Sunday, December 30, 2018

"Fist Fight" Review

To keep producing the same old TVB drama, or to go completely off the deep end to create the anti-TVB drama? That is the question many TVB producers and scriptwriters seem to ponder, and "Fist Fight" is able to find a happy medium between the two approaches.

"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

Sunday, December 23, 2018

TVB Anniversary Awards 2018: Results + Comments

Lifetime Achievement Award: Nancy Sit

TVB usually hits the nail on the head with these (unfortunately I can't say that for much else they do). Nancy is a TVB fixture with a career that has spanned more than 60 years, so of course this was deserved.

Professional Actor Award: Angelina Lo, Timothy Cheng, Jimmy Au

All three are spot on. Angelina Lo is TVB's best bitchy mother-in-law, while also great at playing loving mothers, or bitchy mothers who have a soft side. Timothy Cheng still gets tasked with villain roles a majority of the time, but always delivers. Joel ended up winning Best Supporting Actor last year over Jimmy for "The Unholy Alliance," which just made more sense because as solid as Jimmy was, his character was still relatively minor. This gives him acknowledgment for his years of playing everything from villain roles to loyal and strong ones to comedic ones.

Most Improved Actor: Matthew Ho
Matthew was obviously going to win since Owen was only in variety series this year, and the rest of the competition was pretty trash (sorry Hubert, still loved you as Shek Kam Dong). I didn't watch "Life on the Line," but this award seems warranted, especially since he was already the hot favorite to win for his performance as "Siu Tung" last year, though TVB decided to finally award Mat Yeung instead.

Most Improved Actress: Crystal Fung
You know TVB really pulled a fast one when even the winner herself is visibly completely befuddled as to how she won the award. Crystal has literally acted in one series so far ("Apple-colada"), therefore she has nothing to improve on. I was particularly surprised Crystal won considering TVB seemed itching to give this to Louisa Mak. I'm not even sure which winner would be worse, but from a logistical standpoint, it is definitely worse to give it to someone who has had no opportunity to even try to improve yet. I'm glad Crystal acknowledged this in her speech though, and that she said she'd work hard to improve to actually earn this award.

Most Popular TV Partnership: Edwin Siu and Raymond Cho for "Two Men in a Kitchen"
You don't need to look any further than the pair's matching red suits and going up to get their award hand-in-hand to know these two are best buddies. Their friendship is so apparent, TVB even gave him this award two years in a row even though they had no incentive to!

The highlight of the night though was Edwin dropping a bombshell and thanking his wife Priscilla in his acceptance speech! He was so awkward and nervous about it, and while some found it cringeworthy, I found it hilarious - clearly, Priscilla is the more eloquent in this relationship. ;) I'm surprised they managed to keep it a secret since April! These two don't get much press since people just don't seem to care, but they have long been one of my favorite real-life TVB couples. They are very low-profile yet seem so genuinely sweet and fun (as evidenced by Edwin's first failed proposal on a roller coaster, and Priscilla proposing the second time).

Most Popular Series Song: Hana Kuk's theme song for "Life on the Line"
I'm SHOCKED! Nah, just kidding.

My Favorite TVB Drama (Singapore and Malaysia): "Threesome"
Glad that "Threesome" got some acknowledgment! Clearly, Singapore and Malaysia appreciated this series that TVB cast aside, cut down, and then banished to weekends much more than Hong Kong.

Best Supporting Actor: Oscar Leung for "OMG, Your Honor"
This was slightly surprising given that he was not a buzzed-about nominee (but then again, who was in this category?). Given his years of solid performances and what sounded like a more major character in "OMG, Your Honor" though, it was still deserved. Despite hitting a surge in popularity in 2012 and 2013's "L'Escargot" and "Tiger Cubs," TVB has seemed to have cast him aside into minor supporting and gangster roles again in the last few years, so I'm sure this unexpected win was encouraging for Oscar. And you know Oscar genuinely did not expect this, since he wore sneakers and said he would've put more effort into his look had he known he would win.

Best Supporting Actress: Mandy Lam for "Come Home Love: Lo and Behold"
Probably the most deserved award of the night (minus the veteran honorees)? Mandy was a hot favorite to win last year, and in one of the biggest "WTF" moments in recent anniversary award memory, Rebecca Zhu won instead. I have usually liked Mandy despite playing very small roles, and am happy she has been gaining recognition. Of all the winners of the night, Mandy seemed the most balanced, looking genuinely grateful while also being very well-composed and eloquent in her acceptance speech, despite a turbulent career that included fighting (and winning!) a battle against cancer seven years ago.

My Favorite Male Character: Kenneth Ma for "Deep in the Realm of Conscience"
Kenneth's expression when his name was announced, as well as his acceptance speech, was the most unintentionally hilarious moment of the night. While his colleagues, including Ruco and Ben, looked genuinely happy for him, Kenneth looked visibly in disbelief that he was winning this award for the third time. I usually hate when actors wear a "black face" when giving acceptance speeches, but this win was so absurd that Kenneth's complete failure to hide his sassiness in his speech, which included remarks such as how he did not pay anyone for the award, cracked. me. up. I think Kenneth himself knew he didn't have much of a chance for Best Actor this year, but was even more annoyed that TVB wanted to stroke his ego with this award again and just felt mocked instead. Once in a while this award really can mean something, and that you played a memorable character audiences loved. Most of the time, it's a pork award, and Kenneth's win was the epitome of that. Poor guy probably would've dropped TVB like a hot potato years ago, but knows his worth is in Hong Kong and that he would not fare well in Mainland China like his former more idol-faced colleagues like Ron and Bosco.

My Favorite Female Character: Alice Chan for "Deep in the Realm of Conscience"
I love Bobby so much, but wanted to slap him off the screen when he was presenting the leading female categories. The bit would have been fine and worth a chuckle if Bobby simply stated Jessica Hsuan yelled at him for forgetting to thank Tommy Leung 18 years ago, and he wanted to do so now. But like with most things, Bobby had to keep dragging it out and going on and on as if this was his time to give an acceptance speech. I'm assuming this was TVB's idea of humor and not completely Bobby's doing, and he was just responsible for rambling, but it was incredibly stupid, even more so with the cramped time.

I realize "Deep in the Realm of Conscience" was a grand production, but I'm kinda surprised Alice wasn't nominated in this category for "Apple-colada" instead where she played a strong and sassy female protagonist instead of a villain. The Best Actress and Fave Female Character competition was clearly a race between Alice, Ali, and Mandy this year, and I was betting that if it was anyone that was the most likely to go home empty-handed, it would have been Alice. I've always liked Alice though, and did not see her winning Best Actress, so I'm glad she still received recognition.

