Korea’s latest game show Siren: Survive the Island is totally bananas

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Siren: Survive the Island ★★★½

Should we just put South Korea in charge of the entire reality genre? The country’s vibrant television industry may be best known for a nightmarish fictional reality competition in the form of Squid Game, but their genuine reality series also have an estimable bite and welcome point of difference. The latest success is this elaborate, wildly physical version of capture the flag, where the contestants are warrior women all about positive affirmation, tactical attacks, and hand-to-hand combat. It’s somehow both inspiring and totally bananas.

Six teams of warrior women battle it out in Siren: Survive the Island.Credit: Netflix

It starts with six teams of four women each: Soldiers, Police, Firefighters, Bodyguards, Athletes and Stunt Actors. On a wooded island a few kilometres wide they fortify their respective bases and compete to capture the flags of other teams kept there. During these battles the players carry their own flag strapped to their back – snatch it and your opponent is out of that day’s clash. To enhance the gameplay, teams can win an advantage by competing in arduous arena challenges.

In practical terms, it’s a game of strategy and sacrifice, punctuated by night-time raids or fogbound clashes. The rules forbid striking, but nonetheless the action – expertly marshalled via drone, Steadicam crews, and body cams – is wild. By the second day windows are being smashed, grappling holds exchanged, and ambushes executed. The women are skilled, and their professionalism at the pointy end of the game is charming. “Little help here,” one competitor requests of a teammate, as she holds down an opponent in a leglock.

The format is fresh, with the series eschewing a host in favour of an omnipotent voice and a tendency to end episodes on a cliff-hanger, not an elimination. South Korean reality shows have a measured pace, taking time to establish the participants; the Soldiers are hard nuts, the Stunt Actors underdogs. The players are confident in their abilities but shorn of bravado and personal enmity. They work together and celebrate each other’s strength – “I’m an excavator!” declares a Soldier to cheering approval as she literally digs deep in a challenge.

A few episodes in the subtitles feel natural and personal favourites come into focus, such as quirky Firefighter Jung Min-seon or Soldier Kang Eun-mi, who is an absolute unit. The male version of this show would be unbearably militaristic, but here the gender gap supplies humility and pride. Skilled in their fields, the women subtly acknowledge that they’ve had to overcome “doubts” – a diplomatic phrasing of misogyny – but on this island they don’t just survive, they flourish.

Abigail Lawrie in No Escape.Credit: Nut Jirathit

No Escape ★★★
Paramount+, Sunday

This seaborne British thriller is capable throughout, but it is so tightly focused on the machinations of its plot and an aesthetic of tropical menace that it sometimes lacks self-examination. In telling the story of two young women who get caught up with a vintage yacht’s ragtag crew, No Escape offers multiple layers of duplicity. If only it could have focused more on the lies these characters tell themselves.

From the dead calm of the opening, where Australian police find the yacht deserted off Far North Queensland, the limited series makes a worrying outcome clear. Best friends Lana (Abigail Lawrie) and Kitty (Rhianne Barreto), fleeing Britain with someone else’s credit card, finagle their way on board in the Philippines, but six weeks later Lana is by herself in Townsville when the police come to inquire about the missing crew.

With its off-the-grid philosophy and young cast, including Australian stars such as Sean Keenan, the narrative mixes an idyllic surface and risky depths. Events start to spin out of control, whether through greed or desire, but there are layers to Lawrie’s complex performance that are only hinted it. Lana is a troubled, remote protagonist, protective of Kitty but without her social skills. Every scene that holds on Lana alone finds a fascinating pulse.

Alan Partridge – Stratagem
Amazon Prime

Steve Coogan’s haughty, hapless broadcaster Alan Partridge is one of the definitive comic characters in the history of television. For three decades his exquisitely timed mishaps have made for hilarious viewing. Taking the beloved character on a British arena tour allowed for adulation and easy laughs, but as this concert film makes clear, it also flattened out the precision that makes Partridge hum. It’s a victory lap of sorts for Coogan, who remains a vital creative voice with his various endeavours, but not the ideal showcase for his alter-ego.

The Plains

Acclaimed on the international film festival circuit and now available locally via Mubi, the global arthouse cinema streaming platform, this three-hour experimental feature is starkly composed but mostly free of a plot. With a camera fixed in the back seat, it tracks the Melbourne commutes of Andrew (Andrew Rakowski), who listens to the radio, makes calls, and sometimes shares a ride and conversation with his colleague, David (writer-director David Easteal). It’s structurally audacious – deliberately removing the extraneous so that you closely examine what remains: voices, beliefs, and the clogged arterials of peak hour.

John Early in Now More Than Ever.Credit:

John Early: Now More Than Ever

In shows such as Search Party and The Afterparty, American comedian John Early deftly carved out a screen persona as a sardonic, self-obsessed onlooker, chipping away at reasonable assumptions. This stand-up special, which also makes use – and misuse – of a backing band, puts him centre-stage, allowing Early to riff on Millennial mores, dissect the limitations he sees in his own gay community, and subtly highlight shortcomings that others see as virtues. It’s involved, detailed stand-up, a genuine performance. And Early makes it look easy.

Miss Benny (right) as Marco Mejia in Glamorous.Credit: Netflix


A blithe comedy with an anthropological dissection of every gay subculture and an ambitious delight in personal success – imagine a queer Emily in Paris – this American series stars YouTuber Miss Benny as Marco Mejia, a young, gender non-conforming make-up artist with brand aspirations who gets their big break when hired as the second assistant to model-turned-mogul Madolyn Addison (Kim Cattrall). As a romcom a la The Devil Wears Prada it falls flat, but as a workplace sitcom there is a decent comic patter. The biggest problem? Under-using Sex and the City exile Cattrall.

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