Source: Mediacorp TV
Title: The Little Nyonya (小娘惹)
Production Year: 2008 (Mediacorp)
Length: 34 episodes
Cast(s): (I’m going to split them into generations).
* Xiang Yun – Tianlan
* Yan Bingliang – Huang Yuan
* Lin Meijiao – Guihua
* Li Yingzhu – Old Madam Chen
* Jeannette Aw – Huang Juxiang
* Pierre Png – Chen Sheng
* Dai Yangtian – Yamamoto Yousuke
* Ng Hui – Ah-Tao
* Apple Hong – Huang Meiyu
* Darren Lin – Huang Jincheng
* Pan Lingling – Xiufeng
* Cynthia Koh – Xiujuan
* Chen Xiang – Chen Gong
* Desmond Sim – Charlie Zhang
*Jeannette Aw – Yamamoto Yueniang
* Qi Yuwu – Chen Xi
* Zzen Chang – Robert Zhang
* Eelyn Kok – Huang Zhenzhu
* Joanne Peh – Huang Yuzhu
* Andie Chen – Huang Tianbao
* San Yao – Liu Yidao
* Zzen Chang – Zuye
* Nat Ho – Jonathan Li Xiuwen
* Felicia Chen – Anqi
The serial covered a very complex family’s relationship with the Peranakan culture as the backdrop. The whole story focused on the life of Huang Juxiang and her descendents. Born to a wealthy Peranakan family, Juxiang’s life was anything but smooth. Turn deaf and mute at the age of 8, she spent most of her youth in the family’s kitchen and served the entire family as a maid. On the eve of her arranged wedding, she ran away from home for she didn’t want fate to control her life (she was about to be married off to well-known cunning man, Charlie Zhang). Falling in love with a young Japanese man, she finally saw a ray of happiness. Unfortunately, that happiness was destined to be a short one. At the height of WWII in Singapore and her husband returned to Japan with no news.
After Juxiang’s death, the entire storyline move toward Yueniang, her daughter with Yousuke. Much like her mother, Yueniang too was subject to the life as a servant at the Huang’s. Her outgoing and brave characters attract the young heir of a wealthy Peranakan family, Chen Xi. Yueniang and Chen Xi’s relationship was the highlight point from episode 10 through the end of story. Traditions and family responsible brought the relationship anything but a smooth journey.
The complex storyline would probably best describe through the characters.
She is Juxiang’s mother and Yueniang’s maternal grandma. In her youth, Huang Yuan took a fancy of her and forced himself onto her. When Huang Yuan’s mother knew about it, she forced Huang Yuan to make Tianlan as his 2nd mistress. Old Madam Huang loved this daughter-in-law and Juxiang. Unfortunately, after Old Madam Huang passed on, Tianlan and Juxiang were treated as maids in the family.
Huang Yuan’s 1st wife is the woman who full with jealousy and selfishness. Her jealousy was even more obvious when dealing with Tianlan and Juxiang. She is also the one that insisted Meiyu married to Chen Sheng. She spoiled her only grandson rotten and suffered from stroke after she found out that Tianbao’s involvement in Chen Sheng’s death.
She is the daughter of Huang Yuan and Guihua. In her younger days, she was a kind peranakan lady who more than once tried to prevent her cousins from bullying Juxiang. However, her jealousy started when she realized that Juxiang excelled over her in almost anything especially cooking and embroider skills. She was especially hated Juxiang when Chen Sheng chose the latter over her. Although she eventually got married to Chen Sheng, she was leading the life of a living-widow.
The only son in the Huang family was a man with a weak character. He fancied her cousin, Xiujuan but afraid of trouble with family, he married her older sister, Xiufeng, instead. As he get older, his afraid-of-trouble attitude often prevent him to take care of his family business. Later in life, he was also got caught in an affair with Xiujuan, who was just returning from England.
The younger of the two, Xiujuan and Jincheng had mutual affection with each other. However, the family decided to marry her older sister, Xiufeng, to Jincheng instead. The firm believer of women’s freedom, she dislikes the complex peranakan’s traditions and rules. She ran away to England by herself, much to her parents’ dismay. She returns years later and started the affair with the married Jincheng.
