Sunday, September 18, 2016

"Between Love and Desire" Review


I had no particular desire (ha) to watch "Between Love and Desire," but the first half of the series is surprisingly probably some of the best written episodes of TVB of the year. It could've quietly gone under the radar as the best written series of 2016, but unfortunately fails to maintain its quality the second half.

The writers here finally grasp the concept of "show, not tell" with the use of flashbacks in the first several episodes. While there is a pretty heavy use of flashbacks in the first half, unlike in other series the device has been previously utilized in ("Burning Flame 3" comes to mind), they serve a purpose here, do not become irritating, and are executed well. They were interweaved seamlessly into the plot, allowing us to see Mose Chan's character in the present while also seeing flashbacks to the person he used to be and how he developed into the person he became. They also successfully built intrigue, and I loved how the flashbacks felt like they were slowly putting together a puzzle. I have to admit that while I have never been a fan of Moses, he proves here that when he gets good material, he is capable of delivering a good and nuanced performance.

However, once the flashbacks catch up to how Moses became the man he is in the present and he realizes the error of his ways, the series loses its intrigue and coherence. It was refreshing for the writers to focus their efforts on thoroughly developing one complex character, but once "Hugo" goes back to being good, the series loses its quality and direction. Moses' performance also becomes boring as a result.

Too much of the second half focuses on Brian Chu, who despite being presented with a good opportunity, is still very raw and unnatural. I understand that part of completing Moses' character arc was accepting that Brian deserves to pursue what he wants, but had no interest in the large amount of screen time his story line had and it was easily what dragged the series down.

In the process of this story line, the series' tone in the second half also shifts from a "show not tell" model to a "try too hard" model. Much of the dialog, especially from Moses, seemed like it was trying too hard to be deep and metaphorical, and instead came off as pretentious. The series suddenly went from being a meaningful drama to one that deliberately tried to be meaningful, by which time it had already lost its substance.

Like with Brian, "Between Love and Desire" overall suffers in the characterization department since the cast is so small and the bulk of the good writing went to early development of "Hugo." Maggie Shiu is good as usual, but makes no breakthroughs as the housewife who divorces her husband after realizing he's no longer the person she fell in love with. Ben Wong is likable as always and proves again that he can balance both being dramatic and funny and playful, but his character's pursuit of of Maggie was very confusing. He tries so hard to get her to go out with him while she is still married, yet as soon as she signs the divorce papers with Moses and he has a real opportunity, he suddenly backs off. Great strategy, Ben.

The resident scene stealer though is Roxanne Tong, who TVB needs to get on promoting. I found her good for a newcomer in "Come Home Love" though a little boring, but here, she is so much fun. She's natural, spunky, cheeky, and clever as "Hayley," especially in her scenes with Ben. The interactions between the two were funny and the highlight for me in the second half, and what kept me watching. However, their development as a couple was sudden (though predictable), and a little creepy too when you remember that Roxanne is Ben's dead wife's younger sister.

Overall

"Between Love and Desire" had been my biggest surprise of the year, as I had paid no attention to it when it was filming and had no interest in it when it was announced to be airing. I so thoroughly enjoyed the first half and how the flashbacks were executed to show Moses' development as character, and it should be commended for successfully showing instead of telling. Unfortunately, the second half descends into typical aimless TVB, made worse by the fact they tried so hard to make it deep and metaphorical. All that came out of that effort was dialog that was preachy and at times, slightly nonsensical. Luckily, Ben and Roxanne kept me entertained until the end.

Rating: 3.75 stars
(4.5 stars for the first half, 3 stars for the second half)

"House of Spirits" Review


"With or Without You" may not have made a splash in the ratings last year, but Bobby Au-Yeung proves he can still headline a talked-about comedy series. 

Supernatural comedy "House of Spirits" generated buzz and high ratings (in the context of today's Internet and streaming-based world), but most of the praises sung were for its cast, and for good reason. 

"House" is an average TVB comedy, which means there's some slapstick humor, but also some genuine laugh out loud moments with heartwarming moments. There is no concrete plot and t's really a family comedy drama with a supernatural twist. As a result, the 31-episode count is unnecessary and it often feels like the writers are just spinning their wheels trying to think of content to fill up the episodes, such as the subplot with Chow Chung and his cat.

