The Queen, about secret female avengers helping downtrodden women, is not a blast, but Short End Of The Stick, about enunchs surviving the end of the Qing dynasty, is easier to watch
A cool girl next door has suddenly decided to be a superheroine. She has pulled on her blackest, tightest clothing, slipped on a mask and put on a swagger.
But wait a minute, girl - do you have a kick-a** origin story?
And that's pretty much the trouble with The Queen, the WaWa Pictures drama on Channel 8 about a secret squad of masked, clad-in-black female avengers who specialise in helping downtrodden women bite back at rotten husbands.
More relatable than Taylor Swift and her troop of famous friends in the music video for Bad Blood, the show's Revenge Queen squad, led by a lawyer (Jesseca Liu), includes a taxi driver (Priscelia Chan), a masseuse from China (Vivian Lai from Taiwan, who is game, but whose mainland Chinese accent keeps slipping off like an ill-fitting wig) and a girl Friday (Jayley Woo).
WaWa is a veteran of the crime caper by now, after Game Plan (2012) and Disclosed (2013), and it keeps the comic-thriller parts of The Queen moving fairly smoothly.
A distraught divorcee (Apple Hong) is picked up outside her former marital home by Chan, whose superpower is apparently always having a cab at her disposal (although, come to think of it, people on television already live in a fantasy version of Singapore where no one takes a train to go anywhere).
Because Hong says she doesn't want to live anymore, Chan drops her off outside a quiet tall building, which she describes as a secluded suicide spot with a high success rate.
That is where Woo picks up the job, assuming different identities with different voices to poke, provoke and talk Hong down from the roof.
Lai joins in, kidnapping Hong's ex-husband from a massage table to scare him into spitting out his ex-wife's fair share of his assets.
Liu turns up, revealing that she is on Hong's side and behind the revenge operation, despite having represented her ex-husband in the divorce lawsuit.
However, the show is on trickier ground when it comes to the squad's origin story, a trope involving Liu's sister (Sheila Sim), an unfeeling husband and a lost child.
VIEW IT / THE QUEEN
Channel 8, Mondays to Fridays, 9pm
SHORT END OF THE STICK
TVB First (StarHub TV Channel 860), Any Time On Demand
WaWa's xinyao drama Crescendo covered similar terrain last year and did it better then, riding on the emotional power of some of Singapore's best ballads.
Unfortunately, in The Queen, the back story seems at once overly explained and underwhelming.
Sim is wonderful as a happy woman reduced to an angry patient and Liu is worried about her, but you never feel Liu's outrage.
You never truly believe her transformation into an avenging angel on her sister's behalf.
Well, maybe the show wants to do too much. Like a woman who wants to have it all, it is a girl- powered thriller, a marriage comedy (Liu is the wife of Darren Lim's policeman, who is surely episodes away from discovering her double life) and a lofty story of hope and love.
It works so hard, even the repartee feels forced sometimes (one exception is Xu Bin, who is hilarious as a vain undercover cop and might have strolled in from another drama). It isn't a blast, but you do enjoy it in fits and starts.
Short End Of The Stick, the TVB drama about eunuchs surviving the demise of the Qing dynasty, is breezier, easier and that much more enjoyable.
Comedy can be born of desperation and Wayne Lai, Raymond Cho and Power Chan are having a merry time, as former imperial servants who have been expelled from the Forbidden City and are seeking refuge from anti-imperialists in the household of a businesswoman (Nancy Wu).
They have lost just about everything they have known - their manhoods, pigtails and livelihoods - but their sense of humour is intact. As an older eunuch says, the men are no better than leaves shaking in the wind now. But how they rustle and chuckle, nonetheless, delighting in how the simpletons they work for are easier customers than the emperor.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'Avengers in the heartland'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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