When HBO Asia premiered the first two episodes of its HDB-themed anthology series Invisible Stories at the Singapore International Film Festival in late November, it couldn’t have picked a better time: people were reeling from the then just-released Singapore Social, Netflix’s Crazy Rich Asians-meets-The Hills reality soap opera.
Reactions to Singapore Social — which follows six local influencers, including one Paul Foster, aka the self-proclaimed Mayor of Singapore (what’s that again?) — were scornful; haters took issue with the characters’ pursuit of drinking and partying and, if you can look past the vacuous banality, their dull personal dramas and eye-rollingly cheesy dire-logue.
On the heels of the Singapore Social backlash comes the less STB-friendly, more grounded Invisible Stories, the six-part half-hour series about the trials and tribulations of a group of residents — from a single mother of an autistic child to a banker with a secret to a budding influencer — in a fictional public housing estate called Sungei Merah.
Invisible Stories isn’t a knock at Crazy Rich Asians, said its writer and director Ler Jiyuan, who previously helmed part of HBO Asia’s Grisse and Mediacorp’s Code of Law, at a press event a day after the SGIFF debut. “I actually enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, [but] this series is just a reflection of my own upbringing and experience [growing up in a three-room flat in Ang Mo Kio in the 1990s].
“It's important to show international audiences that we are actually a melting pot of different personalities and cultures, each with their own story to tell other than the general opinion of Singapore being wealthy and English-speaking. It is important to show this dimension of Singapore as we continue to explore our cultural identity on the world stage.”
With Invisible Stories ending on Feb 9, 8days.sg asks Ler, 38, to reflect on his experience working on the show and whether he’s watched, er, Singapore Social. “I actually saw an episode,” he admits over the phone. “I’m okay [with it]! I feel that it’s not my life; it’s not my thing, but I feel like it’s also not bad TV. We’ve seen a lot worse reality shows to come out from the US.”