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


*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

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.

Overall

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

TVB 50th Anniversary Awards: Results + Comments

This year's award show, if you haven't already realized, was unsurprisingly a sweep for this year's hit "A Fist Within Four Walls." Overall, the show had its entertaining moments with deserving winners as well as a few surprises. I watched the show as I wrote my post this year (after skimming it the day of so I could find out the results before class), so I hope you enjoy the commentary and screen caps.

Here is the full list of winners.

Most Improved Actress: Ali Lee

I totally should have seen it coming that TVB would make Tony and Edwin present Most Improved Actor and Priscilla and Natalie Most Improved Actress. As predictable as that move was though, their banter was actually entertaining and funny instead of the usual forced presenting of awards. I loved all the jokes they made about each other, starting when Tony replied to Edwin saying he has won awards too...to realize Edwin actually has not (for acting). Poor Tony looked completely blind-sided though when Edwin joked that Kenneth was the one who told him Natalie has a good figure and can cook. The banter level between Priscilla and Tony was also high as always, which was shown by this imitation of what Tony thinks Priscilla looks like in all of her series:


But anyway...Tracy gets robbed again. Ali is far from the least deserving winner in the history of this award, but Tracy is now two years overdue for this award after a critically-acclaimed performance in sleeper hit "Over Run Over." I have loved Ali in her villain and semi-villain roles, especially in "Fashion War," but her first turn as a leading protagonist in "Law Disorder," while partially the fault of a dull and poorly-written character, showed she still has a way to go and lacks the charisma Tracy has. Ali's acting is already at a better level than some of her colleagues at this point in her career, and her win is expected given how heavily she's being promoted. I do like Ali, but this was admittedly, pretty darn disappointing.


Most Improved Actor: Jonathan Cheung 

"Anybody could win and he'd be better than last year's winner!" *camera pans to Tony* Oh Priscilla, even you have to admit that other than Jonathan, Tony was still a stronger nominee than any of the other nominees this year. You knew Jonathan was obviously going to win when literally all the other guys were pointing in his direction when Priscilla and Natalie were about to announce it.


This may have been one of the more obvious winners of the night. I'm still so happy Jonathan won, and he had a sweet and concise acceptance speech. There's really not much to be said other than that, since I've already gone on and on about how he deserves this recognition in my predictions post and "House of Spirits" review.

That performance of "Stand By Me" wasn't great, but for once they sang a song and it didn't make my ears want to bleed and was even quite nice, so that's an improvement. Wasn't exactly acapella, but they're lucky I have a soft spot for this song.

Best Onscreen Partnership: Tracy Chu and Vincent Wong for "Over Run Over"


It was nice to see a mini "Virtues of Harmony" reunion! But yeesh, it looks like Joyce Chen has barely aged since the sitcom.


Neither Tracy or Vincent took home a favorite character award, ruining my prediction that Vincent would win Favorite Male Character. I'm glad they were able to take home SOMETHING, especially considering they were only one of two nominees in this category that actually made sense.

Best Supporting Actor: Raymond Cho for "Short End of the Stick"
Top 3: Raymond Cho, Hugo Ng for "Brother's Keeper II," and Luk Wing for "Two Steps in Heaven"

There are always several solid supporting male performances every year, so I'm glad they've brought back a short-list of nominees after announcing all darn 20 nominees for the past year or two.


Luk Wing became my last minute personal choice for this category after loving him in "Two Steps." I don't think anyone expected him to place in the top 3 though, including Luk Wing himself, as evidenced by the sheer look of shock and excitement on his face when he heard his name called from backstage. I literally jumped up from my seat from excitement for him when they said his name! It's so refreshing of TVB to give acknowledgement, even if just in the form of a top 3 nominee, to someone who is not a TVB managed artist (to my knowledge?) or an acclaimed non-TVB managed veteran.


The announcement of the winner of this category is always fun and heartwarming, with standing ovations for the unappreciated veteran supporting actors who usually take home this award, and this year was not an exception. I did not watch "Short End of the Stick" so I cannot give much personal comment, but I have always enjoyed Raymond Cho's performances and glad he finally got his recognition this year.


