Friday, July 22, 2016

"Presumed Accidents" Review


*Warning: This review includes major spoilers about the series' plot twists and ending.

There are two lens for which I could evaluate "Presumed Accidents" under: my usual objective one, and the one that has only thoroughly enjoyed (and finished!) two series this year ("Fashion War" and surprisingly, "My Dangerous Mafia Retirement Plan" for those curious).

In the context of the terrible series TVB has been churning out this year, "Presumed Accidents" is one of the better series of the year. It has a solid leading man in Lawrence Ng, a good supporting cast full of veterans and newer faces, and mixes elements of drama, action, and suspense. However, if I look at it objectively, this so-called "crime thriller" still fell flat for me.

"Presumed Accidents" suffers the most from its incoherence, initially taking the form of a procedural drama for three quarters of the series and zoning in on various cases of insurance fraud. While these cases were usually over the top and unrealistic, some of them were still entertaining to watch.

However, maybe because I've grown tired of the procedural format these days, but my interest in these cases started to drop towards the middle of the series. I was starting to feel like these characters and the story had stalled.

Then in one episode, the writers decided to throw us a huge plot twist (more like half a dozen of them) and reveal a boatload of shocking and mind boggling information at once. The series then returns to its procedural format as Sisley Choi's character tries to grapple with this new bizarre information, before abandoning the cases for a serialized story line with suspense to finish off the last third of the series.

The series' biggest problem lies in its supernatural aspect - yes, you read that right. The plot twist of Lawrence's character being an undead person, although foreshadowed in the series' opening scene, was completely unexpected since it wasn't advertised as a supernatural drama. It seems throwing in a supernatural character is TVB's idea of "creativity" these days.

As shocked as I was by the supernatural twist in Lawrence's character, I was more disappointed in its execution, which is what ended up causing me to dislike it. Although the way in which Lawrence becomes immortal is pretty crazy (apparently all it takes is a pill now, everyone!), even less explanation and exploration is put towards developing this important characteristic of his. It felt so shoehorned in that this whole story line probably could have been cut from the series to make it a typical procedural drama with little consequence other than trimming down its episode count. We do not know if there are more people like Lawrence or what he intends on doing with his life when his children inevitably die. His true identity is exposed at the end of the series, and all that comes out of it is that Lawrence up and leaves.

What left me feeling most uncomfortable though is the revelation that Lawrence is Sisley's biological father. Although I started to suspect it shortly before it was revealed, I kept denying it to myself since I thought there was no way TVB would ever go in such a direction. Boy, was I wrong. This plot twist would have been less cringe worthy if the writers hadn't spent so many episodes setting up Lawrence as being obviously romantically interested in Sisley. Perhaps we were supposed to believe that this is what the circumstances appeared to be from Sisley's eyes, which I will choose to believe to make it less disturbing, but it was nevertheless very creepy thinking back to the two's early interactions after finding out their true relationship.

Cast and Characters

With these criticisms out in the open, it is still worth noting that the cast performs adequately, or well.

Lawrence possesses a very calm and gentlemanly demeanor as George, and is enjoyable to watch despite all of the flaws of his character.

Sisley does not show any regressions in her acting here, but I wouldn't say she improved
much either. The actress seems to be well-aware of the criticisms of her high-pitched voice and as a result, like in "Fashion War," she tries very hard to speak her lines in a deeper register. While she is clearly working on her voice control, this understandably usually hinders her ability to act more naturally, and her emotional scenes are still raw.

Although Lawrence is a whooping 27 years older than Sisley, the maturity of Sisley's character allowed the scenes between the two in the early part of the series to be natural and not cringe worthy. This is a big pleasant surprise, as this pairing was what I dreaded most going into this series, but of course the writers had to ruin it later on.

Surprisingly, Sisley struggled more in sparking chemistry with Lai Lok Yi, who looks much more physically compatible with her. While Lok Yi has little problems in being natural while showing physical affection towards Sisley, she looks stiff and uncomfortable in these scenes. This reminds me of Fala, who in her time at TVB was able to create a fun and enjoyable chemistry with many of her male costars, but unable to be natural in more romantic or physical scenes.

I was probably looking most forward to this series to finally see Lok Yi in another role after three years as "John Ma." Unfortunately, his character is mostly a snooze fest through out most of the series, only serving as the man Sisley's Eunice goes to after realizing the man she was interested in was her father. Oops. However, he turns it around in the last few episodes of the series as a chilling villain when his true character becomes apparent to the others. While the script provides next to no transition from portraying Mantus as a seemingly calm and friendly character hiding a dark past to an aggressive and angry psychopath, Lok Yi does incredibly well with what he is given. He succeeded in scaring me with his performance in the last stretch of the series, acting as a villain who was quiet but seemed ready to burst at any minute, and is the first villain in a while to actually spark some fear in me. I saw no signs of the playful, clever, but kindhearted "John Ma" in this performance, and that's what Lok Yi so badly needed as he transitions back into dramas. Here's to hoping his next character is even better.

The biggest acting disappointment does not lie in Sisley, but Selena Li, though this is not her fault. In promoting the series, TVB seemed to want to push Selena as an intriguing guest star who plays three different and complex roles. However, we all knew "guest star" was really just a fancy word for demotion. Selena plays three undeveloped and uninteresting characters under the constraints of very little screen time, which all share the characteristic of having pretty darn bad luck. Faye, the main character that Selena plays, is weak and quite ambiguous with her actions. This is one of the weakest performances from her in a while, and it is all because of the mess of a script she was given for her characters.

Joyce Tang and Raymond Cho provide comic relief and deliver as always, but were disposable to the overall story line, though Raymond becomes more significant to the main plot towards the end. There was no use in spending so much time on Joyce's messy divorce, but I did enjoy the scenes she and Raymond shared together.

Rounding out the supporting cast were relatively fresh faces Winki Lai and Snow Suen.

Although Winki is way too young to realistically be heading a police department, I was surprised by
how much more mature she looked here and how naturally she stepped into the role despite the usual student characters she plays. She's quickly becoming one of my favorite new actresses and while I had reservations of her playing more major characters outside of the student, I have more confidence in her now and looking forward to seeing her more.