Best Actor: Joe Ma for "Life on the Line"
This was another one of the head scratchers of the night, but probably the one I was most indifferent to. Joe has never been a great actor, nor is he a bad actor. He's just kind of...meh. But I guess it was his time. I can only be so offended when the rest of the competition besides Dicky was trash, and Dicky's series was shoved to the end of the year.

Best Actress: Ali Lee for "Who Wants a Baby?"
And TVB stabs Mandy in the back and throws her to the wayside. I can't believe TVB gave Mandy nothing. I have liked Ali since her debut, and she has quickly become my favorite new leading actress out of the lukewarm bunch we have. Indeed, she has rapidly improved, and if Mandy and Alice weren't contenders, people probably wouldn't care. Unlike most other newer generation actresses, Ali has won quite a bit of both not only TVB's favor, but the audience's favor. Unfortunately, by giving Ali this award so soon (just two years after winning Most Improved!) in a year with competition, TVB is unfortunately opening her up to be criticized and disliked for something that is not her fault, much like Natalie Tong when she won this award last year. And the sad thing is, her career did not need such a boost with this award. She is already popular and in-demand because her other similarly-experienced female colleagues suck. I still love you though Ali.

Best Drama: "Life on the Line"
The only category I predicted correctly this year - yikes. I'm glad "Beyond the Realm of Conscience" did not win this though, and that what seems like a deserving series did.

Friday, November 23, 2018

TVB Anniversary Awards 2018: My Predictions and Picks

Hello for the first time since February! I was considering not writing up an awards predictions post this year since I've been so busy with law school, and have only completed four series this year, my lowest number yet. However, this year marks the tenth year of these annual posts, and I didn't want to ruin that stint. Having watched so few series though, and the fact that this is the absolute weakest list of nominations yet (I know, we say this every year), this post is shorter and I won't be making guesses for top five nominations as I can't even choose one for some of these. I also left a lot of spaces blank because, as you will quickly see, I have no idea what's going on anymore.

For those wondering, the four series I've watched all the way through this year are "Daddy Cool," "Apple-colada," "The Stunt," and "Another Era," and I am currently watching "Fist Fight."

Stray observation: The protocol in years' past has seemed to be that every major actor in practically every series was nominated by default. Yet, this year's practice was to nominate every major (and several very minor) actor from a smaller number of more high-profile series.

View the full list of nominations here.

Best Actor

Predicted Winner: Dicky Cheung
Most Deserving:
Personal Choice: Carlos Chan
Snub: Steven Ma for "Deep in the Realm of Conscience"

  • The Best Actress category has been a weak spot for several years now, while Best Actor usually includes at least one notably decent-performing veteran and one younger leading actor as nominees. But...this is also pretty bad now.
  • I didn't watch "The Forgotten Valley," but it seems like Lau Kong had a substantial role, and this nomination makes me wonder if he may pull a win as a black horse candidate. 
  • I actually don't think there's a high likelihood Dicky will win, but it's also fair to believe that he may win because 1) the competition sucks, and 2) it could be an act of gratitude from TVB.
  • TVB couldn't even throw Steven a nomination for starring in one of this year's anniversary series in a category that also includes Tony...ouch.
  • If Benjamin wins, I don't know what I'm going to do to myself, but it seems like a likely possibility... (Though it seems odd he's nominated for "Another Era" rather than "Stealing Seconds," which he won Favorite Actor in Singapore and Malaysia for. 
  • Carlos will never win, but he really was refreshing and strong in "Daddy Cool." It takes a solid actor to hold your own against Wayne and John Chiang, but not only did Carlos did that, he was completely convincing as Wayne and John's grandfather and father, respectively. I hope he films with TVB again, but I'm sure he has even better opportunities after this performance.
  • Man I really miss watching Louis. 

Best Actress

Predicted Winner: Mandy Wong
Most Deserving: Mandy Wong
Personal Choice:

I watched the first two episodes of "Threesome," and did not hate it nor was I immediately drawn in, so I ended up never continuing because of how busy I was. Mandy has long shown that she is a competent actress though, and got a chance to showcase that by playing three different characters.

My Favorite Male Character

Predicted Winner:
Most Deserving:
Personal Choice: Carlos Chan

Yeah...I got nothing. Benjamin won this already two years ago, so another win so soon for someone who is no Charmaine Sheh or Wayne Lai seems redundant.

*Sorry to John Chiang for using such an unflattering screen seems to have gotten considerably harder to find good stills now that TVB has slacked off on uploading official promotional ones.

My Favorite Female Character
Predicted Winner: Ali Lee
Most Deserving:
Personal Choice:

I was already surprised Ali did not win this last year (and to her female co-star from the same series who had a less popular character!), so perhaps this year is hers. I watched the first two episodes or so of "Who Wants a Baby?" and didn't find it too engaging, but thought Ali performed well from what I saw, bringing out the character's insecurities and nervousness about becoming a mother while also feeling genuinely excited and happy. The only other person who may win would be Mandy if someone pulls an upset for Best Actress.

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Winner:
Most Deserving:
Personal Choice:
Snub: Kelvin Kwan for "The Stunt"

Andrew Yuen was in just a handful of episodes as Alice's boyfriend in "Apple-colada" before getting broken up with, but alrighty then TVB. I'm hard pressed to single out even one name here...did Jonathan Cheung have a major role in "Succession War"? He's always good.

Obviously Kelvin is not a TVB managed artist, therefore, according to TVB, screw him, but he was certainly one of the more entertaining and memorable supporting actors this year. He never failed to steal a scene and make me laugh, but also fared relatively well in his emotional scenes, which was such a pleasant surprise since he has been criticized for being a wooden actor previously.

Best Supporting Actress
Predicted Winner:
Most Deserving:
Personal Choice: Joyce Tang

Look, I have no idea, I just wish Joyce could get her sweet justice for losing this award to FREAKING REBECCA ZHU last year even though she has no chance this year.

Most Improved Actor
Predicted Winner: Owen Cheung
Most Deserving:
Personal Choice:

This category is giving me a serious case of deja vu with three of the same nominees from last year and it's likely Owen vs. Matthew once again, with no Mat to pull a deserving upset this time around. Owen is the one who has already been promoted to leading actor though, so this makes most sense.

Most Improved Actress
Predicted Winner: Louisa Mak
Most Deserving:
Personal Choice: Roxanne Tong

Louisa is the most profile, but still very green. I still love Roxanne and think she is a very likable actress who has improved a lot, but TVB really can't seem to make its mind up on whether to promote her or not. Last year she had a few major roles and one leading one, yet this year she has gone back to being sidelined, and does not have any performances to warrant a win.

