Perfect One: The Standouts
If the much-discussed anthology series Black Mirror makes technology the enemy of life in its stories, the ones told in Perfect One shed light on technology as the enemy of love.
Comprising of 10 episodes written in a variety of styles and genres, this anthology attempts to create a not-so-far-off world in which technology is far more enhanced – in homes, in offices but most importantly, in dating. The focus lies on an online matchmaking app that guarantees to match you to – as its name suggests – the Perfect One.
Producer Nicholas Lo explains, “Imagine a world with a dating app that guarantees to match you with your perfect partner – your vision of someone who is perfect in every way. Would you believe in the app and would you sign up for it?”
It’s a yes-or-no question but the anthology did not really set it up this way, leading viewers to doubt the legitimacy of the app. Every episode seemed to show that modern life – and by extension, matchmaking applications – interferes with love more than anything. But that’s not a slam on the anthology.
As executive producer Isaac Tan explains, “We hope to start conversations about what it means to date, love and live in our modern times.” That, it did.
The stories are relatable enough to evoke an array of emotions in us. They revolve around this Perfect dating app, only to show it’s far from perfect. Underneath all the modern interfaces of this world – and our own – is the hidden surface of human emotions. The anthology reminds us of this by addressing larger, emotional issues – loss, rape, marriage, life, love. Carried by strong casts and well-executed creative direction, each episode contributes a little something to make this anthology a diverse palette of genres and styles. Story-wise, it’s a hit-or-miss, and I will cover the hits, leaving you to decide if I missed any.
Director: Nicholas Lo
Cast: Shi Lim, Justin Bratton, Nicole Chang Min
Runtime: 18 minutes
The anthology opener, Vows, is a gentle-paced drama that sees Rebecca (Shi Lim) eventually turning to Perfect One to find a match better suited for her than her emotionally distant fiancè Justin (Justin Bratton). Directed and written by Nicholas Lo himself, it is a fitting episode to set a serious, bittersweet tone that following episodes seem to build up from.
It lies on the slow side but this episode was carried fairly by the likes of Shi Lim and Justin Bratton. Shi’s character reminds me of Bella Swan – stoic, monotonous, frustratingly passive – to the point that when she finally takes the wheel of decision-making and asserts herself in the end, the impact of her change could be felt.
What I also liked about this is the introduction of the app, Perfect One. As an introduction to the entire titular anthology, I would have expected the app to be hyped up more but then it is brushed off as another romance-killer. On one hand, it undermines the legitimacy that it sets up but on the other, the story is grounded in a way that relates to those die-hard anti-dating-app cynics like myself.
Gradually though, the app becomes seen as a reassuring escape route from a shaky relationship and a doubt-ridden engagement. As a conversation starter, this is a definite hit – it’s a gentle provocation, moving us to think about what it means to love. Is it a choice or do our vows turn it a commitment?
Who’s To Blame
Director: Christine Seow
Cast: Oon Shu An, Thomas Pang, Alex Yue, Valnice Yek
Runtime: 16 minutes
This R-Rated episode steps up the intensity and leaves behind any cheesiness running through the anthology. Here, a pair matched by Perfect One, Elise and Jerome (Valnice Yek and Thomas Pang), go for a party at a nightclub. Their night takes a horrible turn when Elise gets raped and Jerome could not (or did not) stop it from happening.
It’s intense, disconcerting and impactful all at once. The aggression of Elise’s vindictive sister, Sam (Oon Shu An) who goes to seek revenge can be felt in the shaky, up-close and personal scenes we see of her torturing the rapist. Oon Shu An’s acting carried this episode well into an intense commentary on the issue of rape.
I liked this episode particularly because there is a female character in the form of Sam who doesn’t fall into the soft-spoken, googly-eyed, fool-for-you girlfriend trope. I would have personally preferred to see more dynamics in the leads as after a while, it seemed all the characters felt the same.
It’s a hit because it’s an important episode. Rarely do we get a raw and violently up-front portrayal of rape. While it completely undermines the success of the Perfect One app, it reminds us of the dangers that come with online dating apps – how can we trust who we meet?
Director: Leroy Lim
Cast: Kishan J, Regina Tan, Caryn Cheng, Cassandra Spykerman, Tao Huang
Runtime: 20 minutes
The most prominent character that stuck to mind would be Jacob in Livestream. Kishan J’s performance of a guy who hides his sensitivity behind an aloof, humorous facade Livestream is commendable and made the relationship dynamics here more interesting. I think anyone who avoids their emotions and puts up a facade to hide how they truly feel would be able to relate to his character.
Jacob is an online streamer, using games and fun to entertain his thousands of viewers of Perfect Live. The app comes into play as a challenge that Jacob takes on to prove to his viewers that it does not work.
The plot is sometimes thin but what stood out for me from this episode is the artistic direction. Livestream is a breath of fresh air from the serious tone of most episodes – it is lighthearted, colourful and funny. The bright colour palette, the fun props, the entire playhouse set-up all played the part to build up Jacob’s character.
It’s an episode that takes itself seriously, while masterfully making light of the modern dating subject without over-trivialising it. We see Jacob and his Perfect One match (Regina Tan) having fun when the live stream is on, but behind the scenes, there’s a seriousness underneath it all.
Director: Sabrina Poon
Cast: Subramaniam Narainda, Elizabeth Morse
Runtime: 15 minutes
The three episodes mentioned so far, Vows, Who’s To Blame and Livestream show the ups and downs of using a match-making app to find an ideal partner. The final episode I would add to this list complicates Nicholas’s question further – Would you believe in the app and would you sign up for it?
Harpal follows the titular character who works for Perfect One with an undying belief in the success of the app. He rejects his mother’s idea of an arranged marriage but on the same day, he chances upon a girl in real life and begins to question the app’s success.
Through Harpal, we get to see how the app works and I found the visual effects in this episode to be particularly impressive. The designs of the Perfect Cloud interface also ties in with the rest of the Perfect World in this anthology – Perfect Taxi, Perfect Developer, and so on.
I also enjoyed Elizabeth Morse’s performance of Sonia – seemingly the true Perfect One but not without falling into a clichè love-story-character. Nonetheless, her stand against an online matchmaking service is unshakeable and merits this as a hit episode – why do we buy into this, when there are other ways of meeting the Perfect One without having to give up our privacy, our financial status, etcetera?
This episode moves us to think of dating in the modern world for what it truly is. Using an online app is convenient, time-saving and you literally carry the possibility of finding your ideal match around in your pocket – but Sonia reminds us (and Harpal) that it comes at a cost. Most importantly, it takes away the magic of meeting someone through real-life experiences.
Maybe I indulge too much in conspiracies but I have this theory that Sonia isn’t real – he’s always alone with her, they never touch or brush against each other. She does exist in the Perfect Cloud but is that enough to give her a real life identity? Maybe I’m reading too much into things but it made me think, how much of us online is the real image of us anyway? How can we hope to find The Perfect One using this curated version of us online?
Overall, the anthology starts off strongly with the first few episodes presenting an interesting selection of styles and direction in terms of screenplay. The stories are angled to show different kinds of consequences potentially sparked by match-making apps without too much focus on the Perfect One app itself.
Plus, the array of genres in the anthology gives something for everyone to enjoy – thrill-seekers, comic-lovers and sappy-romance-addicts. Most importantly, as Isaac and Nicholas had intended, at the end of the day, Perfect One does visualise what it means to live, love and date in the modern world.
The full anthology of 10 episodes is available for bingeing here!