"Watch it when you have nothing to watch, that way you may be in a better position to appreciate the message in the poorly written story than I who had so many other good shows to disturb my attention. "
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
The cantonese title was weird because it sounded like this is an action ghost thriller type of series but in actual fact this is an action thriller focusing on the world of crime, computers, anti cyber crime police unit and the world of hacking. Whether it is a genuine thriller or a pretender will be the focus of my review.
Can't remember the names of most characters, so I will use the actors' names instead.
Wong Hei - Yiu Shing Tin
Myolie Wu - Kong Kin Yee
Jack Wu - Tong Ka Ming
Tiffany Lam - Erica
Eddie Kwan - Chong Chin Pang
Lok Ying Kwan
Wong Hei is the owner of a computer games company who is also a very notorious hacker, pursued by former friend Eddie who works for the anti cyber crime unit. The hatred of Eddie towards Wong stems from the possible involvement of Wong in the injuries of Eddie's comatose girlfriend and the fact that Wong is a notorious criminal in the eyes of Eddie, escaping the law many times.
Whilst Wong is arrogant and very self assured as the hacker and boss of his company, he is also very loving to his grandparents, his parents died many years ago. Life to him is a constant challenge and he loves nothing more than to challenge authorities, which he views with disdain. He takes much pleasure in escaping capture many times, but his luck may soon run out as he hooks up with a notorious business who deals in smuggling illegal goods, played by the ever cool Lok Ying Kwan. Wong thinks that he may have finally found peace and stability in his life when his old high school crush comes back into his life, played by Tiffany but she turns out to be a mole who works for Lok, and she is also his lover. Wong and Tiffanythen have this peculiar love hate relationship, mainting a cordial relationship in front of Wong's grandparents but snapping at one another when in private, unable to trust each other. But Tiffany is slowly falling in love with Wong and Wong must learn to trust her again.
Meanwhile, Myolie is the daughter of Mary Hon, who had an affair with Wong's father many years before. When Myolie finds out by chance that Wong is her half brother, she decides to mend the two family's relationship but afraid to let him know the truth. She uses her genuine concern and love for her only brother as a way to slowly win Wong's affection, who likes her in a very friendly way as her boss as she works in his cyber cafe. She befriends a rookie cop played by Jack Wu who was kicked out of police academy because he hacked into the computer system and changed his best friend's marks, rather stupid if you ask me. He was then recruited by Eddie to be a mole in Wong's company, where he begins his life as a mole as a waiter at the cyber cafe. He knows Myolie earlier as Myolie worked as courier and their exchanges are not very friendly. But as times goes by, they bonded and Myolie was slowly falling in love with Jack, unbeknowst that one day he will cause the downfall of her brother. He knows that Wong is her half brother, a fact he did not tell Eddie. Meanwhile Jack suffered a setback in his private life as his family was very disappointed with his criminal activities and his girlfriend of many years, a cousin of his left him for a doctor, thinking he has changed. Suffering that he could not tell anyone of his predicament, he wasn't ably assisted by Eddie who could do nothing. When Myolie was photographed naked and threatened by the sicko, Eddie could do nothing to help as they needed to hack into this sicko's computer. It was Wong who saved the day, though he didn't do it outright because at this point Wong found out Myolie was his half sister, thanks to Eddie who gaveJack a CD to give to Wong and Jack didn't know what it was. Wong began to ill treat Myolie but she took it all in stride, until her genuine concern won over his stone cold heart and whilst Myolie will do anything for her brother, Wong himself would do anything to make sure his only sister is safe and sound. But all these came to an explosive exchange between the siblings when Wong's grandma died as a result of a kidnap thanks to Wong's illegal activities and Wong wanted nothing more than revenge, something Myolie and even Tiffanydisagreed.
