"The best of them all, is the last of them all I shall comment on. If Cheung Chi Kwong is supreme acting, this man (Wayne Lai) is absolutely my god of acting in this series."
SPOILERS ... SPOILERS ... SPOILERS
No. Of Episodes
As a testament of how far out I am with TVB series and artistes these days, it was shocking for me to read that Cheung Chi Kwong's English name is Ram and that Wai Ying Hung is also known as Kara. I took the list below from Black Eyed Susan's review of the same series (available in this site of course) without the list I doubt I can finish the review without the characters' names.
Steven Ma – Sheung Chi
Elaine Yiu – Lei Cheung Fung
Wayne Lai – Sheung Chung/Mo
Ben Wong – Sheung Hau
Kwok Fung – Sheung Ching Tong
Ram Cheung Chi Kwong – Sheung Ching Man
Lau Kong – Sheung Ching Pang
Lai Lok Yi – Sheung Yi
Kara Hui (Wai Ying Hung) – Yan Ching
Suet Lei – Sau Ping
Evergreen Mak – Fo Yim Hung
Ai Wai - Official A (can't remember his name, so if you do please do tell and I will fill it in here. So for now my name for this Official is Official A)
The ups and downs and the constant struggle for leadership and unity within the famed Wui Yau Guards Bureau in the late Qing dynasty ending with a dramatic revelation of secrets, deceits, lies, honour, integrity and in my view, the measure of a man.
Plot (Not So Summarised)
Because the plot summary is really very very long, I have decided to seperate it from this review. Be forewarned; it is spoilers galore and whilst it is not a very faithful reconstruction of what was presented in the series as in timeline, names and who uttered what, essentially the story is intact.
A note. Official A is played by Ai Wai and there is another official of higher rank whose name I can't remember but somehow I named him Official Lee. Not really just officials but you know what I mean. So if he wasn't really Official Lee, it doesn't matter. All other names I followed Black Eyed Susan's review and I believe them to be accurate.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE PLOT SUMMARY
From the length of my plot summary, it is obvious how much attention I had given to this series when I was watching it. However my plot summary is not full and is sometimes helped by my dramatic reconstruction of certain sces, especially the dialogue but for what it is worth, it is as I have remembered it, save one or two missing information.
I have never realised Steven Ma was even away from TVB until I read this was his comeback series in every way. It was a super hit, and came highly recommended, especially by those few whose advise I would take when it comes to which series to watch. Yes, the memory of that chat was still strong, that Habbo meeting. Anyway I didn't realise there is a review of this series in my site by Black Eyed Susan and in restrospect luckily I didn't realise that if not it would have spoilt my viewing pleasure. But the thing about this series is that knowing the entire plot would not take away the enjoyment of watching the performances and listening to the gritty, funny and thankfully witty dialogues, despite the fact that some scenes went on too long, some scenes went on too far and some scenes would have been better with a better and bigger budget. I am not sure if this was those priority series like Drive Of Life but from the looks of it, I would term this as a secondary production, meaning low in priority in budget. But often it is those low in priority in budget with not very big mega stars that are often filled with actors who can actually act and a story that is actually engaging. It must be TVB's rule within rule that any series that is not first priority production must be filled by veteran and respected actors who are no big stars but are accomplished and renowned for their acting abilities. In this series we have a few which thankfully well...I am thankful.
Frankly speaking, I am so out of TVB series, I haven't really sat down and watched one seriously for a stretch of few months now. I depend on ASTRO and nothing seems to interests me, in fact I lost my patience in productions that would normally interest me or at least entice me in the beginning because I am sick, rock bottom sick of those bad acting and cheesy boring storyline and old people pretending to be young, young people pretending to be mature people and ordinary not so bright people pretending to be professionals. Sometimes it is not their fault; it's the dialogue that kills the show when legal process is simplified to rather stupid level and complicated stuff made even more complicated for the sake of being complicated enough to earn a rating or two. And the fact that I kept seeing worthy actors pushed aside for the sake of younger, prettier and sometimes not even younger, not so much prettier but just favoured actors and more to the point, actresses. Dramas after dramas, comedies after comedies, the series that were broadcast over ASTRO seems to be a clone of a previous more stellar effort. But TVB remains as popular as ever, because frankly if not TVB, then what? Taiwanese series with their idol theme or China made series which are perpetually dubbed and feature even worst off casting than TVB? TVB is still the best amongst the worst.
So it was a surprise when I read Safe Guards was given such good reviews by fellow TVB lovers. Sometimes I take these opinion with a pinch of salt but thus far the good reviews seem to be 100% with a few criticisms but generally very positive. I read the synopsis and I was afraid it would be another family feuding drama, during a time when TVB simply favours such story; a son or an adopted son in this case holding together a family torn apart by differences when the matriach of the family died and the matriach will dominate the series for more than half of it. If it is done well, it would be like Beneath The Charm which is one of my most favourite series because it was different but done badly, it will be like Point Of No Return where when the matriach died, the boring character of the son so in love with a woman so annoying, the entire series fell flat thereafter. It is a question of balance and how the matriach is written.