All in all though, the series at its best is goodhearted fun. I found the early episodes where Bobby first gets to know the ghosts, played by Wu Fung and Helena Law, pretty funny despite not being a big fan of slapstick comedy. The series is however also a little grating in earlier episodes with the siblings, particularly Joyce Tang and Koni Lui constantly at each other's throats. Towards the middle though, as the family becomes close, the series is an easy and enjoyable watch.

This is completely thanks to the surprisingly great and unlikely cast ensemble, which is a mix of veteran actors like Bobby and Joyce, but also smaller names like Koni and Jonathan Cheung, who is able to take on his largest role to date. The chemistry between the siblings was wonderful and gave a feeling of warmth.

Bobby gets to show his usual lighthearted humor here. While some complain that Bobby's acting is the same in all his series, in this case, I enjoyed his natural and easygoing acting and playful demeanor.

Joyce plays a tough but caring woman working to balance her life as a mother and career woman. These tough and clever roles are a piece of cake for Joyce and what she does most well in, so it's nice to see she received recognition for this. She also has her own comedic moments as well. The scene where Helena possesses Joyce's body to apologize to Koni had me barreling over with laughter due to Joyce's acting.

I have liked Jonathan a lot in the series I've seen him in. He is a natural and likable actor who excels at comedic roles, but can also do drama, and this performance further proves that. I was so pleased to see he had such a major role here, and he had no problem holding his own against a veteran like Bobby. I'm thrilled for Jonathan, who just received his first acting nomination for "Best Supporting Actor" at the Starhub TVB Awards. I hope TVB will continue to give him larger roles and that this isn't just a one and done, even if he doesn't fit the handsome boy image they look for in promoting males.

Koni pulls off the spoiled princess character well, though that meant she could often be irrita
ting to watch, especially in the earlier episodes. With that said, she also has her own funny moments. Unfortunately, despite pretty natural acting, her high-pitched voice probably holds her back from getting more roles.

Nancy Wu serves little purpose here until the very end other than being Bobby's love interest and feels a little out of place, but is still likable as the tomboyish Chan-Chan. Bobby and Nancy sounded like a terrible pair on paper and are very physically incompatible, but luckily both are professional actors who make it work and are surprisingly funny and entertaining together. I actually liked seeing them become friends before slowly becoming more. 

Overall

Bobby, Joyce, Jonathan, Koni, and Bob Cheung play a very convincing family, in all its bickering, dysfunctional, but loving and warm glory. The combination felt like a bit of a random one other than the Bobby and Joyce reunion, but couldn't have worked out better.

With all the praise I can sing for the cast and the moments of humor though, I do have to reiterate that the series was occasionally (or often) grating in the beginning, with a lot of filler or boring subplots. It makes for a good lazy summer watch, but if it weren't for the cast, I probably would not have bothered to go all the way through if I had watched it during a busier time. However, it does still have laughs to offer.

Rating: 3 stars

On a side note though, "House of Spirits" must be the biggest offense of "overacting in a poster" I've ever seen for a TVB series...

Saturday, September 10, 2016

"A Fist Within Four Walls" Review


With the anniversary awards season quickly looming, TVB finally has a worthy contender in "A Fist Within Four Walls," which had all the makings of a great series: strong cast and characterizations, an intriguing storyline, and appropriate pacing. "Fist" is also the first notable series this year to receive positive reception that was a grander production. While a larger budget has never been a guarantee for an amazing series, this martial arts drama utilizes its budget to make it visually appealing and convincing to compliment, instead of try to compensate, for the script. After the mediocrity and endless disappointments TVB has been feeding us the last few years, who would've thought efficient utilization and good execution was still in their vocabulary?

Cast and Characters

It doesn't come as a surprise that Ruco Chan, as usual, gives another natural and emotive performance, with his dramatic scenes not being an obstacle for him at all. However, what makes him really shine here is the humor and playfulness of his character, which makes him so enjoyable to watch as "Kuen Lo." Kuen Lo could be a bit too naive and idealistic at times, but Ruco's charisma makes the kindhearted character endearing instead of annoying. It was especially cute seeing him slowly realize he was falling for "Tiu Lan" (Nancy Wu), as he started to act more and more shy around her.