Favorite TV Partnership
Odd drama choices other than the "Life on the Line" guys. The trio from "Daddy Cool" definitely deserved a nomination and "Fist Fight" would have made a decent nomination too.

Best Drama
Predicted Winner: "Life on the Line"
Most Deserving: "Daddy Cool"
Personal Choice: "Daddy Cool"

Anniversary series and highest-rated series of the year while also receiving rather positive praise. "Life on the Line" is a pretty good recipe for a best drama win with these combined factors. "Daddy Cool" was just so fun and refreshing though, and even when the plot got a little draggy or absurd, the cast and characters were able to carry it until the end.

Best Theme Song
I'm assuming one of Hana Kuk's theme songs because she is TVB's current Jinny Ng. I have no personal choices.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

TVB Anniversary Awards 2017: Results + Comments

Global Netizen’s Favorite Drama: “The Exorcist’s Meter”
Not a surprise and well-deserved. I’m so glad TVB didn’t give this to “Line Walker 2” and always love a good underdog story. This series had a low budget and the farest thing from a star-studded cast, but heart and creativity. There probably isn’t any other series in the last few years that dealt with the subject of human loss and love so well, much less while tying together supernatural elements.

Most Improved Actor: Mat Yeung
I said “Matthew” out loud just as the winner was announced and was completely blindsided in the best way possible when Mat’s name was announced instead. I pegged Mat as having no chance, especially as the two drama series he is nominated for did not receive much attention. Yes he’s overqualified for the award, and perhaps Owen deserved it most solely in terms of actual improvements in acting, but I am so happy that he has finally received recognition. Next stop, best supporting actor with the big boys?

Most Improved Actress: Mayanne Mak
I was totally surprised by this, and don’t watch variety shows so I cannot give an opinion as to whether or not Mayanne deserves it. From all the applause and cheers she received, it seems like she did, and in that respect I’m happy for her. However, I still think TVB needs to separate out the most improved acting and hosting categories. I’m mostly just glad Jacqueline Wong didn’t win (sorry Kenneth).

Most Popular Drama Theme Song: Hubert Wu’s theme song for “The Exorcist’s Meter”
Woo so happy Hana didn’t win for her sub theme for “Line Walker 2”! This is definitely my favorite theme song of the year. No complaints. So glad Hubert, who is a far superior singer, finally nabbed this award out of the hands of Jinny, Hana, and Co. Also loved the "Hearts of Fencing" reunion. When I first heard the theme song by 2R start playing, I was wondering why it sounded so familiar before I was flooded with memories of the series.

Most Favorite Onscreen Partnership: Edwin Siu, Raymond Cho, and Matthew Ho for “A General, A Scholar, And An Eunuch”
I didn’t actually put this down as my prediction, but did expect this would be a very likely scenario. Edwin, Raymond, and Matthew were such a fun ensemble with chemistry while each having comedic talent in their own right. Edwin looked completely surprised and unprepared when giving the acceptance speech though, which was quite funny.

Best Supporting Actor: Joel Chan for “The Unholy Alliance”
Top 5: Joel Chan, Jimmy Au, Andrew Yuen, Owen Cheung, Anthony Ho

This category was obviously one “The Unholy Alliance” co-star versus another. In the end, I’m not surprised Joel won, and that is more fitting anyway because as solid of an actor as Jimmy is, his bodyguard role in the series probably could not even have been considered a supporting role. Joel was one of the more emotional people of the night, which makes sense given he was given a second opportunity at TVB and has experienced so much more success this time around after putting in a lot of hard work. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Joel. It was sweet seeing Elaine present the award to Joel and tearing up behind him as he gave his speech, before regaining composure and watching him in admiration.

Best Supporting Actress: Rebecca Zhu for “A General, A Scholar, And An Eunuch”
Top 5: Rebecca Zhu, Tracy Chu, Mandy Lam, Elaine Yiu, Sharon Chan

I don’t think I’ve ever been so genuinely offended and confused by an anniversary awards winner in my life? While I did not agree with Katy and Elaine’s wins in the last two years for this award, at least they were for meaty roles. Meanwhile, Rebecca had the least to do of all the females in “A General.” She stood around and flirted with Matthew sometimes. What’s even more offensive is that her co-star Grace Wong did not even place into a top 5 despite giving a far superior, more entertaining performance. However, I was pleasantly surprised Mandy Lam placed for “Lo and Behold.” I haven’t been watching it, but been hearing good things about her and always like it when actors from sitcoms can get short-listed. Either Tracy, Mandy, or Elaine winning would have been better than Rebecca. And this is saying a lot, considering Tracy only had a guest starring role and Elaine gave a typical performance and already previously won. I can’t believe Sharon was short-listed for her cringeworthy, adulterer role in “Heart and Greed 3” either. This has been one of the weakest categories in the last few years, but Rebecca’s win is probably one of the most uncalled for and unfair since Fala first won in 2007 very shortly after debuting.

Favorite Male Character: Kenneth Ma for “The Exorcist’s Meter”
Top 5: Kenneth Ma, Vincent Wong, Moses Chan, Edwin Siu, Benjamin Yuen

Most of us definitely called this. “Ma Kwai” is definitely one of the most easily likable characters of the year. All the top five nominees’ characters were likable though, which is a nice change from some categories sometimes not even having one solid nominee recently.

Favorite Female Character: Sisley Choi for “Legal Mavericks”
Top 5: Sisley Choi, Natalie Tong, Nancy Wu, Mandy Wong, Ali Lee

Slightly surprising, but not that much considering it’s TVB. Sisley should have been nominated for and won Most Improved Actress instead. If we are looking solely at character, I really did like her “Din Jie” character, which was a refreshing female character who was bad ass, did not care she was unattractive, and was unapologetically herself. I would still easily choose Ali’s “Paris” over Sisley, and am disappointed Ali went home empty-handed despite giving such a solid performance in “My Ages Apart.” Unfortunately, what I dreaded would happen to Ali happened to Sisley instead. She isn’t necessarily undeserving and has genuinely improved, but she won such a major award sooner than others usually do, which has already given her criticism. TVB is hurting Sisley more than helping her by pulling this move, while the audience may have actually been happy for her had she won Most Improved.

I might be in the minority here, but I liked Sisley’s speech about how the criticism she has received for her acting made her question her self-worth, while getting to play this role helped her to finally get some it back. You can tell that the attacks and negative words have really gotten to her, but instead of questioning why people are criticizing her (ahem, Grace Chan), or letting it get the best of her her, but you can also tell she has taken it to heart and tried her best to improve. But yes, it was bizarre that she didn’t actually thank people in her speech. On another note, every main cast member except Mandy deserved praise for “The Exorcist’s Meter,” but here we are. Moon Lau should have taken her place.