Snow was very likable as the upbeat, positive, and happy I.I. Although the character annoyed me at times with how often she'd suddenly show up at Eunice's house while Eunice wasn't home, Snow's positive energy and smiles were infectious. It was sad to see her character go.

Overall

"Presumed Accidents" isn't without its merits or entertainment value. It has a good cast and mixes different elements including drama, comedy, action, and towards the end, suspense. It's enjoyable, but suffers from its disjointedness and inconsistencies in pacing. Is it one of the better series this year? Sure, but that isn't saying much. I wanted to like "Presumed Accidents" more, but by the halfway point, I felt over it. Luckily, the last third was able to hook me back in, and I would have liked the rest of the series to have had a similar serialized, thrilling format.


Rating: 3.5 stars

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"Fashion War" Review


TVB finally offers up something different from their usual family and romance-heavy dramas, and this time it paid off. Although "Fashion War" may have initially looked unappealing to me due to the cast, it has surprisingly become the first series I breezed through this year and could say I thoroughly enjoyed. The writers waste no time diving right into the world of office politics in the intriguing but cutthroat fashion magazine industry. 

Not only is office politics the theme of the series, but it takes front and center, with next to zero romance, which was surprising in a cast full of attractive females. This allowed "Fashion War" to be very plot-driven and character dynamic-driven. While it could become a little overwhelming (seriously, between all this plotting against each other and trying to protect themselves, when do these people have time to actually do their jobs?), the office politics theme was entertaining and kept me on the edge of my seat. 

Although I'm glad it was not dragged out, it is another series that would have benefitted from a couple more episodes because with all the characters the series possessed, further development of them individually wouldn't have hurt. Instead, we focus more on how these characters interact with and work (or rather, compete) amongst each other.

My main concern going into this series was the cast. In particular, I haven't enjoyed Moses Chan in a series since probably 2002's "Family Man" and wasn't thrilled to see Sisley Choi leading. 

For Moses, as annoyed as I could get by the pretentious aura he gave off, especially in the early episodes, I have to admit he brings out the cool and aloof image of "Yip Long" well. However, it is in the later parts of the series where he shows some emotion, such as when he expresses proudness of Ah Yan, that I really started to warm up to him. After 20 episodes though, I still just barely tolerate that skunk hairstyle.

Sisley is adequate as "Cheung Yat Ling" (or more commonly referred to as "Ah Yan"). It's obvious she tried very hard to control her voice so that it would not get too high-pitched and grating for
viewers. The result is that she's likable enough, especially with her character's genuine passion for MODES in comparison to the ulterior motives everyone else has for doing what they do. Ultimately my biggest complaint is about the character Yan herself. Time and time again Yip Long and the writers remind us that Ah Yan is incredibly gifted and poised to become the next editor-in-chief and trendsetter of the fashion world. Yet, we are never shown that, other than for her messing around with the magazine spread on the wall before her first interview. We just keep getting told it. By the end, I still did not think that Ah Yan had the capability to take over for Yip Long. 

Ali Lee gives the strongest performance of all the females as "Kei Wan Wan" or "Vincy," though that is also in part because of her more fleshed out character. She is convincing as the smart and manipulative advertising manager without going too overboard. At the same time, she also brings out the vulnerabilities in her character. She gives off a very similar aura to Kate in regards to her more mean but strong girl look, but her acting is already much more natural than Kate's was at this point in her career. I have a lot of confidence in Ali and am looking forward to seeing her in her next leading roles. 

Him Law rounds out the cast by providing some comic relief in the beginning. As lazy as he was in the beginning, I found it hilarious whenever he was supposedly sleeping, but still heard everything else the others would say and would chime in with a blunt but true remark then promptly go back to sleep. I enjoyed his friendship with Ah Yan, and loved how she positively influenced him to work hard and tap into his potential. "Ah Fan" states that without modeling he is nothing, but I would've liked for him to realize he truly did like working at the fashion magazine and acknowledge he had talent. However, the writing for the character got sloppy towards the end when
he suddenly started showing so much concern for Vincy. 

The rest of the cast is unsurprisingly mediocre, although not too cringeworthy. The series is plot-driven enough that, coupled with its large cast, made it easy to overlook the acting. For example, Jacqueline Chong says almost all her lines in the same way with the same facial expression, even though she is sometimes content and other times angry. Yet, it can be overlooked since "Danielle" is probably the most indifferent of the supporting characters. Vivien Yeo is probably the most confusing supporting character because she perpetually looks pretty mad or annoyed, yet we never find out "Ada"'s true motive for staying with MODES. It's definitely not because she genuinely loves MODES, and I don't buy that she has feelings for Yip Long. If there was one person who made me want to rip my hair out though, it wasn't one of the girls, but Hanjin Tam for his obnoxious and almost cartoon-ish character. 

Mediocre acting from the supporting cast aside, "Fashion War" is worth checking out because it's very different from anything TVB has been doing lately, making it a breath of fresh air. It is a treat that for once, a series isn't being bogged down by draggy romantic storylines and instead focusing on the central plot and interpersonal working relationships. The pacing is fast and the plot is juicy. Overall, it's the most entertaining thing TVB has put out all year. 

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, February 8, 2016

"Momentary Lapse of Reason" Review

I had a lot of reasons to just completely skip "Momentary Lapse of Reason." Premodern dramas are my least favorite to watch since they tend to be tragic in nature. Despite being a big fan of Louis and happy he received his first leading role, I also wasn't interested in seeing Tavia. However, with the quiet but strong critical acclaim, I finally decided to give in because I wanted to check out Louis, Mat, and Rosina's performances for myself.

I'm glad I finally gave this series a chance, and didn't just give up after the first two episodes. It took maybe 5 episodes, but once I got into it, I was hooked and binge watched it over the course of my 3 day weekend. Against all my (non-existent) expectations when first hearing about this series, "Momentary Lapse of Reason" has become my favorite series of 2015.

Although all four leads deliver, the main reason I enjoyed "Momentary" so much is because of Louis Cheung and Mat Yeung's performances. The changes of their characters as well as their friendship drive the series forward and are what make it compelling.

There is not much romantic chemistry present in this series, which may make it sound like a failure, but romance was ultimately not integral to the series despite what some people may have thought initially. Mat and Tavia Yeung are by no means wooden and awkward with each other, but didn't create any sparks either. Same goes for Louis and Tavia, but this is because Louis' love for Tavia remains one-sided for the entire series.

