"At first glance it seems TVB has hit the nail in terms of presenting a gender-swap, socially aware series but with a closer look, you will realize that LFD only scrapes the surface. A major problem is that it does not delve deep enough to examine the roots of the gender issues it presents."
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
"Lui Yan Mm Yee Jo" (translates to it's not easy being a woman)
No. of episodes
Michelle Ng Mei Hang as Ko Ji Ling (Ling)
Raymond Lam Fung as Chai Foon (Siu Chai)
Sheren Tang Sui Man as Hilda
Michael Tse Tin Wah as Man King Leung (Man)
Kenneth Ma Kwok Ming as Ko Ji Lik (Lik)
Kate Tsui as Hoi Suen (Ida)
Cindy Au Sin Yee as Crystal
Tsang Wai Kuen as Pluto
Jacqueline Wu as Venus
Mary Hon Ma Lei as Siu Chai's mother
Tiffany Tse as Wing Yee (niece to Siu Chai)
Leung Ka Yan as Ling's father
This series received very high ratings as soon as it was released. The great cast is one of the reasons, but the main reason is this series' attempt to present a very refreshing look at gender roles and stereotypes. As soon as I watched how Hilda (Sheren Tang) taught Ling (Michelle Ng) how to choose and wear a bra in the first episode, I knew this series would be different. Though the plot kind of gets lost towards the end, it is in general a well-written story with strong, complex characters and one of the wittiest, knock-down-stereotypes scripts of all time... in TVB terms, at least.
The story revolves four main characters, two women (one strong, career-minded one, and one weak, traditional one) and two men (one scumbag-turned-good-father, and one juvenile-turned-man). Hilda, the strong and ambitious woman, is determined to prove that women can succeed in a corporate world dominated by men. She was once deeply hurt by an ex-boyfriend, so she doesn't trust men at all. When she meets the weak, traditional, dominated-by-her-husband Ling, she takes her under her wing and tries to instill confidence and power in her. The two become best friends, but their friendship is tried several times due to numerous events.
Though Ling slowly gains self-esteem, she remains very much the traditional-minded woman, and when Siu Chai, a fitness trainer 7 years her junior, professes his undying love for her, she has trouble reconciling her feelings for him and her worries about how society will view their relationship. However, the immature Siu Chai throws caution to the wind and convinces Ling to marry him without her chauvinistic family's approval first. This causes a lot of friction among the in-laws, with Siu Chai's family also against their marriage. Eventually the stress and a lack of communication separates the two and they divorce, but eventually get back together.
Surprisingly, and probably unintentionally on behalf of the writers, the more interesting relationship of the series is between Hilda and Man. The two have a one-night stand, and Hilda becomes pregnant. However, untrusting of any man and particularly the loser Man, Hilda doesn't tell Man she’s pregnant with his child. Instead, Man requests that he become the surrogate father to her unborn child, and is willing to uphold any responsibility for a little girl that he doesn’t know is his biological child. What follows is a series of touching scenes showing Man’s devotion to his new ‘family’, but Hilda is afraid of becoming hurt again and pushes him away. However, when she realizes that Man truly cares about her and her daughter, she lets him back into her life.
Evaluation of Cast and Characters
Melissa Ng / Ko Ji Ling
A pathetic character and mediocre performance. Some people may feel sorry for Ling since she was so weak and prone to being bullied by others, but if you look carefully, Ling isn't that pitiful, or more precisely, she really doesn't deserve anyone to feel sorry for her. There's an inherent flaw in each of the characters in this series... for Ling, it's found in the friendship between her and Hilda. On the surface she refers to Hilda as her sister, but so many things in this series show how the two women really aren't that close at all. On Ling's behalf, she is always ready to betray Hilda when someone badmouths her. For example, when Pluto's wife Venus tells Ling that Hilda is her husband's mistress, Ling schemes with Jackie to bring about Hilda's career downfall, without even consulting or asking Hilda for her side of the story.
Then the actress. To be honest, I find Melissa Ng boring. She doesn't have enough screen presence to be a lead actress although she does well in supporting roles, like Michelle Yip. Michelle is pretty and even classy, she does very well in supporting roles (her cameo in Hard Fate, for example) but when she takes on a lead role (ex. Triumph in the Skies, Eternal Happiness) she loses her charisma and her emotional scenes don't register with me. Melissa is the same. I find her emotional scenes inadequate, although she does have chemistry with Raymond Lam and she looks quite pretty here. But basically I find her boring. The series would have been more interesting if she and Sheren Tang switched roles so that they could both play against-type, but I'm laughing at the prospect of watching Sheren Tang and Raymond Lam together...though I have no idea why.
Sheren Tang / Hilda
The powerful, hardworking, ambitious counterpart to Ling. Her character represents the breakdown of the stereotype of the submissive, quiet female, and because of this, Hilda comes off as truly heartless and cruel. Many males may cry foul at Hilda's one-track-mind of finding a sperm donor in Siu Chai without ever planning to let him know, but then, for thousands of years men have used women just for their ability to bear children. Many (like Man in this series) may also criticize her for placing her career above family (like the part when she insists on continuing a business meeting when her baby daughter is in the hospital with a fever)... but on the other hand, how many people will condemn a man for doing the same thing? This series and especially the character of Hilda raise a lot of questions about these double-standard perceptions, which is refreshing coming from the usually patriarchial TVB.
The flaw in her character, like Ling, is found when one looks at their friendship. Seriously, if friendship is what it is as shown between these two women (who claimed to be best friends and 'sisters'), I have lost all faith in friendship. Fully knowing that Ling has feelings for Siu Chai, Hilda still targets him as a potential sperm donor. 'Inconsiderate' does not begin to describe that. There is something weird and inconsistent about the way the writers portrayed the friendship between Hilda and Ling, and in a way it's never really resolved.
