Photo credit Netflix

The duo behind Genre Equality puts out a monthly review of the best and worst each month — whether if it’s a new series on Netflix to binge, a film to catch in cinemas (if you use TraceTogether, that is), or a book to simply plug out from the outside noise.

While you can listen in to their latest episode for a full breakdown of their verdicts, scroll down to dig into what they’ve loved (and disliked) from the first month of 2021.

Follow Genre Equality on Facebook for more updates.



The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

TV/Marvel
Where to watch: Disney+

Both a fun buddy cop adventure and a complex exploration of the geopolitical realities of a post-Blip world, this series strikes a perfect balance between thoughtful and thrilling.

Whether dealing with radicalization stemming from a global refugee crisis, or interrogating whether a Black man could (or should) reconcile historical racial injustice with hope for the future to honour a symbol of America — TFATWS’ greatest strength is the potent commentary it weaves alongside superheroics.


Invincible

Season 1

TV/Skybound
Where to watch: Prime Video

Based on Robert Kirkman’s (other) acclaimed comic book, Invincible is a smart and subversive satire of the superhero coming-of-age genre. Combining the realism and violence of The Boys with the brightly-coloured optimism of Saturday morning cartoons, Invincible sucks you in with plenty of twists that you won’t see coming.


Infinity Train

Season 4

TV/Cartoon Network Studios
Where to watch: HBO Max (VPN required)

The fourth and final season of Owen Dennis’ imaginative and emotionally complex cartoon continues to be a wonderful treat. Set on an endless locomotive where each carriage contains a different universe, Infinity Train takes its passengers (and us) on a ride to help us deal with a variety of traumas and insecurities.


Shadow and Bone

Season 1

TV/21 Laps Entertainment
Where to watch: Netflix

Based on the Grishaverse novels, Shadow and Bone is a dense and immersive series that improves upon the source material in many ways — especially when it comes to adding depth and nuance to the book’s “chosen one” story. However, it does fall into a myriad of Netflix YA fantasy cliches at times.


For All Mankind

Season 2

TV/Sony Pictures Entertainment
Where to watch: Apple TV+

For All Mankind is a meticulously crafted alt-history that imagines what would happen if the Soviets landed the first man on the moon instead of America. While its first season was wildly ambitious, it was also uneven. This astonishing second season corrects nearly flaw to deliver an engrossing and enthralling vision of a very different Cold War in space.


Mortal Kombat

Film/New Line Cinema
Where to watch: Local cinemas

Mortal Kombat does justice to the game’s violent and gory legacy. But were the good fights enough to compensate for an utter dumpster fire of a movie? Only partly.


Yasuke

Season 1

TV/MAPPA
Where to watch: Netflix

Netflix’s anime about a Black samurai fighting mechs and magic in alt-reality feudal Japan is buoyed by sublime visuals and an incredible score from Flying Lotus. Unfortunately, it’s also dragged down by a highly derivative story.


Them

Season 1

TV/Sony Pictures Television
Where to watch: Amazon Prime

This 1950s tale of a Black family moving into a white suburban neighbourhood is harrowing. From the horrors of racists next door to supernatural entities indoors, Them does a good job of depicting the exhaustion of a Black family living in America.

However, its similarities to Lovecraft Country, alongside its exploitative violence that borders on degradation porn, hampered our enjoyment of this series.


Made For Love

Season 1

TV/Paramount Television Studios
Where to watch: HBO GO

A woman tries to escape her controlling tech mogul husband. Unfortunately, he’s implanted a tracking chip in her brain. This dramedy is sometimes a smart sci-fi nightmare deconstructing the intersection of romance and technology.

But most times, Made For Love is a narrative mess that frustrates viewers with its unnecessary non-chronological structure.


Thunder Force

Film/On the Day Productions
Where to watch: Netflix

Melissa McCarthy’s superhero comedy is undoubtedly the worst movie made in 2021. It’s unfunny, tedious, and feckless. Avoid at all costs.


The Handmaid’s Tale

Season 4

TV/MGM Television
Where to watch: Hulu (VPN required)

This dystopian series has reached the point of diminishing returns. With nothing new left to say and Margaret Atwood’s cautionary allegory milked dry, The Handmaid’s Tale has become a repetitive slog of female torture and terrible decisions in its fourth season.


The Way of the Househusband

Season 1

TV/Nippon TV
Where to watch: Netflix

This adaptation of the popular manga about a yakuza boss who retires to become a domestic spouse is faithful to a fault. While it retains the charming humour, this is less of an anime and more of a cheap-looking PowerPoint motion comic.


The Nevers

Season 1

TV/Mutant Enemy Productions
Where to watch: HBO GO

Following the myriad of allegations made against Joss Whedon’s toxic behaviour, Hidzir is forced to reevaluate his fandom as he reviews Whedon’s tonally-awkward new show about superpowered women in Victorian England. Listen to the full episode to hear more.

saying out loud singapore community radio column asiapac books chong lingying
Photo credit Chong Lingying

Saying Out Loud is a new recurring column by Chong Lingying — a book publisher, editor, and writer — where she shares her unfiltered views on work, creativity, and the conversations happening around her in Singapore.

She manages Asiapac Books, an independent publishing house specializing in illustrated and comic books on Asian culture, history, philosophy, folktales, and life skills.

In this piece, Lingying talks about the often-arduous (and thankless) job of editing.


What is editing in Singapore, today?

It’s been a while! Please excuse my absence. I’ve been busy editing books at work and other projects, including more editing of personal writing, which leads to this story.

I hesitated to finish this piece, just as I hesitated to call myself an editor, for one reason: editing is a paradox to me.

Even though an editor corrects mistakes, there is no “correct” way to edit a work. Instead, there seem to be many “wrong” ways. Do too much and you might kill the work, the author relationship, or the production deadlines. Do too little and you might as well not do it at all. (Editor’s note: *Shouting from the balcony seats* Yeaaaah!)

And for all of your efforts, there will always be something that you missed. You will wake up to an email from a co-worker, the author, or a reader, asking you why a female character was referred to as “him” on page 6.

