Thursday, December 22, 2016

"Two Steps From Heaven" Review


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.


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

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