist representation, and as a result its dramas usually feature actors from its own stable who are well known to one another. Taiwanese actors, on the other hand, are spread out across several agencies, and as such tend to come together from various groups to shoot. This difference between the two industries came to the fore in Wang’s decision to hold preparatory classes for the actors ahead of shooting, something that was a new experience for Romeo Tan. Under the leadership of their teacher, the actors gradually came to know each other better as they shared private thoughts, laughter, and tears.
All Is Well comprises a total of 40 episodes, 20 each for the Taiwanese and Singaporean storylines. In Singapore, shooting 20 episodes would take around ten weeks, moving at a quick pace according to a tight schedule; in Taiwan, though, where crews are more particular about lighting and sets, that same number could take four or five months, and reshoots to accommodate script changes are a common occurrence. Elvin Ng says he admired the ability of the Taiwanese actors to improvise, as in Singapore they tend to stick to the script, but in Taiwan there are often last-minute changes. At first, he says, he found this a bit overwhelming and he worried about his performance, but it also turned out to be a valuable chance to hone his acting skills.
Television shows can present microcosms of life and give audiences windows into other cultures. Singapore is famous for its modern urban look, and the directors made sure to capture icons like the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Flyer, and Kranji Racecourse. When scouting for locations in Singapore, the Taiwanese crew were amazed by the public housing and the Hainanese chicken rice, and their reactions inspired executive producer Leong Lye Lin to look at the things she had taken so much for granted from a whole new perspective.
Meanwhile, in Taiwan shooting took place in well-known locations like Wulai and Yeliu in New Taipei City, as well as in Keelung. As part of the show, Romeo Tan and Elvin Ng had the chance to experience outdoor hot springs and looking down over Taipei by night as they rode motorcycles along mountain roads. As city dwellers, they found themselves bowled over by Taiwan’s scenic richness.
The people behind All Is Well hope that audiences in each country will have their curiosity about the other piqued by the show, and that with the show available by streaming, even more people will get to know Taiwan and Singapore as the cooperation helps spread Chinese-language drama even further.