Monday, February 8, 2016

"Momentary Lapse of Reason" Review

I had a lot of reasons to just completely skip "Momentary Lapse of Reason." Premodern dramas are my least favorite to watch since they tend to be tragic in nature. Despite being a big fan of Louis and happy he received his first leading role, I also wasn't interested in seeing Tavia. However, with the quiet but strong critical acclaim, I finally decided to give in because I wanted to check out Louis, Mat, and Rosina's performances for myself.

I'm glad I finally gave this series a chance, and didn't just give up after the first two episodes. It took maybe 5 episodes, but once I got into it, I was hooked and binge watched it over the course of my 3 day weekend. Against all my (non-existent) expectations when first hearing about this series, "Momentary Lapse of Reason" has become my favorite series of 2015.

Although all four leads deliver, the main reason I enjoyed "Momentary" so much is because of Louis Cheung and Mat Yeung's performances. The changes of their characters as well as their friendship drive the series forward and are what make it compelling.

There is not much romantic chemistry present in this series, which may make it sound like a failure, but romance was ultimately not integral to the series despite what some people may have thought initially. Mat and Tavia Yeung are by no means wooden and awkward with each other, but didn't create any sparks either. Same goes for Louis and Tavia, but this is because Louis' love for Tavia remains one-sided for the entire series.

Instead, all the "sparks" happen between the incredibly close brotherhood that develops between Louis and Mat - and I have no complaints about it. It was very rewarding to watch these two characters go from being foes who were completely different cops with contrasting morals, to two people who cared so much about each other and made such a huge impact on the other's life (which is why part of the ending was such BS - but more on that in a bit).

There was a split second where I was not sure if Louis was ready to be a leading actor, although it was only because he (deservingly) had bounced up so quickly. I'm now slapping myself for ever thinking that, because Louis absolutely shines in his first leading role. He and Ruco are one of few TVB actors who excel in these gray characters. In the early episodes, he does well as the clever, "Corrupt Wah" who has no problem taking credit for other people's work and being mean-spirited. Some of his best acting though is when his character slowly starts becoming more conscientious. From feeling guilty over indirectly causing the death of an innocent man to showing compassion over his widow, and standing up for Mat when no one else would, Louis' portrays the character's change in nature after befriending Mat very well. With another actor, the transition probably would've felt sudden, but Louis' expressiveness allowed you to see "Kam Wah" rethinking himself. Although the character becomes easier to play once he is no longer corrupt, Louis does wonderfully in his emotional scenes, particularly when he found Ng Chin's lifeless body.

Kam Wah is also a character who, even when he was a corrupt cop, is very humorous and playful. This made him a lot of fun to watch and prevented "Momentary" from becoming too tragic or "heavy" to watch like most other premodern series. Some of his funniest moments are when Mat catches him doing good deeds and expressing sympathy early on, only for Louis to deny it profusely and claim he is just a creep. It was also hilarious when Louis decided to go into the walled village (where there is no police jurisdiction) to help save Mat, but not without getting himself drunk to work up the guts first. I am happy to see that Louis was able to get into the top 5 nominations for Best Actor despite this series not being a big ratings hit.

Mat had a tough task of leading alongside Louis and is not nearly as expressive as him, but certainly rose up to the challenge in his first shot at second male lead. He was able to portray the character of "Sam Yat Yin" as the righteous and serious cop he is without being wooden, and tender in his scenes with Tavia's Leung Sum. He shows the internal emotional struggle of wanting to be a good cop in a precinct full of greedy and corrupt ones who actively dislike him and what he stands for very well. His most memorable and absolutely heartbreaking scene is when he forces himself to collect the bribes from the market sellers against all his morals and beliefs. 

With the path the character was taking in the early episodes and TVB's usual predictability, I had expected Yat Yin to become a full-on villain. Although he does make a terrible jerk move towards the end in a desperate attempt to move up so he can continue to fight police corruption, Yat Yin never becomes evil or even mean-spirited and simply becomes more dire in the lengths he'll take to fulfill his goal. Until the very end, he still remains a hero. This was a direction I appreciated because it made the character much more realistic as well as allow the plot to move along logically, instead of hurriedly turning him into a caricature, a la Ruco's "Ah Lik" in "Eye in the Sky." As far as secondary leading characters go, Yat Yin was absolutely integral to the story (just as much as Kam Wah) and in moving the series along. Mat got a great opportunity, and he took advantage of it. 

While this is both of their first time as leads, Louis and Mat were my favorite leads to watch all year, and I hope to continue seeing them in major roles.