She is Huang Jincheng’s wife. Under influence of her mother-in-law, Guihua, she was also treated Yueniang badly. Eager to marry off one of her daughter to Chen Xi, she and Meiyu tried their best to separate Chen Xi and Yueniang.
She is the youngest daughter of Huang Yuan. Born to the 2nd mistress, she has no standing in the family compare to her siblings. She spent her youth in the kitchen and treated as a servant. As a deaf and mute, she was often bullied by her half siblings and their cousins. Despite her disability, she is blessed with cooking and embroidery’s talents. Those were the must-have abilities in those day young Nyonya. Her beauty often attracted many wealthy peranakan Baba, very much to Guihua’s displeased.
Yamamoto Yousuke (Shan Ben Yang Jie)
He is a young Japanese photographer who gets intrigued with peranakan culture after he came across their dining china. He decided to travel to Malacca to know more about the culture. By chance, he got invitation to the Huang’s for “tok panjang”. He was attracted to Juxiang at the first sight. When he knew that lecherous Charlie Zhang had intention on Juxiang, he rescued her twice from Charlie and married her. A doting husband and father, he was forced into Japanese Army when he returned to Japan to visit his father. 8 years passed, he became an army deserter but fought his way back to Malacca to find his wife and daughter. It was unfortunately that both he and Juxiang died in the hand of Japanese Army when they invaded Singapore.
Ah-Tao (Tao Jie)
She is the most loyal servant to Tianlan, Juxiang, and later on Yueniang. Guihua crippled her when the former found out that Ah-Tao represent Tianlan to marry off Juxiang to Yousuke. When she was fired from Huang’s, she followed Yueniang and served her well into her 90s.
Old Madam Chen
The matriarch of Chen family is an old nyonya who hold a firm believe that a good daughter-in-law should excel in cooking and embroiders’ skills. In matriach’s Peranakan culture, she is the head of family and also the decision marker in the household. She decided who her grandsons and great-grandson should marry.
Chen Gong’s younger brother and Chen Xi’s uncle is the youngest grandson in his generation. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Chen Sheng lived his youth worry about nothing. Failed to be with the woman he truly loves – Juxiang – (because in his own word “too timid to fight”), Chen Sheng entered a marriage life that was deemed to be a failure from the very start. Under family pressure, he married Meiyu (Juxiang’s half-sister). After married, Chen Sheng ignored Meiyu and when he met Juxiang again, he took care of her and her daughter, Yueniang, when Yousuke was away in Japan. Doted on young Yueniang he regarded her as his own child. When WWII hit Singapore, Chen Sheng – under Yousuke’s pleas – took mother and daughter on board the ship for England. Chen Sheng’s displeased toward Meiyu escalated to hate when he knew that Meiyu and Guihua threw Juxiang and Yueniang overboard. Years later, when they returned from England, Chen Sheng’s spent his days away with drinking and singing Malay pantun. Although he reunited with Yueniang later in his life, Chen Sheng was still full of regret over Juxiang’s fate. His happy-go-lucky attitude was actually a mask for his lonely life as he spent the rest of his life in regret. Chen Sheng’s love toward Juxiang stayed true until his last breath.
She is a very spoiled and pampered daughter of Jincheng and Xiufeng. She stayed quiet when her own sister, Yuzhu, was raped by Robert Zhang in front of her. In that way, she would have married to Chen Xi instead. Zhenzhu is also a hypocrite girl who can behave like two different individuals in a matter of second. When she was eventually able to marry to Chen Xi, her fate in Chen’s was very much like her paternal aunt, Meiyu – being constantly ignored.
The only grandson of the Huang’s, he was spoil rotten by his grandma. He is the man with ambition but – unfortunately – lack of capability and often finds his own culture background to be a nuisance. While his grandpa firmly believes with their relationship with Chen’s, Tianbao was constantly at odd with him and sided with Robert Zhang. Under Robert’s influence, he hired assassinate on Chen Sheng. Robert also often made Tianbao as scapegoat for all his dirty works. His good-for-nothing attitude brought much disappointment for Huang Yuan who expected Tianbao to expand the family business, much like Chen Xi does with Chen’s business.
