2012, "Your Say: Why Crime Dramas like 'Code of Law' are Hot and Trending",
Media Exchange, IMDA website, October 2012, Singapore, online.
”Code Of Law” star Keagan Kang says people just love to watch a good crime drama, especially if it is based on real life incidents that happened in their own backyards. ‘And it could happen to anyone, it could happen to you or me,” added Lee Thean-jeen, well-known and prolific film & TV director, and Executive Producer-Director-Writer for ”Code Of Law”.
In a first for Channel 5, “Code Of Law” is a local English-language drama series that combines courtroom and police action. The new show is inspired by shocking crimes that happened in Singapore and made headline news - like the severed head of a Filipino maid found in Orchard Road, a gang fight that went wrong resulting in a death, and the brutal murder of a woman who was stabbed 38 times.
Made by the same creative team behind the critically-acclaimed “The Pupil” series for MediaCorp Channel 5, “Code Of Law” boasts high production values and an award-winning cast. Keagan reprises his role as hot-shot lawyer, Jacob Fernandez, in the new series and he is joined by a cast of new characters played by Joanne Peh and Mathialagan as fellow lawyers, and Sunny Pang, Fauzie Laily and Sharon Ismail who star as police officers working on the cases. “Code Of Law” is a Public Service Broadcast (PSB) funded programme.
Keagan Kang and Lee Thean-jeen tell MediaExchange why crime dramas are trending and what it’s like working on a crime drama of their own.
MediaExchange (ME): Why are courtroom and crime dramas so hotly watched by TV viewers?
Lee Thean-Jeen (TJ): I think the form of the procedural - be it crime, medical, legal, or a combination of any two genres - has always been universally popular. They've been around since the beginning of television; think "Dragnet" in the US which started as a radio series and continued over television in 1951. Singapore had its fair share of local crime dramas which have always been around. On Channel 8, in addition to "Unriddle," there was C.L.I.F, and 破茧而出 Metamorphosis; and over on Channel 5, there was Triple Nine, which ran for many seasons.
Crime stories are filled with so many elements of drama - betrayal, conflict, revenge – this all makes for such compelling viewing. I think that what's compelling to me about the stories is that it could happen to anyone, you or me.
Keagan Kang (KK): For me, since childhood, there’s always been police dramas which really took off. Like “Chips” (about two highway patrol policemen on motorcycle), “Miami Vice”, “LA Law”, and “Murder She wrote”. Crime dramas have the element of “who-dunnit” which I grew up watching partly because of my mother’s love of watching these shows. Nowadays, shows like “CSI” go into so much detail of the crime, and even our own brand of crime shows like “Crime Watch” and “In “Code Of Law”d Blood” touch on horrific events that people don’t know a lot about, but at the end of series, we realise why these crimes happened. When it comes to horrific crimes, people are always curious to find out who did it, how they did it and why they did it.
ME: Was making "Code Of Law" really different from other shows you’ve done before?
TJ: Directing “Code Of Law” has been a pretty intense experience. Firstly, it's really like doing two shows in one, because half of it is essentially a police drama and the other half is a legal drama. Secondly, the cases revolve around homicides, so between myself, my producer Wenn, and the other two directors working with me on the series, we've staged about 10-12 murders within the course of a season! Finally, we wanted more action in this show, so there's chasing, fighting, falling off buildings ... it's a different kettle of fish altogether.
We wanted the look and feel of the show to be different from what we've seen so far on local TV shows, so we tried to use filming and editing techniques that were out of our own comfort zones, both for me and DOP Glenn Chan. I'm happiest about the fact that we managed to largely achieve what we set out to do in terms of style and approach. We were also fortunate that Canon supported us with their new C300 camera and a 30-300-lens which really helped us to achieve that style.
KK: There’s a court scene in Episode 3 of “Code Of Law”, with Sonny Lim, when I was in character defending him and he was speaking about the incident. And then suddenly I had tears in my eyes because I was so moved by his performance, by what he said and how he did it. And when I turned to Joanne, she was crying too. It was a powerful scene. It is the first time I cried like that on a set. Hopefully, the audience enjoys the show.”
ME: Is it tricky to do a crime drama around real-life events? What can viewers look forward to when they watch "Code Of Law"?
KK: Well, I really enjoyed the on-screen chemistry I have with Joanne Peh on the show and I hope the audiences will too. Joanne plays lawyer Sabrina Wong, who is ambitious, and on her way to make partner then I come into the firm and make partner straight away. We then work together to fight the murder cases and there’s an interesting tension between the two throughout the series.
More generally, crime stories are often not common knowledge and the stories on ”Code Of Law” are based on very big cases that happened in Singapore. When viewers watch each episode, you’ll come to the realisation that ‘low crime doesn’t mean no crime’… Just like sometimes you wonder what’s happening when you hear your next door neighbours screaming and yelling, or when you read in the papers about why would a successful banker would suddenly turn and do a horrible crimes… it’s gripping stuff for all of us to find out what really happens to people who run afoul of the Law.
TJ: According to our series consultant, most homicides in Singapore are not premeditated - they are usually crimes of passion, or the result of heated arguments, drunken misadventure or a bad situation turned worse. So the series reflects real life as the Accused on trial each week is really an ordinary person - a schoolteacher, a Filipino maid, a teenager, a blue-collar worker. How did they end up in this situation? How did things go this wayward for them? I think that's the question we try to answer each week - how do people like you and me get caught up in an extraordinary situation like that and what will you do.
The stories on ”Code Of Law” were inspired by real-life cases, so the real creative challenge, from a writing standpoint, was to breathe new life (so to speak) into cases viewers already be familiar with - cases they might have already seen on other crime shows and docudramas. We sometimes did it by spinning the story into a new direction from the original source case, or tweaking the characters. We also compressed the timeframe, like US and UK dramas, just to give viewers the essence of the trials while keeping a sense of realism about Singapore’s criminal justice system because real murder trials take months or even years.
You could say that this series’ approach is similar to “Law and Order” which itself takes a cue from a 1963 US television series called “Arrest and Trial”. The first half of each episode deals with the police investigation of a crime and the second half of the episode shows the trial proceedings.
We figured there were already so many shows on local TV that showed the anatomy of the crime and even the police investigations, but none that dealt with the legal aspects of it. Hopefully, “Code Of Law” provides an interesting alternative to those shows for audiences.
“Code Of Law” is on every Thursday from 20 September to 22 November 2012 on Channel 5 or on Catchup TV.