Safe Guards I am very happy to say is one of my most favourite series ever and that is a very big statement from me. Make no mistakes, it has its moments of sappiness, awful lot of bad acting particularly from one particular actress, some ridiculous plot and one plot hole. But other than that, with a series it is never perfect anyway, not even my perfect Journey To The West, I give this series a very high regard mainly of 3 points that other series these days seriously lack; a very engaging story with engaging characters, great all round performances on a general level and a proper ending as in an ending that befits being called an ending. No such idiotic stuff like what ifs or one person leaving and the came back with a question mark. It is an ending of all endings even if some 10 years has passed since the beginning of this series proper. Do read my full synopsis but I warn you, major spoilers and I do not wish to spoil your mood. Even this review of mine will contain major spoilers but who cares right? You all know my reviews are long winded, critical in my analysis and spoilers galore. Well then, read on since this is my first proper review since forever notwithstanding I may have posted some new reviews when I posted this review, those were written months before.
The Story & The Characters
There are simply many characters in this series to make up the numbers of guards since Wui Yau is famous and has loads guards. So you can't have 3 standing there to make up the hundreds. But there aren't enough budget and actors to have hundreds so sometimes 20 to 40 people is a huge number in this series. Interesting the ke-le-fes who plays the guards have a major role to play in this series and more importantly a lot of lines. Sometimes I feel they talk more than Steven Ma's character! But that is fine with me because it shows a good balance between the characters and that just because you're famous doesn't mean you talk more. The villain in here talks very little but does a lot. The planner in here talks little too but every word is significant to the plot and the emotions of that particular scene. This series is full of dialogue coupled with angry teary stares or amused expressions and sometimes words need not be said to convey the full impact of a scene and at most times like in this series words must be said to push forward the climax or finality of a scene and thankfully, which is a word I use a lot in this review because I am thankful this series is not trash, the words used in here are as engaging as the performances themeselves and very real. Of course not real for that time of day but in today's context, Safe Guards can be remade into a modern day series with the same dialogue and still seem believable. That is why this series is very good and I predict will be evergreen even as the years passed because it taps into our innermost thoughts as a family.
If you think this series is about family feuding like Heart Of Greed, it is not. I made that mistake as I have made the same mistake with Beneath The Charm. Maybe the latter is a family feud story as well but with a different angle but Safe Guards is far from family feud. It does feature the obligatory feuding siblings story with their wives fighting one another but that was just the beginning. Later on in the series the character Sheung Ching Tong said one word, that his grandson must be named Tak, as in Sheung Tak because he realised he had one son lacking that is what is most valuable in a person. Tak in Chinese means roughly integrity or honour. It not blinded honour but those integrity or honour that forms a human character. You can even say that word means character, a good positive energy that speaks volumes of the person's decency and self worth. As this series progresses on, we will realise one character seriously lacked that whilst the one character we initially thought didn't have it actually had it in him to be decent and good. To me that is the entire basis of this series; it may be about family feuds but in the end this series is showing what is the measure of a man. A good man no doubt and that is why this series is engaging because it preaches without being preachy. And of course it is also entertainment because of the constant fighting.
However the first few episodes were torture to watch. We get introduced to the ever hardworking Ah Chi who from the outset certainly had that integrity in him to carry the family through any crisis, and even if he can't he will die trying simply because he felt he owed the family for saving his life and taking him in as one of their own. But it didn't feel like it at first. Ah Chung seems dead set against him, quite possibly because he never see Ah Chi as family but a meddlesome trouble. Ah Hau sees Ah Chi as a brother but as the series went on Ah Hau has a serious flaw in his character. Ah Yi is a character we will not see until almost the end and even then he didn't make quite an impact but I suppose his character was the character that reminded Ah Chi of the impending doom of Wui Yau if they never change their way of business. Ching Man seems partial to everything but he does know what is going on. We are repeatedly told how smart it is that at times it seems repetetive but of course he was smart. He is like the family advisor. Ching Pang seems like a harmless old man but look carefully, when Ah Chung was the trouble maker he was by his side and when Ah Hau was the trouble maker he was at his side also. So one can conclude Ching Pang is a trouble maker, but those silent ones that whispers in your ear. We will later find out how discontented he was with the Sheung family and whilst at first can't really blame him but he went on too far. Sau Ping doesn't seem to know anything and she always listened to the wrong party coming to a wrong conclusion and at times when she is needed she showed neither grit nor strength but for what it is worth, she is just a woman who knows neither business nor the ways of the world.
Now we have Ching Tong. He is the main guy. He runs the business but he is getting old. At the start of this series I suspected he may have been unfavourable to Ah Chi. He never considered giving Ah Chi the leadership simply because I don't think he ever saw at first Ah Chi as his son. Not his real son anyway. The way the story began with Ching Tong giving Ah Chi the task of collecting the debts no matter what seem more like Ching Tong giving this to the unfavoured son to do his dirty work rather doing it himself or his real sons doing it themselves. It was a thankless task but Ah Chi did it with fierce determination. The way he went about it was like a stubborn bull but he went on despite the insults. It shows his determination and his allegiance to Ching Tong. To me Ching Tong could have just say one word and be done with it but by giving it to Ah Chi, it feels more like Ching Tong refusing to make himself look bad, so Ah Chi will be the loser in a sense. The way this went on for several episodes with Ah Chung being more and more unreasonable and ridiculous to the point of marching the guards to Ah Chi demanding his resignation of what not and even trying to sell family furniture in an open market to raise money so to cause embarassment to Ah Chi is plain stupid plot. It didn't start off well because no son would want to humiliate the family that way. Ah Hau seems helpful but on restrospect he didn't do much really to help Ah Chi. It was always Ah Chi do this, Ah Chi do that and it helps that Ah Chi is so efficient but it also shows at first Ching Tong makes Ah Chi the scapegoat for every unpleasant thing.
