Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recently released a two-part series titled “The High Life” to to showcase the effects of drug trafficking and consumption.
The first video was released on December 5, and is a flashback of a drug kingpin’s life in the 1970s. It brings to the fore the issue of the death penalty. The video description reads:
Consider the timing of this two-parter’s release: Singapore has been under fire for wanting to execute a man with borderline intellectual functioning for a non-violent drug offence. Nagen is still waiting for new court hearing dates, but he isn’t the only prisoner on death row.
Taking it scene by scene
The scene opens with a young man in hospital, watched over by (presumably) his dad and his grandma. “Seng ah… it’s all because your father ruined many people’s lives. And now, your son is paying for his sins. We gave him everything, why must he take drugs?” the older woman says mournfully in Mandarin.
Flashback to the 1970s where we see Chee Seng’s father as a Drug Kingpin – dressed in a turtleneck with a gold necklace. He presents his fed-up wife with gold jewellery, who says, “You think money can buy everything, huh?”
In the background, a young boy – who we presume is the son of Kingpin – yanks out a bag of suspicious items from his dad’s suitcase, only to be snatched back by dad with a stern warning.
The Kingpin’s phone rings, and he leaves to go to a suspicious room which may be implied to be an evil drug headquarter. But, they have a hostage, who turns out the hostage is one of their gang members who started using drugs instead of just dealing. “You know our rules,” Kingpin says.
He tells his henchmen to turn up the music, and after dancing to it for a while like a madman, he goes all Tarantino-ear-slicing on the hostage (just to show us he’s actually a psychopath as well).
But, in the background, we see some guys with guns sneaking in on them… is it a rival gang? NO! It’s the po-po.
As they panic and run, they leave the drugs in a bag on the floor. Kingpin fires his gun at the police, but he aims like a Stormtrooper. But not so much the cops, who’ve obviously done some moving-target practice – one shot and the Kingpin’s down! Good job on the JJ Abrams-style lens flare though.
The Kingpin’s been arrested and sentenced to death – the local newspaper (The Singapore Times) headline says “DEATH FOR DRUG MAN.” The Kingpin’s wife seems to be in shock – even though she must’ve known he was going to get punished…
In this video, those on death row are perceived as hardened criminals and heartless profiteers making money and living a “high life” built on violence and other people’s misery. But in reality in Singapore, they’ve largely been ethnic minorities (with Malays making up the majority), with histories of trauma, deprivation, and poverty.
In August this year, a group of 17 prisoners in Singapore sentenced to death for various drug offences sought a court declaration that the government had acted with bias in their prosecution due to their ethnicity. They claimed that the proportion of Malays who make up those sentenced to death for drug offences has increased over the last decade, while the number of persons of Chinese ethnicity sentenced to death for drug offences has decreased by almost an equivalent amount. The High Court dismissed the application in December.
You can watch The High Life Episode 1 here.
The High Life Episode 2
The follow-up to the two-part series (which was released on 9 December) seems to be a new story – this time, it’s about Jun Ming, who’s a youth addicted to ice to help him achieve high scores in gaming. This seems to try to tackle the rise in gaming addiction in Singaporean youths as well.
Jun Min is a gamer, and while his friend says “it’s just a game,” he sees it differently. His friend tells him, “What you really want to do is to hit the escape button. Be free from fear.”
It’s also clear that Jun Ming is in a different social class from Chee Seng – in the next scene, he rides in a convertible with who we presume is his dad. And typical of an angsty teen, he’s curt to his dad.
The scene changes again – this time he’s playing basketball with a female friend, who says she made it to the school team. He did too, but his response was nonchalant that she was shocked because he’d apparently always wanted to make the team.
So we see the reason for his bad behaviour: the drugs (no surprise there).
We see him being “free from fear” – and looking a bit like a lunatic – while playing a violent game. Then we cut to a montage of him doing drugs, playing the game; rinse, and repeat. By this time, his parents have noticed the change in his behaviour.
He’s also started to draw violent images (do people start getting artistic too?), which his dad discovers in his room one day. As expected, they get into a fight, and the parents are exasperated.
It’s not just in the home either: Jun Ming is also estranged from his female friend. By this time, he’s already looking like your classic strung-out addict – in contrast to his healthy buddy. She suspects what’s going, and of course, he denies it.
She grabs his bag to try to take his stash from him, which just pisses him off. “Stay out of my life!”
We see that he’s got 2 addictions: drugs and games. So we see more scenes of him gaming while high. He also seems to be stuck on Level 39 this whole time.
Now, he’s not just going bonkers on the keyboard gaming. He’s also started to bug passers-by and hallucinating in the streets. He even thinks Dad is a big monster from his game and he’s freaking out (but isn’t the drug supposed to make you fearless?)!
As he tussles to get away from his dad/monster, he literally runs through glass and into water. Since he’s from a well-to-do family, it’s assumed that he crashed through the living room glass door and fell into their private pool.
Meanwhile, at the LAN shop, Jun Meng’s friends – those who sold him the drugs maybe? – were nabbed by the CNB.
Jun Meng ends up in hospital – and we see the scene from Episode 1. He’s the grandson of the Kingpin! So this is how they plot twist it back to a two-part series.
What did you think of the whole thing? You can watch Episode 2 here:
Last year, there was a record high number of drug users in community corrections (3,426 offfenders), which is a 42% increase from 2019. These offenders were on community-based programmes, which includes home detention with conditions imposed, such as electronic tagging and regular reporting to a reintegration officer.