Love on the rocks

The Journey: A Voyage, starring Li Nanxing (left).

SINGAPORE-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. A Good Wife is a sharp-eyed yet soft-hearted Taiwan infidelity drama.

A spiritual sister of The Fierce Wife, the 2010 drama where a man with an early midlife crisis leaves his wife for her nubile cousin, A Good Wife is about an unhappy housewife (Tien Hsin) who is contemplating running away from her husband (Christopher Lee).

On the eve of their seventh wedding anniversary, she is pregnant again after a miscarriage five years ago, when she goes to an indie bookshop owned by a slacker (Darren) and a copy of Anna Karenina falls from a bookshelf, in a too-loud hint of the extra-marital escapade that is to come.

She still thinks her husband is perfect. He is sweet for a Type A guy, making time in his hectic architect's schedule to make her breakfast on the morning of the anniversary.

But he is also the one who expects her to turn up for his parents' party marking her first trimester, even after she has another miscarriage.

Apparently, it is easier to subject his wife to an unwanted celebration than to break the bad news to his parents.

A Good Wife is far less judgmental than The Fierce Wife, however, and makes neither Lee, Tien Hsin nor Darren the baddie of the piece.

Rather, it shows how lonely the couple feel in their marriage.

He is able to grieve for their lost babies only in his office, not in front of her, and it gives her no choice but to mourn for them on her own too.

They talk so little that instead, she fills a diary with letters to him. He does read it seriously, however, when he believes she is having an affair.

Marriage is often called the grave of love.

But if love does die, then the drama must be an autopsy report most tender.


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