"AVOID THIS MESS AT ALL COST"
SPOILERS ... SPOILERS ... SPOILERS
No. Of Episodes
Liza Wang - Sheuk Lan Ge Ge
Myolie Wu - Eleven (Sap Yat)
Bosco Wong - Ling Mao Chun
Shek Sau - Ling Fong Tak
Christine Ng - Hao Hao
Natalie Wong - Empress
Akina Hong - Concubine
Gordon Lau - Sap Yat's father
And many others
A story set in Qing Dynasty of the struggle between a very unreasonable and spoilt mother in law (Liza Wang) whose status is a ge-ge and a very unreasonable and crass daughter in law (Myolie Wu) whose status is the daughter of former bandits. Caught in between the cross fire of these two fiercely opinonated women are the husbands, the gentle and timid husband of the mother in law (Shek Sau) whose past love (Christine Ng) came back to seek him to much disastrous results and the gallant son and only child of the mother in law (Bosco Wong) whose secret identity as the fearless vigilante will cause much drama towards the end of the series, if both the warring women did not kill him off first.
Did I mention it is a comedy? Seriously like in the tradition of all TVB series, it is a dramedy (drama with a dash of comedy or rather comedy with a dash of drama).
This series won numerous awards and accolades during the TVB awards, I think the year before last. Lisa Wang won Most Favourite Female Performance and I suspect she may win again this year at the ASTRO awards. If she's not, I will vote for her to win because amongst the rest, she isn't the worst. So when this series came along, I was pretty excited. I mean Myolie Wu? I love her and even before watching this series, I have decided to like it. I wanted to write Episodic Thoughts on it, unfortunately I was in Penang when it debuted and I didn't realise it was already playing on ASTRO. By the time I really sat down to watch it, it was the 3rd episode. To tell you the truth this series taught me 3 very important lessons;
1. never ever believe what you read, especially the praises and the awards as you must judge it on your own;
2. I regretted deciding to like something without really waiting to see if it is worth liking since with so much like, when I actually watched this series, it almost turned to hate;
AND MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL
3. TVB awards is hogwash and I should have known better than to hold on to an illusion that perhaps, perhaps the indication may have been true.
I became rather jaded after watching this series because this series to me is the prime example why even with a good solid cast, the entire series was simply awful. A farce may be too much a description but you're not wrong to think this series could have been so much better if only the writing was better, the pacing was better, the acting was better, the characters were better, everything about it was better.
I believe I am one of the very few who dislikes this series, almost to the point of hatred. There are some aspects worth loving it, which I will elaborate towards the end of my review but I want to explain why I feel, in my humble opinion this series was one of the worst series I have ever seen.
I know this is supposed to be a comedy but at times the laughter felt forced. The basis of the story is the usual two people can't get along due to different views. This time is the mother in law and the daughter in law. Usually one will of course sympathise with either party but in this series, I sympathised with the viewers having to put up with such storyline. I can't stand the mother in law, but truth be told, I can't stand the daughter in law more. Both basically have the same personality but this series has failed miserably to explore that. No one ever really even made a credible observation that despite the differences in class, both these women are exactly the same. Both as difficult, both as demanding, both as stupid, both an unreasonable and both bully their husbands, except in the daughter in law's case, the husband sometimes do maintain a stand against the wife's action whilst the father, sorry to say is a total wimp till the end.
The problem lies not really in the basic story. It could be funny, a clash of two titans so to speak but as the series really began, from how the son met the wife, how they married, why they married, the son's secret identity, the constant bickering with the mom in law and so on and so forth became really tiring and formulaic. And all these while it was comedy, as in really silly comedy with funny faces. The only thing missing is the "ka-pow" sound or the audiences' laughter like ha ha ha ha ha ha ha and clap. And then quite as suddenly a new girl appeared as the competition for the son, Mao Chun's affection and at the same time the father's first love also appeared. The series slowly became really really serious. Whilst this new girl's appearance was supposed to annoy everyone and make one side the daughter, as in Eleven more, I kinda sympathised with this young girl. I understood her feelings; she was there all along, waiting, hoping, pining, in love and hopeful and suddenly he married her and suddenly she is not of the same class which meant she had a chance and yet she didn't and she had to play along with their games because the mom in law liked this new girl and wanted the son to marry her but of course the son was not willing to do so. Of course this new girl did really bad things to try to cause a rift between Eleven and Mao Chun and sometimes poor Eleven got misunderstood as bullying this poor girl, but in the end this poor girl became insane, and in fact died quite tragically. And all these while I was thinking the writer should not write such a tragic end for this girl because it kinda reinforced my belief that Mao Chun should have done the decent thing and married her.
Oh yes, only in this series would I advocate polygamous relationships and for good reasons. Take for instance that poor young girl.
