Hits and misses of The Journey: Tumultuous Times

How did year-end blockbuster series The Journey: Tumultuous Times fared on our books?

How did year-end blockbuster series The Journey: Tumultuous Times fared on our books?
How did year-end blockbuster series The Journey: Tumultuous Times fared on our books?
11 Mar 2015

How did year-end blockbuster series The Journey: Tumultuous Times fared on our books?

As a continuation from where the show left off in the first series last year, The Journey: Tumultuous Times certainly lives up to its name - this show marked a tensed chapter in Singapore’s history and we saw characters from A Voyage and their descendants grow up and live through a turbulent period in Singapore during the 40s to 60s, which was presided by war and unrest (during Singapore’s days of pre-independence). And with the dawn of a new era came a brand new set of characters, complications and problems.

Read on to find out what worked and what didn’t in this “tumultuous” series.


The finale episode of The Journey: Tumultuous Times airs tonight, Channel 8 at 9pm. Catch past episodes of The Journey: Tumultuous Times on xinmsn and toggle.

Hit: Impactful opening and ending theme songs
Hit: Impactful opening and ending theme songs
11 Mar 2015

Hit: Impactful opening and ending theme songs


The two key songs – the opening song of episode 1 to 24 by Joi Chua and Kelvin Tan and opening song of episode 25 to 30 by Jim Lim and The Freshman were emotional and on-point and more often than not – heightened the impact of certain scenes with its stirring melody. PS: We appreciated the fact that there were two opening sequences done for this drama, each indicated the start of a new chapter for the characters and a different phase in the drama’s timeline.

Miss: Superfluous use of Chinese idioms in the script
Miss: Superfluous use of Chinese idioms in the script
11 Mar 2015

Miss: Superfluous use of Chinese idioms in the script


Honest question: Do people from the 40s to 60s tend to punctuate their sentences with idioms in their everyday speech? Or are these characters too poetic for us to handle?

The second generation of kids in Tumultuous Times are educated, unlike their parents, but – we think – going to school per se doesn’t necessitate for the superfluous use of Chinese idioms in the drama’s script. Watching the drama’s like signing up for a crash course on Chinese idioms - not bad a deal if you’re a schooling kid aged 6 to 16 years old. However, as adults, the unnatural placement of such phrases, especially when used in the wrong context too, grates on our nerves (and ears) and reminds us of our time in school where we’d loosely use idioms and proverbs in Chinese essays as a last-ditch attempt to score brownie points with our teachers. 

Unfortunately, just as how our generous use of idioms failed to impress our teachers, the same logic applies to the characters too. They end up coming across like wannabe scholars reciting verses from the book of 300 Tang Poems when all they’re really doing is to wax lyrical about politics, the country’s state of affairs and life in general, basically. 

In short: we get it – they’re educated! Now, can we have the characters in the final sequel speak in more layman terms instead?

Hit: Shaun Chen and Jeanette Aw as Hu Jia and Hong Ming Hui
Hit: Shaun Chen and Jeanette Aw as Hu Jia and Hong Ming Hui
11 Mar 2015

Hit: Shaun Chen and Jeanette Aw as Hu Jia and Hong Ming Hui


As individuals, both Shaun and Jeanette performed up to expectations for their roles in Tumultuous Times; when put together, their onscreen pairing made for one of the most enjoyable story arcs and relationships to watch in this drama. Maybe it’s the magic of Holland V working its way into our hearts again, or maybe all we needed was a respite from the heavy-handed political talk and strife that the other characters were constantly engaged in, which was We found joy in the duo’s light-hearted onscreen time together – even if all they do is engage in petty squabbles, childish name-calling and cute pouts. 

Before they hit it off as Hu Jia (Shaun) and Ming Hui (Jeanette) in Tumultuous Times, let’s not forget that these two actors were once the most talked about onscreen pairing on local TV in 2003’s Holland V as Xiao Xin (Shaun) and Mo Jingjing (Jeanette). No wonder watching them on screen as childhood playmates all grown up in a love-hate relationship with each other felt like déjà vu all over again. 

Hit: Child actors of Hu Jia: Damien Teo and Zong Zijie
Hit: Child actors of Hu Jia: Damien Teo and Zong Zijie
11 Mar 2015

Hit: Child actors of Hu Jia: Damien Teo and Zong Zijie

These two kids may only appear for a grand total of 5 episodes (and as recurring flashbacks) in the show, but they played a big part in contributing to the character-building of a grown-up Zhang Jia (Shaun). Their petulant streaks and impish behaviour as the younger version of Zhang Jia lived on in Shaun’s interpretation of his adult character too, and this form of “conty” (continuation) is rarely seen between child/teenage actors and their adult counterparts in local shows.

Sometimes we forget but child actors are the ones that lay the foundations of their characters; they are not there to just play “someone young”. In this case, the casting of Damien and Zijie, who are both signed on to Dasmond Koh’s Noon Talk media as artistes, strongly boosted Shaun’s performance in Tumultuous Times too. 

