China drama Tiger Mom marks Vicki Zhao Wei's return to the small screen since 2009's period drama A Lady's Epic.
She plays a driven career- minded woman, Bi Shengnan, who wonders in the first episode whether she has spent too little time raising her daughter, who is spoilt by her grandparents.
It is a concern that Zhao, 39, has in real life. She says: "Too much of my time is spent on work and I've neglected the education of my child.
"I'm very worried that I'll be like the Tiger Mom in episode one who thinks, 'This is what my child has become?'"
The actress was speaking to the media at a recent press conference at Resorts World Sentosa for the 45-episode series, which is about the challenges of raising a child in modern-day China. It is showing on Star Chinese Channel (StarHub TV Channel 822 and Singtel TV Channel 507).
Thankfully, she has not witnessed any extreme brattiness from her five-year-old daughter, she adds. Zhao is married to China businessman Huang Youlong.
While she treats her on-screen daughter in a fierce manner - even shoving her into the swimming pool in one scene - Zhao cannot bear to do the same with her own daughter, who was born in 2010 in Singapore.
She is a mollycoddling parent though. "Of course, I've hit her before. When she threw a tantrum and raised a ruckus, I've slapped her to stop her. That was just once or twice though."
She does not see herself as a tiger mum or a tiger wife.
"I tend to respect my other half more. Because I'm busy with work and am less involved at home, I don't get that big a say."
And she appears to be fine with that.
It would seem that Zhao's spirited personality is more of an onscreen persona. She rocketed to fame in the role of spunky Little Swallow in the period drama My Fair Princess (1998-1999), but comes across as soft-spoken in conversation and demure in a cream dress.
Tiger Mom has set tongues wagging in China over the intimate scenes between her and her on-screen husband, Tong Dawei. In the first episode, the two are shown making out in a car, though it is a set-up with a comic pay-off rather than a scene meant to titillate.
"We actually filmed more intimate scenes, but they were cut by the television station," she says casually, adding that her husband did not have any problems with them.
The series has also been generating much chatter for exploring an issue many can relate to.
Zhao has been busy with movies the last few years, but was drawn to the script for Tiger Mom. "It's closely linked to society and is about the people and things happening around us."
As she and her husband are permanent residents here, she knows that education is a hot-button topic for Singaporean parents. It is the same in China, she says.
For this reason, she picked to act in Tiger Mom over, say, a period or action drama.
"I've lived here a long time and all Singaporean parents have scary expectations of their children's education. It's the same in China, it's a topic that everyone is concerned about."
Tiger Mom has been doing well in China, with some episodes coming in at No. 1 in the ratings for their timeslot.
It is yet another feather in the cap for Zhao, who recently won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actress in the child abduction drama Dearest (2014). Her directorial debut drama So Young (2013) was also both a box-office and critical hit.
Having worked on four movies and TV shows in the last two years, she plans to take a break from filming in the next year or two and devote more attention to her family.
Spurred by Tiger Mom's worst-case scenario of the child turning into a spoilt brat, she says: "My dream at this point is to spend more time with my daughter. I want to have that balance between work and family."
Tiger Mom airs on Star Chinese Channel (Singtel TV Channel 507 and StarHub TV Channel 822) from Monday to Friday at 9pm.
This article was first published on May 14, 2015.
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