It is human to be imperfect, and to create imperfect things through imperfect processes. To edit is to see all of these imperfections, to understand them, and to improve on them. But to what end? To create better work? To create a better world? (Editor’s note: It’s just a job, I guess.)


Photo credit CHONG LINGYING

Before we get to this – what is editing anyway? What is good editing? What is editing in the here and now, in a world that’s flooded with media platforms, formats, channels, and creators? Particularly, what is editing for a Singapore whose media imports massively outweigh its exports?

These questions are important to creatives who undoubtedly spend much of their time self-editing or editing media, as well as those who consume said media. This includes everybody.

All writing needs editing! Photos, videos, and music too! The imagination needs to run wild and free, but somebody has to rein it in at the end of the day. Word processing can be messy work, and somebody has to keep the shop tidy. To smoothen things over. To arrange it better. (Editor’s note: Don’t mind me. I added italics for dramatic effect.)

There’s almost no content out in the world that isn’t edited. And yet, it is in the nature of editing work to be invisible, so that another’s work can shine brighter. What a wonderful thing that there are these countless hands that shape everything around us, while cleaning away their traces. They are the secret-keepers of typos, grammatical errors, expletives, nudity, dead bodies, and everything else that you can imagine. (Editor’s note: No dead bodies were found in the submitted drafts.)

In the book world, an editor might proofread while checking production proofs but they aren’t just a proofreader. An editor might write a lot, especially blurbs and auxiliary content in books, but they aren’t only a writer. There are also many editors who don’t touch the text in a work, like acquisition editors or managing editors. (Editor’s note: I am “managing editor” here but, like many other creatives, we juggle some hats.)

In Singapore, the term, “editor” is used loosely because most publishers and editorial teams here are small. An editor is the external creative partner, who serves the audience and the work. An editor is an essential part of publishing. The midwives of creative labour.

“Editing” is a term even harder to explain. From the acquisition of a new manuscript, to structural edits, to rewrites, to fact checks, to proof checks, to marketing, to new editions, an editor is busy with a book from its very beginning until it goes out of print. Editing is not just these tasks — it’s the overall responsibility, skill, and sensibility to identify the need for such tasks, and to complete them.


Photo credit CHONG LINGYING

What proofreading marks look like – some editors still use this in PDFs.


Among the editors I have met, the best ones give off the vibe of an… elite soldier. They get in, hit the ground running, and finish what needs to be done. That’s up to their attitude and confidence as much as it is experience and skills. (Editor’s note: For clarity, I did not add this part in.)

Anybody can spot a typo, but that’s not all it takes to be an editor. There are lots of books and courses out there on editing but, really, the best way to learn is to practice.

I picked up proofreading as a primary schooler reading manuscripts that my mother brought home, hunting for typos in exchange for extra pocket money. My childhood training equipped me with the hypervigilance (and hubris) to become a school magazine editor. My amateur editorial career took off in university as I ruthlessly chopped through my friends’ academic papers. (Editor’s note: Lingying has spent more of her life editing than I ever have. Props!)

Spending a few years in the banking industry did even more for my editing skills. My first boss was an ex-journalist who enforced strict editorial standards from day one. Keep the text tight, effective, and accurate. Regardless of how inconsequential the document, errors were absolutely forbidden. This helped a lot when I had to draft contracts and term sheets for equity derivatives. Typos are embarrassing and damaging for all of us, but they can also land bankers in jail.

When I finally started working at a book publisher, I was ready to start annotating stacks of paper and PDFs with a red pen. But you know what? Manuscripts don’t come ready-made. It was going to take a lot of work to get even close to that stage.

I found that most of the time, being an editor is, weirdly enough, talking. There were afternoons and phone calls with the blind author, Tan Guan Heng, reading out paragraphs of his novel that we were revising for a new edition, and writing as he dictated. There were meetings with children’s book authors, going through the illustrator’s mockups.

Meetings, phone calls, and long coffee sessions are all part of editing. Editing is about making decisions as a team. And sometimes, inevitably, making those decisions for the team. (Editor’s note: We had coffee before publishing this, but the conversation eventually deviated to other unrelated topics. This is my fault.)


Photo credit CHONG LINGYING

A 1998 editorial work schedule from Asiapac Books’ archives.


It gets stressful but I found some help: in more reading. Not the style guides and editing articles, that’s all the boring stuff.

Read everything you can get your hands on, just to stay in touch with the global superconsciousness of the readers you serve. Learn from other editors. Read books for children. Books for adults. Books from different countries. Books in different languages. Books for readers with special needs. Books from another era. Magazines, newspapers, Twitter, even Reddit. (Editor’s note: Plenty of aspiring writers are covertly hanging out at r/relationships, the eternal writing prompt zone for lovesick weirdos.)

Don’t just read. Watch, and listen too. Music editing is fascinating, and for most popular songs there are many b-sides and edits available online. I am constantly wondering about editing in video, music, and even video games. What do different editors do? How do our unique and different processes enrich our understanding of media? What can we all learn from each other in our approach towards humanity? (Editor’s note: *Shouting from the balcony seats again* Thelma Schoonmaker! There’s plenty to learn from mixing engineers, too.)

This is what’s on my mind now, after spending the past few months almost entirely editing the Return of the Condor Heroes Collector’s Edition Boxset. It’s been more than a year managing editorial work on this project and I’ve re-read its thousands of pages more than twenty times by this stage.

I feel that pain which I’m sure all editors know well. Knowing that as I approve things for print, I inevitably also approve the mistakes that slipped past my grasp, the team’s grasp.

But maybe being an editor isn’t about being perfect. It’s about dedication to a work and its readers. It’s all about time. Before a work has seen the world, it’s the editors who have spent the most time with it. Sometimes, more than the creators themselves.

And to end, well, editing is a process that doesn’t end. Like all creators and editors, I’m obsessive-compulsive about it. I just can’t let it go. You’ll have to pry this story out of my decomposing hands as I stubbornly attempt to rewrite it for the fourth time since January. (Editor’s note: That’s what happened. Sort of. There were no decomposing hands guarding the absolutely dead body-free draft.)

“It’s not terrible, but it could be better if…!!!”