Miss: Romeo Tan as Zhang Yan
Miss: Romeo Tan as Zhang Yan
11 Mar 2015

Miss: Romeo Tan as Zhang Yan


Now, after Chen Hanwei’s big-ass baddie character died mid-way in the series, the heavy responsibility of keeping viewers entertained, through the act of serving copious amounts of menacing crimes and misdemeanors, in the remaining 15 episodes, fell on Romeo’s shoulders. 

As Zhang Yan, an overseas lawyer graduate-turn-unscrupulous politician, the actor had very, very big shoes to fill – and, regrettably, fell short in delivering an impactful performance in Tumultuous Times. Maybe he was too fixated on pronouncing his words and lines accurately that it ended up with a lyrical slant and which made his acting delivery as a villain both peculiar and unnatural. We’ve read reports about how he went to the extent of hiring a linguistic coach to work on his enunciation and can’t help but think this investment paid off poorly. 

That said, we still hope to see an even stronger showing from him in Our Homeland – the fact that 1) it is set in 70s era and 2) he plays a less complex character should do him (and the rest of the actors) some good.

Hit and Miss: Felicia Chin or Zhang Min's goldfish eyes
Hit and Miss: Felicia Chin or Zhang Min's goldfish eyes
11 Mar 2015

Hit and Miss: Felicia Chin or Zhang Min's goldfish eyes


On that note, we are not fans of Zhang Min’s (Felicia) constant deer-caught-in-headlights expression either and can’t help but relate it to Eelyn Kok’s wide-eyed look as a cray-cray murderous songstress on A Song to Remember. A little overdone and unnecessary, was this a deliberate attempt on Felicia’s part for it to be seen as a character trait (see: “Crazy Eyes” in Orange Is The New Black) or is this simply an expression to display Zhang Min’s childlike innocence? We can’t decide. That expression, however, became more acceptable towards the end of the show when (SPOILER ALERT) her character has a mental and emotional breakdown after a one-time incestuous rape incident by her non-blood related cousin, Zhang Yan. 

Hit: Carrie Wong as Tang Shui Mei
Hit: Carrie Wong as Tang Shui Mei
11 Mar 2015

Hit: Carrie Wong as Tang Shui Mei


Carrie clearly has an acting spark in her. Despite being the newb on set and acting against veterans like Hanwei, Jeanette and Shaun, she shone on her own terms as a plucky and feisty sweet soup seller, Tang Shui Mei, who is foul-mouthed and brash in her mannerisms but loyal to the bone.

As one of the most outstanding characters, she also had one of the most tragic deaths on the show. While that was a fact made known to us even before filming began, we were still – not gonna lie – pretty impressed with how that scene was orchestrated. And when the OST kicked in to drive our emotions to a high, our goosebumps tingled and then it dawned on us: this is the end of Tang Shui Mei, we won’t be seeing more of her in the final installment. Sad.

Hit: Chen Hanwei appeals as Hu Weiren
Hit: Chen Hanwei appeals as Hu Weiren
11 Mar 2015

Hit: Chen Hanwei appeals as Hu Weiren


Is there anything this man cannot do? Apparently not. 

Even when he just plays a supporting character, whose main scenes and acts of villainy takes place in the first 8 episodes, Hanwei’s attention to details and dedication in crafting out a loony Weiren is to be commended. And we’re not just talking about his “method acting” here. He injects presence into scenes with other characters where he plays a mere “flower vase” without you even realising it, but he does it with so much nuance it doesn’t encroach into his co-stars' spotlight. That’s what you get from an actor fully invested in his role. And you know he has done something right when at first you hate the guts out of his detestable character, but have nothing but growing sympathy for him towards the end. 

Miss: All hell breaks loose towards finale (SPOILER ALERT)
Miss: All hell breaks loose towards finale (SPOILER ALERT)
11 Mar 2015

Miss: All hell breaks loose towards finale (SPOILER ALERT)


As expected, the good guys got the happy endings they deserve and the baddies got their just desserts. The show went out with a bang – quite literally, resorting to all sorts of clichés imaginable in its final few episodes: rape, stabbing, gun wounds, slashing, deaths and a big fire (of Bukit Ho Swee) to cap it off. As compared to its earlier episodes, the last three episodes was clearly where the action was at and we almost had heart palpitations watching these events unfold. The show progressed at three times its original pace, in an attempt to quickly wrap up all loose story threads nicely and neatly. Well, it achieved what it had set out to do, but not without leaving us feeling a little bewildered at the sudden tsunami of events our unfortunate leads were dealt with. 

Hit: Tighter storyline
Hit: Tighter storyline
11 Mar 2015

Hit: Tighter storyline


This may sound like we’re comparing apples and pears, but between A Voyage and Tumultuous Times, the latter had a much stronger storyline than its predecessor, in large part due to the drama’s location setting and the historical events e.g. the Japanese occupation that happened during that era. We were taken back to pages of our history textbooks documenting times of early unrest and riots, the characters were better developed and more relatable, and the overall story landscape felt less despairing in general.

The 40s to 60s marked an exciting time of change in Singapore and that clearly worked in favour of Tumultuous Times. With this does it mean we can expect Our Homeland, which is set in the 70s and marked the start of Singapore’s modernisation, to be an even better production? 

We’re crossing fingers (and toes).


The Journey: Our Homeland debuts July 2015 on Channel 8 at 9pm.

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