Now this is weird because not much later Ching Tong never really considered sacking Ah Chi and he always defended Ah Chi despite sometimes giving Ah Chi a word or two about failures in his task. The series in a very positive way show how in the end Ching Tong realise Ah Chi as his true son, as in his own sons being useless and that one particular useful one, not even his biological son is his true son in the end. He trusts Ah Chi, he even have conferences and secret meeting with Ah Chi and Ching Man. It shows the importance of Ah Chi but yet Ah Chi was never considered the new leader of Wui Yau. In fact Ah Chi himself knows that so he was willing to assist all he can and then assist Ah Hau until Ah Hau proved unworthy.
Whilst Ah Chi is stubborn and dedicated, he is also honourable. The way he went about saving Cheung Fung's life, despite not really knowing her well speaks volumes of his character. He did for one fleeting second considered surrendering her to the bandits but of course just for that one fleeting second. He was never the one who take th easier way out and by the way he faces any criticisms or hardships face on, it is fairly obvious this man will never rest until his goal is achieved and it is lucky he is a good person at heart. It is hard not to see why Cheung Fung fell for him. I too really like that kinda man, making Sheung Chi one of my most favourite male characters. Luckily so, he has the name that I would one day love to name my son or hopefully my husband will have that name, Sheung Chi which I interprete it as Upper Wit or more accurately High Wit.
But Sheung Chi was always faced with difficulties and crisis, one after another and he always try to solve them the best he can. Every other episode you will see him in great crisis and dilemma and though he seems strong the way he went about it, but in the end when he finally got the approval by the government to be ship forwarders for the government after almost bankrupting the family business so as to change the business to survive hundreds of years more, he quickly ran to the altar, knelt before his father's plague and basically cried his heart out. He may be brave but at times he had to put on a brave face. A fearless leader he may be, but he is still human and he was really scared he was the one to screw up the family business so to see him cry like that was so real and touching.
There were many moments that will make you laugh out loud, courtesy of Ching Man and Ah Chung and cry out loud. Those that makes you cry are very well done, filmed with such poignancy and with deaths so shocking tears is inevitable.
For example, I would never expect Evergreen Mak to be a special guest star but he was. He dies very early on when his character Fo Yim Hung was killed in one of the robbery attempt and he died because of a betrayal by the deceitful Ah Hau. It was so shocking. I thought well he is going to survive and come back to fight Ah Hau for his affair with his wife but he actually died! The nice touch was when he died he whispered to Ching Tong that Ah Hau was having an affair with his wife, so the natural conclusion was by Ah Hau sending Yim Hong on this delivery on this dangerous route, Ah Hau was trying to eliminate competition. At this point since I am wary about Ching Tong's character I thought this show will veer towards father ignoring the evil in his son but instead the show went on a path that showcase the character of Ching Tong and Ching Man. Ching Tong investigated the claims and when it was true, he was bitterly disappointed and took over the business from Ah Hau. He did give Ah Hau a chance to repent but Ah Hau didn't. He went on to make Ah Chi look like a fool and almost destroy the family again and again to the point that in one very emotional scene, Ching Tong just had a heart attack or rather anxiety attack and he was resting when Ah Hau came and confessed and repentend. But Ching Tong knew it was just a show and no matter how hard Ah Hau cried and tried to hold his father's hands, Ching Tong just sat there quietly, a tear rolling down his eyes and remove his hands away from his son. Ah Hau was efectively diswoned then. And in the final revelation scene where Ching Tong's will was read, that scene was full of emotions. Ching Tong suspected his son will never repent and so he wrote his misdeed in his will to be read to the people of Wui Yau to explain why Ah Hau was unworthy and the words he said was "I have two sons and whilst Ah Mou may have been reckless he was essentially kind hearted but Ah Hau was my biggest disappointment. He did the unthinkable and he betrayed us all. He betrayed a good man and a good friend of Wui Yau that at this point I knew I must give this man justice, this man was Fo Yim Hung and Ah Hau was having an affair with his wife...". Of course the reaction of all those people misled by him was one of anger because one simply does not seduce the wife of a fellow brother and had him killed later on. Ah Hau ran away and Ching Tong played his final hand with Ah Hau. I think he never forgive his son even on his deathbed because his son never really seek forgiveness.
In this scenes also had a scene that had me in tears which was Ching Tong's opening words in his will which was memorable as it was moving.."Ah Chi..Ah Chi...you always say you owe the Sheung family therefore you did everything to repay us. I must admit I never quite feel the same .... everytime there is something difficult I always say Send Ah Chi..Ah Chi can do it...Ah Chi can handle it... it is because I won't send my own two biological sons...Ah Chi...you don't owe the Sheung family anything, it is us who owe you. Stop saying you owe us anymore Ah Chi.". It was of course narrated by Ching Tong and it was very moving because the camera that zoomed into Ah Chi's face who was near to tears. His father really loved him and that was his confirmation.
There was also a great scene with great dialogue that will move you to tears if you feel very emotional that day. It was the scene where Ah Mou gave the keys to Ah Chi and his speech. The way he said in Cantonese the word that idiot...that idiot.. was very moving and kinda shows Ah Mou to be a changed man. Ah Chi again was almost in tears.
