Thursday February 9, 2012
Stories by SETO KIT YAN
All hell breaks loose when two sisters clash over one man in The Descendant.
IF you are partial to family dramas that result in tragedies that span over generations ala TV drama series The Iron Lady or Age Of Glory, then Ntv7’s latest Mandarin series The Descendant was made for you.
The Descendant is also known in Mandarin as Xiang Huo (literally the burning of incense) which denotes descendant or heir.
The 30-episode series spans five decades and is told in three phases following the story of three generations of incense makers.
The first 10 episodes begin with a love triangle where two sisters turn against each other over their love for the same man. And when that is done with, the following episodes show them clashing again over the male heir of the family’s incense-making business. The last phase shows how the intended descendant becomes a “little towkay” at age 18.
Since joss-sticks are used as offerings and incense is employed to communicate with deities, it goes without saying that incense-making is deemed a noble profession, hence incense-makers are expected to lead a benevolent way of life.
Yet in The Descendant, Yeo Yann Yann (Golden Awards Best Actress 2010) and Debbie Goh (Golden Awards Most Popular Actress 2010) portray sisters who end up destroying themselves and their own family due to their love for the same man played by Steve Yap.
Their co-stars include Frederick Lee, Leslie Chai, Brenda Chiah, Kyo Chen, Ernest Chong and Phua Chee Kin.
The story goes that after the merging of two incense-making family businesses – Shen Siang Tang and Chang Chu Siang Zhuang – the Chen patriarch passes away. His son Chen Yu Lin (Yap), is called home from his village teaching job to inherit the family business. Part of the deal includes marrying Shen Dan Fang (Yeo) and letting their first-born son take the Shen surname to ensure the continuity of the Shen bloodline. On the wedding day, Yu Lin, discovers to his surprise, that his wife’s younger sister Yu Hua (Goh) is his lover from the village where he was teaching.
Star2 met up with the main stars in an interview after the press conference last Thursday.
Yap’s character is gifted with an ability that gives him an advantage over his incense-making counterparts.
“My nose can detect scents to such an extent that I can tell the composition of ingredients from just a whiff of the incense. This ability comes in handy when my character has to make the huge dragon incense so that the Shen family can participate in a special competition for incense-makers.”
To prepare for his role, Yap took a crash course in incense-making from a sifu in Serdang, Selangor. “There’s so much to learn, that the few hours I spent there really wasn’t enough.
“Incense-making takes time and patience. Special incense like the gigantic dragon incense takes up to six months to make, as there are so many layers and you have to ensure that each layer is dry before going on to the next,” explained Yap, 40.
In real life, the lanky actor would prefer another supernatural ability as he feels an extra sensitive nose is just bad news when bad smells are involved.
“If you’ve seen Heroes then you’ll know of this character who can mimic others. Similarly, I’d like to have a special power that enables me to perfectly replicate other people’s characters for my roles.” Sounds like a dream-come-true super power for an actor!
Last seen in Malay movie Ombak Rindu, Yap is in the midst of shooting another Ntv7 Mandarin series about relationships issues ala Sex In The City and says he is looking forward to producing a Chinese movie with film director Yeo Joon Han, the director of English musical comedy Sell-Out!.
Playing the two sisters, Yeo, 35, and Goh, 32, were also seen in Happy Family, the Ntv7 lunar new year telemovie which aired on the first day of Chinese New Year two weeks ago.
Having to shoot the light-hearted comedy at the same time as the gut-wrenching family drama was admittedly quite taxing even for Yeo.
“It was a very challenging time. I couldn’t focus and had to keep reminding myself that I was filming a comedy. I usually prefer to take time to get into a role.”
Trapped in a love-hate relationship, Yeo described the sisters as two tragic souls who loved and hated each other in turn while Goh said their intense emotions eventually turned them into enemies.
Talking animatedly, the ladies playfully accused each other with “It started when you stole my husband” and “No, you stole my boyfriend first” before both lamenting that it was a very emotional project for them.
Even their costumes in the series were a huge contrast as the sisters were separated since young, with the younger being sent away to live in the kampung as she was believed to be a jinx.
“If I had countless changes of beautiful dresses in Age Of Glory, then here in The Descendant, I only have kampung clothes, poor girls’ clothes, and four sets of auntie clothing. And, I’ve also got all the auntie shoes. Plus, almost no make-up at all,” Goh lamented.
Yeo, on the other hand, had cause to celebrate. “I had all the pretty qipao and nice accessories.”
A very busy Goh had to take the next plane back to Mongolia to continue filming for her role as the Mongol Empire female regent Oghul Qaimish in mainland Chinese TV series The Legend Of Yuan Empire Founder which tells of the life story of Kublai Khan, the fifth Great Khan of the Mongol Empire and the founder of China’s Yuan dynasty.
After starring in James Lee-helmed horror thriller Claypot Curry Killers (2011) as an abused daughter-turned-cold-blooded killer who serves fresh human meat in her mother’s bustling claypot curry business, Goh is looking forward to meatier roles in local productions.
On the other hand, Yeo is taking a brief respite from acting to get over her very draining role in The Descendant. “I need to take a rest and do something less emotional or take on a comedy instead.”
The Descendant airs on Ntv7 Monday to Thursday, at 10pm starting today.