Instead, all the "sparks" happen between the incredibly close brotherhood that develops between Louis and Mat - and I have no complaints about it. It was very rewarding to watch these two characters go from being foes who were completely different cops with contrasting morals, to two people who cared so much about each other and made such a huge impact on the other's life (which is why part of the ending was such BS - but more on that in a bit).

There was a split second where I was not sure if Louis was ready to be a leading actor, although it was only because he (deservingly) had bounced up so quickly. I'm now slapping myself for ever thinking that, because Louis absolutely shines in his first leading role. He and Ruco are one of few TVB actors who excel in these gray characters. In the early episodes, he does well as the clever, "Corrupt Wah" who has no problem taking credit for other people's work and being mean-spirited. Some of his best acting though is when his character slowly starts becoming more conscientious. From feeling guilty over indirectly causing the death of an innocent man to showing compassion over his widow, and standing up for Mat when no one else would, Louis' portrays the character's change in nature after befriending Mat very well. With another actor, the transition probably would've felt sudden, but Louis' expressiveness allowed you to see "Kam Wah" rethinking himself. Although the character becomes easier to play once he is no longer corrupt, Louis does wonderfully in his emotional scenes, particularly when he found Ng Chin's lifeless body.

Kam Wah is also a character who, even when he was a corrupt cop, is very humorous and playful. This made him a lot of fun to watch and prevented "Momentary" from becoming too tragic or "heavy" to watch like most other premodern series. Some of his funniest moments are when Mat catches him doing good deeds and expressing sympathy early on, only for Louis to deny it profusely and claim he is just a creep. It was also hilarious when Louis decided to go into the walled village (where there is no police jurisdiction) to help save Mat, but not without getting himself drunk to work up the guts first. I am happy to see that Louis was able to get into the top 5 nominations for Best Actor despite this series not being a big ratings hit.

Mat had a tough task of leading alongside Louis and is not nearly as expressive as him, but certainly rose up to the challenge in his first shot at second male lead. He was able to portray the character of "Sam Yat Yin" as the righteous and serious cop he is without being wooden, and tender in his scenes with Tavia's Leung Sum. He shows the internal emotional struggle of wanting to be a good cop in a precinct full of greedy and corrupt ones who actively dislike him and what he stands for very well. His most memorable and absolutely heartbreaking scene is when he forces himself to collect the bribes from the market sellers against all his morals and beliefs. 

With the path the character was taking in the early episodes and TVB's usual predictability, I had expected Yat Yin to become a full-on villain. Although he does make a terrible jerk move towards the end in a desperate attempt to move up so he can continue to fight police corruption, Yat Yin never becomes evil or even mean-spirited and simply becomes more dire in the lengths he'll take to fulfill his goal. Until the very end, he still remains a hero. This was a direction I appreciated because it made the character much more realistic as well as allow the plot to move along logically, instead of hurriedly turning him into a caricature, a la Ruco's "Ah Lik" in "Eye in the Sky." As far as secondary leading characters go, Yat Yin was absolutely integral to the story (just as much as Kam Wah) and in moving the series along. Mat got a great opportunity, and he took advantage of it. 

While this is both of their first time as leads, Louis and Mat were my favorite leads to watch all year, and I hope to continue seeing them in major roles.


Tavia once again receives the least interesting role of an entire main cast, but unlike in the
previously mentioned "Eye in the Sky," is not irritating to watch. In the end, I don't have any praises to sing, but I also don't have any nit picks with her performance. Leung Sum is likable instead of a suffocating goody two shoes. While she thinks lowly of Kam Wah initially, she does soon come to the realization he is not what she judged him to be after she gets to know him. The character cries from time to time, but it's also not an endless waterfall like some of Tavia's past dramatic series. The most heartbreaking moment for the character is in the very last episode when she sees someone who she believes is Yat Yin, but is really Willie Wai in Yat Yin's clothes. 

Although playing a character who goes through many major events that can be considered either unfortunate at best or highly traumatic at worst, Rosina gives a very natural performance as "Fa Ying Yuet." There are no huge dramatic acting moments, and that ended up being what I liked. It's so easy to start equating dramatic yelling and crying with good acting. Rosina had many opportunities to overact and it would have even been understandable for the character to be portrayed as over the top. Yet, she never does, but still shows the emotions of the character. Ying Yuet ended up not having as much screen time as I thought she would, but she was a character that could have easily become grating to watch where the actress could take every opportunity to try to steal the scene. Instead, Rosina injects just enough emotion and makes her a sympathetic and intriguing character without trying to steal anyone's thunder, allowing the focus to remain on Kam Wah and Yat Yin's brotherhood. 

With such solid performances playing such intriguing roles, it is very disappointing that Mat and Rosina did not win Most Improved. Based on acting merit alone, they definitely had it in the bag, but much like Vincent before his villain role in "Will Power" came along, simply did not have the buzz (or favoritism) Grace and Tony possessed. (On the bright side, Mat did win Most Improved Actor in Malaysia, while Rosina took home Best Supporting Actress in Singapore, although she was nominated for "Young Charioteers" instead.)

I enjoyed the friendship between the core four characters and the few scenes they all shared, and only wished that there had just been a few more. Unlike in recent series that try to portray friendship (ahem, "Raising the Bar"), you could feel the bond between the four despite them not sharing many scenes altogether.

In addition to our leading actors, the rest of the cast performs well too. Also providing some comic relief were Brian Burrell, who appears to be playing an important role for the first time, and Amy Fan. The two were very sweet to watch as a married couple. Hugo Wong was convincing as the corrupt and cruel police inspector. Lai Kong does well as always, but him as the villain is getting increasingly predictable.

Ending Commentary (Spoilers ahead!!)

A very satisfying ending overall, with just one major complaint. On his death bed, Yat Yin tells Leung Sum that she is the reason Kam Wah changed to be a better person, not him. While the writers do not try to drill into our heads the importance of Leung Sum on Yat Yin and Kam Wah too much, doing so at all was a disservice to how important the two guy's friendship truly was. This was inconsistent just timeline-wise, as Kam Wah had already become more conscientiousness before even developing a crush on Leung Sum. Yat Yin's death was terribly sad, but fitting, though I also wish he and Kam Wah were able to share more of a "final" scene together. 