Best Actor: Vincent Wong for “Legal Mavericks”
Top 5: Vincent Wong, Kenneth Ma, Ruco Chan, Michael Miu, Moses Chan

Expected, but still satisfying. Vincent obviously knew he was going to win barring an upset by Kenneth, so he was calm and collected and had a well-rehearsed speech. Vincent is a perfect example of someone who may not have as much experience under his belt as other winners (12 years, and just a mere three series as a leading actor), but won based on merit instead of timing, and the luck of receiving a great role he could nail. I would love to see more actors in the future winning based on the merit of performance alone, rather than it just being “the right time” or the luck of being cast in a series with high buzz. I definitely felt Vincent had the potential to win TV King when “Legal Mavericks” and his role was first announced - called it!

Best Actress: Natalie Tong for “My Unfair Lady”
Top 5: Natalie Tong, Jessica Hsuan, Nancy Wu, Nina Paw, Ali Lee

My jaw dropped when Natalie’s name was called. I wasn’t angry like for Rebecca, but I was just shocked. I did not read the reports that Natalie’s fans had been campaigning for her or that she was rumored to sign a new contract in exchange for the award, so I was completely confused. I have liked Natalie for a long time and think she is a good actress, but not Best Actress caliber (she was also in the awkward position of being a second lead in “My Unfair Lady,” neither a leading or supporting actress).

Best Drama: “My Ages Apart”

I’m surprised that TVB didn’t give this award to “Line Walker: The Prelude” and allowed it to go home empty-handed. But if this award was going to go to any other series, I’m not surprised they decided to give it to the anniversary drama that didn’t make a splash, but at least didn’t completely tank (ahem, Heart and Greed). I am very happy this series won though, because it was a refreshing series with a great sense of humor. I am a fan of meta and satirical humor, as well as series that are not afraid to poke fun at themselves. As crazy as the main family and some plot lines could get, you could tell the writers were well-aware of its own absurdity and never took themselves too seriously. It’s something I really wish more TVB comedies could incorporate. And while it understandably dragged sometimes at a whooping length of 50 episodes, with its large ensemble, I did not feel like it dragged significantly more than series that ran just a mere 20 or 30 episodes can sometimes. I wish more people would have tuned in.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

TVB Anniversary Awards 2017: My Predictions and Picks

Hello everyone, it's time for my yearly emergence from hibernation! Unfortunately I have had a crazy and busy year, leading me to realize today that my last blog post was from over a year ago (but in my defense, TVB also decided to push back the anniversary awards until the end of January). Since I did not write any reviews this year, this year's awards predictions post is particularly long as it is doubling as a post with my thoughts on the series I've watched this year and the performances I saw.

Best Actor

Top 5: Vincent Wong, Ruco Chan, Michael Miu, Kenneth Ma, Moses Chan
Predicted Winner: Vincent
Most Deserving: Vincent Wong
Personal Choice: Vincent Wong
Snub: Louis Cheung for "My Ages Apart"

I could see this going either way and would be pleased with either, but am giving Vincent an edge over Kenneth. With "Heart of Greed 3" being a complete failure, "My Ages Apart" barely registering a blimp on the radar, and other series starring veterans like Dicky Cheung being pushed to later this year, Vincent’s competition has ended up being much weaker than previously predicted. Kenneth is the only one giving him a run for his money, and it is interesting to see that the major contenders in the Best Actor category for the first time is between two “younger” siu sangs instead of mixed with older veterans.

Timing-wise, it certainly feels like Vincent winning is a little premature, especially given Kenneth has yet to win it. If we were to judge solely on performance though, Vincent deserves it more, as the character was multi-dimensional and called on him to be a range of things from aloof, narcissistic, manipulative, to vulnerable, and even sometimes a little goofy and fun all without being able to communicate without his eyes. I’m sure Vincent will have more interesting roles in the future, but it’s difficult to see a better role for him to win TV King for than “Man Hap,” at least in the near future. Kenneth definitely gives a strong performance as Ma Kwai that makes you feel for his unlikely hero character. He nails his scrappy, laidback, potty mouth character while injecting sentimental ness and emotion so that you can’t help but root for him. Kenneth does so well with what he is given, but he doesn’t get to show as much range or do anything new. This is certainly an appropriate time for him to win, and it would be for a strong character, not to mention for a totally unexpected but nevertheless satisfying underdog series. I’m honestly cheering for both, but still think Vincent deserves it more based on performance alone and has a slight edge.

A notable snub is Louis, who is currently being "frozen" by TVB despite being one of their most valuable actors right now. He gives an enjoyable and solid performance as usual as "Walking," and it's ridiculous that TVB is punishing him for something that was not even in his control, while Tony can get a nomination for "Recipes to Live By."

Best Actress

Top 5: Jessica Hsuan, Nina Paw, Nancy Wu, Ali Lee, Louise Lee
Predicted Winner: Jessica
Most Deserving: *shrugs*
Personal Choice: *shrugs*

It really is sad how weak of categories Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress have become in recent years. My best guess is that Jessica will win because there really isn't anyone else, and "My Unfair Lady" was a success that gave Jessica a resurgence in popularity. I like Jessica and she performed fine, but I couldn't get through the series and did not like her character "Mall Jie." Nina Paw for "The Unholy Alliance" would be a cool choice, but she is certainly a black horse candidate having come from a film career. Then again, Josie Ho unexpectedly won Best Supporting Actress for "Tomorrow is Another Day" in 2014, so it's not impossible. My only hope is that Ali does not win. I genuinely do think she has improved this year, and I have thoroughly enjoyed her performance in "My Ages Apart." She is natural, fun, and cute without being annoying and shows the changes and maturity in her character "Paris."  For her to win Best Actress just a year after winning Most Improved will undoubtedly garner her criticism and hate that she does not deserve.

Favorite Male Character

Top 5: Vincent Wong, Ruco Chan, Benjamin Yuen, Kenneth Ma, Moses Chan
Predicted Winner: Kenneth Ma
Most Deserving: Kenneth Ma
Personal Choice: Kenneth Ma, Hubert Wu
Snub: Louis Cheung for "My Ages Apart"

As stated above, Kenneth plays an unlikely hero, but one that is easy to like and root for nevertheless.  Ma Kwai may be funny, but is also an underdog character who goes from questioning to how he became embroiled in the messy world of the supernatural to accepting his destiny. Should Kenneth win Best Actor over Favorite Male Character, I doubt Vincent will go home empty-handed and instead will receive this. "Man Hap" is definitely an interesting and memorable character, but with his many layers buried under an often arrogant and detached exterior, Ma Kwai was the more easily likable character. Hubert's "Shek Kam Dong" was also endearing and entertaining to watch. I enjoyed seeing him become increasingly aware of the human nature of those around him and going from involuntary alliances with Kenneth to being true friends and "brothers." Louis' "Walking" was also a fun and quirky character and as usual Louis makes him even more likable and dynamic.

