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Written by Funn Lim

"Believe me, you have done nothing wrong to deserve this crappy stuff. You can do so much better and you must learn to love yourself enough not to subject yourself to this nonsense."


SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!



Title Dechiphered
The chinese title is very catchy and explained the plot of this series generally. Literally, One House, Two Families, Three Surnames. One house means they all live under one roof, two families refer to Joe Ma and Jess on one side and the 5 children on the other (as they're not their offspring) and 3 surnames refer to Joe, Jess and the 5 children. The 5 children are Joe's sister's children, so naturally they all have different surnames from Joe.

That is about the only thing that is most interesting about this series.

Released In
2004

No. Of Episodes
20, way too long.

Cast
I am not familiar with the names of the characters or even all the children but those that I know of ...

Joe Ma - Uncle/Husband
Jessica Hester Hsuen - Aunty/Wife
Lee Sze Chit - Scriptwriter/best friend of Joe
Mimi Lo - Music teacher
Rebecca Chan - Serial bride/aunty of Jess
Liu Kai Chi - Professor /I think 4th husband of Rebecca

And many more forgettable adults.

As for the children, I do not know their names but their character description are as follows:-

Eldest - a boy, teenager, probably 17
Second - a sporty girl, teenager
Third - a boy barely 12 I think, should be the thin scrawny potential male chauvinist pig
Fourth - a boy, also barely 12, chubby, wants to become a sportsman
Fifth - probably 6 or 7 year old girl who looks like BUT is not Jenny Shing

Summary
5 children became orphans when their doctor-father died 4 years ago from some disease and they were left in the care of their uncle, Joe a music teacher who married Aunty Jess, a director with a local production house (TVB perhaps?). The children did not know their father died as Uncle Joe promised not to tell until much much later.

4 years on, the children are well adjusted kids thinking their dad is on some mercy mission in some poor African country. Uncle Joe and Aunty Jess pretended to be their father by writing to them. At this time, Joe has given up on his career and became a house husband but do give private music lessons whilst Aunty Jess is gaining reputation as a film maker who works and brings back the food.

Every 2 episodes or so we are presented with familial problems and the solutions. We have a child who thinks his uncle is a sissy, a chubby boy who is afraid to reveal his ambition, a young man in love with an aspiring singer, a little girl who thinks she is the most pitiful orphan in the world as she thought when Uncle and Aunty has children out she goes and at last, suspiscion of infidelity, a woman who has to choose between family or career and a man who has to learn to deal with his wife's ultimate decision.

Basically this is a series which attempts to talk about values and family and love and sibling-hood. At the time of writing this review, I am about 1 episode short of the ending and I dare to speculate, with a premise like that, from episode 1 I already knew this series is going to end in a sickeningly happy way. Never for a moment would I believe it will end in a divorce or even a death of another which makes this series highly predictable and therefore ultimately mundane and boring. But that's not the worst aspect of this series. So ok, I predict happy ending.

Comments
It's easy to guess from the tone of my summary of this series that I do not think highly of this series. I don't hate it. Hate is too much of an emotion to waste on such a non-happening series. You can say I dislike it because to say otherwise would give too much credit to this series.

Frankly I have never heard of this series but I do recall watching some promo of it in K-100. It was like come and go type of series that no one would really get excited about, unless you're like the biggest fan of Jess and Joe. It is what I call a filler - to fill in time slots until another series comes along. I also had problems looking for reviews of this series, except for one at SPCNET which was quite a positive review. Feedback could be read which quite rightly pointed out that this series is about values and teaching the young ones values. This series to me is like a much too long public service announcement. What the values are is for you to interprete but my real question is can a youngster ever sit long enough to be bothered with these so called values?

Like I said, this series is non-happening. From episode 1 you will know how ep 20 will be like. To give it a twist ending is like killing the very fabric of value this series is trying to teach; togetherness, no matter the surname I guess. For a series which attempts to bring to light the problems faced by youngsters, adults and families alike, I find the messages and the way it was presented shallow, dumb and many times very infuriating.

Maybe I should just drop my formal type of review writing in here and just tell you why this series is really one of the worst I have never seen.

