More gossip than action in Mata Mata

SINGAPORE - The best thing I can say about Mata Mata is that it provides quite a bit of eye candy.

The local drama set in the 1950s and 1960s features three officers from the first Women Constabulary in Singapore.

The title is from an old Malay term for the police. There is plenty to please the eye in policewomen Elizabeth Lee (played by Cheryl Wee), Tan Siew Lan (Daniella Sya) and Hani Rahmat (Nadiah M. Din), policeman Henry Ridley (Jason Godfrey) and hunky gangster Lim Seng Hock (Daren Tan).

And then, I know a television drama needs some kind of drama, but there may be a smidge too much gossip and emo-ing here. So much focus is placed on the women's personal relationships that crimefighting takes a backseat.

The action sequences are few and brief and the police officers at times seem clueless.

They poke their noses into cases not assigned to them. They jump at the slightest opportunity to go undercover. They disregard protocol and gossip constantly about their cases.

The show is supposed to be inspired by the life of the first female Assistant Superintendent here. But it is hard to imagine these characters to be positive representations of policewomen.

I wish the creators did more to show how women can be good, respectable crime-fighters.

Especially since, in a publicity piece, they were trying to bring out the story about women choosing to work in an era "where they were looked down upon if they chose to go out to work".

So the scriptwriters could have done them a disservice. Of the three, the most annoying character is Lee, the force's supposed poster-girl.

She is so perfect and self-righteous, and her actions so clich├ęd and predictable, that she is really easy to hate.Many aspects of her character also seem unbelievable, like her apparent superpowers: She can break glass bottles with her bare hands.She can also stop criminals just by throwing objects in their path. In one sequence, she throws a stool at a fleeing criminal and trips him up.

In another, she throws a broom, and that does the job too.

And with Lee's difficult personality, I'm amazed she can get even one love interest, let alone two, including one from the opposite side of the law. Then, there's the question of originality. Her character seems identical to the heroine in Mulan, the 1998 Disney film.

Both are tomboys who pursue "manly jobs". Both avoid arranged marriages. Both face parental objection. Both develop feelings for their superiors.But thankfully, there is a saving grace - Tan, a mother who needs the job to support her family. Her struggle is quite interesting to watch.

Nonetheless, all three women are far from being Nancy Drews. What a shame, given that the show is set in an era that offers a golden opportunity to explore the police's role in Singapore's history.

The 1950s was the time of the Hock Lee Bus Strike and the Chinese middle schools riots.

The attempt to inject emotional drama has turned the characters into flibbertigibbets - flighty, talkative and gossipy girls.

And that's the biggest crime of all.

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