For one, she is Mao Chun's sifu's only child. That should be good enough reason for the marriage, because Mao Chun is obligated to marry her. Secondly, she actually became insane. Such grief that she became insane! He owes her. But the one overriding factor has to be just one singular reason; his sifu taught him his skills and therefore he should marry the girl to thank his sifu. Ok you might think we are talking about love. However look at who this girl is and who is her father and how much Mao Chun owed this old man. That alone is enough to convince me this series is rubbish when that poor girl was cruelly jilted and in the end met such a sad state. It didn't help Eleven was such a paranoid bitch the entire time, even if that poor girl provoked her. That is not to say Eleven is not a nice girl, she is unfortunately she is totally devoid of the ability to assess any situation rationally which really is annoying.
And then there's the story of Eleven's aunt, Hao Hao who waited for Mao Chun's father, Tak for 20 years on a promise he will return. Of course he went on to marry the princess, thinking the woman must have moved on and actually she didn't! So when he met her again, he didn't have the heart to tell her he is married and with a grown son! And the princess also didn't know, and she befriended Hao Hao. It is simply a matter of telling the truth, but to stretch this impossibly long winded series (somewhere in the middle), Mao Chun and father actually concocted a way to set up a family with Hao Hao by falsely marrying her without the princess knowing. Of course Eleven pushed the father in law, saying he must do the right thing. I of course was very confused as to how they could falsely marry when they were really about to go through the whole ceremony in front of parents and the Heaven. Anyway, the princess knew, caused a major argument, husband remained quiet, son felt guilty and daughter in law couldn't understand why the princess was being so unreasonable, since her aunt waited for her love for 2 decades. Of course not much later you will see the hypocrisy of this statement as she herself became very upset when Mao Chun was about to marry that poor girl. So how can Eleven expect the princess to remain calm when her marriage was for 2 decades and suddenly there appeared an apparent mistress whilst Eleven was probably in the marriage for a few months. Anyway, the princess of course became really unreasonable and kinda bullied Hao Hao and was determined to destroy Hao Hao and her thriving sewing business, financed by Eleven's grandmother in law who got the money from her son aka that wuss of a man, the princess' husband. And that was when this series became ridiculously stupid for the sake of comedy and it is really very funny for me to say I didn't find it funny at all.
By the way, I do feel the father should have married Hao Hao. Because it was the most honourable thing to do.
Right from the start we know the princess is all about face and appearance. She is the princess, related to royalty, even the emperor had to listen to her nag, she has a close relationship with the princess and for appearance sake, very respected in her community but that was of course because of her position. She bullies everyone and expects perfection from those around her. So when she found out Eleven was the daughter of a bandit, of course she was right to be angry and to demand for a divorce. And when that didn't happen, of course she went on an unreasonable rampage whilst hoping to find ways to kick her daughter in law out of the house. I was surprised she had to make such an effort to find a way because everything Eleven did was good enough to kick her out of the house. Of course strictly speaking to divorce her the princess must find one of those lawful reasons like couldn't give birth, blah blah blah. What is not ridiculous is the princess couldn't legitimately demand for a divorce but what is so stupid is why the princess hardly scream at this stupid daughter in law? I mean imagine trying to find cash to save her aunt's shop, we have the daughter in law of a respected highly ranked princess running around screaming, kicking, trying to work to find jobs by selling kung fu skills on the street, and the works. I was very surprised that the princess being such an annoying person merely well, merely became angry and then did nothing. I mean throw her clothes out may be wrong but it would be very logical if the princess demand a few of her men to drag that Eleven back home and then give a threat like "You're my daughter in law, please observe some rules, running amok is not one of those rules", you know something like that. It was very frustrating to watch.
And when the silliness subside, we have really serious drama where the princess was accused of killing Hao Hao, then the princess was stripped off her title, and living like a beggar. Before that part came into the picture, the way how Eleven went about to complain to the Emperor about her own mother in law, despite her husband urging her to first consider the evidence before doing anything so irrational was beyond good writing. It was becoming worse and worse, more and more stupid. It was those 2 episodes which shows the downfall of the princess that made this series somewhat bearable towards the end as she learned a really huge lesson in life; she learnt to be humble.
But before we reach there, we have some really strange scenes that didn't make sense. At first the mother in law was so angry with the princess that she too wanted to complain about her to the emperor so as to give Hao Hao some justice. I am sure by doing this she must realise that the princess will be punished, either by death, hard labour or stripping off of her title. And yet when she was stripped off her title running around dirty and hungry, there was one scene where the princess overheard her mom in law reminiscing about the old times and actually thought fondly of the princess. But that doesn't click because just a few scenes before she was there crying, demanding for the princess' blood. I mean sentimental reasons aside, at least do so consistently. At least the husband was consistent.