First thing first, I hate preachy type of series. This series isn't those preachy type, but it almost became one each and every episode. So being short of preachy, I would say this series attempts to preach to an audience that doesn't care, such as I. There are many ways to preach, there are many ways to showcase good values and problems and solutions but to adopt the name of our Malaysian toll payment system, that is Touch N Go is simply a slap on the viewers' face; like we are supposed to believe all that nonsense?

What nonsense you may ask. The biggest nonsense there is; a script that has no sense of reality and forever stuck in the time warp of the 50s.

I am not a feminist; I like to be loved and I love chilvary and yet I also believe a woman must have a chance to build a career and still have a family at the same time. I believe the only major difference between a man and a woman is only the physical difference, but mentally and spiritually both can outdo one another and still can compliment one another. So when this series first started, the first 2 episodes or so nearly make me weep. I can't believe Jess would even bother with such a nonsensical material.

Let me explain.

The scrawny one became very ashamed of his Uncle Joe as he doesn't really work, he wears an apron at the house, he cooks and cleans whilst Aunty Jess goes off to work in her usual jacket and pants bringing home the dole. He thought his Uncle Joe became a sissy and lost respect for his uncle despite the fact that his uncle genunine cared and loved him. Aunty Jess and Uncle Joe realised they have a serious pre-MCP problem here and so Aunty Jess thought it was time to teach this boy the real gender roles and differences. And so what did she do? She proposed that Uncle Joe need not cook nor clean, she will do the cooking and the cleaning as a woman should do and she will go to work where she is required to climb up and down a hill by wearing the proper attire women should wear, like skirt, high heels and blouse. She was already working long hours but she had to rush home to cook. The children had their dinners and quickly left the dinner table whilst she cleaned up, washed up and basically do everything. Uncle Joe wanted to help but Aunty Jess said "No, I want the show to the boy proper gender differences ..." and so Uncle Joe had no choice but to let her be. Of course the boy later learned his lesson when he realised his Uncle Joe made the best food compared to other fathers who never had time for their children and so he no longer see Uncle Joe as a sissy anymore. A happy end to a miserable problem.

Or is it?

I am always all for the bigger picture type of plot. I may have sometimes accused TVB of writing stories that are all about smaller pictures that somehow bigger pictures are ignored, like you know bigger values, like between the devil and the deep blue sea type of scenario. This series does not have such big problems but for me values too have small values and big values. Of course it is great to teach the young ones about gender differences but by so called teaching them right is actually inputing all the wrong notions will only give out the wrong message.

I thought what is so wrong with Uncle Joe cooking and Aunty Jess working? Why to set things right Aunty Jess had to go back to the 50s just to show how manly Uncle Joe is? Is letting your wife work half dead and then doing the cooking and cleaning also a very manly thing to do? I was hoping perhaps Uncle Joe or Aunty Jess sit down and knock some sense into that boy but they didn't; they played along with the boy's strict MCP attitude and that was what made me dislike this movie from episode 1. To be fair Uncle Joe wanted to help but I find it disturbing in the end the boy thought it was ok for Uncle Joe to cook and clean but on the question of what the boy thought of Aunty Jess adopting a rather masculine role in the family was not answered. The boy is still a MCP, maybe a more metrosexual type of MCP.

But there is also a bigger problem in that scenario I described above. Many feedback wrote that this series is about values and therefore is entertaining in that aspect. What values I ask you? I was very specific in my description above and maybe I should highlight the particular sentence to see if you agree with me;

"She was already working long hours but she had to rush home to cook. The children had their dinners and quickly left the dinner table whilst she cleaned up, washed up and basically do everything."

Right after they all had their dinner, they all ran away from the dinner table and Aunty Jess and Uncle Joe were left to do the cleaning up. This time I ask you; what about the lesser but equally important value like responsibility? Are the children, from the teenaged boy to the youngest girl suffering from some incurable disease or are handicapped in some ways? If not why can't they take the plates, spoons, chopsticks and glasses into the kitchen and help Aunty Jess to clean up? I don't think I have even seen them lifting a broom and so who is left to clean up after them? Of course Uncle Joe! Do you see what I am talking about?

What is this series trying to tell us?

But that's just the beginning of the problem.

