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.


"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)


  1. ha! i like how you specify 4.5 stars for the the first half and 3 for the other half. like you've said, i was hooked cos of the intrigue in the first half, but that was lost too soon by the middle of the series.

    as usual, tvb always managed to produce dramas with a good start, but just couldn't keep the momentum to the end. having said that, i must add that tvb in general, in 2016 so far, it has been airing pretty watchable serials. although nothing excellent like those from classic tvb shows, but it certainly has improved from those they aired in 2014 and 2015.

  2. Thank you! Things got technical here, hahaha.

    I tried to be cautiously hopeful that this series would be able to be good until the end but unsurprisingly, I was disappointed yet again. While I agree that 2016 hasn't been too bad, it is kinda said that we've now reached a level where "watchable" is positive, lol!

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  4. I just finished this series and this is the only review that mentioned a difference in the first and second half...

    I started the series from episode 13 and unexpectedly found it pretty I jumped to the start after ep17...

    I personally preferred the second half, as the dialogue was "deep and metaphorical"...I suspect the script for the first and second halves were by different scriptwriters.

    The ending could be better, but considered "round and full (圆满)". (I don't understand why heartache is salty haha...)

    This is just my 2nd TVB drama this year, after "House of Spirits" and I notice TVB dramas are recently more heartwarming and watchable, perhaps to compete with K and M dramas...

    Overall, I'll rate it 3.5 stars.
    (Abit too idealistic, but would like to hope that it will inspire lawyers too be less practical and materialistic...)