Favorite Female Character

Top 5: Natalie Tong, Jessica Hsuan, Nancy Wu, Ali Lee, Tracy Chu
Predicted Winner:
Most Deserving: Ali
Personal Choice: Ali, Moon Lau
Snub: Grace Wong 

I'm surprised Ali was nominated for "My Ages Apart" over "Legal Mavericks" since her "Never Wong" character was quite popular. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I actually personally liked "Paris" more than "Never" since Paris was a more dynamic character where you were able to witness her growth while Never remained static. Paris went from a snobby and immature girl to someone who is much more compassionate, hardworking, and sweet, and I wish Ali had received more attention for the role. With the actress' popularity this year for "Legal Mavericks," it won't be surprising if she goes home with this award, but should a black horse candidate like Nina or someone completely random emerge victorious as TV Queen, I can see Jessica winning this too.

*spoiler alert ahead* 
Moon's character "Bei Bei" in "The Exorcist's Meter" seemed like she would just be a cutesy and idealistic character, but she was also sweet, caring, and pleasantly optimistic, and proved to be such a loyal and genuine friend. She genuinely loved and cared about Kenneth, but it didn’t feel like a blind, foolish one - she just wanted him to be happy and safe. Her somewhat unexpected death was probably the one character death this year that left me sad and wanting to crawl in a corner. I also, completely unexpectedly, quite liked Sisley's "Dang Jie" in "Legal Maverick." While she could be a bit too self-sacrificial at times, I liked the character's strength, loyalty, and how she accepted and embraced who she was (born with buckteeth and the daughter of a triad boss).

One snub I noticed though is Grace Wong, who played a pretty bad ass and fun character in "A General, A Soldier, and An Eunuch." I realize she won this award last year, but surely she still deserved a nomination in what's a ridiculously long list anyway?

Best Supporting Actor

Top 3: Owen Cheung, Jimmy Au, and Joel Chan
Predicted Winner: Jimmy Au
Most Deserving: Jimmy Au
Personal Choice: Jimmy Au

TVB does this ridiculous thing where they do something different for the supporting category almost every year. They've named every single nominee, the top 5, top 2, and last year, the top 3, so that's what I will go with here.

Jimmy Au became a reliable veteran supporting actor that gained a lot of attention after playing a villain in last year's "A Fist Within Four Walls" and then the loyal bodyguard this year in "The Unholy Alliance." Yet, when it came to winning awards, it was his co-star Joel who won in Malaysia. Joel has definitely dedicated himself after being given a second chance from TVB and is a solid actor. However, this category for many years now has been an older (aged 50+) veteran actors club it seems, making Jimmy seem like the more likely winner, though it could easily go either way. I was not particularly impressed by Joel's performance though since he didn't have that much to work with, and I have come to really like Jimmy, from his villainous roles, to his comedic ones like in "Come Home Love," and his dramatic but good and loyal roles like the one he is nominated for. It's always so rewarding to see hardworking actors who have gone unrecognized for decades upon decades finally win an award and receive a standing ovation from their colleagues, and a win for Jimmy would be no different. With that said, Joel is also going into his 20th year into the industry and grown as an actor in his own right, so I wouldn't be mad if he won either.

Best Supporting Actress

Top 3: Tracy Chu, Grace Wong, and Elaine Yiu
Predicted Winner: Grace
Most Deserving: Grace
Personal Choice: Grace

The good news is there is one decently strong nominee for this category in Grace Wong, but the bad news is that it ends there. I'm not sure if I would go as far to say as Grace's performance in "A General, A Soldier, and An Eunuch" is award-worthy, but it was definitely an enjoyable and solid one. Grace has quietly improved as an actress by heaps and bounds over the last few years, and I loved seeing her hold her own as the would-be princess turned modern-day independent woman in this male-dominated series. Plus, she earned praise for her villainous turn in "My Dangerous Mind Hunter," which she probably should have been nominated for instead (though I did not personally watch it). I'm assuming Elaine will find herself onto the short-list as well, even though she and Joel really did not have much to work with in "The Unholy Alliance." Joyce is always a strong actress and I'm still disappointed she lost this award last year despite being a hot choice, but she is nominated for a sitcom this year.

Most Improved Actor

Predicted Winner: Matthew Ho
Most Deserving: Mat or Hugo
Personal Choice: Mat
Snub: Fred Cheng

After the weakest competition I’ve ever seen last year in a usually exciting or at least interesting category, all the nominees in this category actually feel deserved (except maybe host Luk Ho Ming, who I'm not familiar with). None of the actors feel prematurely nominated or too overqualified, with the exception of maybe Mat. Hubert is the weakest actor/nominee of the bunch, but he still played the role of Shek Kam Dong very well, nailing the ancient language the character used as well as the character’s sense of responsibility yet occasional awe at today’s objects. 

This is now Mat’s fourth nomination in this category, having previously been nominated in 2011, 2014, and 2015. Poor guy is always a solid contender every time, but always overshadowed by someone who attracts more buzz, and this year is no different. He just never seems to be in the right series or in one at the right time, and hopefully one of these days he is.

Hugo has caught my eye since his small role and emotional scenes in “Triumph in the Skies II” as Nancy’s early boyfriend. Since then, I’ve found him to be full of potential and easy on the eyes, yet he’s always been stuck in minor roles. With the exodus of actors his luck has changed, and it has been nice to see him in increasingly major roles like the villain in The Exorcist’s Meter. This nomination was well-deserved, and one I was very happy to see.

I did not think much of Owen when I first saw him in "Come Home Love" and went into "Legal Maverick" with no expectations for him as a second lead. Yet I was surprised and impressed by his comic timing. He may have previously been known as a Chilam and Bosco lookalike, but he finally distinguished himself as Owen this year. I would like to see how he fares in a more dramatic and/or soft-spoken role than his usual more loud, upbeat, and comedic ones though before I pin him as an actor who has vastly improved.

One notable snub is Fred. With his baby face, I mostly picture him happy and more cheerful characters, so he really surprised me in "Provocateur" as the vengeful and manipulative protagonist. I never would have thought he could creep me out or scare me, but at many points in this series he did. He was the first person I pegged this year as a contender for Most Improved, and it’s a shame he was barely noticed for his performance.