On a side note, Louis looked like he was getting his creep on while petting Luk Wing here.

Best Theme Song: Ruco Chan and Nancy Wu's sub theme for "A Fist Within Four Walls"


No surprise, but since "Dead Wrong" went home completely empty-handed and "Fist" made such a major sweep, I would have wanted Stephanie Ho's sub theme for "Dead Wrong" to win. Not just because "Dead Wrong" absolutely deserved to get something, but also because it's a beautiful song in its own right that adds to the emotional factor of the series.


Best Supporting Actress: Katy Kung for "Two Steps in Heaven"
Top 3: Katy Kung, Joyce Tang for "House of Spirits," and Grace Wong for "A Fist Within Four Walls"

This is the one award I really cannot wrap my head around. I was so looking forward to finally seeing Joyce getting acknowledgment for her strong acting. Instead, I'm just left here bitter and confused.

If there was anyone who I heard a lot of buzz about who deserved recognition for their performances in "Two Steps," it would have been Bosco, Louis, and/or Luk Wing. Katy certainly got a different role this time, playing the wife and mother instead of the little sister, and I do usually like her, but she tried too hard here. She supposedly won for her crying scenes, but those were her most cringeworthy and unnatural. She also received a big standing ovation though, so I guess I'm missing something. I never thought TVB would give this award to her, and even now that she has, I honestly don't see them being serious about promoting her like they usually do with winners of this award...

And for the second year in the row, we interrupt this broadcast so the actors can chow down on some chicken. Looks like they didn't secure a sponsorship with KFC this year though, because this time it's homemade.


Rosina Lam doesn't mind that she did not get into the top 3 of Best Supporting Actress because she now has food.

My Favorite Female Character: Grace Wong for "A Fist Within Four Walls"
Top 5: Grace Wong and Nancy Wu for "A Fist Within Four Walls," Natalie Tong for "Speed of Life," Tracy Chu for "Over Run Over," and Joyce Tang for "House of Spirits"


Grace was completely shocked when her name was called, responding with an expression of disbelief that mirrors when Nancy's name was called for Best Actress last year. Like us, she thought this award could only go to lead characters! I guess TVB decided they didn't want anyone pulling double wins. I wasn't ecstatic about the results of this, but I'm not mad either. It was heartwarming yet quite funny watching her get her thanks out in between sniffling and trying to stay calm, which made her voice go up and down. I burst out laughing when she realized she almost forgot to thank her fiancee and let out a very deep "Hi." All other top 5 nominees were not a surprise except for Natalie in "Speed of Life," which was little-watched and talked-about.


Best Actress: Nancy Wu for "A Fist Within Four Walls"
Top 5: Nancy Wu, Maggie Shiu for "The Executioner," Tracy Chu for "Over Run Over," Kristal Tin for "Brother's Keeper II," and Priscilla Wong for "Two Steps From Heaven

I knew Nancy had won for sure when Jessica said she had voted for the winner! Ah, the "Gun Metal Grey" days. She was incredibly calm (but still very gracious) this time, since we all knew it was just too obvious. It was too cute when she asked Frankie to give her a kiss on the cheek. Also, yay for Maggie getting into the top 5!


My Favorite Male Character: Benjamin Yuen for "A Fist Within Four Walls"
Top 5: Benjamin Yuen and Ruco Chan for "A Fist Within Four Walls," Vincent Wong for "Over Run Over," Bobby Au-Yeung for "House of Spirits," and Louis Cheung for "Two Steps in Heaven"

Yeah...I saw this coming after Grace won. But while I'm okay with Grace's win, I am just not into this at all. "Duen Yiu Fung" was a pretty dull character, and was only made interesting when acting alongside Ruco, Nancy, or Grace. But, Benjamin's speech was touching. It was nice to hear him thank Jennifer even though they've broken up for supporting him for three years despite him being so busy with work. However, this award should have been Vincent's.


