If you grew up in the 1980s and you watched a lot of Ch 8 dramas (then again, our options were pretty limited in the pre-cable, pre-Internet days), chances are you would know who Duan Weiming is.
He’s best known for playing coffee shop assistant Ah Cai on then-SBC’s iconic heartland drama Neighbours, which ran from 1986 to 1988. He also appeared alongside Li Nanxing and Chen Bifeng on 1988’s On The Fringe.
In 1990, he left SBC when the station didn’t renew his contract. In a 2014 interview with 8 DAYS, Weiming said he had no idea why his services were no longer required.
Maybe it had something to do with him being distracted by his sideline career as a proprietor of a karaoke lounge (which later got him in trouble for operating without an entertainment licence). Or maybe it was his honest and direct attitude that might have rubbed the higher-ups the wrong way.
“Sometimes I regret entering showbiz,” said Weiming, a furniture salesperson before becoming an actor. In fact, he only signed up for SBC’s drama training course (Li Nanxing was a classmate) as a wager with his sister.
Weiming spent the rest of the ’90s working in Taiwan (in construction), in Hongkong (as behind-the-scenes TV crew member) and Malaysia (as an actor). He also made a living as a delivery guy, a getai host, and, get this, a tzi char cook in Europe.
On the home front, he is twice divorced from the same woman; they have two children, a daughter, 32, and a son, 12. Weiming now lives with his girlfriend. These days, he works as a tycoon's butler (we'll get to that in a bit). Even then, he still finds time to act — and he hasn’t lost his chops.
He popped up on Ch 8 and Ch U serials such as 2009’s Your Hand in Mind, 2011’s C.L.I.F., 2012’s Show Hand, and 2015’s Tiger Mum. Elsewhere, future Golden Horse-winner Anthony Chen (Ilo Ilo) cast him in two short films, The Reunion Dinner and Karang Guni.
“We researched a lot of the ex-TCS actors who were no longer onscreen,” says Chen in a whatsapp interview. “And I remember him from his days on TV, brought him in, and felt he was very receptive to directing notes.”
He adds: “He’s also really natural as an actor — very instinctive and is able to easily get rid of TV acting/overacting habits, unlike some others.”
Weiming is also in demand on Ch 5. He has turned up on the legal drama Code of Law, and the vigilante thriller Zero Calling. His latest Ch 5 gig — and first to feature him as a regular — is 128 Circle, a drama about the trials and tribulations of a group of hawkers at a neighbourhood hawker centre. On the 15-part multi-lingual show — where characters speak a mix of English and their mother tongues in Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil — Weiming plays drink stall owner Larry Low.
“I have been looking forward to working with him again since Zero Calling, and 128 Circle presented a perfect opportunity,” 128 Circle and Zero Calling EP Lee Thean-Jeen tells us via whatsapp. “Weiming and Larry share some similar traits — the confidence, a sense of humour, and of course, Weiming is a really good actor.”
Here, we caught up with the 59-year-old actor shortly after a 128 Circle road show at Bedok Mall last month, and asked him more about his new show and his day job.