What’s going on at Asiapac Books?

On top of editing the behemoth Return of the Condor Heroes Collector’s Edition, the Asiapac Books team has been busy writing articles, hosting livestreams, producing videos, and for the first time ever, voice acting!

This summer, we are releasing an audio drama adaptation of the comic book, Sacred Guardians. Not only did writer Aydeel Djoeharie write and direct the entire audio production, he is also the voice of several minor characters including at least one demon.

Our editor Viency voiced a curious passerby, while I voiced a refugee whose town was destroyed by demons. Voice acting is difficult to pick up but thankfully, I had an immense well of deadline anxiety to inspire my performance.

Catch our updates and more fun content on our new Medium, Facebook, and Instagram channels!

Genre Equality podcast Hidzir Junaini Isa Foong Singapore Community Radio

The duo behind Genre Equality puts out a monthly review of the best and worst each month — whether if it’s a new series on Netflix to binge, a film to catch in cinemas (if you use TraceTogether, that is), or a book to simply plug out from the outside noise.

While you can listen in to their latest episode for a full breakdown of their verdicts, scroll down to dig into what they’ve loved (and disliked) from the first month of 2021.

Follow Genre Equality on Facebook for more updates.



Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Film/DC Films
Where to watch: HBO GO

The fabled #SnyderCut of Justice League delivers a four-hour epic that significantly improves upon Joss Whedon’s version. While a much stronger and more coherent film overall, your mileage may vary in this indulgent combination of the best (operatic grandeur) and worst (slow-mo, style-over-substance excess) of Snyder’s artistic vision.


Raya and the Last Dragon

Film/Disney
Where to watch: Local cinemas & Disney+ (additional fee required for Disney+ subscribers)

Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess leads this thrilling fantasy action-adventure. Buoyed by breathtaking fight sequences, stunning visuals, ambitious world-building, excellent humour, and a star-studded voice cast – Raya proves to be a fun, all-ages fable about the power of trust.


Dota: Dragon’s Blood

Season 1

TV/Studio Mir
Where to watch: Netflix

Dragon’s Blood is an exceptional adaptation of the DOTA 2 video game franchise that should delight fans and newbies alike. Featuring compelling characters, spectacularly violent action, beautiful animation, and emotional complexity on all sides – this stunning adult anime is a must-watch.


Godzilla vs. Kong

Film/Legendary Pictures
Where to watch: Local cinemas

This heavyweight monster battle is a jaw-dropping spectacle. However, the movie is severely hampered by bafflingly stupid human subplots that distract from what we came to see: two titans clobbering each other.


La Llorona

Film/La Casa de Producción & Les Films du Volcan
Where to watch: Shudder (requires VPN)

This sophisticated horror film blends together the terror of myth and reality in a modern retelling of the genocide against the Mayan community in Guatemala. Smart, elegant, and suspenseful, director Jayro Bustamante uses folkloric fears to unpack even greater political atrocities.


Come True

Film/Copperheart Entertainment
Where to watch: Amazon (VPN required)

Come True is helmed by the one-person filmmaking crew of Anthony Scott Burns, who wrote, directed, edited, and composed the 80s synth-wave soundtrack under the pseudonym Pilotpriest.

The indie film is a surreal, unsettling, and genuinely disturbing horror sci-fi. Filled with nightmarish sounds and imagery that trigger deep, primordial fears, this film is one for fans of minor-key arthouse horror.


Solar Opposites

Season 2

TV/Justin Roiland’s Solo Vanity Card Productions!
Where to watch: Hulu (VPN required)

Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland returns with the second season of his hilarious animated sci-fi comedy. This fresh spin on 3rd Rock From The Sun flies with a breakneck pace — it coasts on a witty mix of goofy absurdity and good-natured warmth.


Chaos Walking

Film/Lionsgate
Where to watch: Local cinemas

A loud and tedious dystopian mess that should be avoided at all costs. Stars Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley need to be more careful about the roles they pick.


Boss Level

Film/Highland Film Group
Where to watch: Hulu (VPN required)

This fun time loop adventure is like the action hero version of Groundhog Day. Starring Frank Grillo (of Captain America: The Winter Soldier fame), Boss Level is a muscular popcorn movie with plenty of thrills and little brains.


The Irregulars

Season 1

TV/Drama Republic
Where to watch: Netflix

Take pretty much any established cultural touchstone — here, it’s Sherlock Holmes — add a group of teenagers, and you’ve got a TV show. To play it safe, inject the storylines with supernatural mumbo jumbo for color and special effects. Voila, a perfectly mediocre Netflix show to put on the background at dinner parties.


Pacific Rim: The Black

Season 1

TV/Legendary Television
Where to watch: Netflix

Clunky cell shading animation and shoddy character work hinder what could have been a fun mecha vs kaiju romp.


Snowpiercer

Season 2

TV/CJ Entertainment
Where to watch: Netflix

Aided by the addition of Sean Bean, season two proves Snowpiercer to be a perfectly watchable yet totally inessential show. We’d still recommend Bong Joon-ho’s film version instead.


House of Leaves

Book/Pantheon
Where to buy: Local bookstores

In light of the book’s 21st anniversary this year, Genre Equality explores House of Leaves, which originally released in March 2000.

House of Leaves is one of the most disorienting and creative novels ever written. Mark Z. Danielewski’s cult classic book is an incredibly complex work of existential horror that plays with a variety of formatting and writing styles. The result is a story that is both intellectually challenging and profoundly disturbing.

Genre Equality podcast Singapore Community Radio
Photo credit Disney+

The duo behind Genre Equality puts out a monthly review of the best and worst each month — whether if it’s a new series on Netflix to binge, a film to catch in cinemas (if you use TraceTogether, that is), or a book to simply plug out from the outside noise.

While you can listen in to their latest episode for a full breakdown of their verdicts, scroll down to dig into what they’ve loved (and disliked) from the first month of 2021.

Follow Genre Equality on Facebook for more updates.



WandaVision

Season 1

TV/Marvel Studios
Where to watch: Disney+

This wonderfully weird love letter to vintage sitcoms is easily the most daring and experimental thing the MCU has ever done. Formatting flourishes and the versatility of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany finds charmingly inventive ways to plumb Wanda’s traumatic history.