Tavia once again receives the least interesting role of an entire main cast, but unlike in the
previously mentioned "Eye in the Sky," is not irritating to watch. In the end, I don't have any praises to sing, but I also don't have any nit picks with her performance. Leung Sum is likable instead of a suffocating goody two shoes. While she thinks lowly of Kam Wah initially, she does soon come to the realization he is not what she judged him to be after she gets to know him. The character cries from time to time, but it's also not an endless waterfall like some of Tavia's past dramatic series. The most heartbreaking moment for the character is in the very last episode when she sees someone who she believes is Yat Yin, but is really Willie Wai in Yat Yin's clothes. 

Although playing a character who goes through many major events that can be considered either unfortunate at best or highly traumatic at worst, Rosina gives a very natural performance as "Fa Ying Yuet." There are no huge dramatic acting moments, and that ended up being what I liked. It's so easy to start equating dramatic yelling and crying with good acting. Rosina had many opportunities to overact and it would have even been understandable for the character to be portrayed as over the top. Yet, she never does, but still shows the emotions of the character. Ying Yuet ended up not having as much screen time as I thought she would, but she was a character that could have easily become grating to watch where the actress could take every opportunity to try to steal the scene. Instead, Rosina injects just enough emotion and makes her a sympathetic and intriguing character without trying to steal anyone's thunder, allowing the focus to remain on Kam Wah and Yat Yin's brotherhood. 

With such solid performances playing such intriguing roles, it is very disappointing that Mat and Rosina did not win Most Improved. Based on acting merit alone, they definitely had it in the bag, but much like Vincent before his villain role in "Will Power" came along, simply did not have the buzz (or favoritism) Grace and Tony possessed. (On the bright side, Mat did win Most Improved Actor in Malaysia, while Rosina took home Best Supporting Actress in Singapore, although she was nominated for "Young Charioteers" instead.)

I enjoyed the friendship between the core four characters and the few scenes they all shared, and only wished that there had just been a few more. Unlike in recent series that try to portray friendship (ahem, "Raising the Bar"), you could feel the bond between the four despite them not sharing many scenes altogether.

In addition to our leading actors, the rest of the cast performs well too. Also providing some comic relief were Brian Burrell, who appears to be playing an important role for the first time, and Amy Fan. The two were very sweet to watch as a married couple. Hugo Wong was convincing as the corrupt and cruel police inspector. Lai Kong does well as always, but him as the villain is getting increasingly predictable.

Ending Commentary (Spoilers ahead!!)

A very satisfying ending overall, with just one major complaint. On his death bed, Yat Yin tells Leung Sum that she is the reason Kam Wah changed to be a better person, not him. While the writers do not try to drill into our heads the importance of Leung Sum on Yat Yin and Kam Wah too much, doing so at all was a disservice to how important the two guy's friendship truly was. This was inconsistent just timeline-wise, as Kam Wah had already become more conscientiousness before even developing a crush on Leung Sum. Yat Yin's death was terribly sad, but fitting, though I also wish he and Kam Wah were able to share more of a "final" scene together. 

Lai Kong, Akina Hong, and Joe Tay's endings were incredibly satisfying and poetic. Akina and Joe trying to outsmart each other by poisoning the other to receive all the money for themselves, only to both die at the hands of the opposite, was brilliant and a bold writing move.  

Finally, I have mixed feelings towards Kam Wah feigning memory loss. He had already lost Yat Yin, and by pretending to not remember, he was isolating himself from his two remaining best friends. However, I am glad the writers chose not to have him and Leung Sum end up together, as the latter never expressed romantic feelings for him and it would have been too sudden and convenient for her to do so so shortly after Yat Yin's death. Kam Wah continuing to watch over Leung Sum from afar may not be the happiest ending, but it was the most fitting one. A bittersweet ending was the most appropriate for "Momentary," but the characters also ended up all pretty content.


As stated before, Louis and Mat are the heart of the series and it is ultimately about how Kam Wah and Yat Yin come to impact each other as they try to rid Tong Sai of its rampant corruption. The series makes full use of its 20 episodes, and the writing feels very tight, with none of the inconsistencies or wackiness present in many series' writing today (I enjoyed you "Captain of Destiny," but I'm looking at you). Despite being a premodern series, "Momentary Lapse" also manages to succeed more as an action series than recent typical police procedurals. Its elements of drama, action, and suspense along with its fast paced writing and strong leading performances makes you want to keep watching once you get past the set up of the first handful of episodes. "Momentary Lapse" is the most underrated series of the year, and one of the best.

Rating: 4.5 stars