The winner is obviously going to be Matthew after all the buzz he received for playing an eunuch in “A General, A Scholar, and An Eunuch.” Its a choice I agree with and think makes sense, but I must admit I am more excited by some of the other guys, because I am still not yet convinced Matthew can impressively play more than “Siu Tung," but looking forward to how he fares in his action drama opposite Joe Ma. The only one I could see having a tiny, tiny chance of pulling an upset is Owen, who nabbed Best Supporting Actor in Singapore.

Most Improved Actress

Predicted Winner: Samantha Ko
Most Deserving: Roxanne Tong
Personal Choice: Roxanne Tong
Snub: Sisley Choi

And then we have the female category, and while it's not a total mess, still leaves much to be desired compared to the male category. My best guess is Samantha will win, since she has the buzzed-about "My Unfair Lady" under her name, and she won this award in Singapore. I'd be indifferent to this result. I remember really liking her performance in "Friendly Fire" several years ago, but she has not left an impression on me since then.

Zoie Tam won in Malaysia though, and I wouldn't be overly surprised if she won, since she has been appearing in more and more series recently. At least to me though, her look suits very well for cool and detached characters, and not much else, making her feel dull to me.

I have been very pleasantly surprised by Roxanne Tong, who gave an okay but rather bland performance in "Come Home Love," but was incredibly endearing and natural in last year's "Between Love and Desire." I'm happy to see she was able to receive a nomination this year, since she gave another strong performance in "Provocateur" and sparked great chemistry with co-star Jonathan Cheung, and she's definitely my pick. Unfortunately, TVB can't seem to make up their mind about whether to promote her, because she seems to switch back and forth from playing more major roles to small supporting ones. 

Surprisingly, Sisley once again walked away without a nomination for Most Improved. It seems strange that despite being so heavily promoted since her debut, Sisley has never been nominated for this award while Grace Chan was nominated twice (before winning the second time). It's even a little disappointing she wasn't nominated this year specifically, given that she did show improvement in "Legal Mavericks" after finally receiving an interesting character to work with.

Best Drama

Predicted Winner: Line Walker 2
Most Deserving: The Exorcist’s Meter
Personal Choice: The Exorcist’s Meter

With its high (by today's standards) ratings across all platforms and its collaboration with Mainland China, it's hard seeing any other series besides "Line Walker 2" win. However, it's "The Exorcist's Meter" that ended up being the year's most pleasant surprise. This supernatural series looked hopelessly tacky and strange in promos and had a seemingly very weak cast other than leading man Kenneth. Yet, it ended up being the most refreshing one with its supernatural elements and mixing of comedy with some slight horror. What surprised me most though was that this low-budget supernatural series also ended up being the one with the most heart and thoughtful writing for a TVB series in years. Sure there were some inconsistencies and it felt like it sometimes got carried away, but the supernatural genre was a smart and creative platform to deal with very real things like life and death and cherishing the people around you in a way that left an impact on you. It's a black horse contender with a lot of fan support behind it, but probably not enough to trump TVB's tendency to play favorites.

Global Netizen’s Favorite Series

Predicted Winner: The Exorcist’s Meter
Most Deserving: The Exorcist’s Meter
Personal Choice: The Exorcist’s Meter

The inclusion of this new category is puzzling, but makes me think that TVB wants to recognize it's surprise supernatural hit or maybe "Legal Mavericks" in some way without shafting "Line Walker 2" (or maybe even vice versa?). Line Walker 2 was noted for being a hit on online platforms, so it would make sense for it to win this award, but having it win both categories seems redundant, so I'm holding out for this consolation win for The Exorcist's Meter.

Favorite TV Partnership

Predicted Winner: Vincent Wong and Natalie Tong for "My Unfair Lady"
Most Deserving: Kenneth Ma and Hubert Wu for "The Exorcist's Meter"
Personal Choice: Vincent Wong and Owen Cheung for "Legal Mavericks," Kenneth Ma and Hubert Wu for "The Exorcist's Meter"

I'm really not sure about this category, but do know Vincent and Natalie were a very popular onscreen pairing this year. I wouldn't be surprised if Edwin Siu, Raymond Cho, and Matthew Ho won for their partnership in "A General, A Soldier, and An Eunuch," which was a fun and entertaining ensemble to watch though the comedy dragged on for a little longer than it should have. I'm a little torn between which partnership I enjoyed more of the two I listed as my personal choice, but the love and compassion felt more obvious between Kenneth and Hubert and the nature of their relationship was just so unique. It was touching to see that while Hubert was only pretending to be Kenneth's long lost "brother" for Kenneth's mother, he and Kenneth came to saw each other as brothers, even if they never verbalized it. Vincent and Owen, along with Sisley, were all still absolutely hilarious and fun together though.

Best Theme Song

Predicted Winner: Hana Kuk’s theme song for “Line Walker 2”
Most Deserving: Hubert Wu's theme song for The Exorcist’s Meter
Personal Choice: Hubert Wu's theme song for The Exorcist’s Meter

I know, I've mentioned The Exorcist's Meter a million times now, but I only managed to watch and finish five series this year, and it really was a standout this year, right down to its soundtrack. Both Hubert's theme and sub theme song were memorable and played up the emotion of every scene it was played in. I especially liked the theme song which has a nice blend with the piano and dance beats. The female dance cover of the song with Jacqueline Wong and Sisley Choi though unnecessary. I also have a soft spot for his sub theme though, and listening to it just makes me think back to some of the sad scenes the song was played in and become a little misty-eyed. Of course, Hana's theme song for "Line Walker 2" will win because she's the new Jinny that we're getting shoved down our throats even though her songs are only, like Jinny's, just okay.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

"Dead Wrong" Review

*Major spoilers ahead!

TVB seems to follow a pattern of producing a thriller drama once every few years, and in their first foray into the genre since 2014's "Black Heart White Soul," the cast and crew have outdone themselves. As it turns out, TVB is still capable of putting together a quality drama without unnecessary glitz and glamor.

"Dead Wrong" is an epic thriller that keeps you at the edge of your seat through out all of the suspense and plot twists. The two-hour premiere is probably the best episode of television TVB has produced in years, playing out like a movie that was heart-pounding, gritty, and left me both thrilled yet stressed.

While not as thrilling and nerve-wracking after the adrenaline rush of the premiere, the series remains entertaining and well-written as our protagonist "Vincent" tries to acclimate to his job, family, and society in general again, all while finding out there is more to his kidnapping than he thought. Once it is revealed Kenny's character is the one responsible for Vincent being held hostage for 10 years in the last 8 episodes, the series is sure to be one you want to binge-watch until the very end due to the cliffhangers they keep leaving you on every episode.

