Why it’s time to reboot the C.L.I.F. franchise

Bring back the action and excitement: This police TV series is due for a facelift

Key moments from the previous C.L.I.F. seasons
Key moments from the previous C.L.I.F. seasons
04 Oct 2016

Key moments from the previous C.L.I.F. seasons

Photos: Channel 8

A reboot is in order for Channel 8 drama series C.L.I.F. after thrilling TV audiences through the lives and experiences of the men in blue for the past four seasons. Proven to be quite a hit amongst TV audiences for a variety of reasons, the drama is the first collaboration between Mediacorp and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and is said to closely mimic the real investigative routines and work done by the police: the actors even went through proper weapon training sessions and were taught the proper decorum expected of men and women in blue.

It was an eye-opener, to say the least, and brought in the ratings: C.L.I.F. 2 was the top-rated drama of 2013 and C.L.I.F. 3’s final episode last year broke the million-viewership mark and was most-watched single episode amongst dramas since 2010.

A quick refresher for those who don’t remember: C.L.I.F. 1 had a large-scale funeral scene for an officer who was killed in the line of duty and we were given a glimpse of the Police Tactical Unit’s elusive ‘ang chia’ (red vehicles) which was brought in to curb a huge workers’ protest scene; in C.L.I.F. 2, the show saw new cast additions—in the form of Rui En, Li Nanxing and Pierre Png—which helped give it an entirely new look and feel, while retaining the thrills and spills of a police series; and C.L.I.F. 3 covered a wider scope of investigative work and divisions, including a peek at an officer’s role in the United Nations Peacekeeping forces, on top of the usual mix of investigative work and crime-busting action.

Despite retaining the same set of actors (minus Qi Yuwu and Joanne Peh) and introducing a bunch of new faces, C.L.I.F. 4 feels muted and pared-down as compared to its predecessors. It was less action and more talk save for a few nail-biting fight and intense scenes that kept us on the edge of our seats – namely the bus hostage scene in episode 15 and that kickass fight between Huang Zhijie (Rui En) and Fang Ruoting (Grace Teo) in episode 16. Similarly, the breadth of cases covered feel less extensive than those featured in past seasons, with the focus centered on characters hatching and exacting revenge plans and tackling seemingly-mundane love and family problems, and then some more.

Now that we’ve reached the end of the road for C.L.I.F. 4, it’s time to take stock of what was done, why this series needs a reboot, and what we’d like to see in the newly-rebooted C.L.I.F. TV series – should there even be one.

The drama has reached its maximum story-telling lifespan for its current set of characters
The drama has reached its maximum story-telling lifespan for its current set of characters
04 Oct 2016

The drama has reached its maximum story-telling lifespan for its current set of characters

After closely following the lives of Wei Lantian (Li Nanxing) and Huang Zhijie (Rui En) for the past three seasons, in C.L.I.F. 4, Lantian finally unravels the mastermind and finds closure and all the answers to his questions pertaining to best friend Yang Zhongzheng’s (Terence Cao) death and mysterious dealings, and Zhijie finally gets the child she was hoping to have – although life had a few curveballs in store for the new parents as they were dealt another blow with the discovery of their son Matthew’s congenital heart disease. Similarly, Zhang Guixiang (Elvin Ng) gets the happy ending he desires with the super-hardy Xuan Mei (Sora Ma), who finally marries the man of her dreams after encountering a few setbacks (and unfortunate accidents) in life.

So what’s next for this bunch of C.L.I.F. regulars apart from dealing with bigger bad guys, babies, diaper-changing duties, and inter-police division switcheroos?

Truth be told, there are probably more upsets and mishaps ahead of them (life isn’t a bed of roses after all, right?), but we don’t see how these plots can be even more emotionally engaging for viewers. We’ve grown with the characters through the years and now it’s time to say goodbye and start the show on a fresh chapter with new characters in a brand new story.

