COMMENT: Why didn't YouTube series 'The Rule Breakers' see an improvement in quality?

Marcus Goh
Jaze Phua and James Fong in “The Rule Breakers”. (Screengrab from “The Rule Breakers”)

The production team behind the viral “If Yishun Were A Movie” video, Juo Productions, has created an action series for YouTube based off the popularity of their short films “The Rule Breakers”. But the standard of the series falls short of that of the original shorts.

The first two “The Rule Breakers” shorts came to fame for their fight choreography in 2014, and they even won the “Singapore Outstanding Creativity Award” in TBS Digicon 6 Asia 2014, a Japanese short film festival/competition. Their awards are well-deserved, given the budgetary and logistical limitations that would have come with shooting action scenes of such a scope.

They even got about 590,000 views for their first short “The Rule Breakers – Class Fight” and 390,000 views for their second one, “The Rule Breakers 2 – The Streets”, though other videos on their channel have seen more modest views.

It’s clear that their strengths lie in creating memorable, impactful visuals by utilising creative techniques and choice special effects to enhance their action scenes. The shorts have obvious budget constraints, but the end product is impressive.

Then they collaborated with MM2 Entertainment to create “The Rule Breakers”, a series of five episodes between 7 to 16 minutes in length.

Doesn’t live up to expectations

The series itself doesn’t quite live up to the expectations that its first two shorts had built up.

There’s the obsession with fake moustaches, for one. The series has characters with real, legitimate facial hair — which makes the constant use of fake moustaches an even more glaring artistic decision. Why not let the talents grow out their facial hair? It may not be as thick and lush as a fake moustache (since they’re mainly East Asians), but it would be a lot less obtrusive than supergluing a prop to the top of the lip.

And while the story takes place in a a fantastical version of the real world, it’s also written with the finesse of a secondary school student. It’s not so much a matter of believability as it is about maintaining internal logic and consistency. The lines between the fantastical elements and the adherence to school rules are never clearly defined. What power do the teachers have over brawling students? Are injuries a legitimate concern in this world? Why isn’t expulsion seen more often, given the rampant fighting in the school?

Then there are the painful ways in which it tries to make jokes. Crimson High Boys School (as it’s explicitly spelt out in the first two shorts) is changed to Crimson Boys High School in the series, so that its initials will become CBHS and match LJHS (Lavender Girls High School). If you understand Hokkien, there’s a crude joke in there, but it’s a lot of effort to go to for this.

The series is touted as an action-comedy, but the jokes fly between self-aware, fourth-wall breaking dialogue and visual humour. It’s not that it’s not funny. It’s that the series needed to have a better understanding of what it means to make viewers laugh, rather than squeezing in every suggestion that fits.

Action, sigh

When “The Rule Breakers” was a pair of action shorts, the story was minimised in favour of action, which was understandable. Their fight scenes were the highlight of the videos. You could see that the creators were brimming with ideas to execute and innovative ways to lend a wuxia feel to the battles.

However, the subsequent series seems to have run out of ideas for fight scenes. There are incredibly awkward sequences where fighters are pulling a chair back and forth, and the final episode doesn’t feature melee battles all that much.

The actual stunts are well done though, and are testimony to the flair for fight choreography that the two leads, Jaze Phua and Jason Fong, have.

Some storytelling potential

The best episode is probably the fourth one, “Queen Bee”, which is also the longest episode in the series at over 15 minutes.

It’s a standalone episode that properly pays off the setups at the beginning, explores character relationships and backstories, and ironically requires the least special effects (which is probably one of the draws of the series).

Starting with this episode would probably be the best way to transition into the series.

Why didn’t corporate support help?

The biggest question is this — wouldn’t collaborating with MM2 Entertainment have raised the quality of the series, rather than taking it down a notch?

It’s also strange that its episodes have viewerships between 59,000 to 31,000 given that there hasn’t been much coverage on it, especially when a far more superior YouTube series like “Average Guys” that has a lot more buzz only has viewerships of 6,000 to 18,000.

At least “The Rule Breakers” ends on a cliffhanger. If anything, that’s probably been the best storytelling decision of the whole series.

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. 
He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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