Saint Maud

Film/A24
Where to watch: The Projector

Rose Clarke’s directorial debut is the first great horror movie of 2021, and a great addition to A24’s arthouse horror canon. Led by fantastic performances from Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle, this character study of religious fervour vs. mental illness is deeply unsettling.


Little Fish

Film/IFC Films
Where to watch: Amazon Prime (VPN required)

This melancholy indie sci-fi romance focuses on a world plagued by a contagious Alzheimer’s-like epidemic. Little Fish is a dreamy and devastating film about the disintegration of relationships without reason or closure.


Space Sweepers

Film/Bidangil Pictures
Where to watch: Netflix

This South Korean space opera may look great, but its story is a derivative slog.


The Watch

Season 1

TV/BBC Studios
Where to watch: BBC America (US cable access required)

Fans of Terry Pratchett’s satirical-fantasy Discworld novels will be sorely disappointed by BBC America’s moronic mess of an adaptation.


Superman & Lois

Season 1

TV/DC Entertainment
Where to watch: Amazon Prime (VPN required)

The latest entry into the CW’s Arrowverse is a mixed bag — buoyed by the charisma of Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch, but dragged by clunky melodrama.


Earwig and the Witch

Film/Studio Ghibli
Where to watch: HBO Max (VPN required)

Studio Ghibli’s first-ever CG film is ironically flat and lifeless, lacking the sense of wonder and whimsy of its hand-drawn predecessors.


Tribes of Europa

Season 1

TV/W&B Television
Where to watch: Netflix

From the creators of Dark comes this German post-apocalyptic series that feels like a tired re-thread of a million other YA dystopian stories. Disappointing.


Attack on Titan

Season 4

TV/MAPPA
Where to watch: Netflix

The insanely popular anime finally sheds its perennial problem with poor pacing. Now with mysteries revealed and questions answered, Attack on Titan steadily progresses to the exciting and action-packed conclusion to the saga.


Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World

Season 2

TV/White Fox
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)
Season 1 available on Netflix

Subaru-kun is back for more crying, suffering, deaths, and resets in the second half of the franchise’s returning season.


That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

Season 2

TV/White Fox
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)
Season 1 available on Netflix

Building upon a very well-received first season, overpowered slime lord Rimuru Tempest and his newly founded nation of monsters face threats from enemies new and old.

 


Dr. Stone

Season 2 (Stone Wars)

TV/TMS Entertainment
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)
Season 1 available on Netflix

Senkuu and his allies in The Kingdom of Science finish their preparations. Armed with a host of new science gizmos, they begin their preemptive attack on Tsukasa’s Empire.


Beastars

Season 2

TV/Orange
Where to watch: Netflix (scheduled for release in July)

Beaststars is back. The herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores at Cherryton Academy continue their tense coexistence while navigating their own complex emotions and interpersonal relationships.


Cells at Work!

Season 2

TV/David Production
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)
Season 1 available on Netflix

We continue the journey with our favorite hardworking Cells, including lessons that important cells can make mistakes, and not all bacteria are bad. Cells at Work! (stylized for season 2 as Cells at Work!!) continues to be one of the best educational animes that we’ve seen.


Cells at Work! Code Black

Season 1

TV/David Production
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)

Cells at Work! Code Black is a much darker, more mature spinoff of Cells at Work!, set in a human body that’s in constant turmoil from poor life choices — making this a very different but no less enjoyable viewing experience.


The Promised Neverland

Season 2

TV/CloverWorks
Where to watch: Hulu (VPN required)
Season 1 available on Netflix

Having escaped Grace Field House, Emma and the older kids try to survive as they continue to escape capture from the demons. They are, instead, afflicted by the troubles of a missing story arc that has drawn the ire of fans.


World Trigger

Season 2

TV/Toei Animation
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)

Six years after their initial 73-episode run, World Trigger picks up where it left off with a second season. Ardent fans are treated to more great world-building, the continuation of Team Mikumo’s adventures, and some impressive improvements in animation and soundtrack.


Log Horizon

Season 3 (Destruction of the Round Table)

TV/Satelight
Where to watch: NHK Educational TV (subject to scheduling)

Log Horizon’s initial two-season run garnered a fair number of fans for their very different, detailed, and expansive take on the trapped-in-a-game-world genre. Now seven years later, we are brought back to the world of Elder Tale, starting Season 3 off with a heavy look at the political turmoil Shiroe and gang have become embroiled in.


Wonder Egg Priority

Season 1

TV/CloverWorks
Where to watch: FUNimation (VPN required)

With its gorgeous art style, amazing animation, and a top-notch soundtrack and sound design, Wonder Egg Priority is an arthouse film of an anime. Coupled with a compelling story, great voice acting, and some unexpectedly awesome fight scenes, this might easily be one of the best animes of the year.


HoriMiya

Season 1

TV/CloverWorks
Where to watch: Hulu (VPN required)

A solid high school, slice of life rom-com about two teens living double lives, dishing out spot-on doses of romance, comedy, and drama in equal measure.


Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation

Season 1

TV/Egg Firm
Where to watch: Hulu (VPN required)

In yet another entry to the Isekai genre, a 34-year-old NEET has his fateful encounter with Truck-kun and gets reincarnated into a fantasy world with swords and magic. But with his memories from his past life intact, old trauma and wounds continue to haunt him even as he is given a new lease on life.


So I am a Spider, So What?

Season 1

TV/Millepensee
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)

Basically, this is That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, but instead of slime, you get a spider instead. Despite the familiar (and at this point, frankly done to death) premise, this anime is a fairly hilarious take on the well-worn genre.


Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki

Season 1

TV/Project No.9
Where to watch: FUNimation (VPN required)

Top-tier gamer Tomozaki thinks that real life is a crappy game, with no proper rules and no way for a bottom-tier character like himself to ever beat it. An unexpected encounter with his gaming rival convinces him to give this game life a shot. An interesting and funny look at the idea of the “gaming” life.


