"Fist Fight" has many elements familiar with typical TVB series' DNA: from the bickering pair, to revenge, to family, and more. It also uses themes that have been previously used and mixes it with fresher ones, coming together to create a drama that features everything from telepathy, boxing, security, government corruption, conspiracy, to the internet and virtual reality. While this sounds like it could easily end in a hot mess of a drama that tries to do too much, the result is a multi-dimensional series that can keep a viewer on the edge of his or her seat, and require the viewer to stop and think a little to hang on for the crazy ride.
This balance of fresh and familiar is ultimately what allows "Fist Fight" to stand apart from other series this year. While it takes the requisite two to three episodes to set up the characters and general plot, the pace becomes quick and easy to get into afterwards, unlike past "risky dramas" like "When Heaven Burns" that try to be more artistic and can become draggy instead.
It seems like producer Lam Chi Wah drew inspiration from the highly serialized and genre nature of many American shows these days (with some viewers commenting the premise is eerily similar to Netflix's "Sense8"), and this influence is apparent. As the series shifts away from the bodyguard agency and more on the three male leads themselves, "Fist Fight" becomes increasingly complex with more and more elements at play and viewers are left trying to put together the puzzle pieces of what becomes the show's primary mystery. The blend of genres and themes is ambitious and screams more "American streaming drama" than "TVB drama," but there is also the familiar mixture of drama, action, comedy, and romance.
Throughout all this, it even throws in some social commentary through its discussion of virtual reality and the "dark web." While some of this becomes confusing, and the use of virtual reality becomes almost laughably far-fetched in the last stretch of episodes, it does raise some interesting questions about the dangers advancements in technology can bring.
"Fist Fight" boosts a younger cast, which is in line with its fresh nature, and thankfully they overall deliver.
Vincent Wong is fantastic as always these days as "Fever Cheung." With a different actor, "Fever" easily could have become irritating to watch with his arrogance and self-confidence. Instead, Vincent makes him charming, funny, and entertaining. The character regularly says "If you can guess what I'm up to, I wouldn't be Fever." It was refreshing to watch a protagonist who you could not always predict the next move of, consistent with the character's innovative and out-of-the-box mindset.
Mat Yeung as "Leo" plays a great straight man to Vincent's "Fever." The character is aloof and "cool" as well as untrusting of others, and Mat looks and plays the part without being wooden, while also excelling in his emotional scenes in the last episodes.
Another refreshing aspect of "Fist Fight" was how smart "Fever" and "Leo" are, albeit in slightly differing ways. While many TVB series love revving up the dramatic irony where the viewer is left screaming at the screen about how a character could be so oblivious, our leading men catch on to everything we realize about the villains and suspicious characters and more. With Fever and Leo's mutual preference for relying on themselves rather than trusting others, it was incredibly entertaining seeing the two try to outsmart the other (and failing, because the other would always eventually catch on) before they finally agreed to work together.
While still awkward and wooden in his most dramatic scenes, particularly in early ones when he is still a cop, Philip Ng showed improvement from "A Fist Within Four Walls." Philip also shows once again that his forte is in more comedic, lighthearted scenes. His voice still goes too deep when angry, but he is more natural and very likable in lighter scenes, particularly those with Rebecca Zhu. "Iron" is very impulsive and hotheaded while still a cop, and while those traits do not completely go away, he mellows in the second half and appropriately steps into the role of an older brother figure who is capable of taking a step back and looking at the situation more calmly. Consequently, Philip becomes much more enjoyable to watch too, and while he still has a long way to go, he demonstrates that he can be cast for more than just his action moves.
Unsurprisingly, there are less praises to sing for the female cast. This largely has to do with the fact the series is focused on brotherhood, making the females secondary characters who mainly exist as love interests for the men.
Shining the most though is Kaman Kong, despite the character's ridiculous name of "Sitting." I have noticed Kaman's potential and surprisingly already rather natural acting since "My Ages Apart." In her first substantial "adult" role, she is still as affable and lovable as ever, while also performing well and evoking sympathy in her emotional scenes. She and Vincent share an easygoing and sweet chemistry as the series' resident bickering pair turned lovers. The bickering pair trope can get old, but I enjoyed the pair's progression into a couple, though I groaned at one specific development in "Sitting" in the second half. Thankfully, it was not too grating to watch. After finishing this series, I wish Kaman would have won Most Improved Actress this year.
Rebecca Zhu performs adequately enough as "Ching Ching" without being too interesting, but she shares great chemistry with Philip. The "immediately good friends turned something more" was a good contrast to Fever and Sitting as a bickering pair. The scene where Ching Ching and Iron finally get together is probably my new favorite get-together scene with how adorable and hilarious Philip is running back and forth across the street.
Tiffany Lau had a difficult debut role in that she had to go through training and had many boxing and action scenes. Character-wise, she is more of a supporting player than female lead who is easily the most disposable. She is likable but her Cantonese is distractingly and heavily accented. She and Mat have enough chemistry to not look awkward, but it is nothing noteworthy.
Other notable performances included Toby Chan, who takes a break from her typical boring pretty girl characters to play a bad-ass bodyguard, and Jack Hui as Fever's loyal confident and friend.
Although the series is not without its fair share of predictable twists or unrealistic turns, and the death-toll became very high, it was refreshing to watch the series and not always be able to see what was going to happen next just based off context clues and what has happened in other similar series. Any viewer could see Shek Sau would at least be a semi-villain, but I enjoyed being able to keep guessing as to who exactly did what, just how evil a character was, and who the ultimate villain would be.
"Fist Fight" was an ambitious series, from the nearly six-month commitment it took to film the series with its location-filming and many action sequences, to its mix of genres and complex storytelling. Despite its flaws, this different direction is executed well enough that it is worth commending, even if it became more unrealistic and convoluted towards the end. Hopefully, other producers and scriptwriters will take a page from "Fist Fight" to more create entertaining and fresh series that can take risks without completing shedding the feeling of familiarity and accessibility that comes with watching a TVB series.
Rating: 4.25 stars