Singapore drama series Perfect Girl, made for $1,000, bought by Netflix

Writer-director Jason Chan and Khaleila Hisham star in Perfect Girl.
Writer-director Jason Chan and Khaleila Hisham star in Perfect Girl.PHOTO: BANANAMANA FILMS

English-language production has been acquired by major international platforms

When actor-writer-director Jason Chan decided to make English-language Asian content for global distribution three years ago, he met with overwhelming response.

"The number of people who laughed in our faces, I can't count. Everyone said things like, 'No one wants to see Asians speaking English. No one will ever buy this content.'"

He is having the last laugh now.

Perfect Girl, a show produced by his company BananaMana Films, has been acquired by major international platforms such as Netflix, Viki and Naver TVcast.

BananaMana declines to reveal how much each platform paid for the show, but it is probably safe to assume Perfect Girl has recouped many times its production cost.

After all, it was made with just $1,000. Chan not only wrote and starred in it, he was also the director, cinematographer, editor and even music composer.

The old traditional system required hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to make a good story. But Perfect Girl is this great example that you can do a lot for very little.

JASON CHAN on his Web series that was made with $1,000

"I'd done composition class way back when. I took out my piano and (music-making app) GarageBand, which is free. It's not rocket science, people can do it," he says.

The 10-part Web series, about a man who runs into his high school crush after 10 years, attracted notice after it picked up five awards, including for Outstanding Drama Series, at the Los Angeles Web Series Festival last year.

First to buy it was Viki, a Singapore video-streaming platform headquartered in San Francisco, which rolled it out as a 67-minute-long feature during Valentine's Day this year.

"It is the first Singaporean drama picked up by Viki, which traditionally picks up very high-quality premium Korean content," says Chan, 44.

Major American entertainment player Netflix was next to knock on his door and Perfect Girl premiered on the platform on Oct 1 and is now available globally on it.

It is likely the second Singapore production on Netflix after Anthony Chen's acclaimed film Ilo Ilo (2013).

The show has also made its way to Naver TVcast, "kind of like the Netflix of Korea".

Chan says: "I didn't quite know the significance of it until my wife told her sisters and some of her friends and they were reacting the same way our friends were reacting to Netflix."

His wife Sang Min Lee, 34, is Korean and part of the creative producing team of four at BananaMana Films.

Perfect Girl's acquisition by Naver was also particularly satisfying as the platform features content from major Korean broadcasters such as KBS, MBC and SBS.

Chan set up BananaMana Films five years ago with Christian Lee, in his late 40s, originally doing corporate videos.

Chan, who is from Australia, and Lee, who is from the United States, are Singapore permanent residents.

Both of them started out as actors and have worked on television, in films and on stage in Singapore, Australia and America.

Lee says they are both bananas, which means someone who is yellow on the outside and white on the inside, and one meaning of their company's name is "where are the bananas" in Malay.

Their focus turned to original works three years ago and their portfolio includes What Do Men Want? (2014), a 13-part series for Mediacorp, and Bang Bang Club, a 20-minute pilot for an action thriller which they hope to develop into a film or television series.

They are also working on their first full-length feature, Jimami Tofu, a love story between a Singaporean chef and a Japanese food critic set in Okinawa, Japan. Shooting takes place next month over four weeks. The film is planned for release in February.

With a subsidy from the Okinawa Film Office and development funding from the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore to help with the script, Jimami Tofu has a budget of $250,000. Talks are under way for Viki to put its name to it and push it out globally.

Lee says: "We believe it's a new world now for film-makers, especially when it comes to distribution. We must leverage technology to bring production costs down and aim for sponsorship and online long tail distribution.

"We hope we're trailblazing for our Singapore film industry."

Chan adds: "The old traditional system required hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to make a good story. But Perfect Girl is this great example that you can do a lot for very little."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore drama Perfect Girl on Netflix'. Print Edition | Subscribe