Now was the kidnapping storyline realistic? Absolutely not. By the very end, we find out five major characters were involved in Vincent's kidnapping besides for the kidnappers themselves in some way, both intentionally and unintentionally. However, as I finished the drama and watched the flashbacks as well as reflected back to the beginning, I was impressed with how consistent the story was. If you look back, you realize hints had been dropped all along. For example, why was Cathy so worried when Vincent left for his business trip to Vietnam? Why were Cathy and Vincent's brother robbed immediately after leaving the bank with the ransom money? Why was Cathy always willing to go to such lengths, even risking losing her legal license, to help Vincent? In the end, everything fit together like one complicated, but well-thought out puzzle.

So yes, the storyline itself is unrealistic and far-fetched. But with TVB's natural tendency towards inconsistent and haphazard writing, it was very impressive and rewarding to see that everything checked out in the end. It felt like the writers had this road map in mind all along, instead of just writing the script as they came up with things regardless of whether it was consistent with what they had already written. This resulted in a satisfying pay off that resolved most, if not all, questions.

Aside from the suspense and mystery though, what also needs to be commended is the emotionally-charged aspect of this drama, which makes it all the more compelling and dramatic without being soapy. Vincent is of course the main subject of inner emotional turmoil, but almost every character has skeletons in their closet, with guilt and flaws they must live with. In contrast to other dramas, they are also all ultimately forced to face what they have done in some way. It is interesting to see how everything comes back to Vincent, and how the events of his kidnapping and 10 year imprisonment have made such a profound impact on these characters.

This brings us to the cast and characters themselves. While not the biggest name cast for an anniversary series, everyone performs well, but this is an example of a rare TVB scenario where a solid cast brings to life a phenomenal script, instead of the usual "amazing cast tries to make crap look good." As a result, no doubt certain cast members delivered, but this really was a series that deserved recognition for its script and writing before its cast.

Roger Kwok is strong as always, but as a veteran actor who has acted in his third thriller series in the last 8 years (after 2008's "Last One Standing" and 2014's "Black Heart White Soul"), his performance as "Vincent" does not offer anything new from his previous dramatic performances. This is not to underscore how talented and professional of an actor Roger is, but perhaps the people who strongly believed Roger deserved Best Actor again this year were too focused on the intensity of the two-hour premiere. He just knows how to nail these emotional characters who come to be driven by vengeance.

Joey Meng also gives another strong and emotional performance. I must say, I did not really care through out the series whether "Vincent" and "Cathy" got back together, but the build up to the finale where Vincent forgives Cathy for everything and Cathy lets him back into her life again is incredibly satisfying and sweet.

Despite playing a villain who turned out to be responsible for Vincent being held hostage as long as he was, Kenny Wong is mostly expressionless and stoic as usual, but it works in his favor here. However, he certainly has a memorable redemption and ending scene, showing how Ah Yan truly loved Cathy by choosing to commit suicide so that Cathy would not have to kill him, putting an end to Vincent's quest for revenge once and for all.

Vincent Wong further shows how much he has improved and matured as an actor over the years by portraying "Max," who is haunted by memories of his kidnapping and ridden with guilt for not saving Vincent when he had the opportunity to. Perhaps if there was anything inconsequential to the overall plot though, was the love triangle between him, Stephanie Ho and Zoie Tam, but I am glad they kept it mature with Zoie's "Emma" realizing Max was in love with Stephanie's "Tracy" and stepping away. Steph is always good at these cutesy comic relief roles, but I was really hoping she would have more  to do here, since she is quite good in her few dramatic scenes. The writers did much better with writing the friendship between Roger, Vincent, and Tyson Chak's characters, and the actors also had much easier and fun chemistry.

Finally, Rebecca Zhu plays a more mature character here, as shown by her sharp short do and elegant clothes. The actress remains boring and uncharismatic, but the lengths Max and her character "Queenie" were willing to go to to keep Vincent from going down the wrong path was touching, if not a little concerning. Perhaps one plot hole that is still left at the conclusion of the series though, is why Queenie does not show a reaction when it is revealed Cathy indirectly caused her older sister Ivy's death.

If there is one major complaint I had about a character and the series though, is how never at any point in the series does Vincent go to or is asked by someone to go to see a psychologist, even though he clearly and understandably has many underlying emotional issues. I realize mental health is a more taboo subject in Asia, but the guy was underground, trapped, and alone without a regular supply of food and water for ten years. It would have made sense for him to at least see someone for a few sessions for help assimilating into society again, if not for his post traumatic stress, anger, and the other myriad of issues he was suffering from. Everyone makes many references to Max's PTSD and we see how it manifests itself through somatic symptoms. Yet, everything is somehow all fine and mighty with Vincent, and can be resolved with one scene with his child in the finale. But I'm also a psychology major who just took a clinical psychology course, so now I'm just digressing.

Overall, "Dead Wrong" is an all-around strong series with a great plot and direction, a large dosage of suspense and thrill, and some great performances by the cast. However, you can tell there was even more thought and resources put toward this series than others, from the better editing, to the gorgeous location filming in Vietnam that was actually relevant to the plot, to Stephanie's sub theme song playing at all the right moments to intensify the emotion of the scene. The series even makes use of better background music to amplify key moments, such as the powerful scene in the finale where Vincent's son goes up to him in the underground sewer and draws a picture of their family, reminding Vincent of what really matters.

Without a doubt, "Dead Wrong" is TVB's best series in years, and deserved better ratings and "Best Drama" at this year's anniversary awards, but unfortunately lost to the more buzzed about "A Fist Within Four Walls." However, "Dead Wrong" is absolutely the true critical hit that will still hold up many years from now.

Rating: 5 stars 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

"Two Steps From Heaven" Review


Anniversary series "Two Steps in Heaven" tries to have a little of everything, from drama through fights for power and office politics, to romance, to sitcom-like comedy, to some outrageous plot twists. The result is that there should be something you'll enjoy, however small, but the series is disjointed and lacks a cohesive plot or direction.

Bosco Wong leads out the cast of this effort to be everything as what has got to be the most unlikable main protagonist in years. "Sheldon" is ambitious and manipulative, to a point where he is willing to betray his friends and leave his family to the dust, even though he already has a pretty darn good job (especially after Priscilla/Edwin become the boss of Rainmakers).