The only daughter of Juxiang and Yousuke inherited her mother’s good look and excellent skill in embroidery. She was shy of 8 years old when both her parents died in war. Left with no other choice, she travelled from Singapore to Malacca in search of her maternal grandma, Tianlan. Unfortunately, at Huang’s she led the life that were of her grandma and mother as a maid. Fate brought her and Chen Xi together through a bowl of chicken soup. Yueniang mistake him as Chen’s driver and unknowingly befriend the heir to Chen’s fortune. When Chen Xi was kidnapped by Charlie Zhang, Yueniang indirectly get kidnapped together since Chen Xi claimed her as his fiancée to protect her. Through the ordeal, the duo felt in love with each other and Chen Xi promised to make her his wife if they managed to escape. Alas, rules and old traditional prevented the two love birds to be together.
The sole heir to the Chen’s fortune is a western-educated Baba (Male Peranakan). His good look and family fortunes made him the most eligible bachelor among the Peranakan families in both Singapore and Malacca. Found his true love in Yueniang, he fought hard to be together with her. However, his journey was anything but a smooth sail. Zhenzhu’s jealousy and Huang’s selfishness created yet another large obstacle for Chen Xi and Yueniang. While he eventually forced to marry Zhenzu, his marriage – much like his uncle, Chen Sheng – was a failure from the beginning. Chen Xi especially hated Zhenzhu when he found out that she ignored Yuzhu’s plea when the latter was raped by Robert Zhang.
The sweet and kind younger daughter of Jincheng and Xiufeng is the total opposite of her selfish older sister. She never regarded Yueniang as maid, instead she taught Yueniang how to speak and write English. She also helped Yueniang to get together with Chen Xi even though she herself liked Chen Xi. Alas, all her kindness was repay with a tragic end. After she was raped by Robert Zhang, she was forced to marry to him. Robert never treated her well and even went as far as offered her to another man. Lost her will to continue living, Yuzhu was eventually forced into mental breakdown condition.
He is a butcher who refused to be part from his ever-present butcher knife. Although he appeared boisterous, he is actually a loyal man and a filial son. In her death bed, his mother wanted him to marry Yueniang. He then tries too full fill the wish by wooing Yueniang. He even went as far as killing a tiger to show his sincerity. However, Yueniang stubbornly refused his affections. Both later become sworn siblings and Yueniang help him to become a wealthy businessman.
The westernized Baba is a very cunning and evil man who buys and torture young girl at his pleasure. A cunning business, he resorted many dirty tricks to get his way. His big enemy in business was Chen Gong. So during the election for “President of Commerce”, Charlie arranged for Chen Gong’s son kidnapping to distract the latter. In the end, he was accidentally killed during the gun fight between his son and Tianbao.
As cunning as his father, he is the exact replica of his father in characters. He tortured Yuzhu both mentally and physically that drove her to madness. He also made use of Tianbao to do all his dirty works.
He is actually the son of Yuzhu and Robert Zhang. The mentally breakdown Yuzhu almost killed him when he was a newborn. For Yuzhu, he is the remainder of his evil father. After Yuzhu refused to acknowledge him, Yueniang adopted Zuye and raised him as her own. Zuye will later become a lawyer and a father to two sons and a daughter, Anqi.
She is the latest generation of the Huangs. Return from Canada, she visited Yueniang – her grandmother – in Malacca to escape from a relationship’s setback. Instead, she learned many stories from Yueniang that she never heard before. Much to her shock, she found that she is actually the grand daughter of Robert Zhang and Yuzhu.
Jonathan Li Xiuwen
Hongkong’s native who grew up in Canada is Anqi’s classmate. He likes Anqi and follows her all the way from Canada to Malacca. Fascinate with Anqi’s Peranakan background, he tries to persuade old Yueniang to let him write her story as graduate thesis.