We have then the story about the chubby one wanting to become a sportsman but because of his weight was reluctant to tell his uncle and aunty. When Uncle Joe found out, he encouraged the boy. So I thought well maybe squash, badminton, football, tennis, hockey, golf, whatever but nope; they took the boy to do gymnastic. I didn't quite catch the boy's ambition and even if he said gymnastic, I would think the writer could do better by choosing a more appropriate sport. I am sorry to say this but that boy is way too chubby to become a gymnast and way too late to start training as one. Why not something more believable like sayyyyyyyyy badminton??

Scripting problem? Definitely. Some more...

The children's father died 4 years ago. I assume the mother died way before that. For 4 years they did not know. When the eldest found out he was so angry he walked away from the Uncle and Aunty, accusing them of leaving their father rotting in the grave without any of his beloved children to visit him or to pay respect to him. I understand the anger and of course in the end his resentment for his uncle and aunty went away because he realised for 4 years they took care of him. Or to be more precise, economically they all depend on the aunty and uncle so it would be better if he just shut up, which was how I see it.

The problem here is not that. Then there is the scene where the father actually left a very emotional goodbye message to each and every of his children via videotape and then we have like the longest and most un-sentimental scene ever; each child's face is focussed much too long as they were watching that tape and of course they cried. I thank my lucky stars there were only 5 of them if not that scene would take forever to finish. It was supposed to be a touching scene but I find it all really stupid when the camera zoomed to the two adult actors (Joe and Jess) who were so bad in their acting the whole scene was spoilt. Their expression for lying to the children for 4 years was like "Oh so what?" when it should register a bit of guilt. The big boy was right after all; they did let the father rot in the grave in such a lonely fashion without any of the children paying respect to him.

So the problem again is scripting and of course acting. The problems and the solution for the adult problems is as shallow as the children.

I remember one scene where Jess was very angry with her husband for either kissing or being kissed on the cheeks by Mimi Lo I think in some party. It was an innocent kiss, he didn't tell her about it and so she was very angry and jealous. At the same time Jess was outstation working with a director friend and I think they spent the night in the same room, but nothing happened. Joe was angry because Jess didn't tell him. So there they were angry with one another and Jess kept going on and on about the kiss on the cheek whilst Joe did mention ONCE about the fact that she spent the night in a room with another man, although nothing happened. I was thinking wouldn't it be more realistic if Joe were to say "Look, I got only a kiss on the cheek, but you spent the night in a room with this man. Seriously honey, which is worse?". Of course it is a bad sarcastic question but more logical than him looking meek and she looking cross...doesn't make sense. I mean argue also must argue realistically...

There are worse to come.

Jess got offered to go to Hollywood to become assistant director to this male director friend for 6 months. Joe was afraid of her going that she might end up sleeping with this director, as pointed out by best friend Lee Sze Chit who was poking fire actually. Jess wanted to go as this was a golden opportunity and Joe refused to let her go. When she told the kids she will be going away he let the youngest to use emotional threat to make her stay but later the youngest one having heard the story about a butterfly which is meant to be flying free agreed her Aunty Jess should go but by then Joe and Lee confronted the director friend and through no direct action of Joe, the director suffered a broken neck. But this friend did not blame Joe and lied to Jess and said the company insisted on a foreign assistant so Jess could not go. Jess was very disappointed until she overheard Lee and Joe's conversation and so she wanted to go by packing her bags first. Joe stopped her and asked sarcastically "You choose your family or your career?", and that kinda tipped the whole scale and Jess left for the airport without her baggage. Of course it was a happy ending in the end as they missed each other and all. But the scene holds many problems.

For one, children won't talk like how the youngest talk like "Aunty, you're like a butterfly meant to fly freely". I am not insulting children's intelligence but I would think a more simpler line like "Aunty, you can go, I can take care of myself but I will miss you" would be more better.

