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.


"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


  1. You've said most of what I feel strongly about this serial already!

    It was a little hard for me to watch it in the beginning because there was lots of violence, fighting, bone-crunching and blood. I think they fight like every 5-10 mins in the first 6 eps at least. Beyond that, my senses got numbed, since I marathoned through all the eps in 2-3 days. ;D

    I was most impressed with Grace's performance here.

    Philip's acting, on the other hand, was awkward to watch, if not for the way his character was written to be quite likeable. Of course, his fighting was his saving grace too as his martial arts skill was very obviously the best among the main casts.

    I dislike the last 8 or so eps, not just cos of the unnecessary deaths. It feels like after all the fighting & violence in the beginning, the writers were trying too hard to throw in tear-jerking scenes to rile up audience's emotions against the 'new' villain, boss yeung. Esp when this boss yeung line of story is quite illogical to me. If boss young's kungfu was so invincible, and being the head of the scarily skilled assassin's organisation, why is there a need for him to hide behind that dessert factory for 20 yrs, only to try to take over the city when the 3 ex bosses have been killed? why couldn't he kill them and take over everything?

    while this was a relatively good tvb series, i personally don't like watching so much fighting and hearing the bone crunching sounds all the time. i give it 4 stars.

    1. Hello again queen_owl! :)

      Yeah, I get what you mean. I remember watching the first five episodes and thinking "For only five episodes, I've seen poor Ruco spit out blood way too many times." :'D

      I really do feel that Grace has become so much more natural the last few years, but of course just as TVB stopped caring to promote her, and she always has to be seductive or sexy.

      I'm willing to cut some slack for Philip since he is not an actor first and foremost and his previous acting roles have been pretty small. One thing I did not mention in the review though that makes his performance more awkward - his voice has a tendency to get deep to a point that it takes me by surprise, then normal or higher at other times.

      Yeah, I was not a fan of the Boss Yeung plot either and there are definitely a lot of illogical things going on there.

      What is your most enjoyed series so far this year?

    2. you're right, i forgot about philip's voice too!

      for tvb shows, they are nowadays so forgettable that i watch and forgot about it. i saw your reviews here and i was, oh yes there was this serial that i watched, and that one too. but if i don't see them i totally forgot they existed! haha. but based your list of reviews here to refresh my memory, i'd have say, Fashion War. i really like Ali Lee here. Waiting to see more of her.

      What about your most enjoyable so far?