By Mao Shan Wang
You have the opening scene of 7+3 Q’s with Sonia: Michelle Chong, reprising the character from her cheesy little S$1.5 million film Lulu The Movie, walks in akimbo; her back to the camera. A guy with a Caucasian voice calls out to her and she turns around—deliberately, pretending to be surprised. I thought I heard the perfunctory applause. She then talks to the unseen male and proceeded to indulge him in what would be a Q&A involving a set of “7+3” questions. I thought I was going to sleep.
This is no doubt a spoof of the Vogue.com series 73 Questions—cheery interviews that make the interviewees shiny examples of my-life-is-perfect-that’s-why-I’m-so-contented celebrity, all set in domestic bliss or professional calm. Even the reputed ice queen Anna Wintour, in Season 1, appeared to be in high spirits although still playing up her to-be-expected coldness. An un-wintry Anna Wintour would be a letdown. Although the questions were posed to her in her Architectural Digest-worthy office, she offered no hint of editorial stress, let alone semblance of editorial work. Stilted and aided by minions, she revealed inconsequential and trite details about herself such as the fact that she’s not a discerning coffee drinker (breakfast = Starbucks).
Participants of 73 Questions are, in fact, often made to look so unshackled by the woes of life, but fettered by the insipidness of a positive video persona that they appear positively dull, even when flipping on a trampoline. It is, of course, all harmless fun, but not quite fun enough to beguile a long, lazy, humid afternoon. The questions themselves are to be blamed: “What’s the best piece of advice your mom has given you?” and, repeatedly, “What’s your spirit animal?” I have more engaging conversations with the Hubei fellow who sweeps the void deck of my block.
Why 73? According to Joe Sabia, the creator and director of the series, the figure came about after a process of elimination from the original 100 proposed questions. And “it sounded like a good number”. Why “7+3”? Because it sounds better than 10? But, perhaps more significantly, do you want to hear inane answers to inane questions for an insane 10 minutes? Not from Sonia!
Michelle Chong’s soporific turn as Sonia is a lame counterpoint to the Shanghainese lian Lulu, first fleshed to life in the TV series The Noose. Or her lian pang counterpart Apple Tham. Sonia gives me the impression that she might be the sister of Nida Goodwood, the newscaster, also from The Noose, who speaks with an accent that sounds like she had been schooled somewhere in the Philippines, but, as I later learned, is supposed to be slightly RP (received pronunciation or, simply put, what you hear on the BBC). In Lulu The Movie, she is scripted to be haughty and go-getting, and a fierce spelling police (“How many times have I said that fashion is spelled with an H?”) and, thus, unlikeable, but in 7+3 Q’s with Sonia, she’s shown to be sisterly, BFF-worthy, and—perhaps open to dispute—fashion-y.
In the YouTube post, Sonia wears an ill-fitting black, long-sleeved blouse with an unmissable pussycat bow that, by now, should have been relegated to a recess of the wardrobe where so little light comes in that it’s a fashion graveyard. The top is tucked into a slim gingham skirt with a peplum in the front. Whether irony is intended or not, it deserves notice: In the film, fashion personality Sonia berates a couple of assistants presenting the outfits they have picked for her on-screen appearance. “Do these clothes,” she thundered, “look like they belong to a fashion program? Or, is this the rack for the 9 o’clock news?” Maybe this is payback time. In 7+3 Q’s with Sonia, she looks like she is dressed for the 1 o’clock news! Some people will call it karma.
Ms Chong has made a name for herself out of spoofing, especially the many stereotypes that exist among us. I don’t find her jibes particularly humorous, but, apparently, many do. Therein lies her success: she has a common touch. Not that that’s a bad thing. Look at Jack Neo and his protégé Mark Lee. They’ve become moneyed by poking fun at our foibles and flaws, using mannerism and language that are part of our foibles and flaws. Ms Chong has chanelled her parody skills into money-churning advertising appearances, sometimes playing multiple roles in one screen, as Eddie Murphy did, or a more contemporary example, as Tyler Perry does. But unlike these guys, she vacillates between two domains: one called funny, the other not.
7+3 Q’s with Sonia is, unsurprisingly, an ad of sorts. It’s conceived for the brand Dorothy Perkins, which, by the way, is not a designer name. Now owned by the Arcadia Group (Topshop/Topman’s parent company), it is apparently named after the rambling rose of the same moniker. That the video was commissioned to score with social media-struck Millennials isn’t a marketing coup. There’s no ambiguity to where between the points of high and popular culture it attempts to pivot. That, I suppose, is where Sonia comes in. She’s suitably mild and middle-of-the-road. Let’s just say, don’t expect Saturday Night Life. Michelle Chong’s initials may be MC, but her other name is not (Melissa) McCarthy.
Screen grabs: YouTube/The Michelle Chong Channel