Meanwhile earlier on, Wong already knew Jack was a mole, because this mole is rather careless. When the mole knew Wong knew he was a mole, Wong dared the mole to catch him and even retained him as an employee. The tables has turned in this cat and mouse game as the role of the cat and the mouse became blurred. But after some time, Eddie knew it was hopeless. Wong was too cunning and Jack was axed as the mole and he returned to assisting his parents at their computer shop whilst Wong planned his revenge against Lok. This he enlisted the help of Jack although Jack helped him in part because he had this close bond with Wong like a teacher-student relationship and also because he wanted to catch him. Myolie by that time became his girlfriend and found out through a diary that Jack was the mole. Wanting to save his brother, she questions Jack intentions and tried to persuade her brother to let go of hatred and the life of a criminal hacker. Wong flatly refused.
And because of this, the lives of Jack, Myolie, Tiffany, Lok, Eddie and Wong became intertwined in this final showdown that may be Wong's path to redemption.
The Ending Revealed
Nahhh, not going to tell you. Watch the last episode because there's this 4 years down the road type of ending, and a very interesting one. I will reveal some in my comments of course.
I wrote this at the top of my review:-
"Whether it is a genuine thriller or a pretender will be the focus of my review."
What is meant by this is whether this series is good or no good since it makes itself into a thriller, but how thriller is this thriller? Is it an effective thriller?
To me, a good thriller must combine nail biting action, great acting AND most important of all, a very strong storyline that doesn't allow the viewer to even stop for a second to doubt the plot. This series has a little of all three but in my opinion, too little for me to really say this series is a must watch.
The problem of this series is the acting and the storyline. The pacing is actually fast and furious at times, in fact there were times I had difficulty in catching what the characters were doing, especially those hacking scenes.
Story wise, the story has nothing new, nothing that you have never ever seen. The love relationship, a mad cop bent on catching the cunning criminal, dillemma of love for your brother or for truth and justice, etc etc etc. Of all these angles, the one storyline I really liked is the genuine love and care between the half siblings and what each sibling wouldn't or would do for the other, to the point of ignoring one's heart to safeguard your own sibling's interest. The other storyline I might like more if it wasn't that snail paced would be the relationship between Wong and Tiffany, the very forced love that turned into a genuine love, what one woman wouldn't do for her man, even if it meant waiting 14 years for your loved one. Of course this series wouldn't be so cruel to its characters, so do expect a very happy and positive ending.
But the rest seems pretty juvenile. I didn't like the story between the hunter and the hunted. Whether Wong is the hunter or the hunted, and whether Jack was the hunter or the hunted is debatable. I just find it utterly ridiculous that we have such an inept mole, and his cover was blown just episodes into his mole-hood. Thereafter it was like totally ridiculous to the point of disbelief how Wong challenged the mole to expose him, whilst letting him assist him in his criminal activities. My opinion of the mole didn't really got any better when he wasn't very convincing as a mole at all. For one, he kept a diary as in Dear Diary and not a Wong's activities diary. He is supposed to be a police mole and there he was, a diary. And he got a HUGE surveillance camera right above the back of his head, so whenever he was hacking into Wong's computer observing Wong in his office, Wong was actually observing him observing Wong. That was basically how the mole found out his identity was exposed. And worst of all, he was followed by Wong with this HUGE video camera recording his meetings with Eddie. And the fact this mole is jittery ALL THE TIME. I find this character unbelievable.
And I can't understand the logic in how to get Wong's attention.
Hear me out.
Wong is the master hacker. Eddie deduced the only way to gain Wong's trust is to screw up oneself in a hacking attempt. So he told the mole to get caught hacking into Wong's company or something like that and that will force Wong to save him. If Wong doesn't save him, the mole will go to jail. What a bad deal. Anyway if Wong saves him, Eddie deduced the mole will get into his inner circle.
Forgive my language, but this plot is BS to me. Imagine you're the master hacker, an identity you know everybody knows but don't really want them to know for real. And you would let an arrested hacker by your side? The only reason Wong took him in is because he knew the mole was the mole, he wanted a challenge and nothing more. The mole didn't know of course. Wouldn't it be better to show it this way... that the mole hacked into the government system doing something really nasty and Wong was impressed with his skills and so he hired the mole as his right hand man, and the mole never got caught doing that piece of hacking. A hacker would want a talent that NO ONE KNOWS is a hacker, that I one thing I think is the reality of things. This plot was pure nonsense.