Anyway, Sheren delivered a strong performance. Her best scenes are opposite the talented Michael Tse and as the vulnerable, soft, loving older sister to Kate Tsui's character. But I wish she would take on a different character next time. One Jessica Hsuan is enough for me, thanks...though Sheren is a much better actress than Jess.
Michael Tse / Man
An intriguing character and excellent performance. The success of Michael's performance lies in the fact that he absolutely personifies Man. At the beginning, you loathe him as the ultimate disgusting scumbag and cheating husband. You cheer when he is constantly insulted by Siu Chai. Then when he reveals his past as an orphan, you suddenly empathize with him. When you watch his scenes with Hilda and the baby, you start to love this guy because you know that inside, deep down, he is a good person, only driven to becoming a jerk due to his unhappy childhood and for self-preservation. When Hilda rejects his love and takes away their daughter, Man becomes his old scum self again. There is something very human about Man and Michael conveyed it extremely well. I loved watching him as the jerk in the beginning and also as the caring husband-father figure with Hilda. My only complaint is the scenes where he is playing the piano and singing to Hilda. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to throw up or laugh.
Raymond Lam / Siu Chai
This character is, at first glance, too easy for Raymond since he has done this role so many times (A Taste of Love, A Step into the Past, Yummy Yummy, etc.). The challenge is to present this kind of character in a refreshing way, given his interesting older-woman-younger-man romantic storyline. Raymond rises to the challenge. He is funny and dead-on at the beginning with his witty insults and comebacks towards Michael, lovable as the doted-upon son of his widowed mother and grandmother, but it is his pairing with Melissa Ng that is oddly compelling. As I've mentioned, I wasn't crazy about Melissa's Ling but Raymond's performance made this couple very watchable. His portrayal of the very juvenile, blunt, impulsive Siu Chai with a one-track mind towards loving his 'goddess' Ling was very good. I find his performance so satisfying because he made the character very real - the way he delivered his dialogue in defence of Ling and their relationship was totally fitting - he really acted like a young man would in defence of the woman he loved. My only complaint is that he looks too thin here to be convincing as a fitness trainer - he looked even more muscular in Survivor's Law.
Kate Tsui / Ida
I'm surprised that not many of the reviewers noticed her performance here. I thought she was really good, much better than Melissa Ng, and for Kate's first series, that's high praise. Her lips look kind of freaky in here because they're thick and loaded with too much lip gloss, and she's not pretty either, but Kate has a face with character. Though she was shaky in the beginning here, she gives the rebellious, angry Ida spice and personality; her best scenes are opposite Sheren Tang. As well, very few actresses (especially Hong Kong actresses) can accurately depict a tomboy, but Kate is the epitome of tomboy in here. From the way she speaks to the way she walks, she conveys a very powerful image of a boyish girl. Wonderful performance, and if TVB gives her a chance, she will be a newcomer I recommend looking out for.
Kenneth Ma / Lik
One of the TVB actors who is underrated for a reason... because he's boring! I once compared him to Joe Ma, who delivers the right emotions at the right times but has no screen presence. And since they both have the same last name, I will from this day forward refer to these two guys as the uncharismatic long-lost brothers of TVB, though they aren't related in real life. Anyway, Kenneth is dull here - he pouts too much for a grown man though his character made a cute couple with Kate Tsui's Ida and was hilariously chauvinistic, but Kenneth is such a boring actor. I can feel myself about to yawn as I'm writing this, that's how boring he is.
After a none-too-successful singing career and various cameos in movies and series alike, Cindy Au seems to be regaining some exposure, although it's not a 'comeback' by any means. Meaning she has a cute personality in real life, is a decent actress, she's not stiff and she doesn't overact, but she will never get a lead role - she's missing the X-factor. She gives a good performance here as the rational, educated, body-language expert and her outburts of "You're lying!" add comedy to this series. A great performance was given by Leung Ka Yan, who is downright hilarious as the super-chauvinist but caring father to Ling. The supporting cast, actually, is generally very good - excellent performances by Mary Hon, Tiffany Tse, and the actors who portrayed Ling's older brother and mother, Siu Chai's grandmother, Pluto, and Venus. The acting in this series is top-notch with the disappointing exception of Melissa Ng.
At first glance it seems TVB has hit the nail in terms of presenting a gender-swap, socially aware series but with a closer look, you will realize that LFD only scrapes the surface. A major problem is that it doesn’t delve deep enough to examine the roots of the gender issues it presents. For example, Ling and Siu Chai get married simply without addressing the issue of their older-woman-younger-man relationship – it was just like “get married, worry about family’s blessing later”. The relationship between Hilda and Man is more intriguing, but again, only scrapes the surface in terms of examining the interaction between men and women. The one ‘social change’ that was presented fairly well in this series was how Ling’s mother gained independence in face of a strict, demanding, chauvinistic husband. La Femme Desperado does well as a first step, but as a breakthrough series insightfully challenging gender stereotypes, it still has some way to go.
On the Titles
The Cantonese one is very easy to remember, but it is the English one that is confusing. Actually, it’s not even English. It seems like TVB messed up in their foreign languages department: “la femme” is French for woman, and “desperado” is closest to the Spanish or Portugese word for desperate, “desesperado”. Catchy title nonetheless though.
To Watch or Not to Watch, That is the Question
Not to be missed. You will laugh yourself silly at the wit of the first part and Michael Tse's amazing performance is worth your time alone. Worth buying if you are a Raymond Lam fan.
Through the Grapevine
Jacqueline Wu (who portrayed Venus) is actually deaf in one ear. Raymond Lam is a self-proclaimed bore: when he's not filming series, he stays at home and "walks to the kitchen, washroom, and living room, then walks back to the kitchen".