Jeannette Aw ( Huang Juxiang and Yamamoto Yueniang)
* Jeannette has come a long way since the beginning of her career. Juxiang is a deaf-mute and Jeannette brings out the character of this ill-fated young nyonya very well. Being the traditional nyonya at that time, Juxiang has to be obedient and subtle. The sign language that is being used with Juxiang couldn’t be as complex as modern day. That is because Juxiang didn’t have the chance for formal education. A job well done for Juxiang’s portrayal.
* Juxiang and Yueniang shares the same look, at the very least during their younger days. It’s quite hard to portray both mother and daughter as the same time. Yueniang’s character is very stubborn even as a young child. She is so stubborn that she dared to demand Japanese to return her father’s body to her so she can bury her parents together. Yueniang’s stubbornness continued to the rest of her life, especially when her grandma is concerned. Juxiang and Yueniang shared the same look, yet their characters are different in certain aspect. Juxiang can left the house and be with Yousuke, while Yueniang can’t do the same with Chen Xi. The dilemma that facing two different women is very well portrayed by Jeannette.
Qi Yuwu – Chen Xi
Chen Xi might appear as a playboy but he is actually a devoted man toward Yueniang. The dilemma that Chen Xi faced is anything but small and the burden he has to carry isn’t light either. Too choose between love and responsible is main theme in Chen Xi’s life. Qi Yuwu is one talented actor. He managed to bring out the Chen Xi – that with each episode past, you’re with him to figure out what will be the next step and rooting him to be with Yueniang.
Pierre Png – Chen Sheng
Pierre brings out so much surprise to me since his last drama, “Shining Stars”. It is not only his Chinese is improving, the way he portrays character is also improving. Pierre put up a wonderful job in portraying happy-go-lucky Chen Sheng – who spends his days away in the company of drinks and pantun – and yet at the same time, he is the man with a burden of lifetime regret.
Pan Lingling – Xiufeng
It has proven to be difficult for mother of two to act as 18 years old. At the first glance, it didn’t look very convincing as 18 years old, but come to think about it , who else can be playing 18 years old Xiufeng and switch to Pan Lingling 3-4 episodes later? I personally think Pan Lingling is okay for 18 years old. It is not 100% perfect but it is quite okay for couple short episodes.
Cynthia Koh – Xiujuan
She sort of reprisal her role in “Stepping Out” as the rebel character in the drama. Xiujuan is a stubborn, borderline willful nyonya. Cynthia Koh played out this character well – from a willful young nyonya in early episodes to the mature regretful woman at the end. A very meaningful last scene for Cynthia’s character.
Dai Yang Tian – Yamamoto Yousuke
I’m not very familiar with this newcomer, so I can really comment a lot about him. There is one thing for sure, every time Yousuke graced the screen, I am hook to him and his storyline. With the look of a prince charming, Dai Yang Tian brings out just that of Yousuke, a prince charming for Juxiang.
Apple Hong – Huang Meiyu
My…My…isn’t she an evil lady? Apple is great at bringing evil Meiyu out in the character. Her stares and glances are so cold that they chilled your spine. Yet , at the same time, I see a miserable lady that is constantly ignored by her husband.
Joanne Peh – Huang Yuzhu
She fit the obedient, shy, and soft spoken nyonya to a ‘T’. Her every movement and bearing was truly brought out the character of shy Yuzhu. Joanne Peh portrayal as early life Yuzhu doesn’t really surprise me because she has similar roles in the past. It is the later part of her storyline that Joanne surprised me with her acting skill. She was great during the scene inside the hut. It is a totally different Yuzhu that she was in first half of the series.
Andie Chen – Huang Tianbao
I’m not very familiar with this newcomer, Andie Chen. I can’t really comment about him. Nevertheless, his “Tianbao” was realistic enough that I heard my cousin scolding him for being good-for-nothing every time he graced the screen, especially when he shared the screen with Robert Zhang.
