Wednesday, July 17, 2013
"A Change of Heart" Review
With a solid cast ensemble, interesting premise and good pacing, "A Change of Heart" is one of the better quality TVB series in a long time. In fact, in what has been a year full of mostly lighthearted series or universally panned dramatic serials ("Bullet Brain" or "Beauty at War" ring a bell?), "Change" is the best drama series the quickly disintegrating TV station has managed to churn out before the anniversary awards season begins.
Although any series over 20 episodes tend to drag at some point, "A Change of Heart" keeps the filler material to a minimum. There were a few slower episodes and moments here and there, but overall the series does well in not throwing in scenes simply to hike up the time and its 30 episode count is justified and necessary to tell the whole story while providing entertainment.
While I had been hoping that TVB would venture into a more dark and grim tone with this series, I was pleasantly surprised at the mix of comedy and drama it gave. "Change" exhibited a story line much heavier and overarching than the typical series, but the script smartly decided to not have it weighed down by excessive intense drama and smoothly in some laughs and chuckles. Other than the script, this can be mostly attributed to the cast and characters.
Leading man Michael Miu once again shows that age is doing nothing to hinder his charisma. In the early episodes before "Fong Chi Lik" underwent the heart transplant surgery, Michael injected hilarity into the original loud-speaking, aggressive and temperamental character who would have been otherwise annoying.
Perhaps it is because "Yuet Shan" greatly mirrors the real life personality of Bosco Wong, as both are business-savy and playful with an eccentric fashion sense, but Bosco appears very comfortable, natural and likable here. While Yuet Shan was a bit irritating and seemed childish compared to older brother Yat Shan initially, he quickly filled the void. He ended up becoming a more realistic character with his own flaws, but still a good guy, only more fleshed out. Something eye raising though is that Yuet Shan seems completely different from the long haired, rugged and depressed version from flashbacks. At times, Bosco seems to be playing himself, so I don't have too much praise, but he still made Yuet Shan charismatic, easy to like and root for. What I never saw coming and still don't understand though, is how and when Yuet Shan started to fall in love with Siu Kat. Their relationship came out of the blue, and felt forced. I kept thinking I had missed a scene or entire episode.
Mandy Wong's portrayal of "Ha Sze Ka", or "Sze Ka Che", was nothing surprising given her previous range of performances. Like Michael, Mandy is yet another example of an actor keeping a character from being annoying. Ha Sze Ka was rather overwhelming at times, but for the most part, Mandy made her funny and fresh.
Vincent Wong truly shows he has come a long way in his portrayal of the caring and well-meaning doctor "Eason", who happens to have a love for investigating cases. Not only is Vincent natural, but he exhibits surprise comedic timing from his facial expressions to his overall conduct as Eason. What I love about Vincent and what probably keeps him from getting mass recognition though, is how subtle he can be as an actor. His acting is full of small details that can easily go unnoticed as opposed to moments that speak loud and obviously. If the anniversary awards were judged on acting performance alone, Vincent would have "Most Improved Actor" in the bag. Due to the series not making much noise and Vincent overall being a low key actor with little favor from TVB, it's unlikely. I believe he will one day get the recognition he deserves, but hope it's sooner rather than later. He is quietly one of the most hardworking young actors today, and really got into character as "Eason".
Elaine Yiu's "Ah Yan" often felt out of place with the gang of friends. Although stubborn to the point of being rather annoying at first, her character seemed to become a means of comic relief in the last few episodes. Seeing her emotional scenes though, I am saddened how she is still stuck playing minor supporting roles or guest spots after so many years at TVB. She was much more convincing and touching than Niki in these scenes.
Benjamin Yuen once again shows potential in a performance as semi-villain "Martin". He is still missing some charm, but shows more depth in this particular performance and character, though Martin and Sin Hang's affair felt rather contrived.
The weakest link of the cast ensemble though, is easily female lead Niki Chow. For once, the character was not one tailor made for her by TVB, resulting in probably her weakest performance to date. "Yuen Siu Gut" was already a hard to warm up to character on paper, and Niki did not do it any favors. She mostly came off as wooden and aloof. In certain scenes, she even made her appear crazy. While I do not dislike Niki, "Siu Kat" was overall a hard to like female protagonist whose portrayer failed to make her any better. The character also had probably the worst wardrobe for a female lead ever. Everything Siu Kat wore was ill-fitting and unflattering.
Siu Kat however, is made more likable in scenes with close circle of friends Yuet Shan, Eason, Sze Ka Che and Ah Yan. Their scenes together were warm, fun, and brought a layer of comedy that kept the series from being hard to digest. What was particularly refreshing about the series was the subtle relationships that emerged. While not completely unpredictable, for once it was not obvious who would end up with who, or at least not until the last few episodes. Viewers could have easily been tricked into believing Mandy and Vincent would become a couple from the earlier episodes, or Bosco and Mandy.
As much as I enjoy loyal and warm friendships being portrayed on screen in place of overdone romantic love lines, at one point "Change" becomes distracted with this character development and focus. The series' emphasis is on the overall story and how the characters are intertwined, not purely on the characters themselves. While it made for an entertaining comedy-drama, it luckily gets itself back on track in the last 10 episodes.
Hands down the acting highlight of "A Change of Heart" is Joey Meng as villain "Tong Sin Hang". "Sin Hang" is one of TVB's best villains in a long time. Her slow transformation into evil is justified with a family background and series of personal hardships. Additionally, "Sin Hang" is quietly, almost silently manipulative, capable and powerful, making her that much scarier and intimidating than a typical obvious, almost cartoon-like villain. Joey gives it her all as the villain and it is evident in her chilling performance. She is definitely a contender for this year's Best Actress. Once again though, like with Vincent, the series failed to make much noise and Joey will probably be overlooked. Unfortunately, Sin Hang's character comes to a sloppy and unrealistic conclusion, reaching a peaceful ending without achieving even the slightest sign redemption.
The first 29 episodes of "Change" sees minimal inconsistencies, plot holes, and for the most part entertains and delivers. What saddens me is that hands down the worst written episode of the entire series is its last. Close to reaching a resolution, the writers threw in one of the most unbelievable plot twists. It ruined the dramatic, but overall still logical tone of the series. The climax is poorly written and highly unrealistic. However, I try not to let it ruin my overall positive impression. The ending overall is a decent one, with the characters getting the happy endings that they weren't far from and deserved.
"A Change of Heart" does what an entertaining drama should do. It keeps viewers guessing, wanting more, provides laughs as well as some twists and turns, and boosts characters and actors to like and connect with. Despite being 30 episodes long, it is able to sustain its momentum all through out the series and does not ever fall into the territory of being trite. Is it outstanding or groundbreaking? Definitely not. However, it has a solid main plot, series of subplots, and for the most part, a wonderful ensemble. It is the first TVB series of the year that I actually became invested into and closely followed, and the best series TVB has aired this year so far.
Rating: 4 stars