Heaven’s Design Team

Season 1

TV/Asahi Production
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)

What if God decided to outsource the creation of all the creatures on earth to a design agency? This anime is what you get. It’s an easy watch that’s funny, irreverent, and even educational in parts, and hits close to home for anyone who has lived the agency life.

Photo credit Ricks Ang

Imaginary Regions is a series of mixes made by Ricks Ang, head honcho of KITCHEN. LABEL. These mixes comprise of new age, ambient, environmental, and relaxation records, compact discs, and cassette tapes.

This episode, Fourth World SBC, features music channelled and shazamed from BGM used in shows by the now-defunct Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), which was active in the 1980s and early-1990s.

Most record finds were unearthed from the vaults of the legendary Red Point Records who had previously acquired the albums in job lots from defunct radio libraries in Singapore.

Here, Ricks Ang pens a piece about the music that defined this era — how new age and ambient tracks helped soundtrack stories of a reimagined and fantastical Singapore, and how he found these records at a local record warehouse.

Ricks Ang, pictured.

Listen to “Fourth World SBC”, the first Imaginary Regions mix:


How do we go beyond the “fourth world” musical ideas of pioneers like Eno and Jon Hassell?

Defined by Hassell as a kind of folk music from “unknown and imaginary regions”, the method behind making “fourth world” music was to disengage and create some other world while blurring our very own.

Subliminally, in television, fantasy/sci-fi/horror and melancholic drama series in the 1980s, produced by the then-SBC (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, now Mediacorp) such as Mystery (迷离夜) and Romance of the Season (恋曲 1991) — to name a few — are fine examples of what happens when you dive into this world.


Stills captured from existing footage of Romance of the Season.


The directors responsible for these works, hailing from Hong Kong, decisively chose to disengage from everyday Singapore life to draw a new myth of where we live.

From perfectly-dubbed Chinese dialogues, proto-vaporwave graphics, 80s interiors, and fashion, dreamy pastoral landscapes, to unrealistic story plots of a world reimagined, there was also a curious mix of music that straddled the line of pop, smooth jazz, new age, ambient music, and pure synthesizer noodling.

Before the advent of Netflix, reruns of these shows would air after midnight during weekdays. With the use of song identifiers such as Shazam, it has helped to find matches to musical accents and deep cuts, which unleashed a whole new music discovery level. There are some saxophones and a lot of crystalline synths, and that is a different kind of obsession I cannot escape from.

Aside from more prominent names like Enya, Kenny G, and Ennio Morricone, there was a treasure of musical delights by artists less-known in the public spotlight but prolific in their work. Keiko Matsui’s ‘Under the Northern Lights’ is found on the drama series The Magnate (叱咤风云), and the track ‘Chakra 4’ by Mannheim Steamroller was captured on an episode of Mystery.


The theme song for Mystery, which is currently available to stream on Netflix.


The first few seconds of the track ‘Belissima’ by Atmosphere (released on krautrock giant Klaus Schulze’s iconic label Innovative Communications) were often used on various scenes of heartbreak and shock throughout the era.

There are cuts from obscure Taiwanese ambient pioneer Chen Shyh Shing — released on Rock Records before the label’s mainstream success — and Toshifumi Hinata.

During this era, the latter was a much sought-after composer for Japanese film and TV, such as Tokyo Love Story, Long Vacation, and Gift, and whose work was recently reappraised by ambient music label Music From Memory with the compilation Broken Belief).

The old broadcasting station also had a streak of using instrumental pieces from labels such as Windham Hill (in particular, George Winston and Will Ackerman), New World Company, and Narada Mystique. For an extended period since then, the artists from their rosters were somewhat detested for being associated with that tag: New Age. Thirty years after, they have somewhat come full circle, regaining contemporary relevance among ambient music connoisseurs.

During this time, I started to put a lot of effort into research, and the experience made me understand what I wanted to reach for with my sound as a music selector. At that point, I began to buy records.

I buy most of my stuff on Discogs or during trips to Japan. In Singapore, I spend the most hours digging at Red Point Record Warehouse.

The owner Mr Ong is a massive collector. He helped me with the records that I wanted, always simplistically streamlining my preference as “the Enya type of music” (not that I mind) before unloading crates of 80s-90s new age LPs and CDs, inherited as job lots from defunct sound and radio libraries in Singapore.


The pile of CDs, vinyl, and cassette tapes used for this mix.


A lot of these have library reference numbers written on labels in marker pens. The album Crystal New Age by Robert Haig Coxon Jr even has a handwritten note to describe each track’s moods, quite likely as a reference to how it can be used as background music for films.

I might have completely missed out on Chen Shyh Shing’s album Emptiness if not for the fact that I vaguely remembered seeing the name on my Shazam list. I scored the LP for $15, and today it is worth US$150 on Discogs(!).

Coincidentally (or not), many of these songs and albums on my Shazam list were rediscovered at the record store. We cannot be entirely sure, but we hope to be optimistic in thinking that some of the rediscovered records at the record store might have been the same original source where the music was sampled for TV in those days.

The lost moods of old SBC drama serials and 80s new age records found at Red Point Record Warehouse have been an immense source I can draw from to create the mix “Fourth World SBC” as part of my new series “Imaginary Regions” on Singapore Community Radio.

I selected songs from tracks found on Shazam and mixed them with music from vinyl records, compact discs, and cassette tapes salvaged there, leading me to this imaginary atmosphere.

These are tracks that everybody could listen to with pleasure — but, at the same time, to be able to dig into strange elements that can be appreciated on a deeper level. It comes to mind a term I often use as “hard easy listening”.

I think you can find something in this mix to reimagine some of the inner scenery around you. And sometimes, these sounds have a way of coloring our memory in ways that we’ve yet to imagine.


Follow Ricks Ang on Instagram and visit KITCHEN. LABEL’s official website here.

Photo credit Jet Tone Production

One of cinema’s most beloved auteurs is getting a retrospective at Asian Film Archive in March.

Retrospective: Wong Kar Wai is the latest programme put together by the institution, which will be screening eight of Wong’s films at Oldham Theatre from March to April 2021.