Lai Kong, Akina Hong, and Joe Tay's endings were incredibly satisfying and poetic. Akina and Joe trying to outsmart each other by poisoning the other to receive all the money for themselves, only to both die at the hands of the opposite, was brilliant and a bold writing move.  

Finally, I have mixed feelings towards Kam Wah feigning memory loss. He had already lost Yat Yin, and by pretending to not remember, he was isolating himself from his two remaining best friends. However, I am glad the writers chose not to have him and Leung Sum end up together, as the latter never expressed romantic feelings for him and it would have been too sudden and convenient for her to do so so shortly after Yat Yin's death. Kam Wah continuing to watch over Leung Sum from afar may not be the happiest ending, but it was the most fitting one. A bittersweet ending was the most appropriate for "Momentary," but the characters also ended up all pretty content.

Overall

As stated before, Louis and Mat are the heart of the series and it is ultimately about how Kam Wah and Yat Yin come to impact each other as they try to rid Tong Sai of its rampant corruption. The series makes full use of its 20 episodes, and the writing feels very tight, with none of the inconsistencies or wackiness present in many series' writing today (I enjoyed you "Captain of Destiny," but I'm looking at you). Despite being a premodern series, "Momentary Lapse" also manages to succeed more as an action series than recent typical police procedurals. Its elements of drama, action, and suspense along with its fast paced writing and strong leading performances makes you want to keep watching once you get past the set up of the first handful of episodes. "Momentary Lapse" is the most underrated series of the year, and one of the best.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"War of the Genders" Review


TVB sitcoms in recent years are known for being lighthearted series with large ensembles that provide the occasional chuckle, but at one point they were legitimately laugh until your stomach hurt funny, and "War of the Genders" is the best example of that.

It's no wonder Dodo Cheng won "Best Actress" for her portrayal of Miss Mo. She fully embodied the character, from her sharp tongue, confidence, to her tendency to tell people (usually Ah Lok) to "off." She could be vicious, while still being classy and intelligent.

Yu Lok Tin could have easily been written off as a lazy, loud-mouthed, and gambling-obsessed loser, but Dayo Wong makes the character someone easily likable despite all his obvious flaws. What sets Dayo apart as an actor is also his ability to inject sentimentality into his characters, and here it is shown through some of his interactions with "Siu Keung" and how he truly treated him as a "brother" (as concerning as it is for a man in his 30s to be treating a cockroach as not only a pet, but his best friend).

Of course, the essence of "War of the Genders" and the absolute hilarity it brings to its audience is mostly due to Dodo and Dayo together. The bickering couple may be a classic plot device that was established long before 2000 and still used often today, but I am declaring Dodo and Dayo the King and Queen of all bickering onscreen couples.

Miss Mo and Yu Lok Tin never fail to hurl witty comebacks at each other, and Dodo and Dayo do it with such ease and comedic timing. Their constant verbal jousting made it all the more hilarious the few times Ah Lok was down and not in the mood to talk back, making Miss Mo feel uncomfortable and like something was missing. Their banter was also balanced off with some physical comedy, which resulted in a lot of trips to the hospital and police station in the earlier episodes. While I normally do not like slapstick comedy, I enjoyed the balance of the two styles and I can imagine it just made it more widely appealing to viewers. Dodo and Dayo know how to play off each other like no other comedic costars today.

The rest of the supporting cast all have their moments. The weakest link is easily Marsha Yuan with her almost painful to hear Cantonese, but I didn't have too much of a problem with the character herself and was even slightly sad to see her leave in the last third of the series, leaving Dayo, Dodo, and Patrick Tang with one less roommate.

Patrick did quite well in his debut performance and able to hold his own, which is a great feat because he was working alongside the immense talent of costars Dodo and Dayo. His character "Ah Man" was honest and passionate, which made him very likable. I particularly liked his and Kitty Yuen's platonic friendship, and was disappointed to see them severely sidelined by the second half of the series.

Kingdom Yuen is actually 2 years younger than Dayo in real life, yet very convincingly plays his and Patrick's aunt and the maternal figure of the law firm with her librarian look. Ram Chiang nails the effeminate mannerisms of James.

When Dodo, Dayo, Patrick, and Marsha all lived together, there were some great moments where Patrick and Marsha, despite being the younger ones, had to hold back the supposedly more mature Dodo and Dayo from practically killing each other. Wu Fung was probably the only more major supporting character I did not like who I thought did not bring anything special when he moved in. Wu Fung's "Professor Mo" came in, divorced Yuen Yuen, and hastily started another relationship with Kingdom's Sin Jie, who is more age-appropriate than Yuan Yuan, but still the age of his daughter, and was just kind of there.

At 100 episodes, each of the supporting characters gets their own subplot at some point, while still relying on Dayo and Dodo as the focus of the sitcom. This prevented filler episodes and storylines that are so dominant in TVB's sitcoms today. In fact, I would have preferred a couple more episodes as Dayo and Dodo finally developing feelings towards each other and becoming a couple was a bit too rushed. Since most of the characters only received one storyline of their own, there was still a lot of room for development had the writers decided to extend the sitcom. Whether it was because TVB simply wasn't as greedy then or the cast wasn't interested in tying themselves to one project for too long, the wrapping up of "War of the Genders" at its originally intended 100 episodes allowed it to end on a high note instead of running around in circles until its miserable end.

Plot-wise, "War of the Genders" never delves into anything too serious, but also never becomes too stupid. Yes, it does get pretty silly and over the top at times, but it's all in good fun and done with heart. The supporting cast delivers, but does not steal the spotlight away from the comedic whirlwind that is Dayo and Dodo. On the second watch, I still find the sitcom absolutely hilarious and one of my favorites, and I'm sure I will continue to do so. It never fails to make me laugh, smile, and just feel good.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Friday, December 25, 2015

"Captain of Destiny" Review


I had originally dropped "Captain of Destiny" after five episodes on the first try, but after having a few friends tell me it gets better, I decided to give it another shot. Next thing I knew, I had binge watched the rest in four days.