Best Actor: Ruco Chan for "A Fist Within Four Walls"
Top 5: Ruco Chan and Benjamin Yuen for "A Fist Within Four Walls," Vincent Wong for "Over Run Over," Bosco Wong for "Two Steps in Heaven," and Roger Kwok for "Dead Wrong" 

The moment I've been waiting to see since Ruco became a leading man in 2011. Oh man, was I grinning from ear to ear when his name was called. I shouldn't be surprised that even though he was teary-eyed and emotional, he was very calm and eloquent in his acceptance speech. It was too sweet when he thanked his mom and the camera panned to his mom blowing kisses at him from the audience behind tears. Congratulations, Ruco. <3

Best Drama: "A Fist Within Four Walls"

Oooh, Wayne's burns about TVB executives never willing to talk about money in negotiations and their grueling hours were too good. I was holding out on the hope "Dead Wrong" could go home with Best Drama, but alas, this really was the year of "Fist." But hey, I hope the success of the series will teach TVB to put more effort into their action series like they did with this in the future.

What are your thoughts on the winners? 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

TVB 50th Anniversary Awards: My Predictions and Personal Picks


Best Actor

Predicted Top 5: Ruco Chan, Wayne Lai, Liu Ka Chi, Bobby Au-Yeung, and Roger Kwok
Predicted Winner: Ruco
Most Deserving: Ruco
Personal Choice: Ruco

I'll be completely honest: I was hoping that Roger's performance in "Dead Wrong" would turn out to not be another groundbreaking role so that Ruco would have the best chance possible to win Best Actor. And while this may be premature since I've only watched 13 episodes, it seems like my wish came true. "Dead Wrong" is a very well-written and compelling series and Roger performs well as always, but beyond the two hour premiere, he isn't doing anything new compared to his award-winning performance in 2013's "Black Heart White Soul" that would warrant a fourth Best Actor win.

While Ruco doesn't break any new ground in "A Fist Within Four Walls" either, it is certainly a solid performance where, unlike his past performances that mostly highlighted his capability as a dramatic actor, he is able to show a playful and more comedic side too. It's about time TVB finally awards him Best Actor.


Best Actress

Predicted Top 5: Nancy Wu, Kristal Tin, Tracy Chu, Mandy Wong, Joey Meng
Predicted Winner: Nancy
Most Deserving: Nancy
Personal Choice: Nancy

I genuinely think that Nancy deserves Best Actress this year, and the only thing that makes this less satisfying is her premature win for "Ghost of Relativity" from last year. After a string of weaker and/or less interesting roles in the last two years such as "Ghost," "Overachievers," and "House of Spirits," Nancy really took advantage of her role "Diu Lan" in "A Fist Within Four Walls" by absolutely shining. She is fierce, funny, sassy, and strong, while easily evoking lots of compassion and sympathy from the viewers. Last year's win aside, "Fist" feels like a representative culmination of all the improvements and hard work Nancy has put into her acting over the years.

But also, everyone else kinda bombed. Maggie Shiu received critical acclaim for "The Executioner" but that's obviously not happening. Tracy Chu will (hopefully) take home Most Improved. Bad performances aside, Grace Chan and Selena Li should be in the supporting category.


Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Winner: Raymond Cho
Most Deserving: Power Chan
Personal Choice: Mat Yeung
Wtf? Oscar Li for Fist

I'm not saying I think Raymond isn't deserving since he's always been a reliable supporting actor (though I did not watch "Short End of the Stick"), but Power has long been unappreciated and narrowly lost the award to Koo Ming Wah two years ago as well. This could be TVB's chance to make it up to Power, but my gut's telling me it'll still go to Raymond.