Second, this series reminds me of a rather old Korean drama series which I am sure some of you may have heard of, it is called Model starring my most favourite actor right now, Jang Dong Gun which so happens to be one of the worst series I have ever seen. As in Model, there is an underlying chauvinism in this series that the writer may or may not realise. First that MCP kid, then now this. In Model, we always see the sister coming home to cook and clean and the brother always telling the sister to stop working and get a husband (many characters also had the same conversation with at least one member of their family) but the sister just lightly slapped the brother on the head like it was some joke but it wasn't. In this series Joe didn't want the wife to go because he reasoned if he can give up on his musical career to choose family surely she can to. Which was what makes me dislike this series more. You making the choice to give up doesn't mean she has to make the same choice. Moreover she has the ultimate opportunity of a lifetime. If she said assistant director in an African production, ok maybe she should give up but this is Hollywood; John Woo and countless others spent many years to break into Hollywood and now we have this idiotic selfish unsuccessful husband telling the wife not to go because he thought she might sleep with the director, the children will miss her and he needs her. I mean she is only going for 6 months; big deal, be a man and learn to deal with it. If she ever got the opportunity to settle there, be an understanding husband and move to US with her and the children. After all, he doesn't have a career so he can let her have one. And his career is like teaching music only. I am not trivialising one career over the other but it would make more sense for Joe to follow Jess rather than the other way around since his career can be more flexible. And the argument about the children will miss her terribly is uncalled for. Their father has died and will never come back and I could see them adjusting very well, so Jess being away for 6 months is again no big deal. The children can cope. About him missing her, that's even worse excuse. And as for him being afraid she will sleep with the director, like the director said their relationship has got to be so weak before he can make a move and thus far, their relationship has been solid. The husband clearly doesn't trust the wife so what kind of relationship is this? Another scene had the oldest boy telling his aspiring singer girlfriend to follow her dreams and that they should separate because he didn't want to stop her from pursuing her dreams. Maybe the Uncle should have learn about how to love someone from this young man.

There is a serious underlying chauvinism in Joe's character but of course this series doesn't explore that for the very fact that the writer didn't realise there was one. I find Joe's character such a bastard at that point.

Maybe the woman wanting to put career first over family here may be wrong even if it is only for 6 months. But for 4 years she dedicated her life to her family, why can't for once she choose herself over the others for just that 6 months? Joe can do the same too; nobody is stopping him from teaching music. I was thinking luckily only 6 months...if forever then how?

So again scripting problem, character problem, scenario problem ... this series has loads of problems.

Maybe the technical aspect can be good which is not.

The most illogical has to be the house they live in. Joe isn't rich since he's just a music teacher. Jess isn't rich as you and I know how much TVB pays their director, which is not enough to finance such a big house. The children's father may not be rich since he was a volunteer doctor at some mercy mission. Aunty of Jess is rich I assume since she is such a gold digger but I doubt Aunty helps niece financially. So they're left to defend for themselves and so how on Earth they can buy or even continue to live in such a big big house?

Then there was the oldest boy's girlfried doing some solo singing in some event meant for another famous group and the way she went about singing like it was her solo concert was one of the worst acting ever. You're supposed to be in some fan club event and not once did she look at the guys as in group standing behind her. I know she is supposed to be talented and all but must the scene make it so bloody obvious?

And finally the choir singing. Worst singing ever. Can't they just ask a real choir to sing? Luckily I did not have to watch Joe Ma himself sing in English.

So nothing is great the question now is the performances.

The children are all quite ok except for the oldest boy who has deadpan written on his face from episode 1 to the last, showing slight emotion when he found out the lies by Aunty ad Uncle and also when breaking off with his girlfriend. I never noticed much about this young man except that he is quite pleasant looking. And then someone had to point out to me that his nickname should be Pimple Face and then I began to notice his pimples more than anything else. Not very nice to do that. The other children are ok except for the 2nd girl who is not a very good actress since I didn't notice her much whilst the youngest girl is the best but she is no Jenny Shing, I am sorry to say. None of the boys were Gregory Lee too, again very sorry to say. But even if the children ranges from ok to good, the adults should just jump off the building for being far worse than these children.

