Singaporean actor whose leg was amputated makes TV comeback


By AGENCY

Duan Weiming's real-life amputation of his left leg from diabetes was worked into his character's storyline in 128 Circle. Photo: Handout

When Singaporean actor Duan Weiming was approached by the producers of Channel 5 hawker drama 128 Circle to reprise his role as drink stall uncle Larry in Season 3 of the series, it was not long after his left leg was amputated below the knee, in September 2022, due to diabetes.

He was in pain and struggling to adapt to daily life as a newly disabled person.

“I told them straightaway that I’m not a normal person now. I’ve lost a leg. I have mobility issues, I cannot be the same happy-go-lucky Larry,” the 62-year-old tells The Straits Times over the telephone.

But instead of writing Duan off the show, the producers decided to work his amputation into Larry’s storyline, giving Duan his first acting project since his amputation.

The third season of the multilingual series, which began in 2019, chronicles the hawkers’ struggle with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the competition a new generation of hawkers poses to long-time stall owners such as Larry.

Duan, who is best known for playing kopitiam assistant Ah Cai in Channel 8 series Neighbours (1986 to 1988), says: “I’m filled with gratitude. I was given an opportunity. In this line of work, if you don’t grab hold of an opportunity, people might not think of you the next time a role comes along.”

As the story follows Larry before and after his amputation, there are several scenes where Duan has to act with his prosthetic leg, before he switches to a wheelchair for post-amputation scenes.

He was fitted with his leg in March 2023 and filming began around June.

“I can walk, but I cannot run,” Duan says. “I told the team I can film with the leg, but have to do so slowly.”

He adds: “It’s been about a year (since I was fitted with the prosthetic), so it doesn’t hurt that much now. I can walk about 20 to 30m without a walking stick and can do most of my daily activities with one.

“I can go down to the hawker centre to get a meal and take public transport, but I avoid peak hours to stay safe since I cannot move fast.”

Duan, who has a daughter in her 30s and a teenage son from a previous marriage, lives in an HDB flat in Boon Lay with his partner, whom he has been with for over a decade.

While he is glad to return to acting, there were some hairy moments.

Due to problems with his blood circulation following the amputation, he had a health scare on set.

He recalls: “I just broke out in cold sweat and went pale. It felt like my heart had stopped. It came on so suddenly and it had never happened before.

“My scene partner Tang Miaoling (who plays Larry’s girlfriend) was standing next to me then, and she grabbed my hand and asked me how I was. The whole cast and crew stopped filming and the staff wheeled me out to get some fresh air. I’m very thankful to all of them.”

While he soon felt well enough to get back on set, Duan admits diabetes has affected his body and life beyond his amputated leg. He also has blurred vision in his right eye and floaters that look like an insect’s leg in his left.

While he did try treating it, the symptoms recurred.

“As long as I still have some sight left, I’m good. I don’t think about it now. I just let it be. If there is a doctor who can promise me that I can undergo a procedure and it will get better and the condition will not return, I will do it. But the eyes are very complicated to treat,” he says.

Currently, acting is a side gig and Duan is filming a Channel 8 series. He declines to share details about the upcoming project, but says he will be playing a wheelchair-using character.

Of his next moves, he says: “Maybe I can work in a bookstore or as a server for a food stall. I want people to know that I can pick myself back up, and be independent and self-sufficient.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do yet and I’m not in a rush to find something immediately because I don’t need a life of luxury. I just want something simple: to be able to keep myself fed. I don’t need vacations or anything fancy.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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