I about hit the table when I realized Mat wasn't nominated for Most Improved again this year, since his chances of winning seemed high without Tony Hung in the running like last year. Instead TVB opted to shoot him up into the Best Supporting category, where he has no chance. This feels like a repeat of last year where his "Momentary Lapse of Reason" co-star Rosina Lam was nominated for Best Actress instead of Best Supporting, ruining any chances of her winning an award. No, from what I saw of "Brother's Keeper II" Mat was not best supporting level, but I'm allowed to have personal biases right? (9 months after watching "Momentary Lapse" and I still strongly believe Louis, Rosina, and Mat were robbed last year)


Best Supporting Actress

Predicted Winner: Joyce Tang
Most Deserving: Joyce
Personal Choice: Joyce

Best Supporting Actress has become a weaker and weaker category over the years, to the point I literally did not put down any predictions or choices for it last year. Surprisingly though, there are some good contenders here this year and it's even a little ~unpredictable~. I won't be mad if either Rosina or Grace wins. People were ready to dislike Rosina when she first started acting a few years ago, but she has genuinely surprised me as an actress. She was out of the running before the race even began last year, and I heard good things about her comedic performance in "Stick." She definitely deserves more opportunities. Grace hasn't had a substantial role since I believe 2013's "Awfully Lawful," so it was nice to see TVB give her a dynamic role in "Fist." While not without her flaws, Grace's performance proved that she is a noteworthy actress that really hasn't been getting enough notable work the last few years. Not quite "best supporting" level, but "Chiu Ha" made an impact and a win would at least make sense.

However, my vote definitely goes to Joyce, who shows her strength in portraying tough, intelligent, and motherly roles in "House of Spirits," as well as making me laugh very hard in certain scenes. She's been long one of my favorite supporting actresses, but never seemed to stand a chance at winning an award. With "House" being one of the highest rated series of the year and her satisfying win in Singapore though, it looks like 2016 is finally Joyce's year to receive recognition.

*Random fact: I usually keep a note on my phone of memorable characters/performances for when anniversary awards season comes around. Joyce was the first (and only) person I wrote down this year when I created the note.



My Favorite Male Character

Top 5: Ruco Chan, Vincent Wong, Louis Cheung, Bosco Wong, Roger Kwok
Predicted Winner: Vincent
Most Deserving: Vincent
Personal Choice: Ruco

Ruco, Vincent, and Tracy each received four nominations, which makes me think... Is TVB setting up Vincent for a Favorite Character win? I've heard so many good things about him and Tracy in "Over Run Over" and have been a long-time fan of Vincent, so I'll be thrilled if Ruco can win Best Actor and Vincent can win this award. If Ruco does not win Best Actor, I will assume this award will go to him as a consolation prize for the second year in a row. Fingers crossed that doesn't happen.

Personally though, if I were to choose any male character as my favorite from this year, it'd probably be Ruco since I did not watch "Over Run Over" (but intend to).

My Favorite Female Character

Top 5: Nancy Wu, Grace Wong, Tracy Chu, Joey Meng, Priscilla Wong
Predicted Winner: Nancy
Most Deserving: Nancy
Personal Choice: Nancy

I see Nancy pulling off a double win, and I would have no problems with that. "Diu Lan" was a wonderful heroine to root for who was dynamic and flawed yet infinitely likable and funny. Even if this wasn't a year where there were very few captivating characters in TVB series, Diu Lan was a stand out.

Most Popular Series Partnership

Predicted Winner: Wayne Lai, Edwin Siu, Power Chan, and Raymond Cho for "Short End of the Stick"
Most Deserving: Vincent Wong and Tracy Chu for "Over Run Over"
Personal Choice: N/A
Snub: Ruco Chan and Nancy Wu

I would've thought that if TVB was going to bring in this category, it would've been to further milk the Ruco and Nancy pairing. Yet, they weren't even nominated but Carat Cheung, Apple Chan, Chloe Nguyen & Doris Chow were? And Eddie Kwan and Vivian Yeo from "My Lover From the Planet Meow"? What's going on here? Vincent and Tracy should get the award for their well-received pairing, but it will probably go to Wayne, Edwin, Power, and Raymond since the comedy quartet was also well-received in "Short End," and was a ratings hit (by today's standards).

