TV review: HDB fairy tale 3 Wishes rings true

Channel 8 drama with a magical twist highlights Singaporeans' obssession with wealth

Korean legal drama Pride And Prejudice stars (from far left) Sohn Chang Min, Lee Tae Hwan, Baek Jin Hee, Choi Jin Hyuk and Choi Min Su. -- PHOTO: OH!K
Korean legal drama Pride And Prejudice stars (from far left) Sohn Chang Min, Lee Tae Hwan, Baek Jin Hee, Choi Jin Hyuk and Choi Min Su. -- PHOTO: OH!K
Yaozong (Thomas Ong) and his wife Shanmei (Huang Biren, both above) get more than they bargained for after meeting an old lady who makes wishes come true. -- PHOTO: MEDIACORP

The witch in 3 Wishes, an HDB fairy tale that skewers the Singaporean dollars-and- cents approach to life, is a bent old woman with a twisted smile, who sells tissues as well as magic coins.

She makes high mark-ups on tissues, selling three packets for $10, but for some sorry-looking people, such as Yaozong (Thomas Ong), an assistant horse trainer who is newly jobless, drunk and tottering out of the turf club one night, she throws in something special: a free trial of three wishing coins, no strings attached.

The fool in the story is Yaozong, who wants to buy more coins after using three to save his job and his family.

Materialising at a pavilion in his neighbourhood another night, the woman makes him a deal: He doesn't have to pay her for the additional coins, but he has to "pay a price" for them. He agrees, and within two episodes, his family's fortunes change dramatically twice, first in a Toto win, then in a terrible road accident.

Afterwards, he confesses to his wife Shanmei (Huang Biren) that the car crash might have been part and parcel of the Faustian bargain he struck to become an overnight millionaire. When she scolds him, his defence of the deal is hilariously Singaporean: "I thought she meant I had to give her a commission."

Here's a man with the boundless potential of magic at his disposal, but his imagination is so poor that he pictures - and trivialises - fortune and misfortune as matters of money. He isn't the only one, obviously.

His brother Yaozu (Yao Wenlong) and sister-in- law Anna (Apple Hong) are the comic villains of the family, who envy his windfall but sneer at him for being low-class and buying a Toto ticket.

As a high-class, condominium- owning couple, they think bigger - but not by much. They invent all sorts of stories to get their hands on one of Yaozong's coins, and when they do, they are boring. They make a wish to be the richest people on the planet, then mortgage their apartment to gamble on stocks and shares.

The show by WaWa Pictures is a mixed bag of influences and at times disorientating: Is the scary stooped old woman here a relation of another in a Hong Kong film? A brother in 3 Wishes gives a sister a piggyback, which is a trope out of a K-drama, isn't it?

But the drama's heart is in the right place (namely, Singapore) and the show is perhaps the richest as an allegory of Singaporeans who have been spoilt by a protective government.

The paranormal family drama brings to mind another, 2010's With You, which had a man in white (Chen Hanwei) dying in a road accident and going to great lengths to come alive again and take care of his household.

In 3 Wishes, the dominant parent is Shanmei, the most sensible adult in the family who is sceptical of Yaozong's claims about his magic coins. But she is also the one who has raised a sweet, unmotivated bunch (Shane Pow, Julie Tan and Tan Jun Sheng), who hardly do the dishes, laundry and homework, much less fight for anything.

She does most of the worrying and thinking for her children and husband, and the show can be read as a cautionary tale for her brand of parenting. Spoil the child - or the husband - and when he has to think for himself, he might be swept along and ruined by magical thinking.

Pride And Prejudice the South Korean legal drama isn't related to Pride And Prejudice the English comic novel, though the book does sit on a shelf in an office shared by two prosecutors, a legal ace (actor Choi Jin Hyuk) and an obstinate newcomer (actress Baek Jin Hee). And, yes, Choi's character might be proud, while Baek's character may be prejudiced against him.

But, no, the show is really rather Korean, tapping into a theme of lost children that runs deep in K-drama.

Following the conventions of legal procedurals and romantic comedies, the drama goes from one case to another as Choi and Baek become closer or nearer, at least (she moves into the same boarding house as him).

Buried in the show is the case of Baek's little brother's disappearance and death, however, and the drama shapes up into something less ordinary as fragments of the prosecutors' pasts emerge and point to a more haunting story.

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