Seven of these films have recently undergone brand-new 4K restorations, which will debut in Singapore under the programme. The list of films are as follows:

As Tears Go By (1988)
Days of Being Wild (1990)
Chungking Express (1994)
Fallen Angels (1995)
Happy Together (1997)
In the Mood for Love (2000)
2046 (2004)
Ashes of Time Redux (2008)

Ashes of Time Redux is a re-edited version of 1994’s Ashes of Time, and will be screened in its existing form since its premiere in 2008.

“The eight films presented as part of this retrospective are an invitation into the charismatic and wistful world of a deeply influential artist,” Asian Film Archive writes.

“Whether tragically romantic, soaked in blood, or quirkily comedic, his distinctive works have enthralled a worldwide audience and inspired countless filmmakers with their bold stylistic strokes and an enduring enigmatic beauty.

Watch the latest episode of Coming Attractions with Asian Film Archive below, where programmers Thong Kay Wee and Viknesh Kobinathan talk about film on Singapore Community Radio.

The 4K restorations first premiered in New York last year at Film at Lincoln Center. With the programme, Wong provided a Director’s Note on the multitude of changes made during the restoration process, which he deems most satisfactory to the original vision for each film.

This includes remixing sound and restoring aspect ratios for Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love, along with creating entirely new credit sequences for all films.

He also mentions that for Happy Together, the tragic drama starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai, portions of his monologues had to be shortened due to original negatives perishing in an accident.

“Since the beginning of this process, these words have reminded me to treat this as an opportunity to present these restorations as a new work from a different vantage point in my career,” he writes. “Having arrived at the end of this process, these words still hold true.” Read the full note here.

The full schedule of screenings will be released on Feb 15, with tickets going on sale Feb 17.

GOFY singapore art trail for art's sake
Photo credit GOFY

Creative community space GOFY is unfurling art history to the masses with a new project, tying together spaces in Singapore with a new arts trail.

The exhibition For Art’s Sake: Shaken & Stirred, running from 5 Feb to 2 May, will encompass several spots in Singapore that run the gamut from F&B hideouts (Moonstone Bar, 8ASH, Common Man Stan), lifestyle joints (The Projector, Palm Ave Float Club, Goodluck Bunch), and nightclub-turned-eateries (Nineteen80, Upstairs).


Participating venue 8ASH, a multi-concept diner in Chinatown.


With a hefty total of 62 art pieces on display, the remarkable project’s aim is two-fold: to open up visual art to a wider audience, and to integrate it into familiar spaces.

“We wish to show people from all walks of life just how much value art can bring to our everyday,” says Tiffany Soh, GOFY’s curator and creative producer.

For Art’s Sake explores the flourishing Southeast Asian identity and its history, featuring pieces by 50 regional artists that reimagine iconic artworks across decades and movements.

The pieces were produced across several mediums: digital illustration, painting, mixed media, and photography.


Singaporean artist Tess Moh pays tribute to our long-serving culture of hawkers by drawing from Grant Wood’s American Gothic, a painting often parodied in Western pop culture.


Indonesian artist Riandy Karuniawan — known for conjuring distinct sci-fi and fantasy landscapes in his work — adds a uniquely psychedelic bent to the abstract art of Piet Mondrian.


Hey Mady!, hailing from the Philippines, remoulds the smoky noir of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks into the warmness and comfort that a 24/7 lugawan — a non-descript Filipino diner — brings to patrons of all stripes, whether if it’s “a drunk guy passing by to soothe his hangover, a nurse who just ended their night shift, a taxi driver having his late dinner,” as the artist describes.


“Even for those who aren’t usually engaged with the arts, there’s something for everyone to connect with in our exhibition,” Soh explains. “From there, we hope that this would spark their curiosity and kickstart their journey into discovering and embracing more Southeast Asian arts & culture.”

Art prints will be available to purchase at S$300 via the exhibition’s website. Patrons visiting the exhibition at the respective venues will receive an exclusive code that will entitle them to S$50 off each print, with portions of the proceeds going straight to the spaces.

For Art’s Sake: Shaken & Stirred will commence from 5 Feb to 2 May at these venues:

● Common Man Stan (11-12 Stanley Street, Singapore 068730)
● Cure (21 Keong Saik Rd, Singapore 089128)
● Goodluck Bunch (26 Bali Ln, Singapore 189862)
● Grids & Circles (200 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058749)
● Kream & Kensho (35 Kampong Bahru Rd, Singapore 169355)
● Moonstone Bar (103 Amoy St, Singapore 069923)
● NINETEEN80 (21 Tanjong Pagar Rd, #01-05, Singapore 088444)
● Palm Ave Float Club (66 Kampong Bugis, #05-01, Singapore 338987)
● Sago House (40B Sago St, Singapore 059029)
● The Projector (6001 Beach Rd, #05-00 Golden Mile Tower, Singapore 199589)
● Two Men Bagel House, Holland Village (17D Lor Liput, Singapore 277731)
● Upstairs (66 Boat Quay, Singapore 049854)
● 8ASH (8 Ann Siang Hill, Singapore 069788)

The full list of artists and pieces can be viewed here.

The duo behind Genre Equality puts out a monthly review of the best and worst each month — whether if it’s a new series on Netflix to binge, a film to catch in cinemas (if you use TraceTogether, that is), or a book to simply plug out from the outside noise.

While you can listen in to their latest episode for a full breakdown of their verdicts, scroll down to dig into what they’ve loved (and disliked) from the first month of 2021.

Follow Genre Equality on Facebook for more updates.



The Expanse

Season 5

TV/ Amazon Studios
Where to watch: Prime Video

This continues to be the best sci-fi show on air. Season 5’s gamble of splitting up the Rocinante crew to explore the nature of family, survival and the politics of radicalization pays off with richly layered stories.


Star Trek: Discovery

Season 3

TV/ Secret Hideout
Where to watch: Netflix

To a superfan like Hidzir, Star Trek is religion, and Discovery is blasphemy. In season 3, Discovery further abandons Trek’s thoughtful explorations of culture, faith, race, science and diplomacy in favour of dumb action.