After a slow and rough start that makes "Captain" seem like much more of a joke than it really turned out to be, it develops into one of the better and most entertaining series of the year. Unfortunately, by then, most viewers had already tuned out, as evidenced by its low ratings.

Cast-wise, it is easily understood why people were hesitant and turned off by the decision to cast Grace Chan as the female lead and Tony Hung as the titular "Cheung Po Tsai."

Grace can get very irritating as "Wong Tai-Mui" with her widening eyes and love for screaming her lines, particularly in the early episodes. She does tone down more as the series goes on and becomes much more bearable as the focus shifts more to Ruco Chan. Do I still think she has potential? Sure, but it was definitely too early for her to receive a lead role. I thought she was quite natural in "Raising the Bar," and although she has a stronger and more assertive character here, her acting seems to have even retrograded a bit. Wong Tai-Mui could still be likable overall, but I especially disliked her whenever she was so quick to think the worst of the 11th prince. I understand having hesitations, but how about not blatantly accusing someone of framing or murdering someone without getting any information first? Aren't you supposed to be a cop?

I am genuinely surprised by the criticism Tony received for his performance here, even though the harshest criticism was mostly directed towards Grace. As much as I like Tony as a host and ove
rall person, I had huge concerns for him coming into this series. However, I thoroughly enjoyed him as "Cheung Po Tsai" once we got past the silliness of the first few episodes. Tony was able to use his real-life playfulness and easygoing personality to play the titular character with humor and fun. His emotional scenes are unsurprisingly more raw, but the only scene I felt was particularly weak was one in the later part of the series where he confronts Ruco's character from jail. In the end, I'm not sad that Raymond Wong had to pull out of the series, but happy with the way things turned out for Tony. I'll probably receive some flack for this, but I finished this series thinking he did indeed deserve the Most Improved Actor award.

Ruco's role was increased to pick up the slack that came with casting less experienced actors such as Grace and Tony, and of course, he once again rises to the challenge. He nails the "stern but kind" role, where he was much more domineering and intimidating in the beginning before softening to become the passionate and intelligent 11th prince we loved. Timing-wise, I did think this was the right year for Ruco to win Best Actor. But even as the huge Ruco fan I am, even I must admit that solely performance-wise, this character was not a challenge for him and did not provide him with new material. I was however slightly surprised by his performance as the Bandit King, "Bowie." He needs to play another one of these baddie characters!

The rest of the cast performances are a mixed bag. Joel Chan and Mandy Wong may have been third supporting characters who didn't appear until almost halfway through the series, but they were both very entertaining and unpredictable, which is hard to come by with TVB's trite love trianKelly Fu's acting is still raw with a lot of room for improvement, but she surprisingly did not ever annoy me much. While she was overly naive and kept accidentally getting into trouble in the beginning, I came to appreciate her and Otto Chan's loyalty and confidence in Ruco, and how the three really became friends. Maggie Shiu was enjoyable and a reliable supporting actress as usual. Ocean Zhu's character was just plain weird and could have been eliminated. I ended up being most disappointed by Elaine Yiu's performance having already known she received the Best Supporting Actress award for it. She would just give her best resting bitch face and say her lines in a catty way, and I stared at the screen wondering "She won an acting award for this?"

"Captain of Destiny"'s largest problem lies in the disjointedness of its two storylines: the storyline between the pirates, and Ruco's palatial drama. Both have their distinct strengths, as the pirates' provided humor and lightheartedness, while Ruco's storyline balanced it out with more substantial drama. However, it makes the viewer feel like they're watching two completely different series and made for some awkward scene transitions. There could be a very serious scene involving Ruco and his military, and then we would transition into a scene where Grace was being chased around by the pirates in white "ghost" costumes. It is not until around 20 episodes in before Ruco even meets Tony and Grace.

Another major problem the series has is its plot holes and sloppy writing, particularly when it came to the romantic storylines. I understand that romance was not the focus on the series nor should it have been, but since the writers decided to include it, they should have done a better job. Grace is shown clearly falling for both Tony and Ruco and mulling over her feelings for the two men, but then all of a sudden shows that she only loves Tony. Ruco is portrayed as heartbroken over Grace, and then all of a sudden expresses an interest in Kelly, who returns the interest. This isn't a messy love triangle. This is just bad writing, and it seems like the writers changed their minds midway through writing the script, but could not have been bothered to go back and make the revisions. With that said, to my genuine surprise, I quite liked Tony and Grace together, as their relationship was allowed to grow from friendship. Any love line involving Ruco though, was thrown together very haphazardly.

Perhaps the even bigger concern people had going into the series was not the cast, but the CGI effects. Although it could still be obvious what was CGI and what was not, the effects were definitely much better than expected and the battle scene was very well-done. The series may have had many flaws, but the visual effects ended up not being one of them.

Despite its weaknesses though, "Captain of Destiny" is one of the most entertaining series of the year. It can easily be binge-watched if you just make it past the first few episodes because it has good pacing and still has many elements a solid series should have, including some interesting characters, comedy, drama, a little action, and some romance (as haphazard as it was). With all the mediocre series this year, "Captain" should not be completely written off because of its less-experienced leads and rough beginning. It is still very much a grand production.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Friday, December 18, 2015

TVB 48th Anniversary Awards: Results + Comments

This is probably the most entertaining awards show TVB has had in a while. TVB really cheaped out this year by just using their own artists to present all the awards. Surprisingly, this was actually a great move because the banter between the actors was for the most part entertaining. This was probably because all these actors are colleagues and have all worked with each other at some point, so the humor and usual stalling before the announcement of the winner was a lot more natural.  In TVB's continued effort to try to prove they are fair, once again, there were no truly shocking winners.


Most Improved Actor and Actress: Tony Hung and Grace Chan

Although I normally hate when it takes them forever to present an award, the whole bit with the heart rate monitors was a lot of fun, and was my favorite part of the night. The build up to Most Improved Actor was especially fun and gave the audience so many funny and entertaining moments. My favorite moments (the best translations I could provide with my shoddy Cantonese):

Matt: (on why he chose Katy Kung to come up to the stage) Because she looks pretty tonight, and she normally doesn't.
*Katy gives a fake offended look*
Wong Cho Lam: I demand you to come up here!
Sammy Leung: I demand you to sit down!
WCL: I demand you to come up here and hit him!