Flashbacks show that he used to be a paparazzi reporter who was seriously beat up and subsequently went into PR, but dead set on more. Despite the flashbacks, viewers are left still unsure of how Sheldon became the way he did. It also still remains unclear why he carried on an affair with "Emma" for over two years. What should have been a complex character was missing layers. In fact, a few scenes seemed to hint he was suffering from PTSD or some kind of mental disorder (such as when he severely assaults a drunk man who threw up on him, and throws away the birthday cake his daughter gives him), but in typical TVB fashion, this potential storyline is thrown under the bus to just make Sheldon despicable and unreasonably ruthless.

With that said, Bosco gives one of the best performances of his career, bringing out all the not so flattering and glamorous traits of Sheldon. Of course, this is just as he announces he is officially leaving TVB.

If there is something the writers really deserve props for though, is killing off Sheldon, and in one of the most cruel and slow ways I have seen for a protagonist. It was incredibly bold, unexpected, and satisfying, but his death-bed redemption was a total cop out. It's as if the writers realized at the last minute they had made Sheldon too bad and unsympathetic, so they tried to claim he actually did love his wife and daughter all along, but it certainly did not fool anyone. I guess every smart writing move has to be balanced out with a bad one.

Similar to "Sheldon," Priscilla Wong's "Sing Seung" leaves the audience still unsure abo
ut how she became so scheming and aggressive. The backstory with her ex-boyfriend does little to explain this, and instead acts as an annoying plot point brought up every once in a while. At a length of 35 episodes, you would think the writers would have actually utilized the length to properly show character development.

Priscilla actually performs relatively well in her most mature role to date and first villain role. I did not originally see her in this kind of role at all. While she is too calm in her portrayal at times, it does reaffirm my belief that she is not as bad of an actress as a lot of people claim she is. At times she left me scared or uncomfortable, which I never thought I'd say about the fun and happy-go-lucky Priscilla. Comedy remains her strength, but I liked seeing her in a more "adult" role for a change.

Meanwhile, Edwin Siu proves that just being one of the main characters in an anniversary drama does not mean you need to be interesting or have any story of your own. He's an all-around too good and nice guy who marries Priscilla and realizes she is not the person he knew her as. He also wears a lot of turtle necks. That's about it. Surely Edwin has been bored at work lately?

Louis Cheung rounds out our trio of male leads as a balance of Bosco and Edwin's character's overly bad and overly good qualities. The sometimes foul-mouthed and sassy "Tim Siu," who is actually a really great guy who would do anything for his friends, is a type of character that Louis has perfected, and gave audiences at least one character to root for. Louis has always excelled at bringing out subtleties and layers in his characters, even if he does not have much to work with, just by nature of his acting. He really showed how "Tim," despite the humor of his character that could suggest otherwise, was such a caring  and genuinely good person. The actor has truly been a gift for TVB.

A news article released shortly before the series started airing suggested that there would be breakthroughs to look for in our three leading men. Perhaps the real breakthrough though was Luk Wing, as "Ted." The introduction of his typical spoiled rich boy character makes it seem like he'll be one of the most annoying characters you will have ever laid eyes on. Yet, as the focus starts to shift to him, and he discovers his passions and how to apply himself, he becomes the heart of the series. As a result, it is heartbreaking when Ted is driven to death, and a void is left for the remainder of the series.

Luk Wing is hilarious and lovable as Ted, stealing the screen in all his scenes without goi
ng too over the top. Instead, he's just entertaining and gives the audience something to laugh about while Bosco and Priscilla are running around doing...whatever it is they were doing, to his complete oblivion. He also proves he can do drama as well, showing Ted's increased frustration and hopelessness before he finally decides to plummet to his death. His top 3 nomination for best supporting actor is well-deserved and I hope TVB will continue to give him meaty roles such as this.

As mentioned earlier, "Two Steps" tries to be a little of everything, and this meant at times it felt like a sitcom, especially in the scenes Louis and Luk Wing shared together. Perhaps one of the writers should have pitched a sitcom with these two instead, because some of the series' best moments is when they are just bickering or horsing around with each other. Gloria Tang's "Maple" throws in some fun to their dynamic as well, but her acting is unnatural and at times awkward. It also annoyed me that despite being his best friend, she seemed to have no reaction to Ted's death and gotten over it in five seconds.

Also worth mentioning is Kandy Wong as "Da Jie," who becomes an unlikely couple with Ted. It was enjoyable seeing her in a mature role despite her babyface and height, and also proves perhaps TVB shouldn't always put their youthful and petite actresses into a box where they're always playing the little sister.

Bosco, Louis, Luk Wing, and Kandy may have turned in some solid performances, but apparently TVB thinks otherwise, as the only person who received recognition for their performance is Katy Kung. Also a victim of the little sister typecast, Katy gets to play a wife and mother here, and a good chunk of performance is adequate and sympathetic. However, her crying scenes are incredibly cringeworthy and show she was trying way too hard. While I'm glad Katy is finally getting some acknowledgement for her work over the years, it's unfortunate that it had to be for a performance where she was actually a weaker link.

No character is weaker than Moon Lau's "Emma" though, who went from the mistress who didn't want to give up, to disappearing, to returning as someone who was just plain crazy. Moon's popularity spiked this year after an endearing performance in "A Fist Within Four Walls," but "Emma" exposes just how many weaknesses she still has an actress. Her emotional scenes are unnatural, and the character itself is hard to have any sympathy for. She should have stayed gone after Sheldon dumped her, but I guess someone had to kill Sing Seung? While that move was also unexpected, it just felt like overboard and one last ditch attempt to shock the audience. I'm just really glad the writers did not have her end up with Louis.

As mentioned earlier, the series tries to be a little of everything, then makes poor attempts to string it all together. While I greatly enjoyed Louis and Luk Wing's comedic scenes, it was always bizarre to remember that this was part of the same series where Bosco beats the lights out of a drunk man, Luk Wing eventually jumps off a building, Priscilla slowly poisons Bosco to death, and Moon stabs Priscilla multiple times with a huge knife out in the middle of the street. To reach the 35-episode length, they also gave random moments to supporting characters, such as Snow Suen's mummy-fetus and Claire Yiu finding out William Chan is a fan of hers from her modeling days. Instead, they could have used this time to better explain how Bosco and Priscilla became the way they did, and oh, I don't know, give poor Edwin a personality.


Some may disagree with me, but I still found "Two Steps From Heaven" to be quite entertaining at times, if only in a soapy, mindless way. With better execution, it had the potential to be a very compelling series balanced out with elements of comedy. Instead, when looked at objectively, we're left with a bunch of strings that weren't tied together. However, for fans of Bosco (if you're fine with spending 35 episodes hating his guts that is), Louis, and Luk Wing, the series was not a complete waste of time and has its moments.

Rating: 3 stars