Sunday, November 4, 2018

HBO Asia's "Grisse" - Feisty Gun-slinging Western set in the Rojakness of South-East Asia

As a child from a primarily English-speaking home, Red Dot Diva has always fantasized of being able to watch South-East Asian tales on TV or in the movies which were spoken in English. Local TV dramas and sitcoms in the 1990's helped to bring Red Dot Island stories to the forefront, but international exposure was very limited.

It has been a long time coming, but in recent years, HBO Asia has been passionate about showcasing stories from this region to the world, and Red Dot Diva is always delighted to see and support the shows that they invest in.

Tonight, 4 November (Sunday), "Grisse", another new English language original series by the cable channel will be premiering at 9 PM. Set in 1800’s Indonesia, during the time when the Dutch East Indies were busy colonizing this region, the period drama has a unique look - a South-Asian story with an Old Western aesthetic, complete with all that dirt, dust, feisty heroines, and gun battles. The series is created by Mike Wiluan, and has eight 1-hour long episodes.

Step into the town of Grisse, and you will be greeted by people from different creeds and agendas. The Indonesian rebels have taken a stand in the gritty town, leading the way to eradicate colonialism and tyranny. Occasionally fighting alongside them are the factions consisting of the Chinese, and the "Half-breeds".

Now, the Dutch colonial port town of Griessie (Gresik) actually exists in Java, Indonesia. The place was raided by British forces in the early 1800s. The timing may not line up with that depicted in the new HBO Asia series, but the show definitely sets an interesting tone during these current times, where more stories representing the viewpoints from non-white people and cultures are being called for.

Red Dot Diva has already watched a screener of the premiere episode, and right from the start, the story of "Grisse" pulls you in. The sentiments about having the characters' beloved land and homes raided by white colonizers were familiar and felt close to home. 

Despite a number of tropes (those that you would usually expect from a HBO show), the lead characters grab attention, especially Adinia Wirasti as Kalia - who is the sole survivor of a legacy, and is faced with making difficult decisions from the start of her adventure. Adinia Wirasti portrays the reluctant heroine with a regal yet vulnerable demeanor, and not to forget - badass fighting skills. Red Dot Diva was unable to take her eyes off the actress.
Malaysian comedian Joanne Kam stole some of the scenes with her foul-mouthed mamasan character named Chi. There is also an interesting side story consisting a Japanese samurai (Toshiji Takeshima), and a fallen warrior with an addiction (Jimmy T). Red Dot Diva is now very curious what the deal is between the two.

Towards the end of episode 1, the stakes were raised and the fight scenes were coming in fast and furious. No wonder. The stunt team has worked on fast-paced action movies like "Ong Bak" and "The Raid". Considering how some of the mass fight scene was unfolding then, the camerawork and editing was really well done, and Red Dot Diva was able to follow through the action as well as the story. She has a feeling the first episode is just a taster, there will be more bloody, more emotional and more interesting stuff to come in the next few episodes.

With cast members from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Australia and the U.S., "Grisse" is a fine example of what a diverse cast looks like. In fact, the various faces represented are typical of this region in real life. So, Red Dot Diva is glad that the series will also be available to audiences in HBO U.S.’ as well as HBO Europe’s Territories. She hopes that the rest of the world will get hungrier for South-East Asian narratives because there is a lot more in store!

If you have watched "Grisse", let Red Dot Diva know what you think of it!


"Grisse" will air each Sunday exclusively on HBO (StarHub TV Ch 601), beginning from 4 November, at 9 PM. They will also be available on HBO Go and HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Ch 602).

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