Then there was this scene that really made my tears flow. I swear it was even more shocking that Yim Hung's death, which was Yan Ching, wife of Ching Man who died in her sacrifice for the company. I thought she won't die but she was killed by bandits. The expression on Ching Man's face explained his grief and as he read the letter written by his wife before she died, his face was one of deadpan, not much registered until he reached the final line where she asked if he was going to marry her again in their next lifetime and a single tear flowed down (a lot of single tears in this series by the way from men especially) and he whispered a yes. I don't know, this scene had me thinking about it even now and my family was in shock too as I was and we were in tears. Very effective if you ask me.
Apart from tears inducing scenes, there are some light moments thanks to the witty dialogues. One example was Ching Man's reaction to Ah Hau's deceit which was funny the way he said it, Ching Tong's way of handling things and especially Ah Chung's reaction to certain situation. This is because of Wayne Lai who has great comedic timing and I love the way he stands and utter his lines, so like those "yee-sa-jo" as in useless son but Ah Chung/Ah Mou is not useless actually, not particularly useful either.
But the factor that drive this series is the dramatic moments and you have it in doses, like every other episode. I can't remember it all but a few stood out. How Ah Chi handles the company's crisis are dramatic and the final revelation that destroyed the evil uncle Ching Pang was very dramatic and aptly so. I mean what could be more dramatic than to find out that all your life you're not the favoured son despite being the eldest and working just as hard is quite simply because you were not that man's son? That was what Ching Pang found out through Ching Tong's will. To Ching Tong's credit he didn't want this to be in the open because he does respect this brother of his but that brother went too far and he left his will as a weapon to his wife to reveal it when she couldn't take anymore the feuds and when business is threatened. Nothing could be more threatening than a family member demanding to sell off the business and split between real biological sons. It was such a dramatic moment Ching Pang fell down in shock, went mad and later had a heart attack and became an invalid. Justice I say.
Then there was that scene I described in my plot summary, that one between a starving Sau Ping and a teary eyed Ah Chi, explaining why he didn't support Ah Chung to be the new leader. Interesting stuff and he was right of course. Sau Ping knew it. No point in putting an incapable person in a job that requires such capabilities because it could kill the business and kill him.
Apart from that I suppose dramatic was towards the end where Ah Hau, now a cripple attempted to kill Ah Chi but found out Ah Chi took care of his own son when Mrs Fo who was very sick handover her son and she then died and he finally repented and before he died I think of TB he advised his son to be a good man and never to take a wrong turn, never even once. I think that was sweet and kinda feel bad for him that he had to die the way he did but again justice I say.
Oh this series is full of justice.
Then there was this scene where Ah Chung came home full of remorse for the deaths of his fellow men. Remember this was the guy who first appeared to be very disgusting but he was so full of remorse that he didn't have the face to come home. Contrast this to Ah Hau. He seems like a gentleman, a handsome one in fact and look at how rotten he turned out to be. He actually led Fo Yim Hung and many of his men to their deaths and he did it for self interest and without any remorse right up until the end. That is why his father began to see Ah Chung in a different light and realised Ah Hau was not what he thought he was. You may question how can there be such a 360% turn. TVB must be mad, trying to justify the good in one person by showcasing the sudden turn for the worst in one. But look carefully. All is not what it seems to be. Ah Hau seems ok but a person's character is always trying to safeguard oneself so Ah Hau did what he thought best. Contrast this to Ah Chi, he does not seem to know how to preserve his own reputation because he is that kinda man who when he knows it is right it must be done no matter what. Ah Hau was more devious and to see him cry like nobody's business during his father's funeral had me fuming and I had the same expression as Ah Chi, one of total disbelief. In real life there are plenty people like that. When you're in trouble they're not there, when you're dead suddenly everybody wants to give you a grand send off just to show to people out there how fillial you are. Disgusting if you ask me.
But one scene in this series that stuck in my mind was a rather simple series of scenes featuring the official played by Ai Wai. I don't know the official's name so I named him Official A. When he first appeared he seems perpetually drunk and money was handed over to him again and again I thought maybe he was a corrupt official and so Wui Yau was doomed. But in the end we found out he was not a corrupt official, if he had been he may have been able to get the documentatio approved earlier on as observed by Ah Mou. He was in fact a rare breed; he was an honest official and because he was so honest his fellow colleagues bad mouthed him, I mean all of then bad mouthed him and the duke refused to believe he was a good official and found that he could not trust him. So he even attempted suicide when the duke said "You want me to trust you? How can you expect me to trust you and not trust everyone else? You expect me to believe the unanimous criticisms against you by all other officials are lies and you, only you were true? Give me one good reason why I should trust you. Just one." and he couldn't. When he tried to hang himself and the scene ended just like that I thought "wow! What better way to prove your innocence than to kill yourself?" which I voiced out to my sister who was sitting beside me and my mom blurted out "No lar! He didn't die! Newspaper said so!!" and me and my sister both scream "MOM!!!!!". Well suspense died. Anyway later on Ching Man met with the official A and Official A told him of his despair and Ching Man said "Well the reason is simple. You must go back to the duke and no matter what you must get his attention. And then you must write him one single word; the word poverty." Here Ching Man wrote the word and stroke by stroke he explained the significance of this word as every component in the word poverty explains why the duke will trust him again. Ching Man writing the first word said "This is you without a home, bending on your back in humility before him without any asset to your name nor any glory or any fame, without any title nor any money and with your wife having left you, you having nothing but just yourself, all these makes the word poverty. And the reason why he must trust you because you're poor. Everyone else has their own interest to protect and therefore they're rich and powerful but you are not rich, nor are you powerful with many friends. Your poverty is your reason because it signifies that you're an honest official and if he can't trust an honest official, who can he trust?". Indeed the duke trusted him thereafter. I just wished there was a scene showing the official repeating those words to the duke and the duke's expression. Anyway that scene was great and you kinda realise if you can't trust a dirt poor official who more can you trust since sometimes people equate being a minister as being someone in a position to gain wealth. So for one who does not have any, it shows he must be an honest man. An honest man should be trusted.