More nonsense. A hacker suddenly becomes a cool gun fighting avenging hero of some sort, but more like an anti-hero. He did crime, he wasn't really a good guy but in moment of sheer brilliance in scripting, Wong screams that "I am a criminal who commits bloodless crimes, why don't you useless police go after the ones who causes blood, why come after me, refusing to let me go?!??!?!!?". One good outburst, but very little.
Of course the most nonsense came from the most useless cop ever to be shown on TV, the character played by Eddie. After a while, and rightly so the mole even wondered whether Eddie was the good guy or whether he was the bad guy. The way he went after Wong was almost like a maniac, refusing to let go because of some personal vendetta. Of course Eddie learned to let go in the end, and even struck up a friendship with Wong, ridiculous if you ask me but better than one of them dying. And after a while and oh so many arrests and keyboard punching and secret meeting with the mole, I kinda realised Eddie was not just a useless cop, he was a redundant character. There was nothing much for his character to do, although he did many things, but many of those either illogical, nonsensical or simply just to fill in time. Towards the end he just walks around, doing little whilst Wong, the mole and even Myolie had something important to do. This cop was pretending to do something important but his character serves no real purpose. One of the worst character ever written.
And then the villain. This series tries hard to portray the ambiguity of the goodness of Eddie and Wong. Who is the villain, who is the hero. No second guessing here and because of the badly written plots, you know the answer from episode 1. These two are good people, caught up in the web of deceit and lies. Almost every character in here is pretending and lying or being lied to. It's like deception is everywhere. Myolie pretending to be who she is not, the mole lying to everyone about his real identity, Wong is not who he seems to be, Eddie is a man with a secret mission, Tiffanya woman with double identity. I can also say even the Myolie's mom, played by Mary Hon and her "best friend" Jojo are not exactly what they seem to be. Oh yes, they're lesbians but I didn't know because I was in such disbelief over the ridiculous storyline that I kinda missed all the insinuations until it became so obvious. As always, a series, especially a series about technology and hacking must have 3 essentials:-
1. Cantonese with a dash of English here and there
2. red wine, every night
3. homosexual couples, without them, the series will not be cool, so to speak
All are cliches of course, and each character in here is almost a caricature, very unreal, very disturbingly fiction that I can't identify with any of them. Only one character has sense of reality in her, that is Myolie's character.
But I won't say that there aren't good moments in here. Like I said, the relationship between Myolie and Wong, Wong and Tiffany, parents with children, friends and foes. One of those moments I genuinely like is the way Myolie reacted to Jack's role in Wong's life, that he was going to testify against her brother and though what Wong did was criminally wrong, to Myolie he is not a bad man and shouldn't be punished like a criminal. She asked Jack not to testify, he said he has to, and so she left when her brother was sentenced, only to return 4 years later as a prosecutor and a new haircut of course. I find this angle very real. A sibling will always stand by her sibling, no matter what. In my opinion, Wong's scream that he was a criminal who did bloodless crimes was so true, but of course hackers can be more damaging than that. Wong after all did help the criminals smuggle guns and those guns will be used to kill people and so his crimes weren't so bloodless after all. But Wong is not a bad man, he just likes to challenge authority.
I also like the ending, where lovers promise to wait for their loved ones, new hope and a new lease of life for all 3 male characters. Ridiculous is Jack becoming the head of cyber crime in 4 years, but well who doesn't love a good success story however impossible that may be?
But still for a series about cyber crime and hacking, moles and policeman, criminals and technology, this series in the end ended with something rather primitive in my opinion; guns blasting at one another. Half way through the series this series became rather lost and the theme of cyber whatever was just a pretense of a story about human conflict, as all TVB series is nowadays. Not that I am complaining because I can't understand the cyber part anyway. I doubt the actors understood themselves.