For one Joe Ma. With or without glasses, he is still such a boring actor. I used to think highly of him, but that was before I realised this man can shine in secondary roles but once he is put in front as the lead, he is a horribly inadequate and uncharismatic actor. If you wanna know the definition of charisma and screen presence, watch Joe Ma act and you will know who is NOT charismatic and what is meant by LACK of screen presence. I don't know what's wrong with him. He's not THAT bad an actor, he is good looking, he is tall for a Chinese actor which is rare, he has the built of a model, he is tanned and healthy albeit much older looking than before, he has a good reputation and clean record from what I do know of and in person he seems nice, friendly and un-star like. I don't expect him to beat his wife or drive like a mad driver to become interesting but somehow when he is the lead and he is acting, even Moses Chan is more interesting than him. It boils down to the fact that I find him without much personality, not because he is a nice person in real life but because somehow when acting as a lead or maybe secondary actor with an important role to play, he just doesn't shine. I really do not know why. His acting like I said is NOT that bad, but it's not good either. He has ceased to improve since I last recall him as the secondary actor with potential but I realise now sometimes some people are just meant to be in the background and Joe Ma is one of them. He is horribly inadequate in this series, almost bad if you ask me and frankly I could fall asleep watching him. Half the time in all the characters he had played recently I am not bothered to know what happened to his character because he doesn't engage my attention. I find Wong Hei, a much more smaller man prone to pretentiousness and overacting more charismatic than Joe Ma, not even mentioning one tiny little fact; that when Wong Hei is good, he is very very good (in acting) and when he is bad on a very very bad day, he is still more watchable than Joe Ma. I hope Joe Ma gets a breakout role soon, but I can't think of one for him right now. Maybe those romantic kinda roles you see in K-Drama that doesn't require heavy duty acting.

Jessica Hester Hsuen is another big question mark for me. I don't know what's wrong with her. She's very pretty outside of camera, she exudes confidence and intelligence and she seems very determined and very interesting in real life. And yet when she is acting, she just doesn't bring out those qualities. She stopped improving or perhaps bother to improve since forever as she had been here forever. I see her blossoming from an ugly duckling to a very attractive woman. But as an actress she just doesn't bloom anymore. There may have been a time she was very very good but now after having years of experience, maybe she has grown stale. Her every single performance is the same every time. Like Kenix Kwok whose difference between series A and series B is how many times she points at her co-star and how big her eyes are when staring, Jess' only difference is whether she is talking loud or talking soft. Playing a professional educated understanding woman, she sometimes whispers. As someone with a bigger personality so to speak she basically tilts her head out some more, eyes bigger and speak louder and also point some more. She is very predictable and you can super impose her other performances into this series and basically it's still the same old Jess. I find her boring and I am beginning to be very irritated with her all too familiar performance. I am also beginning to realise she is really very inadequate as an actress and if she persists like this, only her biggest fans will appreciate her brand of "I am so not there" type of acting. It's time to find a replacement.

Jess and Joe's chemistry is non existent by the way. So one extremely boring actor paired with one extremely predictable boring actress, that is Jessica Hester Hsuen and you will get two extremely excruciatingly predictable boring performances.

Liu Kai Chi was disappointing because his role is meaningless, as meaningless as Rebecca Chan's gold digger role.

The only two who did slightly better were Mimi Lo and Lee Sze Chit.

Mimi Lo surprised me because she was a host and now she is actively acting. She is neither pretty nor fair as in Miss HK type and she is a very capable host but I never imagined her as an actress. It was a very good surprise to see her in the almost lead role in Blade Heart and she did ok in there. In this series it is a small role and she wasn't great in it but somehow I find her performance worth mentioning. Could be a better actress but I doubt she could lead a series.

Lee Sze Chit is a phemonenan for a secondary actor. He is a terrible host but as an actor he brings out the character's personality in each of his performances. He talks dead pan like and yet I find him talented and flexible. I long to see him in a more important and drama type of role because I believe he can give his character a very interesting interpretation and personality. I find him interesting and charismatic but like Mimi Lo, I don't think he can lead a series because he doesn't have that quality. Maybe he can be a lead in a movie if the role is right. I also find him to be a gifted comedien since I do find his dead pan looks funny. He reminds me of Ronald Cheng actually, but he is handsomer of course. A good performance, not his best but definitely good to watch. I wonder does he have like a fansite or something? I am sure there are countless others who feels the same way I do.

Everybody else is just forgettable in this series.