A special mention must be given to the women in this series.
Sau Ping to me is useless. She has no stand but she does what she is told. When in the end Ching Pang and Ah Hau wanted to break apart the family fortune and sell off the business after Ah Chi successfully saved the business and secure it for decades to come. I mean they totally disappeared when the business was in trouble and now when things are good they reappear. They didn't have any choice since these two disgusting creatures were backed by again stupid useless grand uncles and what nots. You know Chinese, the older you are the more respected you must be. Anyway, Sau Ping didn't want that so she ordered Ah Mou to apologise which she did. That Ching Pang even cried a tear or two when Sau Ping related how much Ching Pang used to love Ah Chung when he was little. Later in a dinner with the family and Ah Hau and Ching Pang who took great pains to remind Ah Chi he was just the adopted son despite all that he had done, Sau Ping even offered him money. But Ching Pang was vidictive. He was unhappy most of his life since he felt it was his right as the eldest son to inherit the business and he didn't. He didn't know the truth nor did the rest of the family actually. Anyway he insisted on selling the business. So Sau Ping was heartbroken, she cried before Ching Tong's grave, took out the will and had it read by the witness, the Official Lee. I mean she tried man. She really tried but when one is vindictive, bent on destroying something good, one must of course kick out the bad apple. In this case 3 bad apples, the uncle, the son and that 2nd wife. But Sau Ping was always meek, weak and clearly favoured Ah Chung until she realised Ah Chi's worth.
Cheung Fung is another character that well is not useless, but not very strong physically but will stand up to what is right when she must do so. But the beginning scenes with her being so scared to die was annoying. She became lesser so as the series progresses quite simply because she was in almost every scene. The problem with this character is not the character; it's the actress to which I shall explain more later. But to have Cheung Fung as a wife is really a good deal. She is steadfastly loyal and quite docile as in she listens to her husband. Of course if your husband is Ah Chi you too will admire him. Anyway he wasn't perfect. He did shout at her without realising she was sick at one point. A terribly understanding wife.
Most Favourite Scene
I am torn between the scene about the word poverty and the scene where Ah Mou handover the keys to Ah Chi. Both I suppose.
Had to be Yan Ching's death and Ching Man's reaction to the letter. Also has my vote as the Best Use Of Flashback Scene.
Most Satisfying Scene
As in love that scene for the final comeuppance to some hated character. Had to be the final revelation that destroyed the 1st uncle forever. Really hated him.
Most Ridiculous Scene
A series of scenes where Ah Chi tries to reinvent the business without proper plans, charging ahead like a blind stubborn bull. I mean how can one go into shipping business without ships? And the idea that government pays their fees on time is ridiculous also but maybe that did happen in Qing dynasty. The family was near bankrupt and suddenly rich the next day. Pays on time I suppose.
I Really Can't Stand This scene
Felt like turning off the TV everytime I see Ah Chi and Cheung Fung's love story. The love story is ok but the way they talk to other people when in each other's presence was the reason why this scene is in this category. The scene is like this. Ah Chi wants to marry Cheung Fung and whilst he is explaining why his father must allow him to marry Cheung Fung, with words directed at Ching Tong and family, at all times he was looking straight into Cheung Fung's eyes, holding her hands and she looked back lovingly. I mean that is plain rude. How can you talk to A whilst looking at B? Hold B's hands but look at A when talking to A is enough to show how much love you have for B is enough already. Should be Ewwwwww factor actually.
Most Confusing Scene
Earlier on with the who Ah Chi protecting Cheung Fung from the bandits scene, Ching Man said to Ching Tong that "You need only send one person and the whole problem will be solved" and Ching Man said send Ah Chung with the 3 conditions. I don't quite understand how sending him could solve the problem. So I suppose his plan was actually for Ah Chung to forcibly take command from Ah Chi, actually surrender the girl to the bandits and move on with the delivery because Ah Chi couldn't do it, so Ah Chung should be able to do it. If that was the plan, it was a useless and very bad plan. So until now I still don't see the wisdom of sending Ah Chung there unless that was the plan.
Most Changed Character
Could be Ah Hau, could be Ah Mou/Ah Chung but to me it was Ah Chung's brother in law, that guy who lost his ear. Because he was quite a coward and a trouble maker in the beginning but in the end with age and a moustache, he was fighting off bandits like an honourable man and even protected Ah Chi. I mean wow what a change!! Biggest change, not even Ah Hau can fight that.
Yep, there's one. Maybe I didn't pay enough attention but what happened to Ah Hau's mother in the end? She just disappeared.
And there's one more, not so much as a plot hole. I mean after all the deceits and the betrayals and the riots and the backstabbings those two trouble makers, gang of Ah Hau is still in the company!! FIRE THEM I'd day. Why are they still there?