Carmen Sandiego

Season 4

TV/ WildBrain Studios
Where to watch: Netflix

The fourth and final season cements Carmen Sandiego as one of the best kids cartoons Netflix has ever made. This educational espionage caper remains stylish and enormously fun till the end.


His Dark Materials

Season 2

TV/ Bad Wolf/New Line
Where to watch: HBO Go

While managing to be a slight improvement on the wonder and spectacle of season 1, this HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s beloved fantasy novels remains frustratingly imperfect and devoid of excitement in season 2.


Last and First Men

Film/ Zik Zak Filmworks
Where to watch: Vimeo via Anticipate Pictures (link)

The last project of late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson is an experimental and immersive sci-fi documentary about the survivors of an advanced society two billion years in the future. It is profoundly haunting, poignant, beautiful, and ethereal.


Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Part 4

TV/ Warner Bros. Television
Where to watch: Netflix

The final season of Sabrina is bolstered by familiar strengths (it’s queer, horny and Satanic af) and hindered by familiar weaknesses (messy stories, too many characters pulled in too many directions). In the end, this show remains a mixed bag of untapped potential.


Doctor Who: “Revolution of the Daleks”

TV/ BBC Studios
Where to watch: BBC/Prime Video (requires VPN)

Doctor Who’s New Year special is a contemplative endeavour focusing on why the Doctor is always the centre of the series’ universe — and if her companions should break free of her orbit. A good, if inessential, episode that clears the slate for Doctor Who’s upcoming season.


We Can Be Heroes

Film/ Double R Productions
Where to watch: Netflix

Robert Rodriguez’s loose sequel to The Adventures Of Sharkboy And Lavagirl has its lo-fi, campy charms. But it’s ultimately too insipid and uninspired to enjoy.


The Stand

TV/ Vertigo/CBS/Mosaic
Where to watch: CBS All Access (requires VPN)

The latest miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic pandemic/supernatural novel is bolstered by great performances and production values. Unfortunately, it’s also dragged down by horrendous pacing, hollow exposition, and muddled stories.


The Promised Neverland

Film/ Shueisha Inc.
Where to watch: Golden Village

This live-action adaptation of the popular manga and anime is faithful to a fault. Sadly, condensing 12 episodes of story and character development into one movie isn’t the wisest of moves.


Equinox

Season 1

TV/ Apple Tree Productions
Where to watch: Netflix

Based on an acclaimed podcast, this Danish series uses Scandanavian folklore to propel a captivating mystery and investigate philosophical conundrums such as determinism vs. free will, alongside the toll of grief and loss. A decent binge that is impeded by a rushed climax and occasional leaps in plot logic.


Shadow in the Cloud

Film/ Automatik/Four Knights
Where to watch: Local cinemas

Centering on a WWII pilot (played by Chloe Grace Moretz) who fights off gremlins on her B-17 Flying Fortress, this indie sci-fi could have been a fun adventure. Instead, it devolves into something excruciatingly stupid.


Outside the Wire

Film/ Automatik/42 Films
Where to watch: Netflix

This Training Day-meets-Terminator hybrid is a flat, dour, snoozefest.


We Only Find Them When They’re Dead

Comics/ Boom! Studios
Where to buy: Local bookstores

Al Ewing’s gorgeous, cosmic series is one of the best new indie comic books out right now. Set in a future when Earth’s resources have depleted, this tale of poor miners who strip the corpses of giant space gods to survive is fun and propulsive.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin

Comics/ IDW Publishing
Where to buy: Local bookstores

Kevin Eastman’s climax to the TMNT series jumps to a post-apocalyptic future where only one Ninja Turtle has survived (his identity is a mystery). Seeking vengeance for his murdered brothers, The Last Ronin returns TMNT to its dark and gritty comic book roots for its heartbreaking final story.

Genre Equality podcast Singapore Community Radio
Photo credit Disney

The duo behind Genre Equality puts out a monthly review of the best and worst each month — whether if it’s a new series on Netflix to binge, a film to catch in cinemas (if you use TraceTogether, that is), or a book to simply plug out from the outside noise.

While you can listen in to their latest episode for a full breakdown of their verdicts, scroll down to dig into what they’ve loved (and disliked) from 2020’s last gasp.



The Mandalorian

Season 2

TV/ Disney
Where to watch: Disney+ (coming to Singapore Feb 23)

Season 2 of The Mandalorian was an exciting, emotional triumph! Economical episodic storytelling made it a breeze for casuals, while us hardcores freaked out over how the show organically weaved elements of Dave Filoni’s animated series, the expanded universe books, and video games into its plot.


Wonder Woman 1984

Film/ Warner Bros. Pictures
Where to watch: Local cinemas

While we appreciated the film’s powerful message and brightly optimistic tone, they barely redeemed this overlong sequel’s many flaws — namely its nonsensical internal logic, horrendous pacing, and cheaply earned character beats.

Soul

Film/ Disney/Pixar
Where to watch: Local cinemas

Pixar hits it out of the park again! Featuring the studio’s first Black protagonist, this poignant exploration of jazz music and the afterlife tackles weighty existential questions about mortality and the meaning of life, while still offering lots of broad comedy for kids.


Wolfwalkers

Film/ Cartoon Saloon
Where to watch: Apple TV+

‌Easily the most dazzling animated film of 2020. This underseen gem from Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon impressed us with its intricate and lush hand-drawn visuals alongside its potent themes of empowerment, anti-colonialism, and environmentalism — which reminded us a lot of Studio Ghibli’s canon.


Big Mouth

Season 4

TV/ Titmouse, Inc.
Where to watch: Netflix

From Missy’s identity crisis as a biracial girl (which elegantly leads to Jenny Slate being recast with Ayo Edeberi) to episodes hilariously tackling gender transition therapy, handjobs and tampons – season 4 of Big Mouth continues to mix obscene humour with genuine insight into the confusion of adolescence.


Hilda

Season 2

TV/ Silvergate Media/Mercury Filmworks
Where to watch: Netflix

Season 2 of Hilda remains one of the most charming, wondrous and magical children’s animated shows on Netflix. Its blend of Nordic folklore adventure and warm family dynamics between the free-spirited Hilda and her worried mom makes this one of our favourites.