WCL: Don't even need to ask, Jennifer Shum right?
Benjamin: *quietly and politely* Yes, please.

Priscilla: The most improved actor of the year is...Natalie Tong, the person next to her!

No surprises at all for either the male or female winner. I really was hoping Tracy or Rosina would win but knew Tracy's chances flew out the window when I realized she couldn't even make it to the ceremony. (Side note: Tracy has recently gone back to school full-time to earn a Master's, so I wouldn't be surprised if she had to miss the ceremony to study for or take finals. So relatable right?) With that said, I'm not about to riot over Grace's win or anything, but I do hope she stops screaming all her lines.

While I do think Tony's win is also premature, I think it is also worth commending that he has rose up to the challenge for his first two lead roles, both of which he stepped in last minute after the originally casted actors pulled out. This is a huge contrast to actresses such as Aimee Chan and Niki Chow who have almost always had tailor-made roles for them to help cover up their weaknesses. His acceptance speech was probably my favorite of the night and made me happy he won, even if I do think it's still a year too early. He was humble but humorous, and I especially loved when he thanked Ruco, "the brother he loves and hates," and not only thanking, but apologizing to his family and friends for not being able to spend time with them recently because he has been busy working. I'm also happy Priscilla presented the award to him, and in true Priscilla and Tony-style banter, refused to actually say his name.


Best Supporting Actor and Actress: Wai Ka Hung for "Lord of Shanghai" and Elaine Yiu for "Captain of Destiny"

This came extremely out of the blue for me since I did not watch "Lord of Shanghai," but you know it was definitely a deserving win when Wai Ka Hung got the biggest standing ovation of the night from his colleagues. It makes me happy when actors who have been working tirelessly at TVB for many years (in his case, over 20) earn recognition. I can't help but notice the people who receive the biggest and most wholehearted standing ovations and cheers at the awards are for actors who have been working for a very long time without recognition, such as Ram and Elena in recent years. In contrast, the applause for Grace was very calm and seemed more out of general courtesy. We can all agree that we should be mature and not petty, but it must hurt when you've been working hard for so long while seeing someone else near you have a picture perfect career and raise to the top...

Elaine is a decent actress who TVB has never really given good opportunities to, so it's a shame when she finally gets promoted and wins this award, it's for a year she underwhelmed and disappointed. All I can say is, I'm glad she didn't win for her screen time-hogging annoying character with the chronic stink-eye in "Raising the Bar." I hope TVB will give her more of a variety of roles instead of the cold, detached characters. I honestly wonder if TVB really wanted to give her this award, or they really couldn't think of anyone else.


My Favorite Male and Female Characters: Ruco Chan for "Captain of Destiny" and Kristal Tin for "Ghost of Relativity"

When Ruco's name was called, I honestly didn't know whether to feel happy for his win, or disappointed because I knew at that point he had lost the race for Best Actor. You can tell he must have felt conflicted too. He still gave a mature and eloquent speech and I'm sure he is grateful for his fans and for winning his first award, but there was still a visible sadness. But I will focus on the positive side instead and say, I'm so happy Ruco has finally won his first award in Hong Kong. Congratulations Ruco, but you'll always be my favorite. ;)

Kristal's win was not a surprise, and the fact that she has a "Been there, done that attitude" about Best Actress and was so supportive of her "Ghost" co-star meant she was a much better sport than usual winners of this award instead of giving the infamous "black face." She is definitely the most gifted comedic actress TVB has right now. Though, TVB really doesn't want to give this award to Linda huh?


Best Actor and Actress: Anthony Wong for "Lord of Shanghai" and Nancy Wu for "Ghost of Relativity"

If Ruco was going to lose Best Actor to anyone, I'm glad it was to a critically-acclaimed actor like Anthony and not a less experienced and unworthy actor. Once again, I did not watch "Lord" so I cannot personally comment. Although after this and Dayo's truly shocking 2013 win, I'm starting to think TVB is taking this whole "Let's prove to the audience we don't play favorites and are fair" a bit too seriously...

It was obvious Nancy was going to win Best Actress after Kristal won Favorite Character. I'm still a little annoyed she has gotten so much attention for one of her weaker performances. However, the genuinely dazed and shocked reaction Nancy gave before tearing up was truly touching. I also like that she acknowledged that her performance in "Ghost" left a lot of room for improvement. This win also means that Nancy has worked up from winning Most Improved in 2008, to Best Supporting Actress in 2013, to finally Best Actress this year. Is there anyone else who has done this? Now here's to hoping Nancy doesn't fall victim to the "becomes boring after getting promoted to lead actress" curse...


Best Drama: "Lord of Shanghai"

Deserved. Glad TVB didn't decide to give it to "Captain" or pull a completely BS move and give it to "Ghost."


Best Classic Drama: "The Greed of Man"

*breathes a sigh of relief TVB didn't give it to "Triumph in the Skies" or pull another BS move by giving it to "Brother's Keeper" to drum up anticipation for the sequel*


Best Theme Song: Jinny Ng's subtheme for "The Empress of China"

The one BS move TVB decided to make. This category has existed for two years, and Jinny has now won twice. Should we just rename it the Jinny Ng award next year? At least last year's win for the "Line Walker" subtheme made sense, but this was just clear favoritism.

And just for fun, other moments during the awards show I found noteworthy and funny:
  • Tavia, Nancy, and Sharon presenting Best Supporting Actress and stating how all the winners of this award had to play tragic roles, except for Elena who essentially just got to make out with Kenneth in her winning series.
  • Kristal seems like such a fun, goofy, and straightforward person and was hilarious when she presented. I loved when she was joking about how she has caused so many good things to happen to all her male co-stars. Also loved when Anthony told her they had actually worked together before, but she said she was so intimidated by him that she blocked it out of her memory. Then she proceeded to yell at him for being so preoccupied with talking to her when it was his acceptance speech.
  • Ruco and Wayne's banter was much more subtle than the others, but still funny and enjoyable. These two totally need to collaborate (and Wayne in a role where he doesn't just spend the whole time screaming). 
  • When Benz called out Ben, Kenny, and Evergreen, and for not greeting Dodo by calling them his "elders."
  • Everybody eating fried chicken, some people with gloves. This was obviously some promotional tactic (guessing KFC sponsors TVB), but it was still funny. I wonder if they got the idea from when Ellen ordered pizza at the Oscar's...
How do you feel about this year's winners? Were there any other moments you enjoyed from the awards show?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

TVB 48th Anniversary Awards: My Predictions and Picks

It's that time of year again! And after employing a friend to hound me to write this post, it's finally done.

