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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
[Warning: spoilers alert]
Brave New World (1996), a Singapore-financed Chinese drama serial shot in Singapore, Amsterdam, Belgium and Hongkong/China, is about the trials and tribulations of two brothers and their wayward cousin as they struggle with the massive social and societal changes affecting 1980s Singapore society.
Hongkong veteran actor Alex Man, as Li Kailang "Ah Lang", is a cheerful and optimistic big brother to his younger brother Jiale (played by Christopher Lee) and his wayward and corrupted cousin Yuanfan (Xie Shaoguang). Yuanfan, a student in Holland, gets into trouble with an influential drug dealer, Gao Hongfei (Huang Yiliang) in Amsterdam. Ah Lang leaves his newly-wed bride Xiaoyun (Fann Wong) behind in Singapore to save the situation in Holland, but finds out he has been framed and he is drugged by mafia gangs in Holland, unable to escape.
However, the kind-hearted younger sister of the mafia boss, Gao Yating (Phyllis Quek), is appalled by her brother's ruthlessness. She tries to save Ah Lang by pretending to enter into a marriage with him. However, this is witnessed by Xiaoyun and Jiale, who are in Amsterdam to rescue him too. Saddened, Xiaoyun leaves, but not before being repeatedly threatened and house-arrested by the mafia gangs.
Ah Lang finally manages to return to Singapore after a year of torture, but he is a broken man, estranged from his family and Xiaoyun. Undeterred, he puts in hard work into a start-up food court and this slowly earns him the respect of family members, who one by one learn to dispel their grudges against him. Xiaoyun, on the other hand, has grown from her harrowing experience and starts working hard at her own career, progressing from a waitress to becoming a hotel manager. She also fosters warmer relations with Jiale, at this point in time a legal secretary.
His do-no-good cousin, Yuanfan, the cause of all the trouble in Holland, returns and with him, comes Gao Hongfei, the drug lord, who insist on creating trouble for Ah Lang in Singapore, including poisoning the race-horse that Ah Lang bought Gao Yating as a birthday present. At this point, Yating discovers she has an incurable disease and Ah Lang, who has always wanted to reconcile with Xiaoyun, brings Yating to Switzerland to seek a cure, which incurs more displeasure with his immediate family. Yuanfan discovers Gao Hongfei has bedded his wife, and kills him, but he in turn is killed by Gao Hongfei's father in Amsterdam.
Yating finally passes away in Amsterdam and Xiaoyun and Jiale turn up for her funeral. Between Ah Lang and Jiale, Xiaoyun has to make a conscious decision about the one she really loves.
The storyline may seem cheesy and melodramatic, but really, this serial is a well-crafted story that captures the intricacies of living in the 1980s, in Singapore's Bugis Street hawker stalls (long before they were demolished in Singapore's nationwide renovation campaign back then), as well as the sights and scenes of Amsterdam, Belgium and The Hague.
Alex Man puts in a most poignant and enduring performance as a tortured protagonist with a good heart, and this is complemented by Fann Wong's skilful performance as a shy, soft-spoken Malaccan girl in Singapore who eventually learns how to change and adapt with society, on top of having to deal with her personal affairs in a more resolute way. Worthy of note too are newcomers Christopher Lee, who successfully handles a good-turned-bad-turned-good character with convincing aplomb, and Phyllis Quek, in a challenging role that plumbed emotional highs and depths, though her crying scenes had room for improvement.
The scripting is cliched, but it's probably characteristic of the era back then. An interesting serial you might want to catch when it comes to your area.
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