Eelyn Kok – Huang Zhenzhu
I believe the only time that I seen her once as “not-so-annoying” character was in “The Peak” as Christopher Lee’s girlfriend. Her characters were annoying in “Woman in Times” and “The Kinship”, but she was a super annoying character as Huang Zhenzhu. Shesh! I was so ready to shoot off not-so-nice comments every time Zhenzhu’s displayed her spoiled-rotten attitudes! However, I have to say that it is not an easy job to play such a ‘hate’ character and let the audiences hate that character so thoroughly. Convincing act from Eelyn Kok!
Zzen Chang – Robert Zhang & Zuye
A junior version of Charlie Zhang – much like his father -, Zzen’s portrayal also make me want to punch arrogant and evil Robert every time he appeared on screen. That sly eyes and devil smiles of him really get to my nerve! Wonderful job by Zzen! As for Zuye, Zzen didn’t appear until the very end when he returned to Malacca to pay respect to his mother, Yueniang, with his sons and daughters-in-laws. Zuye appearance at the last scene did answer some lingering question of was Yuzhu’s baby belong to Robert (remember, the evil Robert did offered Yuzhu to another man). Take one look at Zuye and you’ll find the answer to the question.
A good serial can never lack the present of veterans actors/actress. Sometimes when they graced the screen, we kept thinking that they looked familiar yet we can’t recall their names. That’s because they have great acting skills but simply not as popular as their young counterparts.
Xiang Yun – Tianlan & Older Yueniang
It’s quite rare to see Xiang Yun in such of timid character of Tianlan. The veteran actress didn’t disappoint audience once again with her skill. There was a minor setback in her character as older Yueniang. Boy! She was talking so slow as old Yueniang. I know that Yueniang was a soft spoken young nyonya in her early days, but it was way too slow in speech as she grows older. At the very least, I think so… J
Li Yinzhu – Old Madam Chen
Li Yinzhu did a wonderful job with her facial expression especially in one particular scene where both Chen Sheng and Meiyu brought her ‘Rempah Udang’. Now, for all we know that the Rempah Udang which Meiyu – supposedly – made and the one which Juxiang – supposedly – made are one of the same. However, Li Yinzhu managed to turn her expression so that audiences felt that the one Juxiang made was truly the prefect piece. Outstanding!
Lin Meijiao – Guihua
If I have to choose the ‘Most Evil’ among the females, I’ll definitely choose her. Here’s another wonderful actress with great facial expression. Guihua didn’t really have to carry a lot of conversations to show off her ‘evilness’. It was really just a subtle evil smile here and there. Lin Meijiao’s one devil stare is enough to send chill your spine and you know that Guihua is planning up her next devilish plan.
Chen Xiang – Chen Gong
I’m not even sure when was the last time he graced the screen. It is sure been ages. It’s good to have him back, even as a small supporting role.
Desmond Sim – Charlie Zhang
Even after 11 years absent from the screen, he hasn’t lost his touch in acting. This guy is so good that I really wanted to punch him everything Charlie Zhang graced the screen.
Yan Bingliang – Huang Yuan
It’s definitely not easy to be Huang Yuan. In between of overly-jealous wife, spineless son, and good-for-nothing grandson, Huang Yuan had his hands full. He needed to be stern as the head of family, but in Peranakan matriarch’s culture, most of the time he left household decision making to Guihua. He was helpless as he watched his entire wealth failed in the hand of his son and grandson. It was quite ironic that the one person that retrieves the wealth back was the granddaughter that he once refused to acknowledge. Wonderful portrayal of Huang Yuan by Yan Bingliang!
Favorite Couple(s)/ Pairing(s)
- Chen Xi and Yamamoto Yueniang
- Everything about them started with a bowl of chicken soup. One is the neglected-treated-as maid granddaughter and the other one is the young-handsome-only heir prince charming. The very one person that the Huangs’ wishes Chen Xi never know her existence was Yueniang and yet fate brought them together despite the human obstacles. Mistaken him as Chen’s driver, Yueniang slowly fall in love with Chen Xi and vice versa. From the very start, Chen Xi determined not to follow his uncle’s footstep in heart affair and even ready to elope with Yueniang. Alas, the relationship was really never meant to end happily ever after. At the end of the day, both Chen Xi and Yueniang have to lead a different path of love life away from each other. Nevertheless, it was believed that the feeling that they once have for each other still lingered to their old age.