Another silly plot had the mom in law actually financing Hao Hao to open the same business as her son, and then when Hao Hao and Tak's company were in competition for the best sewing (something like that) in the world, the mother in law and everybody except for the princess herself actually wished Hao Hao to win. I mean like cheering and stuff. This is just stupid. Their reputation as no. 1 is at stake and they became other people's cheerleaders. I really didn't think the princess overreacted in this kind of circumstances.
Then there was the story of Mao Chun being arrested, almost beheaded until the princess and almost entire village came to defend him with the princess questioning the emperor's action. One of those few scenes that was worthed watching, to see the princess this time using her gift of the gab for good instead for nagging.
And then of course the ending was back to being silly as we see them became authors on relationships between mom in law and daughter in law and yet they were bickering and such. The last scene was as unimaginative as it was awful, as it ended with the women arguing and then screaming for their husbands who were quietly trying to crawl away and then jumped with surprise. The end. Well if you're a feminist you will love this series because thiss series really show how the women bully the men and the men, in the name of loving their wives acted like total wuss. Where is the masculinity and yet tenderness?
The story is flawed and I was so frustrated with what appears to be comedy and not quite, drama and yet not quite, moral lesson and yet not quite, play of words and yet not quite. Everything is not quite and in the end it adds up to not there at all.
But the worse is the following factor.
Individually each actor in this series is of the range from moderately good actors to fantastically great actors and nope, I am not talking about Lisa Wang in the latter. But she is not bad. Even the condemned actress who played the poor young girl whose name escape me now is usually quite a competent actress. But when all these stars got put together in one series what do you get? Supernova I suppose, the big bang, big explosion as in destruction type of explosion and definitely not creating something great type of explosion.
I don't know what's wrong with the performances. Maybe I do know, it's this. We have actors who are not very famous for playing comedic roles and more renowned for serious dramas playing comedic roles. I have said this before and I will say it again and I will repeat myself until I die of thirst (and no one will listen of course because who am I? WHO AM I in the eyes of big brother TVB?); there are basically 2 types of actors who can play comedic roles. One of those that are naturally gifted actors who can do both and sometimes comedic roles require a certain amount of making a total fool out of yourself. These kind of actors can act, can really act and can just nail the comedy and the timing. One such example is Wayne Lai and I think perhaps you see the trend here; secondary actors are often the best. Another kind of actors, those you often see in TVB but often get clouded by the illusion that just because they're funny, means they are great actors of great calibre. I disagree because this class of actors are those who can't act well or even decently in serious dramas but has such deadpan looks and yes, gifted in certain comedic timing and not afraid to make a fool out of themselves that they're funny. I can think of Louis Koo and Moses Chan, two names often not very good at serious drama but damn good in comedies.
Now back to our cast in this series.
Myolie Wu isn't famous for comedy. In fact her one comedy I've seen, Gateaux Affair (I hope I got the title right) with Joe Ma was awful. She wasn't funny, and making funny faces doesn't make one a funny comedien. Now this one. Myolie Wu is my favourite actress at TVB. I really like her and why I was so interested in this series was because of her. In dramatic roles she has given often deep and thought provoking performances, my favourite being the series Golden Faith which actually caused a major supernova in a good way with the powerhouse acting from most of the leads. She has starred in other series, some bad, some good but most often than not she is good. And then there were the comedies, and to me this is her real weakness. Her not so there comic timing, her tendency to make over the top funny faces in the hope that it is funny when it is silly in a really bad way and somehow in a comedy she lost touch with her characters, making her characters less sympathetic and really major pain. This series is to me her worst performance. Seeing her going over the top with her hands flying everywhere and her bulging eyes and open-close-open-close mouth like a fish breathing in a water as she speaks in high pitched tones was really really really...and I can't believe I am saying this about my favourite actress ... a very awful performance. As the series went on, I began to dislike her Eleven who is crass, rude, obnoxious, loud and blinded by her prejudice even if she is really a nice girl. But what got me really almost to volcanic eruption filled with red hot lava is actually her expressions. I can't describe my huge disappointment but you get the picture. She wasn't really helped with the bad writing too. Maybe in part the writing demanded she acted the way she did, that being a comedy may have demanded that she acted over the top and the fact that she isn't good at comedies may have resulted in this catastrophe. For Myolie's sake, I shall ignore this performance and shall deem it as that one moment of bad judgment and bad acting. She can rise above this, of course she can, when she get herself some comic timing I suppose.