The Midnight Sky

Film/ Smokehouse Pictures
Where to watch: Netflix

George Clooney’s bleak post-apocalyptic thriller tries to evoke the melancholy, thoughtfulness, and introspection of films like Gravity or Ad Astra. Unfortunately, it lacks the dramatic heft to pull it off. A worthwhile effort that’s watchable but ultimately forgettable.


Archenemy

Film/ SpectreVision
Where to watch: Amazon (VPN required)

This isn’t the best entry to the “grimdark deconstruction of superheroes” trend, but its raw energy, colourful palette, and Joe Manganiello’s lead performance makes this a fun if middling action-adventure.


The Walking Dead: World Beyond

TV/ AMC
Where to watch: Amazon Prime

The Wa‌lking Dead franchise continues to milk its undead premise for all its worth with a 3rd spinoff. World Beyond focuses on the kids who grew up during the zombie apocalypse, but it fails to add anything interesting to the franchise while continuing to bore us with contrived cliches.


Alice in Borderland

TV/ Robot Communications Inc.
Where to watch: Netflix

Finally, anime to live-action that works! ‌While it still pales in comparison to its source material, Alice in Borderland manages to engage with breakneck pacing, exciting survival challenges, and striking imagery of an empty Tokyo.


Detention

TV/ Outland Film Production
Where to watch: Netflix

This Taiwanese supernatural horror movie is a failure on nearly every level. It fails to use its “White Terror” period setting to craft any meaningful allegory, it fails to develop investment in character and, worst of all, it fails to be scary.


Monster Hunter

Film/Sony Pictures
Where to watch: Local cinemas

The king crappy video game adaptations, Paul W.S. Anderson, returns for another crappy video game adaptation. Due to a racist controversy over a distasteful joke, Monster Hunter was banned in China, but that’s the least of the film’s multitude of problems.


Piranesi

Susanna Clarke

Book/Bloomsbury Publishing
Where to buy: BooksActually, Littered with Books

After 16 years, Susanna Clarke’s long-awaited sophomore novel proves that she remains one of the best fantasy authors living today. Though this isn’t the 800-page behemoth of her debut, this slim new story is just as weighty. Piranesi is a complex, challenging, and transcendent puzzle box of a novel that leads readers to profound rewards.

Photo credit Chong Lingying

Saying Out Loud is a new recurring column by Chong Lingying — a book publisher, editor, and writer — where she shares her unfiltered views on work, creativity, and the conversations happening around her in Singapore.

She manages Asiapac Books, an independent publishing house specializing in illustrated and comic books on Asian culture, history, philosophy, folktales, and life skills.

In her inaugural piece, Lingying talks about the misfortune 2020 brought upon to Singapore’s creative scenes and how it affected her own workplace.


It was going to be a great year. The best ever!

Asiapac Books had an exciting publication plan for 2020: a graphic novel retelling of Elizabeth Choy’s World War II story, a Southeast Asian superhero saga, an illustrated book on the goddess Mazu, and more. A fan-backed collector’s edition of Return of the Condor Heroes was on the way.

As is the norm in book publishing, we had scheduled the new releases a year in advance, not including the years of development that each creation required.

Beyond our own publications, my team and I were starting work on Comix.sg, a new platform for Singapore comics. I had scheduled trips overseas to promote the new titles at book fairs and comic conventions. There was so much to do and so much to talk about!

And it was the last year of my twenties! I wanted to fall in love, write my first novel, publish a volume of poems, and do a painting show.

What happened? Everything was postponed, or cancelled, or downsized.


Comic artwork by Wee Tian Beng from the upcoming collector’s edition boxset of Return of the Condor Heroes. Buy it here.


The hardest thing was losing all expectations of perfection. You might think that with a great idea and great plan you’re at least somewhat likely to succeed. But none of that matters when you can’t see what’s coming. All you can really do is execute, fail, learn, and move on. Don’t forget to lubricate the painful process with copious glasses of wine, sake, beer or whatever you have in the fridge.

Bookstores were closed at one point, which was downright terrifying. If it could be done online, we did it online. We had already cancelled all new book projects. Then we let go of the warehouse and downsized our office.

Even during the Christmas season, I could see that the industry was still hurting. Bookstores are dependent on tourist dollars and lose out to international players online. I don’t think any of them are on the way back to recovery yet. Publishers have been running on the bare minimum, knowing that the little demand we have now could disappear overnight.

The small Asiapac Books team knuckled down to get through the first few months with Zoom calls, live-streaming, Facebook ads, and all that jazz.

My colleagues and I didn’t talk much about it, but as we sat one metre apart from each other there was a shared realism about the state of the company, the industry, and the economy. The company simply couldn’t take care of us. We’d have to find our own way out of the hole.

At the end of the office move, the company had one full-time employee left: me.


The messy remains after Asiapac Books’ move from their former warehouse and office.


I wish that I could say something good. I wish that I could reflect some positivity back on the smiling faces, wholesome thoughts, and balanced ruminations in my friends’ social media updates. They’re comforting, inspiring, even if a little grating on the nerves.

Wasn’t it a hellishly painful year? Wasn’t it exhausting? Reaching and grabbing non-stop for months, asking for help, frantically filling up forms? How quickly one realizes that there’s no end to it. It’s not a matter of managing risk when the uncertainty is this extreme. There’ll never be enough client work to pay the bills.

Government grants and subsidies, even loans — for most of the time, it’s less than what we asked for and with strings attached. What can we do? There aren’t many choices if you want to survive.

So, to be honest, I’m struggling. My publishing house is struggling. The book industry is struggling. The whole creative and arts scene in Singapore is struggling.

Things have been scary, but soon they’ll be just plain bad. All of the help we have had over the past few months has shown us one thing: it’s still not enough.

So what do I have for you today? A moment of catharsis, if anything.

2020, what the fuck was that?

Let’s forget about 2020 and everything else that came before it. It’s up to us to support and keep each other alive. If you’re still here, it’s because you chose to survive. Find your energy and confidence and hang on tight. Nobody will give you the power to go on. You’ll have to make it for yourself.

For 2021 and beyond, there are no rules in the game, only what you can get out of it.


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