- Chen Sheng and Huang Juxiang
- Although this pair didn’t get the happy ending, there was the existence of wonderful friendship between the pair. She was the one that Chen Sheng wanted as his wife but, alas, it was never meant to be as she was a deaf-mute. It was Chen Sheng who took care of Juxiang and young Yueniang when Yousuke was back in Japan. Meanwhile, Juxiang repaid him with his favorite “Rempah Udang”. It was pure innocence gratitude from Juxiang’s side. For Chen Sheng, however, his love for Juxiang from the very moment he saw her, stayed true until his last breath.
- Yamamoto Yousuke and Huang Juxiang
- Much like Chen Sheng, Yousuke’s affection toward Juxiang was love at the first sight. He protected her from lecherous Charlie Zhang and bravely married her while knowing he would offend Charlie Zhang and the Huangs. There were more than one pairing in the serial, but how many of them truly enjoy a happy period? This pair was the only one that truly in love with each other. Alas, it was a very short period of happiness but it was a happy period nevertheless.
- The short period of happiness between Yousuke and Juxiang. It was very sweet.
- Bickering scenes between Chen Xi and Yueniang prior to her knowledge of his real identity. It was cute and adorable.
- When Yueniang was forced to marry Liu Yidao and he insisted her to consummate the marriage. The dialogues and Liu Yidao’s expressions were plain hilarious!
- This one was not much of favorite. It was more of a memorable one. The scene after Yueniang sang pantun to Old Madam Chen and quickly left after the latter woken up. When Chen Xi realizes that Yueniang already left, he ran after her in the present of his father, Meiyu, and Zhenzhu. It was very much to Zhenzhu’s annoyance. Prior to that scene, Chen Gong was never happy with the idea of his son and Yueniang together. However, in that scene after Chen Xi left, Chen Gong gave Zhenzhu the look of “I can’t help you. It’s entirely up to my son now.”
The most talk about part of “The Little Nyonya”. Some say it was a disappointment and while some say it was understandable. Personally, after 32 episodes of hoping and crossing my fingers for Chen Xi to end up with Yueniang, I am TRULY annoyed with the last 2 episodes. Yet, at the same time I do understand why the writer created such an ending. Again, I was truly annoyed but I still can understand, given the time period of the serials when cultures were more in conservative side especially in Asia regions. Half way through the serial, I was so curious about Anqi’s surname. Now, when come to think about it, the surname will totally gave way the rest of the story because if Anqi was a Chen than we would know who her grandpa was or the surname was something else, we would also pretty much guess the ending. Smart move for the writers not to put the Anqi’s surname!
My Questions/Answers on the loopholes
- Yueniang and Paul: too fast? Developing in too short period of time? Or maybe I’m just like (I believe) the rests of Chen Xi/Yueniang fans, too bias to accept this pairing?
- Where’s Yuzhu? Is she well? Was she dead? I doubt she will be 100% well but there was no definite ending as for her fate.
- Where was Paul? The tablet that sit next to Yueniang? Was that of Paul’s? Maybe.
- I noticed this at the very last scene. Call me picky but it is really just for fun on my side. Back in episode 1, the pictures next to Juxiang’s portrait was of Xiufeng, Jincheng and their children. Fast forward to episode 34, at the same place and same Juxiang’s portrait, the pictures was of Huang Yuan and Guihua at each side.
I love this serial as a whole! Ok, let’s minus the ending from the equation. Other than that, the serial was a perfect combination of culture/tradition and romance. There were also a good blend of veterans actors/actress and the newcomers. I was totally glued to my computer every night waiting for the sneak previews (I have to watch through MobTV). It’s been quite a while since Mediacorp produced such a successful and good quality drama serial.
Star Awards 2009
The Little Nyonya snatched 16 nominations for the upcoming Star Awards! I really can’t remember any other serials that ever have so many nominations… I am looking forward to 29 April 2009 for the result.