The Life List: 5 things to know about The Teenage Textbook TV remake

A still from The Teenage Textbook featuring emerging actresses Xuan Ong and Chen Yixin. PHOTO: MEDIACORP PTE LTD

SINGAPORE - Iconic Singapore coming-of-age tale The Teenage Textbook is back - this time in the form of a television series with a Generation Z twist.

The original 1998 film, based on Adrian Tan's bestselling 1988 novel of the same name, will get a new lease of life with this 13-episode series. It follows Mui Ee (Xuan Ong) as she navigates the teenage dramas of romance, friendship and family.

Here are five things to know about the show:

1. Leading roles at last

Emerging actresses Xuan Ong, 25, and Chen Yixin, 20, get to take the lead for the first time on TV.

Ong says that playing the lead role in a TV series has been her dream ever since she started acting at age 13. "I realised I'm living in a dream that I had so many years ago."

She has always been drawn to coming-of-age stories, she adds.

Despite making episodic appearances in Channel 8 dramas, this is the first time that Chen, the daughter of actress Xiang Yun, 59, and former actor Edmund Chen, 60, has been heavily involved in a drama.

She says she hesitated to enter the acting industry, as people would have high expectations of her because of her illustrious parents. But she auditioned for her role just like any other actor and says the experience has been rewarding and made her more confident.

"This really gives me an opportunity to develop the depth of my character," she says.

2. Social media makeover

PHOTO: MEDIACORP PTE LTD

While the series is Mediacorp's first print-to-screen series adaptation, it is worlds apart from the book it is based on, which was first published more than three decades ago.

"We took The Teenage Textbook and put it in a Gen Z situation," says Chen.

The most important update to the text? Social media, which "is so ingrained in our lives that it has become second nature to us young people," says Ong. "TV series and films need to mirror that reality."

She thinks her character in the book was more direct as things were simpler back in the day. "What(the characters in the book) were concerned with is different from what we are concerned with now." She believes, however, that there are now more tools for people to explore their feelings and become self-aware.

3. "Everyone just sobbed"

PHOTO: MEDIACORP PTE LTD

For both Ong and Chen, the filming process has been a nurturing experience.

"I was able to bask in an environment where everyone was trying to help each other grow and be better," says Chen.

"It was just so fun that when the whole production ended, everyone just sobbed."

The actresses have also learnt a lot under the wings of veteran actors like Tay Ping Hui, 50; Amy Cheng, 51; and Janice Koh, 51.

Ong says that the older actors, especially Tay and Cheng who play her parents in the series, would talk through the scenes with her before they went in front of the camera and gave her advice without making her feel small.

"Especially for more intimate and emotional scenes, they really taught me so much and gave me so much guidance," says Ong.

4. Blossoming friendship

PHOTO: MEDIACORP PTE LTD

Although this is the first time Chen and Ong have worked together, they feel like they have known each other their whole lives.

Chen praises Ong for her humility and energetic personality.

"She is very encouraging and she inspires me to be really confident in my acting," says Chen. "She's the life of the party."

According to Ong, the duo have bonded so well that they even meet each other for meals on their days off despite their busy schedules. "It was just so comfortable".

5. Bridging generations

PHOTO: MEDIACORP PTE LTD

While the show is very much focused on teenage life, the series also draws parallels between the problems faced by the youths and their parents.

"We all go through similar problems. It shouldn't be a stereotype that only teenagers are going through this, because it's actually happening all the time," says Chen.

Chen hopes that this series helps to bridge the gap between generations and help them understand one another.

The Teenage Textbook series will air on Channel 5 and meWATCH every Tuesday at 9.30pm starting from March 2.

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