10 questions with Against The Tide writer Peng Kaiyi

Post-mortem drama review: xinmsn speaks to the writer behind Channel 8 drama Against the Tide

Rui En as Qiu Xueqing in Against The Tide

Fans of darker TV material like Unriddle 2 would be slightly disappointed at Against The Tide’s “lack of kick” and “feel that it’s not enough,” admitted script-writer Peng Kaiyi, in a post-mortem interview with xinmsn, yesterday afternoon, on his latest and just-ended TV project.

The man behind Channel 8’s thriller vehicle shared that the watered down effect was intentional, as he tried to strike a balance and control the overall “darkness” of the story to widen the drama’s scope of audience. Finding this delicate equilibrium, in his words, was one of the “biggest challenges” encountered for ATT and a work-in-progress mission for his future shows. Another challenge he encountered – writing wise and much lesser of a headache – was finding a link that cohesively gelled all the story events together.

Looking back on how the drama panned out, he had all but one thing to say about his attempt to appeal to the masses: “This experiment shows that it’s hard to please audiences on both ends of the viewing spectrum, and the ones who enjoy such TV genre will feel that they don’t get a strong kick out of this.

“At the end of the day, you can’t please everyone.”

Ditto. And that is precisely why this writer, who was slightly disappointed at the drama’s outcome, set out to understand the backstory of Against The Tide and things that have gone unexplained, untold and unseen in the making of this drama from the brains behind it: the scriptwriter.

We pick up a few interesting nuggets of information from answers Kaiyi gave to our questions, such as why there is a lack of background music in certain scenes and why certain pairings (read: Rui En and Christopher Lee’s romantic relationship as Qiu Xueqing and Di Sheng) didn’t feel as convincing as it should have been. Read on for more.

Christopher Lee as Di Sheng in Against The Tide

xinmsn: What was your favourite scene in Against The Tide?
Kaiyi: Personally for me, my favourite scene is episode 19 because of Xueqing’s (Rui En) transformation (from good to evil). It was really Rui En’s one-man show in that episode. That scene where she broke up with Christopher Lee was also memorable because it had a lot of feels to it and that was a silent scene with no background music. The audio post wanted to try this new style and suggested for us to reduce the music for a more immersive experience with no distractions, especially if the acting is strong, so that it feels more like a movie.

And your favourite character in the show is?
Di Sheng (Christopher Lee). When I was writing this script, I put some of my own thoughts into this character as a reflection of myself. He’s one of my most favourite characters of late. As for Xueqing, well, she is a character I’ve written before and someone that goes from good to bad when things happen. She (Rui En) did a good job with it, although she thought there were insufficient scenes of her transition to a bad person. But I personally think that [her change should come later because] the story can’t be dragged on for too long when Xueqing changes. It becomes hard keep the story plot under wraps when she goes bad.

Did you guys have to cut down on a lot of scenes then?
Yes, definitely. We overran for every episode. It’s really hard to gauge [how long each episode will take] when you read the script. For some episodes, we added scenes because the director felt that it was insufficient. But what happens is you end up having a surplus of scenes and chopping the scenes out. So the overall episode might become choppy.

Were there a lot of improvisations to the script when you guys had to add scenes?
No big changes were made. Some actors would give me suggestions for certain scenes, like Rui En. She will let me know if she thinks this scene can be improved and if her feedback is good I’d usually accept it. The last scene [in the house where Xueqing and Di Sheng had their final showdown] where she said this line: ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, hate cannot drive out hate, only love can,” was her idea. She hoped that this scene would not be filled with cheesy or cliché lines and thought it’d be better to end it with that, and I thought, ‘Hey this is a good idea.’ The outcome was good.

In comparison to that last scene, I thought the opening of episode 19 was really good too because it was really close to what I had previously imagined when I wrote the script. When we write, we tend to have certain scenes play in our minds, and this scene was really close to what I had imagined originally. So this is the most satisfying scene for me. As a writer, you get satisfaction when a scene in a show turns out to be exactly like how you have imagined it to be in your mind.

Carrie Wong as Di Yao (and Scarlet) in Against The Tide

This cast is fielded with a fair bit of new actors too. Out of these new faces, which actor left the biggest impression on you?
The newest is Carrie Wong (Di Yao). And to be honest, we were taking a bet by casting her in this drama. There were two rounds of audition, I didn’t get to see the first round, but for the second round when we gave her the script, we were surprised by her emotional outburst and decided to give her a shot. We were really pleased with the outcome and her sibling relationship with Chris was one that I really enjoyed too. That was a surprise for me.

I enjoyed the uncle-niece relationship between Zheng Ge Ping and Rui En too. Their scenes together made for the show’s most light-hearted moments. Was it intentional?
That was one arrangement I had to make this show more light-hearted. Unriddle 2 was grey and dark, but for this show, I tried to balance it out with their familial relationship by neutralising the darkness of the show with their uncle-niece scenes. I didn’t think this drama was that dark and gloomy after watching it (laughs).

This show also had a fair bit of dukes (5 out of 8) casted in it. And the most impressionable duke amongst them all is…?
Aloysius [Pang]. I knew he could do it from the very start because I’ve seen his performance in previous shows. I was insistent on getting him for the role of Zhao Keji.

Di Sheng and Xueqing

I’m sure you have read feedback on the lack of romantic chemistry between Christopher and Rui En yoo. And what’s your take on it?
I’ve heard that may have been due to insufficient lovey-dovey scenes between them. But we had to cut down on these scenes due to overrun. Another point [on the lack of chemistry] might be due to the disparity in terms of their outlook - maybe they don’t “match” each other and some believe she looks better with Desmond Tan. I think if they (Chris and Rui En) had more scenes together, we’d have stronger feels for their pairing, but it’s a pity these scenes were cut.

Can you share with us one such example of a scene that got the cut?
In episode 12 from the drama’s first edit, after they had confirmed their status as a couple, there were a few scenes we had to take out that could have contributed to the build-up of their relationship. One such example is this particular scene which shows their relationship developing and showcases a bit of Xueqing’s resistance towards the colour grey. Something cute she did was to keep all of Di Sheng’s grey clothes in his wardrobe – not in an angry manner, but in a you-must-accept-my-likes-and-dislikes-now-that-we’re-dating way. And so when Di Sheng enters his room and notices a pile of grey clothes at a corner, he immediately knows it’s something done by Xueqing. So this is something small and cute only couples would do, but it got cut out due to overrun.

Will we see you attempt such genres again? (Ed’s note: He’s currently working on a family comedy drama that’s will be aired in the latter half of 2015)
I’d want to try such genres again. But I’d want to challenge how to balance it up to appeal to all types of audience and not isolate one group. It’s the biggest challenge to find the balance. But I’ll keep trying. (Ed: I hope to still see such shows on local TV in future) Me too. This is something I enjoy doing. I hope to research and base my next project on something real. There’s this Hollywood drama I’m watching called Fargo. It’s a TV series based on a true story, but it has a very ridiculous story background. But I guess anything’s possible in America (laughs).

Watch the full series of Against The Tide on xinmsn and toggle.

Against The Tide struggles to stay afloat

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