I'll be frank: This year sucked. I had a hard time getting this post done because I couldn't even come up with all my predictions for a while. Try as I might, I did end up putting down quite a few "N/A's" because I just couldn't think of any predictions or picks, and didn't want to just put down something random (granted, that's what TVB seemed to do). It didn't help I only watched 8 series this year because I was just so disinterested in TVB's offerings this year and later became so busy with my semester. But, a tradition is a tradition! Fun fact: This is now the seventh consecutive year I am writing an anniversary awards predictions post! 

Click here for the full nominations list.


Best Actor

Top 5: Kevin Cheng, Ruco Chan, Anthony Wong, Wayne Lai, and Kent Tong
Predicted Winner: Ruco 
Most Deserving: Ruco
Personal Choice: Ruco 

After being the quiet contender almost every year since "The Other Truth," Ruco has finally emerged as the actor with the most buzz. He has now won Best Actor in Malaysia and Singapore, which is a good indicator he'll finally be able to take the award home in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I stopped watching "Captain of Destiny" after a few episodes so I can't specifically comment on his performance. Of course, I've only heard great things about it, because after all, it's Ruco. I do wish he had been in a stronger series where he wasn't the one thing making it worthwhile so I had watched it and been more excited, but I may go back and give "Captain" another try during break, or at least watch some of his scenes. 

Anthony has also received considerable buzz, but TVB has nothing to gain from giving him the award. Then again, not that they gained anything by giving Dayo the award 2 years ago. However, Anthony has straightforwardly said he will not film more with TVB just because he wins the award. For once, I want TVB to listen to the business voice in their head. TVB. reward your most valuable asset right now in light of all the siu sangs and fa dans flocking away from your studios like they have the plague and the newer generation being nowhere near ready to take over.  

I wish I was more excited for Ruco right now, but I'm sure I will be once I see my favorite finally standing up at the podium giving a lovely acceptance speech. :) Don't let me down (for the 989,482th time), TVB!


Best Actress

Top 5: Liza Wang, Linda Chung, Kristal Tin, Nancy Wu, and Alice Chan
Predicted Winner: Liza
Most Deserving: N/A
Personal Choice: N/A

I'm hoping that if I put Liza down as my prediction, it'll come true instead of Kristal or Nancy winning. After the joke that was Kristal and Nancy both winning Best Actress in Malaysia, who knows what will go down that night though. Although it sounds like Liza did not have an exceptional or breakthrough performance in "Limelight Years," I'd much rather her win for yet another consistent performance in a little-watched but generally well-received and modest "Limelight Years" then Kristal for a consistent performance for the silliness that was "Ghost of Relativity." Nancy is an even worse choice. I love Nancy and think she is a wonderful actress, but this was weaker than her typical performance. Her character did not give her much to work with. Kristal at least was able to display more comedic talent. Unfortunately, Nancy probably has the largest chance just on the grounds she's yet to receive the award. Overall, no female delivered a mind-blowing (or even somewhat fresh and above lukewarm, really) leading performance this year.


My Favorite Male Character

Top 5: Kevin Cheung, Louis Cheung, Ruco Chan, Tony Hung, and Anthony Wong
Predicted Winner: Tony
Most Deserving: Ruco
Personal Choice: Vincent Wong
Snub: Johnson Lee for "Officer Geomancer"

If Ruco wins Best Actor, he may either be yet another person to pull a double win, or Tony will receive the award. Either is fine by me, but I think it will be Tony's titular "Cheung Po Tsai" since the favorite character awards are still half determined by TVB's call and half by fan votes. I really did not watch many series this year but if I had to pick a favorite male character, it'd probably be Vincent in "Brick Slaves" because he was a comical, sweet, nice, and caring guy, but still knew to set limits to his niceness and when to put his foot down. 

If Oscar managed to get nominated for yet another repetitive loud-mouthed and gangster-like role though, Johnson totally should've been able to grab a nomination for the same series as well. 


My Favorite Female Character

Top 5: Grace Chan, Kristal Tin, Nancy Wu, Liza Wang, Linda Chung
Predicted Winner: Grace
Most Deserving: N/A
Personal Choice: Priscilla Wong
Wtf? Vivien Yeo

My money's on Grace though the overall response to her character (though more specifically Grace's performance) has been negative. Priscilla's character in "Madam Cutie on Duty" was probably my favorite of the year because she actually made me laugh (and not in a "she's so stupid" way). She was sassy, fun, and her initial mocking of housewives to only realize she was slowly morphing into one herself and learning to appreciate them was very entertaining. But uh...what is Vivien's "Ghost of Relativity" character doing here? Why is this stupid series getting so many nominations??


Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Winner: Joel Chan 
Most Deserving: Joel
Personal Choice: N/A
Snub: Geoffrey Wong for "Come Home Love"

This category was disappointing for me because the supporting actor category, for as long as I can remember, has always been very tight. Even if there weren't many exceptional performances, there were many solid choices. And yet this year's list looks haphazardly thrown together. Quite a few of these actors are nominated for minor supporting roles. Again, I haven't watched enough series to make my own choice and none of the series I've seen possessed any award-worthy supporting performances. I'm going to go with Joel for my prediction since I have heard good things about his character and performance there and have previously thought he's a pretty decent actor too. I'm not sure what TVB thinks of him or if they have intentions to further promote him, but if they do, this would be a good chance. 

I guess TVB didn't want to nominate any more actors from "Come Home Love" since the indirect sequel is currently airing, but that still doesn't make sense to me since the original didn't finish airing until the midway through the year. Since this list seems to have so many fillers anyway, I would've liked to see Geoffrey Wong be nominated for portraying "Damon" in the sitcom, as the actor never fails to make me laugh and is one of my favorites to watch. To the best of my memory, Lau Dan and Griselda Yeung were the only ones ever nominated. 



