Love on the rocks

Love on the rocks
Television still: The Journey: A Voyage starring Li Nanxing (left) and Chris Tong.

The Journey: A Voyage is a reboot of The Awakening on a grand scale, opening with a National Day parade at Marina Bay and digitally wiping out the riverside skyline to bring back colonial Singapore.

Vast vistas of pastoral China and rugged Malaysia follow as early immigrants take a rambling trip from their hometown Yongding to tin-mining town Ipoh via Singapore.

One of the men, Shi (Desmond Tan), is travelling with his wife, Yazi (Jeanette Aw), and the two are innocents like Ashui and Amei (Huang Wenyong and Xiang Yun) in the 1984 landmark drama The Awakening.

They are good people to whom bad things happen but they don't have the first flush of freshness which made Ashui and Amei such affecting and enduring characters.

It takes another man to jolt The Journey to life: Li Nanxing, who brings the outsize emotion the show needs in the larger-than-life role of Tianpeng, an audacious peddler in Yongding who is reputed to have survived a tiger attack.

For the prize of a ship fare to Singapore, he pulls off a one-man mission to rescue a landlord's daughter, Mingzhu (Chris Tong), from a gang of bandits.

But he falls for her and tries, but fails, to save her from marrying her fiance, Guangda, a degenerate tin businessman (Terence Cao) who has a wife back in Penang.

Afterwards, the trio find themselves on the same ship to Singapore as a dangerous love triangle takes shape: The usually glib Guangda stops joking and starts beating his bride when he suspects her of sneaking around with her saviour.

More dramatic storm clouds gather when Tianpeng heads to Ipoh with his friend Shi, hunts for boar in the woods around a miners' settlement and stumbles upon a tryst between a corrupt foreman (Pierre Png) and a sullen widow (Pei Xuan).

Yes, sex and violence are two buttons pushed often in the screenplay by Ang Eng Tee, who also wrote the 2008 drama The Little Nyonya.

But his touch is lighter in The Journey, and the story seems more considered.

The show gets to breathe a bit when it goes to Guangda's household for small helpings of wit-laced domestic drama.

There, Joanne Peh and Elvin Ng are his lovingly bickering niece and nephew and Carole Lin is their wise mother, who not just keeps the peace in the household but also helps her husband undo the damage done by his ancestors' exploitation of tin miners.

She is the brains, balancing out the brawn in the show and tidying away, as much as she can, the mess of lust and greed all around her.

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