But there must be a reason to watch this series, if not the storyline at least the performance or the actors.
I really wanted to say the performances were good, but because of poor characterisation of certain characters going through some of the worst plot ever written, the actors suffer.
Take Eddie Kwan for instance. He is a rather good actor, but his character failed him and with no real purpose, Eddie was like a very famous actor made to walk around doing nothing much. A waste of good talent, and may I add, a very good looking talent.
Take Jack for instance. I don't know who this actor is, and I don't want to know (as informed by Sammie, he was Roger Kwok's brother in Not Just A Pretty Face, a fact which escaped me - Funn Lim). His acting is ok, I wouldn't say he is great. His is a text book acting, act surprise when the character is surprised, act scared when he is scared. He didn't give his character any different interpretation that I would expect, and his acting is limited to what his character is expected and supposed to do. What I mean is he is acting like he is acting. No depth, not much else. Imagine Tony Leung Chiu Wai in Infernal Affairs and this actor is not Tony Leung. Not even close, not even a thousand miles away. I find his performance bland, boring and predictable. It doesn't help his character is such a stupid mole.
Lok Ying Kwan played the standard villain, in fact the ONLY villain in this series making this series very boring at times. Of course Wong Hei's character is supposed to be the anti-hero, potential villain but would you buy it that Wong Hei is a villain in here? We all know he has more to do than just smirk. Anyway Lok was cool, but nothing much to do than to act cool.
Tiffany is very wonderful to watch. She has a natural talent to act, and surprisingly she pairs off well with Wong Hei, earlier on many intimate scenes and some very flirtatious ones too. Surprising isn't it? A pity her character doesn't do much and even more pitiful she has since retired from acting. For once there is a natural talent that with time and more exposure will possibly create a very good actress and she gave it all up. Maybe acting with TVB is very very hard.
One saving grace is Myolie Wu. Someone said she didn't do so well in here because she didn't play a type of "samseng" girl very well. I don't know what you call samseng in English but I got the person's meaning. Maybe it's her hair. But I never thought of her character as someone gangster type or those who are like loitering around being useless types of girls. She is one fun loving person, and her hair, ugly as it may seem reflects her care free attitude. It has to be someone as positive as that that can move someone as egoistical as Wong. She played her part well but I agree this is not her best role. It doesn't test her, doesn't give her an opportunity to shine. She can play this character whilst sleepwalking and still walk away with a good performance type of praise. I must also mention her dedication and professionalism. Whilst there are actressess who made such a big hoo-haa with just cutting their hair, I was told that Myolie had to suffer with these hair extensions, where she had to sleep on her side because the extensions were hurting her scalp for the entire duration of the filming and mind you, she had this hairstyle for 98% of screentime. I admire her dedication to her art and I am very happy to know her love for acting, her heart is in the right place. Not her best performance but definitely not a bad one either.
The other saving grace is an actor whose name I forgot (as informed by Sammie, he is Johnson Lee, a name I shall remember from now on! - Funn Lim). I remembered him. He was the guardian angel in Not Just A Pretty Face. He was very very good in here, though the role was small but he brought enough of emotions into his acting that I find him very entertaining to watch. His jealous gaze at Jack, his "I wish you look at me" gaze at Myolie, his dilemma when he went into the life of crime, the way he interacted with Myolie, this man can really act. Maybe not lead actor type but definitely, like many veterans, a man with many faces with just a chance of mannerism like Wai Kah Hung and effectively bringing to life the character he plays. Many should learn from this man.