To give the actors better roles and character developments
To give the actors better roles and character developments
04 Oct 2016

To give the actors better roles and character developments

Rebooting the series and starting it on a clean slate also means one good thing: storywriters are given a chance to rework their characters and grow them well, instead of side-lining character development in favour for story plot progression.

Take for example the depiction of Zhijie’s struggles with her newborn son and the demands of a full-time job after coming out of her maternity leave when the latter is discovered to have developed congenital heart disease. Sure, we get that the drama wants to highlight the difficulties faced by working mums but could the writers have considered going down a different—and perhaps, more relatable—story-telling route instead? It’s a struggle for any new mother to assimilate back to working life, especially when they have to care for a newborn child – much less a sick newborn baby. 

To have the perfect excuse to bring back other actors formerly from this franchise
To have the perfect excuse to bring back other actors formerly from this franchise
04 Oct 2016

To have the perfect excuse to bring back other actors formerly from this franchise

There are only so many actors available for any single drama series, so what’s to happen when actors are culled from the show via their characters’ death or crimes? They can’t return to the same ol’ franchise anymore. If C.L.I.F. were to continue, with the same set of characters, it faces an uphill task of reinventing itself and introducing new and intriguing faces to keep the storyline going.

The casting unit will probably face the same problems when it comes to finding suitable cameos, extra and bit-actors, even with the help of special cameos made by actual police officers. The acting circuit in Singapore is not exactly big and you run the risk of reusing the same actors in different roles for different seasons, as with netizens spotting Ng Hoi Sam (or Wu Kai Shen), who played a Korean terrorist in season 1, playing Wang Shishi’s (Ya Hui) brother in season 4, or Xavier Ong playing two different teenagers in C.L.I.F. 2 and 4. That said, these overlapping occurrences open up the possibilities of an intriguing lost-brother-returning-for-revenge plot, but, er, we’ll leave it at that.

To flesh out a different side of the SPF and showcase more high profile cases
To flesh out a different side of the SPF and showcase more high profile cases
04 Oct 2016

To flesh out a different side of the SPF and showcase more high profile cases

There are plenty of possibilities for the next C.L.I.F. series and what its focus can be on, like that ending scene which featured Zhijie training new recruits and officers at the police training school after an internal transfer. How about a story about focused on new police recruits? Kind of like your Ah Boys to Men but in the context of blue uniforms.

We also had a brief introduction to volunteer cops and the airport police division this season and the traffic police, police coast guard and forensics team in past seasons, and a reboot will be a good chance for the writers to explore a different side of the SPF and expand the audience’s knowledge about them, instead of continuing the original storyline and have the drama be seen as a glorified edition of Crime Watch, especially after the two shows share an overlap in the type of cases covered and featured in them. Pure coincidence or repetition, we think C.L.I.F. should stand out for having a better set of actors and a team of writers who should be allowed to maximise their story-writing capabilities to their full potential, while maintaining a certain truth in the cases presented.

Making a case for having a mole in the police force
Making a case for having a mole in the police force
04 Oct 2016

Making a case for having a mole in the police force

It’s a growing pattern we can’t help but notice – when the police force has a mole, a betrayer, or a criminal hidden in their midst. It happened in C.L.I.F. 3 with Jimmy Tai (Cavin Soh) leaking important information for his child’s safety and in C.L.I.F. 4 with Chen Yu (Zhang Yaodong) being held responsible for the deaths of at least five men, two of which happened during his time as an officer and the remaining deaths after he turned in his resignation.

Given the show’s association with SPF, Chen Yu’s double-agent killer secret would have been entirely believable in a fictional police series like Unriddle, but when placed in the context of C.L.I.F., which has an added air of realism, given the SPF’s role in it, it becomes questionable. Sure, it helps give the character more depth and gravitas and keeps the story compelling, but how did his crimes escape the rigorous background checks conducted at the police force and go unnoticed? Perhaps it’s time to give this plot device a break and reserve it for fictional dramas of such genre like Unriddle and Revenge Queen.

Watch past episodes of C.L.I.F. 4, C.L.I.F. 3C.L.I.F. 2 and C.L.I.F. 1 on Toggle.

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