Take a look at the video below.
Can you tell me what’s wrong with the video? No? Well I’ll tell you. I was not impressed. Maybe it’s because I’m an emotionless robot but the video failed to hit that sentimental mark. The idea was there, but when it came to executing the idea, it fell flat.
“But Zareth,” you say, “This video is about a 13-year-old boy sacrificing his childhood to run the household while still scoring top marks in a nation-wide examination! And it has a piano driven background music! How is this not sentimental? Stop being such a cold-hearted asshole.”
True… it has all the makings of a sentimental video, but still…
Let’s analyse the video, shall we?
So the video begins with a voiceover from the 13-year-old teen. He proclaims that basketball was his first love. With that, the protagonist of the story (and his ‘first love’) is established.
The obstacle is also introduced early in the video. So now we’ve got a hero (13-year-old teen), his first love (basketball) and an obstacle (his mom’s stroke) preventing him from being united with his love.
Classic hero storytelling structure. But we’re still missing something. Something that adds a bit of a spice. Something, or more accurately, someone who is a counterpart to the hero. That’s right, we need a motherfucking villain. Enter the dragon.
A coach so evil that he is willing to kill 13-year-old boys who miss basketball practices. A coach so evil that our hero has a thousand yard stare from the many painful memories. Well, those memories will be painful when your coach is this guy:
“Do you know how to bounce the ball? Do you fucking know how to fucking bounce the ball??? ANSWER ME!”
Now we have our hero, his first love, his obstacle and the villain. All of which are established within twenty seconds of the video. So far so good. The question now is how will our hero overcome all the adversity to be reunited with his one, true love (i.e. playing basketball so that he doesn’t get killed by Terence Fletcher)?
The next few scenes are montages of our hero grocery shopping, buying lunch for his disabled mother, and managing the household finances. In the voiceover, the hero said that he “had to learn to run the family”. At least we’ve now established that our hero is being dragged away from his one, true love by the time-consuming task of taking care of his family at a young age.
We’ve also established that our hero is a filial son, which is the premise of the entire story. It’s also the title of the video.
Which brings us back to the main question, how will our hero overcome this adversity while still keeping his moral core intact (being a filial son)?
This is where the story starts derailing.
After the household montage, the video cuts to a scene showing a new dawn on the horizon:
Is this it? Is this where they show how our hero overcome his adversity??? Will we get awesome training montages with Terence Fletcher screaming abuses at him? OMIGOSH!
Instead it’s another household montage. But what irrationally pissed me off is when the hero said this in the voiceover:
WHAT THINGS??? WHAT THINGS??? AND WHAT OTHERS???
To be fair, ‘some things’ implicitly refer to taking care of his mother and running the household. But that was already established in the first 20 to 30 seconds of the video, so why repeat them? I’m more confused by the ‘others’. You mean our hero has more than one love besides basketball? Man, Terence Fletcher is gonna be more than pissed.
BASKETBALL IS NOT YOUR FIRST LOVE! IT’S YOUR ONLY LOVE, YOU FUCKING INGRATE!
So after the second household montage, we get another soft-focus shot of the sunlight:
This must be it. It definitely must be it. We just got another sunlight shot, people. It’s coming. The training montage. I can even hear the Rocky music with Terence Fletcher screaming over it.
A homework scene?
But that’s not the weirdest part. No, what’s weird about this scene is that our hero’s friends are pissed that he’s missing training. After introducing the villainous coach at the beginning, I was expecting the basketball coach to kick down the door and drag our hero away from his home.
RARRRR! THIS IMAGE IS COMPRESSED AS FUCK!
Instead of watching the door get kicked into splinters by a sociopathic coach, we get a bunch of passive aggressive Whatsapp message from some angsty school kids.
By now it’s nearing the end of the video. And we still have not answer the main question of how our hero will overcome the adversity of his mom’s stroke to play basketball again while still remaining filial.
In fact, the question never gets fully answered. Because these are the next couple of scenes:
Our hero looking longingly at a basketball game.
Our hero getting rewarded with a basketball for scoring top marks in the nation-wide examinations.