Now I reach Wong Hei, one of my most favourite actors in TVB, almost right up there with Kwong Wah. I still think his best and most honest performance was as Lok Tin Yau in Burning Flame. He was beyond excellent there and his Lok Tin Yau was so memorable. In this series, his character is of dubious personality. You're supposed to question whether he is a good guy or the bad guy. He plays his character as an egoistical cool type of guy that you would question where does his loyalty lies. But there were times I wonder whether the egoistical part is actually a real thing and not some acting. Ever since he became much too famous, he lost that boyish honesty in his performance. Of course this character is a dark character but what I didn't like is the way he mumbles his lines. Half the time I didn't know what he was saying. I didn't like his smirk, too much smirk. I didn't like the way his eyes narrows even smaller than it already was whenever he was angry and threatening someone. There was a time his performance was unpredictable, it was unexpected and he gave his character personality, something one do not expect. In this performance, his performance didn't look real, didn't feel genuine and he didn't seem to put his heart and soul into it. He was indeed cool, black looks good on his small but athletic built. He can be very easily convincing as a very physical type of person, he holds the gun very convincingly and looks threatening despite his small physic. BUT that being said, whenever he mumbles his lines, smirk and narrows his eyes, I just wish he just go back to the basics and be an actor first, coolness second. He's all cool but nothing else. His character is interesting, his performance falls flat. Maybe I have too high an expectation of him, as I have too high an expectation of Kwong Wah. But like Kwong Wah who put coolness first, acting second in A Step Into The Past, his performance was one of his worst there. And Wong Hei's performance reminded me of Kwong Wah's performance. Not one his worst, but not good enough, at least for me a fan who expects something better. Has Wong Hei lost touch with himself? I wonder what happened because he is a wonderfully gifted actor, but his performance lately has a tinge of pretentiouness to it, like he is acting and he knows he is acting or like he didn't bother. What a pity because Wong Hei can do better than what he is offering on screen.
A series that became much too ambitious of its own theme than it can handle, genre and characters and suffered from really bad plots and some very awful or inadequate performances caused by some awfully written characters. Suspend your disbelief when watching this series. I would say strictly for fans of the leads in here but even I, a fan of Myolie Wu and Wong Hei couldn't in all honesty recommend this series or praise it as being new, different, cool, savvy. It is cool thanks to Wong Hei, it is different thanks to the focus and the actions of the characters but in the end it is nothing new nor nothing exciting. To answer my own question, "Whether it is a genuine thriller or a pretender?", my answer is it is a pretender pretending to be a thriller when there is nothing thrilling about it. At times boring because it is so ridiculous that my mind kinda tune off half way but at most times over the top to the point of disbelief. I am someone who can take fantasy type of stories but what I can't take is a story that is poorly written and poorly conceptualised. This series is unfortunately just that.
Watch it when you have nothing to watch, that way you may be in a better position to appreciate the message in the poorly written story than I who had so many other good shows to disturb my attention. But I sincerely doubt that even when I had absolutely nothing to watch I would like it. I understood the message, I like the ending, I like some performances but not enough for me to chase after it every night, with anticipation to the point of restlessness. Thriller this series may be, but I don't feel thrilled when I watched it.
The cyber crime office. All steel, very cold looking. Very impersonal. Very scary. And higher budget for suits as well and gel for hair! Is that the commercial crime division or cyber crime?
The theme and sub song both sung by Wong Hei. God awful singer. These days TVB are killing their good songs by letting actors who can't sing to sing and giving good roles to singers who can't act to act. Gone are the days of good songs given to the right singer and good parts to those who suit that part. The songs could have been nice, though not catchy at all, unlike Vigilante Force of course. Sad fact is, Wong Hei can't sing.
I must however mention this great aspect of this series that made certain scenes very stylish, even if devoid of substance. The fast camera angles, and that background music everytime Wong Hei or the police or anyone is hatching some devious plots. Like some Arabic or could it be Indian influenced theme? And when Wong Hei or anyone else walks with that background music playing, suddenly the actors look very good you know, very stylish. One aspect of this series that is worth noticing, apart from Wong Hei's tiny frame BUT very athletic built. I am still very shocked to have seen Wong Hei up close. Such a small small man and pretentious as hell if you ask me, but a brilliant actor if he wants to be.