Will Hong Huifang v Pan Lingling Get Us to Love Singapore TV Again?

Remember that Channel 8 drama Holland V?

With eight wins out of 14 nominations at the 2003 Star Awards, the show could have marked a new golden age of Singaporean TV.

However, since Holland V ended its run 15 years ago, Ch 8 productions have only continued to add to a treasure trove of memes and GIFs showcasing our artistes in fine wooden acting form.

Many point to this as glaring evidence of the lack of talent and quality in Singapores entertainment scene. But maybe its not that Singaporeans are not good enough to be on TV.

As seen in last weeks organically produced Mediacorp drama, Hong Huifang v Pan Lingling: Dont Friend You Already is a perfect example of how far Singaporean actors can push their acting range when they’re unleashed and unscripted.

Forget dreadful thousand-page scripts by writers who rehash the same tired and corny themes year after year, all while being starved in a small room with an overused whiteboard and no windows. In reality, all you need is Whatsapp and Instagram—and a cast of willing colleagues and friends all vying for their slice of the limelight. You don’t even need to leave the house to fight in person.

This, in other words, is the age of new media, not the idiot box.

Pan Lingling had allegedly told Hong Huifang's son Calvert Tay to undergo an STD test after learning that he was dating former actress Julie Tan. (Photo credit: Woman's Weekly)
While the theme of hissy fits and catfights is a Ch 8 staple, this is by no means your typical drama series. Here, the level of melodrama is unprecedented. The women are really, really angry, and there is no script (save for a few lines of quoted lyrics). Also missing are the cheesy lines and the signature Ch 8 slap to the face.

But for most Singaporeans, Hong Huifang v Pan Lingling is really just a modern reboot of the Tagboard Flame Wars from the early 2000s: pre-Whatsapp group chat days when the tiny 180px chatbox of a classmate’s blog would become a battlefield, with punches thrown by way of various indiscernible pseudonyms.

Typically, after an explosive evening of words like “bitch”, “asshole” and “teacher’s pet”, followed by insults comprising body parts and each participant’s family members, everyone would return to class the following day as though nothing happened. Yet everyone would know that “bubblesXOXO” was Sarah, and that Jonathan wasn’t trying very hard to mask his identity with “jawnnnn”. The class monitor, obviously, was the one who wrote, “Can we please stop it guys, we still have our class performance tomorrow.”

In Hong Huifang v Pan Lingling, the characters are your secondary school classmates; they’re just older now and bitter about life.

25-year-old Julie Tan, with her brazen use of foul language, is clearly the one who believes that the loudest and most vulgar wins. She’s the one who’ll resort to repeating your words back to you in an irritating, whiny voice just to get you to shut up.

Ms Hong, on the other hand, strings together more than a few Chinese idioms, and clearly has a keen sense of alliteration. She’s the classmate whose poetic prowess and eloquence is most likely to leave you with that warm sense of admiration when someone rises above petty insults.

Even if you have no idea how this fight started in the first place, between the two, you would still root for Ms Hong. After all, she’s most likely the one to say things like, “Why are we so quick to throw punches when we regularly chope seats for each other during recess?”

At this point, who can forget audience participation? Back then, it was school mates from other classes getting involved. Today, with Instagram comment threads, we have a fancy feature of new-age experimental theatre that brings us a multi-dimensional drama that transcends the TV screen.

You can show your support for either party, and trash talk each other with zero consequences. And most importantly, you partake in the tribulations of two actresses who feel that they have been wronged.

Some say that TV is already dead. But Mediacorp, Singapore’s largest dinosaur, may have struck gold with Hong Huifang v Pan Lingling: Dont Friend You Already. All that’s left is to bring the drama to cyberspace, let the artistes freestyle with improv acting, and have the audience shape the narrative. As long as the feud is relatable and tugs at the heartstrings of nostalgic Singaporeans who want to feel young again, you have a masterpiece will make Singaporeans happily watch local TV again.

Ms Hong is the classmate whose poetic prowess and eloquence is most likely to leave you with that warm sense of admiration when someone rises above petty insults.

But wait, the drama isn’t mere popcorn fare. There’s a moral here too.  

And it’s this: no amount of beautiful curation or artificial construction of your social media profile can prevent your real ugliness from flooding the internet when spats like this break out.

Do Singaporeans care though? Probably not. What we want is just entertainment, which Mediacorp could supply by paying its artistes to get into real feuds. Fann Wong v Zoe Tay v Fiona Xie v Rui En with an after-credits cameo by our very own VR Man could be the Caldecott Queens: Infinity War superhero hit that we need to save the future of Singapore TV.

Mediacorp executives must be rubbing their hands in glee now in anticipation of the surge in ratings for Reach For The Skies, the Ch 8 show that stars both feuding actresses. Without this social media spat, both Ms Hong and Ms Pan would most likely have faded into obscurity.

It’s even allowed David Gan to resurface in the public spotlight. And what’s a Singaporean drama without some scathing colloquial insults.

Elsewhere, at 1000 Toa Payoh North, a certain newspaper company is also celebrating.

Singaporeans are finally reading the papers again – even the Chinese tabloids are selling out for once. The juicy drama is getting so many hits that the online article doesn’t even need a Premium paywall.

Hong Huifang v Pan Lingling: Dont Friend You Already is currently airing on all social media platforms.

Are you #TeamHong or #TeamPan? Write to us at community@ricemedia.co

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