It's a shame that Nancy won Best Actress a bit prematurely for "Ghost of Relativity" last year. While her character in the supernatural comedy shares similar characteristics to Tiu Lan, such as her stubbornness, Tiu Lan is a much more developed character that allowed Nancy to show off her range. Like Ruco, she does
very well in both dramatic and comedic scenes. She's feisty, bossy, and stubborn, yet funny, compassionate, upbeat, and fun. She was definitely the scene stealer here and this is her most memorable role of the last few years. This is the closest to a Best Actress-worthy performance from a young actress the last few years.

Ruco and Nancy have undeniable chemistry, and their relationship was also written well. The script really fleshed out their relationship while the actors brought it to life, allowing the audience see Kuen Lo and Tiu Lan go from being just friends, to caring increasingly more for each other, to finally starting a relationship. They were funny, sweet, romantic, emotional, and natural. The chemistry was easy and lighthearted when it had to be, and passionate when it had to be. Ruco and Nancy are respectively each other's best costar in years. It's been quite a while since I've really "shipped" and fangirled over an onscreen TVB pair, but Ruco and Nancy have definitely secured a place on my list of favorite onscreen pairs.

As much as I like Benjamin Yuen's personality and affability in real life, I continue to be disappointed in the lack of any drastic improvements in his acting. The character is a straight man type who is quiet and well-composed, which allowed Benjamin to get away with his stoic acting more, but his weaker acting really showed in more dramatic scenes alongside Ruco.

Grace gets to show off her seductive side as usual in this series, but this time in a role with much more substance. The character was quite intense as "Fa Man/Chiu Ha" was very much blinded by revenge, but Grace does relatively well. Her death was saddening and while it served as a catalyst to Benjamin realizing who the big boss was, probably could have been avoided.

Moon Lau is finally able to deliver a memorable performance portraying the sweet, bubbly, yet spunky and brave "Audrey." It's obvious that her emotional scenes need a lot of work, but she really does play her already likable character with such charm and brightness. I do hope that she gets more good roles such as this.

Philip Ng is very wooden in the beginning of the series, though it's fitting for the character. He seems to get more comfortable in the role later on, and the scene where he references his own lack of expression was hilarious. As expressionless as he could be at times, when he was able to be funny, such as when he practices what to say to his mom when returning her soup thermos, he was indeed amusing and endearing. His lighthearted scenes with his mother, played by Yuen Qiu (who was funny and bad ass), as well as Moon, were heartwarming and funny. While Ruco and Nancy were my favorites, Moon and Philip were very sweet and enjoyable to watch as well. It broke my heart when Philip died trying to save Moon, and his death was very unnecessary.

In addition to the strong performances and likable characters, "Fistful" has great action and stunt choreography. TVB for once did not slack off, investing in intensive training for its cast before starting filming, and getting Yuen Qiu and Philip, who is a professional martial artist and stunt choreographer. They did overuse slow motion in the earlier parts of the series, but the martial arts was overall still satisfying to watch.

For me, the series is not as "on the edge of your seat" good in the last 8 or so episodes, after the original three villains are all wiped out and the focus shifts to the real big boss. With that said, I don't think the series becomes draggy, as much as it's no longer as fast-paced as previously. It simply didn't grip me as much as before, but the characters and action were more than enough to keep me around until the very end.

Overall

"Fist" is not without its flaws, from its cartoonish portrayal of villains to Boss Yeung's inhumane body and martial arts talent (but hey, no supernatural element here!). However, with a strong cast and tight plot that spends very minimal time dragging its feet, I can easily look past these flaws to appreciate its entertainment value without feeling like I have to dumb myself down. "A Fist Within Four Walls" sets out to tell a story and develop its characters, and it succeeds to do so while using the time allotted, not more or less. That's an accomplishment for a TVB series in general, which is known for trying to meet specific episode counts, never mind in the context of TVB's usual quality these days. It's easily my favorite series this year.

Rating: 4.5 stars

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