I was also irrationally pissed off by this scene. The problem with this scene is that there’s a huge gap between “Some things became more important than others” and “But I guess it was worth it”. Both sentences are crucial in showing that our hero willing sacrificed his love for basketball because nothing is more important than his mother (Terence Fletcher might dispute that).
Yet, both sentences are separated by more than a minute of filler montages. So when the last line “But I guess it was worth it” appears, it sounds like a non sequitur.
Ultimately, my biggest gripe is, you’ve guessed it, the non-appearance of the coach.
Look at those steely blue eyes.
So at the end, I’m not feeling what the video wanted me to feel (i.e. reaching for the tissues). Instead, I’m left with a case of sentimental blue balls (i.e. not reaching for the tissues).
“Now, Zareth,” you say, “it’s easy to criticize another person’s work. I bet you can’t do this. So just shut up and sit down.”
Now don’t get your underwear in a bunch. I’m not mindlessly criticizing this video. The story has a lot of potential. Done well, it could actually be a very heart-wrenching video despite its very common concept.
The problem with the video is that it makes the rookie mistake of trying to squeeze in too much within a short timeframe. There’s something called ‘Chekhov’s gun’. Everything in a short narrative must be essential. So if you introduce a hardass coach, you better be sure that coach makes an appearance. As a result of not keeping the story ‘tight’, the video feels aimless and does not really tug at the heartstrings.
“So, Zareth,” you say, “what could you have done better?”
Well, I would have remove all mention of basketball. (And the two useless shots of the sun).
Oh no you fucking didn’t.
“But, but, but”, you stammer, “isn’t basketball central to the story? And Fletcher is making me shit my pants.”
Nope, it’s not. The problem with the video is that there were two competing narratives: basketball and achieving top marks in the nation-wide exams. So either the video concentrates on basketball or on being studious. In this case, the narrative of being studious won. So basketball is out.
So why did the narrative of being studious won? Well, it’s because there was nothing at stake in the basketball narrative. What do I mean by that? If basketball was central to the story, then there should be more at stake. It means that our hero would have to quit the top national basketball team and lose his basketball scholarship just to take care of his mother. But there was no mention about any of that. So if our hero stops playing basketball, the most he suffers is an abusive physical, emotional, and psychological beating from Fletcher.
On the other hand, there is everything at stake in the studious narrative. If our hero get top marks in the nation-wide exam, he can get into a good secondary school. And if he gets into a good secondary school, he can receive a stellar academic education. And if he receive a stellar academic education, he can get into a top university, graduate with honours and get a good job. And with that job, he can look after his mother.
If he fails at the nation-wide exam, well, given Singapore’s education system, he’s kinda fucked.
See, not only is there more at stake, it’s also playing to the Singaporean audience’s psyche. And if you read the comments on POSB’s Facebook page about the video, quite a number mention about our hero’s filial piety (and to a certain extent, his academic achievements). Basketball, and sports in general, just does not have a big presence in the Singaporean’s mind.
It seems that basketball was shoehorned into the story. It is as if the writer or filmmaker is embarrassed of showing our hero as some nerd and introduced the basketball motif to make our hero seem less nerdy.
“Maybe it’s not that,” you say, “maybe basketball represent our hero’s childhood and the loss of it.”
Okay, then why even talk about basketball as our hero’s first love or even mention the coach? There’s better ways to do that. Maybe show a shot of our hero watching kids having fun through his bedroom window. It’s a lot more effective than establishing an entire useless backstory about basketball.
In short, the story structure failed. There’s a beginning but no middle (conflict) and no climax (conclusion). Everything just kinda died down.
The video should have just stuck closely to the source story. It was a lot more focused.
Look, I’m not shitting –
Shut your shit spewing mouth.
As I was saying, I’m not shitting on the video. With some rewrites, revisions, and attention to the story structure, the video will definitely be a tearjerker. And a good example is this tearjerker ad by NTUC Income:
BUT SHE JUST WANTED TO GO TO POLY. Sniffs.
I know, kiddo, I know.