Most Popular Theme Song

Predicted Winner: Ruco and Nancy’s subtheme for “A Fist Within Four Walls”
Most Deserving: Ruco and Nancy's subtheme
Personal Choice: Ruco and Nancy's subtheme, Vincent Wong’s theme song and Stephanie Ho’s subtheme for “Dead Wrong”

TVB can't give this to Jinny again...right? I'm putting my money on Ruco and Nancy's subtheme, which has already won in both Singapore and Malaysia. It's a lovely duet that I think complimented the scenes between the two in "Fist" very well.

However, I also really like both Vincent's theme song and Stephanie's subtheme for "Dead Wrong." The former brings out the suspenseful and dark nature of the series, while the latter brings out the emotionally-charged factor. In general, I've been loving the songs Stephanie has been singing for series soundtracks.


Most Improved Actor
Predicted Winner: Jonathan Cheung
Most Deserving: Jonathan
Personal Choice: Jonathan
Snubs: Mat Yeung, Benjamin Yuen, Lai Lok Yi

For as long as I can remember this has always been a strong category and probably my favorite one. Yet when I first saw the nominations for this category this year, my first reaction was "Seriously?" The competition for this year is sad and the weakest it's been in years. Three of the nominees are singers who TVB just started sticking into series, probably for self-promotion! I was so sure Mat would be one of the top contenders this year, but it turns out he didn't even get a nomination (which I'm very salty about), nor did Benjamin, instead getting bounced up to the Best Supporting and Best Actor (???) categories respectively. TVB once again shows they don't give a damn about Lai Lok Yi, despite delivering a chilling villain performance in the last few episodes of "Presumed Accidents."

With that said, I'm so happy Jonathan is nominated and really hope this is TVB's way of paving the road for him to win. I've loved watching him as a supporting actor the last few years. He never fails to make me laugh, but proved in "House of Spirits" he can handle drama and more major roles as well. If Jonathan doesn't win, you can find me at home on my laptop on the 19th, kicking and screaming.


Most Improved Actress

Predicted Winner: Tracy Chu
Most Deserving: Tracy
Personal Choice: Tracy
Snub: Roxanne Tong

Last year Tracy decided to ditch the anniversary awards to go on a school trip to Europe (can't blame her), but now that she's graduated and has the sleeper hit "Over Run Over" under her belt, she has a significant chance of winning. Unlike the Most Improved Actor category though, she faces some competition from Moon Lau and newly minted lead actress Ali Lee. I would not be too mad about Ali winning and think that she has been a decent actress since her debut and getting better, but after enjoying her character in "Fist," Moon proves she is still very raw in "Two Steps in Heaven." So if Tracy has to lose to anyone, I really hope it's Ali, but Tracy definitely deserves this award. Meanwhile, poor Katy is probably going to continue to be a perpetual nominee, but never a winner.

The only notable snub I can think of is Roxanne. I was not crazy about her in "Come Home Love," but she was my favorite part about "Between Love and Desire" once the series started stalling in the second half. She was natural and bubbly with an affable charm that lit up the screen during her scenes. Yet, she was next seen on air playing a tiny role in "Fist." TVB, get on promoting her (consistently)!


Best Series

Top 5: A Fist Within Four Walls, Dead Wrong, Short End of the Stick, Over Run Over, House of Spirits
Predicted Winner: A Fist Within Four Walls
Most Deserving: Dead Wrong or Fist
Personal Choice: Dead or Fist

It's going to be a tough competition between "A Fist Within Four Walls" and "Dead Wong," and I myself can't make a clear decision on which I personally love more, but I'm giving the advantage to "Fist." After all, as critically acclaimed as "Dead Wrong" has been so far, the ratings, buzz, press coverage, and popularity of "Fist" easily beats everything this year.

However, in terms of writing, I personally give an advantage to the 13 episodes I've seen of "Dead Wrong," which feels much more serious and tight, whereas "Fist" felt more entertaining (with a cartoonish villain) than well-written in the last stretch episodes.

What are your predictions? Who are your dream winners? Comment below!

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