The ending was weird. It went on and on and on but well satisfying actually since those who should die, died. You will see something like a year has passed, 5 years has passed, two more years has passed. It was like 10 years I think in all from the start till the end. Vry good for a maths test if you ask me. It ended with the repentent Ah Hau dying and his last words to his sons. And then we have Ah Chi, Ching Man (can't remember he was actually there or not), Ah Mou, Cheung Fung and Ah Chi's son and Ah Hau's son, all of them walking together and Ah Chi and Ah Chung explained about the word Hup-Mmm and their grandfather and what he did and we have flashbacks. And the sons asked many questions and they relived the memories of the old days and the scene ended with the guards and I think Ah Chi on a boat shouting Hup-Mmm as they deliver some goods.
A good ending. But you know I have an alternate ending which I think is even better.
MY ALTERNATE ENDING
I would have loved it if Ah Chung actually ran to Hong Kong and establish a business there because we all know Hong Kong would be the shipping hub later on. If things were as they were going to be, Wui Yau could turn into OSK Shipping Company or DHL. Who knows? So why not show them expand their business outside China since some few decades later we know China will close their doors to the world and wealthy people like those who inherit Wui Yau will be kicked out or tortured. So why not start the series with a modern day twist, of a great great great great great great grandchild of maybe Ah Chi or somebody now running a big shipping company telling his forefather's story and struggle to a younger generation and then swish, go to Ah Chi and the ending with Ah Chi screaming Hup-mmm swish again to modern time with the old man or lady finishing his or her story and to relive the forefather's struggle for greatness, they were actually standing on a huge cargo ship bearing the name Wui Yau Shipping Co and together they raised their hands and shouted Hup-Mmm, Hup-mm as the ship sails by Hong Kong. I mean that would be the ultimate eh? Well can't blame TVB for not going that far after all hire a ship and filming at sea requires big budget and this series didn't have that. A great pity because I can so imagine Tung Kim Hwa as that old man since we all know he owns a big shipping company.
Some General Observations
It is frustrating to see what is essentially a limping end to a great start. That whole thing about Ah Hau becoming a bandit because he was angry and dissatisfied...I never knew he could fight that well. Suddenly BOOM! He was kung fu expert, fighting like he did in that scene just made my jaw dropped, but not with awe but with consistency.
It is also frustrating to see when he died despite the sweaty face, some blood and darkened face, he actually looked so much younger than Steven Ma who had to wear a moustache. Why? A decade on and Ah Chi is like what? Early or mid 30s? Why does he look like he is 50? Can't there be a mature successful handsome young looking man befitting his age? In fact all men at that age have moustaches. And strangest is Cheung Chi Kwong looked so much better than Steven Ma! It's like modern series, showing an older wiser man and he has to have grandpa glasses despite the fact that he was probably mid-30s. So by the time I reach 35 I should be wearing old style qipao like those old ladies in their 90s to connote age and wisdom?!
And the will, it was hidden on top of a lantern high up in the ceiling. Now there are some minor problems here ...
1. lanterns my friends, must be lit. Since it is candle type lantern wouldn't the will become yellowed or even burnt?
2. I am assuming the Sheung family has servants so don't the servants clean the lantern and find the sealed will??
3. won't that letter dropped after so many years???
Anyway all these while I was thinking why not open the letter, why not open the letter when the trouble makers returned again and again. Well we know why at the end.
But one aspect I do like was this. Ah Chi's son and Ah Hau's son. Ah Chi's son is fair, tall, well fed as in quite chubby and very well dressed. Ah Hau's son is shorter, smaller in size, darker and much thinner. But Ah Hau's son had to be at least 1 to 2 years older but why does Ah Hau's son look so much smaller? The theory is simple and I like this level of attention to details. Ah Hau's mother was poor, so she probably couldn't feed him well. Ah Chi's parents are rich and could pamper him and give him everything in the world. So when Ah Chi took back Ah Hau's son, naturally that boy had to be smaller. Poor boy though becoming an orphan at such a young age but like Ah Chi was once loved and trusted by Ching Tong, this boy would be well taken care of if this had been a real story.
Start with worst? Ok. Let me be optimistic for once. Start with worst and end with the best. The ones in between are in no particular order.
There was this animated image that I came across months before I wrote this review, I saved it for no particular reason only to realise the universe works in an amazing way because everything, even when at first however trivial may serve no purpose, in the end does have its purpose. This particular animated image, especiallythat quite adequately describes my feelings with regards to this actress' performance so much so I have to stop myself from putting a thousand of this image in this review itself...
That was how I felt throughout, less by the end but by then my head would have been bleeding profusely and I would have been dead or the wall would have cracked because I am sure I would have been joined by thousands others. I saw her in Revolving Doors Of Vengeance where she played a conniving girl who caused her own downfall and she cried crocodile tears and all. Would you believe it that she actually acted the SAME WAY she did in Revolving Doors for two very different characters? The puppy pitiful dog eyes, that choked voices whilst she is talking, the way she dragged her words, her protruding teeth with her pouty lips even more pronounced when she is crying and her tears, I didn't see any real tears. When she was sad or crying or desperate or when she is simply required to talk, she just annoys the hell out of me. At first I thought she looked like Amy Kwok and frankly if Amy Kwok were younger she should be Cheung Fung but she had none of Amy Kwok's talent. I mean Amy Kwok cried horribly but she is a far better actress. This one....let me use that image again, just one more time...