Verdict
Believe me, you have done nothing wrong to deserve this crappy stuff. You can do so much better and you must learn to love yourself enough not to subject yourself to this nonsense. You don't need unnecessary therapy in your life, you're a wonderful intelligent viewer capable of making the right choice. Don't hurt yourself like this, please don't. There must be a much better series out there meant for your viewing pleasure. Don't buy into this shallow, pretentious, preachy, bad acting and especially lousy script of a series. I have your best interest in my mind and it breaks my heart to ever know if you ever seriously consider renting this lousy series. If you have rented it before, no harm done. It's in the past now.

There I have said it. Lousy, nonsense, crappy. How much clearer should I be?

Ok ok, avoid this one at all cost, even if you're Jess and Joe's biggest fans because Jess and Joe's biggest fan deserves so much better than this crappy nonsensical lousy piece of pure (ok maybe not so pure since it has its moments) junkatainment.

Interesting Comparison
3 actresses came to my mind when I asked myself which 3 has acted like forever.

Kenix Kwok, Jess and Ada Choi. I have seen them from the very beginning.

Kenix Kwok, you know how I feel about her. But she did give one memorable performance in Take My Word For It because that role is for her to play. I saw an interview of her in Scoop and she was labelled as the Chameleon Like Actress. The only way I can describe her is "Thousand Roles, One Face". That's Kenix.

Jess same league as Kenix but worse off as no memorable roles recently and she is getting worse and worse as her acting has stopped developing altogether.

Ada Choi is interesting. When I was watching Model I thought she really looked like that lead actress, acting also almost the same. Ada Choi started out young, fresh, interesting but raw. Over the years she has ceased to become fresh, she is much older and sadly, less interesting not due to her age but due to her acting. Am watching her in To Catch The Uncatcheable and I was thinking why is she doing such a bad impersonation of Dodo Cheng's Miss Mo? She tries too hard sometimes and her best acting is still by not trying too hard.

Of all 3, Ada Choi is still interesting and slightly less boring but by no means a better actress. But I won't go running for her series.

Interesting Comparison 2
I asked myself, which is the crappiest series in terms of storyline and acting I have seen in recent years coming from TVB and other sources? I am not talking about those I am watching right now but those I have seen. If I were to say those I have not seen properly but glimpses of it, that new Taiwanese/Chinese version of Mokey King starring Dicky Cheung is by far the crappiest of the crappiest. No, let's talk about those I have actually watched from A to Z.

Can't remember much but those that I can remember in no particular order...

Point Of No Return
- crappy because the acting by one particular actress was excruciatingly bad and the story has one of the most crappiest ending ever, or maybe almost ending is what I meant.

Perish In The Name Of Love
- I almost needed therapy after doing episodic reviews for this series and I think I have adequately explained why I really hate this series.

Angels of Mission
- the only difference in this series with all others is how bad is the acting by the 3 leads; from bad to really bad to oh please shut her up bad by scene per scene actress, the autmaton and the robot, respectively. If you've been reading my reviews for a long time, you know who is who. It is also the one series which I thought Sonija Kwok was bad but not as bad as the really bad Shirley Yeung who can do everybody a favour by just hosting and never act until she learns how to act in the first place. Storyline also crappy.

Life Begins At Forty
- or something like that. Crappy boring story, crappy ending, crappy acting.

It is never my intention to name all 4 Charmaine's series I have seen thus far as crappy but I can't bring myself not to. Some more, no Charmaine though ...

Before The Legend Begins
- an example of bad casting decision which resulted in bad performances not helped much by a inadequate script.

Eternal Happiness
- I truly hate this series and you can read my review to know why.

Model
- I can't bring myself to love this series eventhough I am crazy about Jang Dong Gun who is so handsome in this series which is really crappy because it is just such nonsence, too long and like its title, shallow is how the public viewed the profession anyway.

My conclusion the crappiest? Perish In The Name Of Love will win hands down if I hadn't suddenly remember Eternal Happiness, the mother of all crappy series in recent memory. Am so glad that series is in the past but remembering it is still a painful experience for me. Perish In The Name Of Love comes in at a close 2nd and Angels of Mission, the ultra boring series I never bothered to review (but might since I dislike it so much I might actually write one hell of a review) comes in at 3rd. Model deserves a special mention.


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