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It’s anything but hakuna matata in new Channel 5 drama Lion Moms

SINGAPORE — Nothing lends legitimacy to a phenomenon like being satirised. And that is what will happen when MediaCorp TV Channel 5’s latest drama Lion Moms premieres. Singapore’s kancheong, kiasu mums will be held up to the light, as Lion Moms is meant to be a fun yet poignant look at Singaporean tiger mums — dubbed “lion” mums because, well, we live in the Lion City. It stars Nurul Aini, Vanessa Vanderstraaten and Hong Kong television star Bernice Liu as three very different mothers united by the stress of having their children enter Primary One.

SINGAPORE — Nothing lends legitimacy to a phenomenon like being satirised. And that is what will happen when MediaCorp TV Channel 5’s latest drama Lion Moms premieres. Singapore’s kancheong, kiasu mums will be held up to the light, as Lion Moms is meant to be a fun yet poignant look at Singaporean tiger mums — dubbed “lion” mums because, well, we live in the Lion City. It stars Nurul Aini, Vanessa Vanderstraaten and Hong Kong television star Bernice Liu as three very different mothers united by the stress of having their children enter Primary One.

It does not matter that Liu, who was born in Canada, is neither Singaporean nor a mother. She said what drew her to the show was that it was “relatable to every walk of motherhood or femalehood or familyhood”. Another draw for her was the opportunity to do a series in English. “I’ve never shot in English before,” she said, since most of the TV series in Hong Kong are in Cantonese. “I’ve been in China for the past four years. I get a script, I get somebody to translate it, and then I internalise it.”

Not having to do that this time meant that she had a better grasp of the nuances of her lines — although some jargon baffled her. “Like ‘kiasu’ — I didn’t know what that meant before. And the word ‘tuition’ is not the same as how we use it in Canada or the United States,” she said.

The “lion mum” concept and the local schooling system were equally foreign to Switzerland-bred Max Loong, who returns to Channel 5 in a lead role for the first time since 2008’s First Class. This time, he plays Liu’s cheating husband.

“I don’t have that many friends here who have kids yet. The whole ‘balloting and getting into schools’ topic — I was completely shocked about how it works. Having to be within a certain radius and volunteering really amazed me. I heard from people who donated S$100,000 and their kids didn’t get in,” he said.

“But in a way, it’s kind of fair because it’s not just (about) money — you have to put in the hours, and that’s pretty much like parenting,” added Liu.

It is an astute observation from someone who has yet to become a mother. Liu’s co-star, 27-year-old Vanderstraaten, does not have children either — but she has two cats, which is pretty much the same thing, right?

“It’s that ‘oh, my baby is my baby’ kind of thing,” said Vanderstraaten with a laugh, who confessed to being a bit of a feline mum.

“I take them to the vet even when they don’t require it, just to check that they’re okay,” she said. “And I do give them baths, which my dad thinks is crazy.”

The character she plays is a 25-year-old single mother raising a young son. And, having been raised by a single mum, it was especially important for the actress to do “justice to the struggles faced by single parents”.

“I want to make sure that people understand just how much work goes into being a parent. As part of a couple, there’s a lot of work; as a single parent, there’s even more,” she said, adding that she received acting advice from her mother. “She gave me a list of six emotions to portray, such as frustration. She said, ‘You cannot be two-dimensional about this’. You cannot just be angry or sad all the time.”

Joshua Tan, who plays one of her suitors and the unwitting father of her child (the other suitor is played by former national swimmer Russell Ong), said he could empathise with Vanderstraaten’s character in the show, having once dated a single mother. “I’m very moved by their cause because it’s really not easy, especially when you’ve got a financially difficult background. You don’t have a lot of support,” he said.

Nurul Aini, one of Suria’s top actresses (and the only “lion mum” who is actually a mother — she has two preschoolers, a son and a daughter) said she felt like she was playing herself when she stepped into the shoes of her overachieving lawyer character.

“Singaporean mums are like that — we really want our kids to excel so we become lion mums,” she said.

As caveat, she added that she does not consider herself one, although the evidence may point to the contrary. “My friends say, ‘You send your kids to classes? But they’re five and three. You’re a lion mum’. But I don’t think I’m a lion mum. I just want them to be ready for what’s out there,” she said. “There are so many kiasu mums ... If I’m not kiasu like them, when my children go to school, they’ll be shocked at what other kids already know.”

“It’s like a race,” said Fir Rahman, who plays her husband. As a father to a two-year-old boy, he knows the lion mum phenomenon all too well. “My real wife is becoming one ... I am there to control her!” he joked.

But it all stems from a well-meaning heart, he added: “We parents want our kids to be the best, to be the first. We don’t want them to be left behind.”

Catch Lion Moms starting Sept 14 at 10pm on MediaCorp TV Channel 5.

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