Her character is likeable actually but made unlikeable because of her god awful performance. It is not fakeness like Shirley Yeung or lost innocence like the others, but just plain bad emoting. She desperately needs speech classes, because I can't understand a word she is saying when she is stressed or sad or crying or happy or anything at all. And I feel like slapping her face if not the fact that Cheung Fung is really a very nice girl. She screwed up the character and I wonder why her? She could have screwed up the series if not for the veterans and luckily the focus was less on her later on. She has no chemistry with Steven Ma and she did look quite surprised when Steven Ma casually laid his head on her chest, in what a husband would do. Observe her delayed reaction to her hand where a few nano seconds later (but still nano seconds my friends) she places her hand on his hair and gently stroked his head. Anyway variety is needed for her performance. She did achieve the impossible; playing two different characters with the same expression and body language, except less with the bulging big eyes to connote evil. Even Kenix Kwok had to point more as the independent woman and point less as the meek woman. Oh yeahhhhhh...Even Shirley Yeung had more and different expressions but the trouble is that woman can't act for the life of her. So is this one. More training TVB. Cold storage her and train her well before unleashing her to the world again.
Every scene is worst except for ...
I suppose the scene where she realised something was wrong and the first thing she did was run to the accounting room and kept the keys, money and books. But that is more action scene than acting scene.
Normally not my choice of the best actor since his acting is always neither the best nor the worst but he had improved a lot in his acting. For one he cries more readily, abled to emote freely and going for the extremes without any reservation. Maybe time away from TVB has done him well so he was able to break away from the TVB curse; boring acting. I enjoyed his performance, right up until he started getting angry and screaming and shouting and scolding. Then he slurred his words and talk like he is constipated, the same traits as he was before but everything else was ok. One particular expression I love about him as Ah Chi is the way he stared at those people he didn't like, that incredulous stare which was just perfect. Or that deadpan stare, like very determined so don't ask me to do anything else. Or that teary eyed stare. An improved Steven Ma and probably his best performance todate.
Slurring his words when shouting.
Amongst all, it had to be the stare he gave to Ben Wong's Ah Hau when Ah Hau was crying his heart out at Ching Tong's funeral. Perfection if you ask me and I am not being sarcastic.
Wai Ying Hung
I never thought of her as a good actress but with age comes wisdom and with wisdom improved acting I suppose, except if you're Sek Sau who manages to go the opposite way. Unless of course and let us admit it, maybe he wasn't that good to start off with. Anyway she gave a good supporting role and she did have some chemistry Cheung Chi Kwong. But overall I think she gave a decent performance as the supporting wife.
That scene where she was holding on to Cheung Fung and begging Ah Chi to save her from the bandits. A bit too dramatic and a bit overacting because I never knew she was so fond of Cheung Fung.
Her death scene in flashback
Always thought she was a bad actress for an old lady but here she improved since I think her TVB debut (assuming that was her TVB debut) in Happy Ever After which was years and years ago but her mouth still moves in a weird way. Anyway she needs speech classes because she doesn't talk clearly but apart from that I thought she improved tremendously. So not much comment.
Not on acting but more on character so none here.
That final scene where she just stood steadfastly and looking at that evil uncle, reluctant to destroy him but determined to set things right.
Lai Lok Yi
He looks familiar, where have I seen him before? Anyway poor actor came too late into the series to make any impact. So no comment. So I can't even comment on the worst and best moment.
Excellent performance by this often underrated and undervalued actor. I mean talk about veteran and we think of Kok Fung and of course Chun Pui but never him. Didn't even remember his name until now. There was a time he played dirty old man so convincingly I hated him. Well his character here is not very likeable, very bad influence on the young and very vindictive and since he could display all these he is a very fine actor indeed. Excellent performance and he delivered those hateful words and frustration and anger so well I could not see the actor in the character, I can only the character. Perfection.
Had to be the one where he was throwing his weight around and Wayne Lai's Ah Mou screamed at him calling him "You useless beasts!!" and he shouted back saying "How dare you?! I am the eldest I am your uncle, you must respect me" and he I think tried to beat Ah Mou. The dialogues concerning this uncle is always very real and the emotions very true so there are many such moments in here.
More to character than performance so none at all.
I didn't quite get the character of Ching Tong at first. He seems like such a frivolous man, how can he be so respected and so feared? But as the series moved on we see more and more of Kok Fung's great performance that gave Ching Tong his personality and a past that we never really see but convinced that it must be such so as to form the present character. I grew to like his character and I love his performance especially when he was facing his evil bastard son, Ah Hau. Anotehr perfection if you ask me. Anyway alternate casting would be that father in Beneath The Charm but he would be very righteous looking man from the start so you won't be able to question his motive. With Kok Fung's performance, he lets you wonder and then he make you feel wonder.
Many. But one would be where he sat on his bed and one single tear rolled down as Ben Wong's Ah Hau tried to convince his father he was repentent and failed terribly. That was supreme acting. Notice his demeanour, notice his blank expressions, with that tear hidden behind that blank expression is a father with a broken heart. And the little things like moving his hands way from his son's hands. Didn't look deliberate at all, in fact looked so natural and did with such fluidity it just blends with the entire scene without going LOOK I AM MOVING MY HAND! Supreme acting and again perfection.
None I can think of.
Poor dude. Special special special guest star. Anyway he looks great doesn't he? He actually looks handsome. This is one actor who can change his looks in every series and I thought he gave a good performance. Nothing else since he died so early on.
The way he stared at Ah Hau when he knew Ah Hau was the adulterer. The men in this series can indeed stare and cry!
