3 women with the same name Li Jiao, residing in Singapore but with very different family & cultural background. The three Li Jiao cross path, initially not on good terms but over time became life-long friends upon getting to know each other better.
Three Different Li Jiaos
Li Jiao no. 1 is born & bred in Singapore, an ambitious lawyer but cold & aloof when dealing with her personal life & career cases. Her life seems to be perfect – successful legal career, a long-term relationship which is moving to the next stage of marriage, loving father who is accommodative to her every whim. Until she is diagnosed with 3rd stage lung cancer. Subsequently, it is as if her life practically falls apart as she loses her job due to a whistle-blowing incident, which also affected her fiancé leading to their fall-out & subsequent breakup. These incidents (and her subsequent exposure to different views of the other 2 Li Jiaos) made her reflect upon her previous life & principles, providing a totally different perspectives on life.
Muse #1 : In a way, Li Jiao’s upbringing is considered well-to-do, exposing her to the best of the education & providing her with bountiful of opportunities to chase the kind of life she wants. Perhaps it is also such entitlement that blinds her especially in relation to empathy to others’ feelings. Her ex- fiancé is spot-on when he accuses her of being selfish for only thinking of herself when she chooses her actions (does not absolve him of his own self-centredness).
Li Jiao no. 2 (also known as Ah Bang) is a migrant from neighbouring country Malaysia, working very hard as the eldest daughter to support her family back home. She is kind-hearted but determined to make a change in her life station through hard work. Often, her same kind-heartedness results in others stepping all over her while she faces challenges over and over again to chase after her dreams of improving her lifestyle. Until she meets the love of her life – Zheyi, a seemingly perfect scholarly gentleman whom she meets at the hotel she works. As she thinks life is finally being fair to her & she is one step nearer to her dream life, she is faced with the reality that Zheyi is a married man (albeit unhappily) and she is pregnant with their child.
Muse #2 : It is interesting how the love of books brought Ah Bang together with Zheyi. The love background story is actually romantic (although not very likely). However, the notion that women will delude themselves in any relationship is probably more realistic – very much reflected upon the actions and reactions of Ah Bang and Winnie (Zheyi’s wife). There are red flags everywhere for both women, but both decides to trust Zheyi and intentionally brushes these “women’s instinct”.
Muse #3 : I get the feeling that the production is shifting its focus to ensure the plot discourages giving up on marriages. Although not surprising, I also felt that it is not really a realistic portrayal of situations in real life. The subsequent focus on the “guilt” of going back on the marriage promises of going through thick and thin comes across a thinly veiled dogma that you should not leave any relationship regardless of the changes in situation.
Li Jiao no. 3 is a lively & straightforward character, also a migrant worker from Hangzhou, China who is scrapping through to pay for her brother’s debts (and escaping from a loveless marriage in her hometown). Often over-the-top with her reactions & a little impulsive, she is branded as a trouble-maker although she has other’s well-being at heart. Her struggle in balancing the expectations from her family and her own strong urges for an independent lifestyle clash, often resulting in frustration.
Muse #4 : Li Jiao’s initial struggle to fit into the often competitive city life & language barrier is very real. Even though the common language used is Mandarin in the city (and of course English too), accents are quite prominent to point towards a local vs a migrant. As in any cosmopolitan city, there are bound to be defensive reactions towards dissimilar & diversity in culture & background.
The Journey Through Life for the Li Jiaos
As the lives of the 3 Li Jiaos cross, they get to know each other better. Throughout these, the women actually bring out the best in each other – often providing moral support ie crying and laughing together.
The rationality & no-nonsense factual input from Li Jiao #1 provides the grounding effects to the women. The politically correct & smoothening words of Ah Bang provides the soft-landing for the women to face the facts. The burst of energy from Li Jiao #3 provides the strength to get through their challenges.
Muse #5 : It is lovely to see women providing support to one another (instead of the over-the-top makjang series pitting the women against each other).
Muse #6 : Each of the Li Jiao will also reflect their own thoughts throughout the series, reflecting their own thoughts & key-takeaways from life’s incidents and challenges. Very nicely crafted to put some perspectives in the series.
The journeys bring the women to face their own fear. Li Jiao #1 on facing her childhood loss of her mother, and the subsequent salvaging of her relationship with her father. The series did put a lot of emphasis on ballroom dancing, and I cringed slightly with the portrayal thereof. Ah Bang on her ideal of setting up a family with a loved one, and when such situation pits against her own principles. The guilt of being a mistress (albeit now knowingly) and the notion of hurting another person by her decision to fight to set up her own family. Li Jiao #3 on accepting a marriage of convenience (mostly for money) and her pursuit of real love.
Muse #7 : Actually I thought that Li Jiao is quite an irrational person, as her choice of rejecting a suitor who is totally besotted with her and willing to share his wealth is probably not something the majority will choose. It is her dogged determination to chase for true love that is worthy of deep thoughts.
A total of 21 episodes, the Mediacorp production is not exactly fast-moving but is meant to linger with emotions to pull the audience in. I love the fact that actresses from different countries are brought in to play the different roles – Carrie Wong is a Singaporean taking in the role of Li Jiao #1, Jojo Goh is from Malaysia although established a long career in Singapore takes on the role of Ah Bang/ Li Jiao #2 while Jin Meng Yang Zi is a Chinese actress playing the role of Li Jiao #3.
I also like the camaderie portrayed by the women, their different cultural background but tied in with their life principles & will to survive in the fast-paced city life. More importantly, all 3 of them are very much kind-hearted who is not bogged down with pettiness. Life is unfair and will throw all kinds of brick bats to the women, and the aces their challenges as best as they can.
On the romance areas, I felt that the series fall flat and lacks realism in the portrayal of the relationships. The original pairing of Ah Bang and Zheyi is a natural plot of the series, quite reflective of the characters and natural attraction to each other. On Li Jiao #1’s love progression with ballroom dancing instructor – it is extremely weird and unnatural. While on Li Jiao #3’s falling in love with single father cum chef, it does look more of a single-sided feelings.
Worthy of a watch if you like strong female-lead characterisation and focus on life/ family drama. Ignore the romance and you will be fine. 😀