Best Supporting Actress  

Predicted Winner: N/A
Most Deserving: N/A
Personal Choice: N/A
Wtf? Elena
Snub: Rosina Lam (Lin Xia Wei) 

This is definitely the weakest category this year, which resulted in my sad (lack of) predictions and choices here. All of these actresses either gave weak or ordinary performances, or are otherwise likable actresses nominated for very small and irritating roles (ahem, Vivien and Celine). 

I don't even have Elena to fall back on again this year because she's nominated for a guest role in "Raising the Bar." For a good minute I couldn't even remember her being in the series. She was not a notable guest star, she was just a judge that was friends with Ben, Ram, Timothy who maybe what, had 3 or 4 casual conversations with them? 

I did not watch "Momentary Lapse in Reason," but I had pegged Rosina as a strong contender for this award months ago after being surprised by all the praise about her performance and how she was more impressive than Tavia (though, that's not saying much these days due to her boring characters). And then the nominations list came out and she was nominated for Best Actress instead. I don't understand how TVB categories people sometimes. So thanks TVB, for taking away the one damn prediction I had for this category. I surrender. I've got absolutely nothing, which is why there's a big fat question mark instead of a picture here. I just hope Elaine Yiu does not take home the award.


Most Improved Actor

Predicted Winner: Tony Hung
Most Deserving: Matt Yeung
Personal Choice: Matt
Snub: Lai Lok Yi

It's good to still see pretty decent competition in both Most Improved categories. With the exposure he's received this year and a high-profile role and series under his belt, it's hard seeing this award go to anyone besides Tony. I've liked Tony since his debut last year and will not mind if he wins, but do feel like solely acting wise, it's too premature and I would ideally prefer him to win next year. However, my gut tells me Tony will be winning this year, and Benjamin Yuen the next year (Yes, I already have a prediction for next year). 

Matt has steadily improved over the years to become a solid actor. He has been nominated for this award several times over the last few years and always been a strong but unfortunately quiet contender. Similar to Vincent before his win two years ago, there has always been someone generating more noise than Matt. Last year it was Louis, and this year it's Tony, though I do think he stands a better chance this year. Even if he doesn't win, which is likely, I do hope TVB continues to promote Matt more instead of sticking him with the cheating boyfriend roles.

Lai Lok Yi's acting has vastly improved just portraying "John Ma" over the course of "Come Home Love's" three year run. I remember him being quite unnatural in the character and coming off like he was trying too hard, but by middle of the impossibly long sitcom, Lok Yi really became John Ma to me. It disappoints me that of the three chances he had to be nominated for this award over CHL's run, TVB still passed up the last chance. The real test for him now though, is how he will fare playing different characters...



Most Improved Actress

Predicted Winner: Tracy Chu
Most Deserving: Rosina Lam 
Personal Choice: Tracy

TVB probably favors Grace more and at the very least, giving this award to her this year makes more sense than last year when she first debuted. With how dead set they are on promoting Grace, I wouldn't be surprised if she won. I won't be extremely pleased though because I was not impressed with Grace's acting in what I saw of "Captain," and it was obvious she is not ready to be a lead actress yet. 

I also wouldn't be surprised (and would be extremely relieved) if the award went to Rosina or Tracy. I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb here and go with my gut by saying I think Tracy will get it. She won in both Singapore and Malaysia. I can't personally comment on Rosina's performance, but will take people's word for it that she gave a breakthrough performance. In which case, it would be a shame to see her go home empty handed. I'm still personally rooting for Tracy though, who absolutely lit up the screen in "The Fixer" in the second half of the series with her upbeat energy and charm as "Duck Duck."



Best Series

Top 5: "Captain of Destiny," "Lord of Shanghai," "Ghost of Relativity," "Eye in the Sky," "Raising the Bar"
Predicted Winner: "Captain of Destiny"
Most Deserving: N/A
Personal Choice: N/A

I don't think TVB does a top 5 for Best Series anymore, but I'll go for it anyway. In an otherwise very quiet year where some of the anniversary series managed to finish airing with next to no media attention, it can't be denied "Captain of Destiny" was the most buzzed about series, even if it was mostly criticism. Perhaps TVB may also go the critically acclaimed route instead and give it to "Lord of Shanghai." "Ghost of Relativity" had the highest ratings and for whatever reason was very popular, so it's almost guaranteed a top 5 slot as well. "Eye in the Sky" also garnered a moderate amount of buzz, if not just for Kevin and Ruco. To round out the top 5, I picked "Raising the Bar" simply because I recall it receiving more attention, particularly for the titular four females, when it aired despite it having an early time slot. I don't have a favorite series this year though, or even one I think I clearly enjoyed above the others.

Most Popular Series Song

Top 3: Alfred Hui and Hubert Wu's theme for "Eye in the Sky," Fred Cheng's theme for "Captain of Destiny," and Joey Yung's theme for "The Empress of China"
Predicted Winner: Fred's theme for "Captain of Destiny"
Most Deserving: Alfred and Hubert's theme for "Eye in the Sky"
Personal Choice: Stephanie Ho's theme song for "Raising the Bar"

As far as I know, I believe the three I listed were the most popular theme songs of the year, but the winner isn't as obvious this year as it was last year. Which is a good thing, because that means no songs were looped over and over again on end! Looking at you, "Line Walker." I personally prefer Alfred and Hubert's theme for "Eye" over Fred's as it was a dynamic duet fitting for the series' more suspenseful genre. However, my overall personal favorite was Stephanie's theme for "Raising the Bar" because it was so fun, catchy, and happy, and most of all it was reminiscent of older lighthearted TVB series. The nostalgia factor was on high for that song, or at least it was for me.

Most Popular Classic Series

Predicted Winner: "Triumph in the Skies"
Most Deserving: "The Greed of Man"
Personal Choice: "War of the Genders"

How did TVB come up with these nominations? Why are "Brother's Keeper" and "Lives of Omission" here? This category already seems like BS, which probably means the oh so overrated "Triumph" will win, though it should definitely be the prolific "The Greed of Man." I'll always have a soft spot for "War of the Genders" though!

So what are everyone else's predictions and personal choices? How many series did everyone even manage to finish this year? Please feel free to comment and discuss!