None I can think of.
I can't recall seeing him on any other series these days ever since Kindred Spirit folded. He was very popular then but somehow these days he is always in secondary supporting role. For a man who built his career on playing the essentially good guy as in his character in Kindred Spirit, it was quite a surprise to see him play this flawed scumbag. No words could adequately describe the disgusting Ah Hau and truth be told, Ben Wong totally ruled in this role. For one he does look like a decent gentleman, especially when his character is one as in the earlier scenes. But somehow with the same face and the same look, with just a tiny lift of his eyebrow of that sneaky smile, he transformed himself into the disgusting Ah Hau and made it believable that he could send people to their deaths for his own self interest. Those scenes where he cried so forcefully, so fake, you could see this actor going all out with his performance, not afraid to hold back and no afraid to look ugly and playing an ugly role. I salute his effort and I enjoyed his performance thoroughly, although his ending scene was a tad disappointing, not because he died or anything but because he looked too young and doesn't look despondent enough whilst Steven Ma's Ah Chi looked so much older although the one dying from an illness wasn't him. Look out for those scene where he looked non plussed when he was told his father was dying, nor did he care if his father died at all. How can one good guy becoming so rotten? That must be the question asked by many viewers who watched this character go from one extreme to the other. The thing is he wasn't so involved in the beginning and when power, greed and fear mixed together, it was hardly surprising he could become like that. I love the contrast between his actions and Wayne Lai's Ah Chung. The former didn't feel regret nor felt he was wrong to not just have an affair with a friend's wife but actually sent his friend and his men to their death to protect his own self interest whilst the latter after having accidentally got his men killed felt such remorse he didn't have the courage to face his family and even himself again. Fantastic study of character but back to Ben Wong. Great performance and really hated this Ah Hau.
It has to be the scene where he was kneeling down crying his heart out crying "Father!!! Father!!!! Father!!!!" with all the opera acting in the works whilst Steven Ma's Ah Chi looked on with disbelief he could be so fake. The way Ben Wong did the scene, where he just cried with his eyes so small like really crying with all the tears but it felt empty, it felt wrong, it felt forced. He really made himself ugly in this scenes and to me that was his best moment.
His ending scene. More on make up less on acting itself.
Cheung Chi Kwong
What more can I say that hasn't already been said about this supremely gifted actor? Well maybe that he can't really play all types of roles but those that suit him suits him like a glove. His performance as the frivolous irresponsible happy go lucky Ching Man was played to perfection and his transformation to a useful person is even better especially his toned down clothing towards the end. I can't praise him more except to say what a performance! I love this man. I love him.
When he read his wife's last letter to him. In fact thereafter you must notice how he became more silent, more grounded and less cheeky in his demeanour compared to the beginning. Supreme acting if you ask me. I bow down to thee Mr Cheung. Or shall I call you Ram? Why a goat?
NONE. ABSOLUTELY NONE.
The best of them all, is the last of them all I shall comment on. If Cheung Chi Kwong is supreme acting, this man is absolutely my god of acting in this series. I always love Wayne Lai but sometimes he is saddled by the fact that he is not young nor as handsome as those young ones (though I find his good looking in costume dramas) and really bad boring roles. But this role is different. He has a chance to play a changed person and yet with the same mannerism! I mean Ah Mou is still Ah Chung in mannerism and behaviour and expression, only with good intentions and a good heart. I love the way he stands, the way he deliver his lines like some useless rich man's son, the way he shakes his body or how he held the keys, how he cried (maybe less on that) and the way he stared and scolded. His every movement, every expression and every mannerism is so blended into the scene sometimes a viewer may take for granted the level of attention he gave to his character. Make no mistake, this is an actor who does his homework if not all those little gestures can never be so natural and so scene blending. Perfection upon perfection and I can't say enough. Fans of Wayne Lai will rejoice that this man, a consummate actor has given another winning performance. Now the thing is someone please give him an award.
Too many but the one where he delivered the speech when he surrendered the keys to Ah Chi was the best apart from the many of the way he scolded his uncle. I love that line "Are you so conveniently deaf again uncle? SO HEAR THIS!!!!". Very funny.
Perhaps when he was begging for the money from Official A, look a bit desperate but then his character was desperate. This man really does understand his character. So well NONE I CAN THINK OF with regards to his performance.
What more can I say that others haven't already said it much better than I did with much lesser words? A series that had me so excited and anticipating it day after day is to me a good series and one that had me thinking about it and remembering the details of it in a positive endearing way is a series worth all the accolades. Believe what you have read about this series and I do agree with the reviews of the performances, for most part but truth is this is an ensemble effort and everybody, good or bad, fitted their roles, whether they did well or not is an entirely different matter. The guys in here fared much better than the women, more so because each one of them is even more experience than the next. This series is alike a who's who in the acting powerhouse although they may not be easily recognised by name, but you would have recognised their faces. They're usually not in big mega productions, those are reserved for the ones whose acting skill is at best debatable, especially these days' big productions but they're often in smaller but no less significant productions. Watch this for the story, for the acting, for the dialogue or even for the idea of what makes a good series. It is by no means perfect or even fantastic but for a series that is so entertaining as well as provocative with such great performances and believable dialogues with the actors going all out against each other's throat, this series deserves to be on the top 50 all time list, if not top 10 for the year it was released.
Fans of Steven Ma, Wayne Lai or even Ben Wong should never miss this series that showcase their fine and improved acting skills.
Great one here.