Liza Wang is another curious thing. All her life, she is well known, in fact worshipped for her very very very serious dramatic roles. A long time she went into hibernation ... I mean self imposed retirement and did loads of other stuff like hosting which she wasn't really good at where she hogged the limelight and then she came back to acting in often preachy roles. In fact all her roles are preachy, whether good preachy or bad preachy and I believe as a mute she can still be as preachy. This series also but what is noticeably different with this series is her willingness to share the limelight with the younger stars. She doesn't hog the limelight as much and was generous enough to praise Myolie like there's no tomorrow. A changed woman I think. I must say it was very brave of her to tackle the roles of mothers, more so annoying demanding mothers in a comedy which is like really rare. To tell you the truth, amongst the worst, she isn't that bad. At times she really brought out the unreasonableness of her princess character to very effective results. But even if she is so bloody wonderful, which she is not, there is one really annoying thing about her. She is really old. Because of her age, which by the way I believe is mid 50s, seeing her act the way she did in a silly way was unsettling, almost a nightmare. I am not sure how old is Shek Sau, but I think whatever his age may be he looks good for his age. So when you have Liza Wong who bless her never really succumb to face lifts and what nots just to look younger standing next to a youthful looking Shek Sau, and others who are much younger playing elder sister in laws and even older brother in law and even a mother in law who has smoother skin than the princess ... well she looks really really old. Did she pull off the character? Of course she did, she is not that bad an actress and at times she does seem funny. But could another actress have given this role something else, something refreshing and more pleasing to the eye and more logical in terms of timeline, age and especially aging? Definitely. I kept thinking Rebecca Chan would have been perfect for this role. I mean there are people who said Liza Wong is great, and could pull off this character since nowadays we have 30 year olds playing 18 year olds. That's exactly the point isn't it? But just imagine this. I assume she married late, latest 20 years old but I doubt it, 18 more like it. Take maybe 2 years to conceive, then son I assume is 20 so basically she should be no more than 40 years. But Lisa Wong looks more than 50. That's like a total of 10 - 15 years of difference and that is a huge difference. More so when husband looks younger, older brother in laws look younger AND even mother in law looks way way way way way way way younger. And I must say, despite her willingness to take on such a role, Lisa Wong must have put a clause in her contract which says "No way can you make me look haggard and without make up". Well the haggard part is about the age but the make up .... imagine yourself hungry, poor, in fact destitute, didn't brush your hair for days and days and never washed for days and days and had to throw rubbish and live with beggars and you still have your pretty lipstick on. Reminded me of what series was it...yes, that Charmaine Sheh-Steven Ma awful series, Perish In The Name Of Love where I think it involved Charmaine is I remembered correctly. Suffering, in pain, ambushed and all and yet hair perfectly made. Same with Liza Wong. Worse still, a few strokes of probably colour pencil making it look like dirt on her face, there's still the inches of foundation plus inches of powder plus a few strokes of blushes and her mascara, lipstick and of course eye shadow. I am not talking about realism or Lisa Wong actually going on for days without a bath, but I am hoping for some miracle that perhaps certain actresses or actors may be willing to sacrifice a bit for the sake of art by actually making an effort to look like she's really downtrodden, beat up, whatever. Looks and age and wrinkles and powders aside, Lisa Wong gave what I would term as a good performance that shouldn't have won her the award. She didn't really go all out for this series and truth be told, she isn't funny. That is why her good acting moments was when she had been stripped off her title and she had to act humble, a tall order for the well respected veteran actress. Imagine being told you're good at what you do for decades, I am sure Liza Wong must feel pretty smug about herself in terms of her career. She is not arrogant but is distinctly cold but age has mellowed her and made her friendlier and as I have said willing to even concede scenes for the younger generation. But smugness is still there, downtrodden or not. Maybe that's why she was cast as the perpetually arrogant princess who learnt the meaning of humility. I still think Rebecca Chan would have made an excellent choice for this role or someone younger.
I do not know her name but I recognise the girl who played Bosco's sifu's daughter. To all reviewers who really condemned her by calling her awful, well we may not always agree on everything but yes, to all my fellow reviewers, YOU ARE ALL SO RIGHT! Awful beyond recognition, I was thinking was she possessed? Was she zombi-fied or something? Was she touched by the curse of Sonija Kwok and worse still, Shirley Yeung? Or could it be they have been giving her acting lessons which to me is akin to teaching a fish how to bark by a dog that's mute? What happened to her? Will we ever solve this mystery?
Shek Sau was surprisingly not awful. When he came back to acting often playing manic characters or villains who seems like a raving lusty lunatic which is really due to his bad acting, I often thought My God, he is awful. He wasn't that great an actor before but he wasn't awful. Recently he was until this series where he was in my humble opinion quite good. I mean he played his wuss of a husband character to the tilt. Some complained he displayed little personality, boring, useless, coward...I agree. I mean that must be the kind of character of a man who has been dominated by his more domineering wife all his life. What else you expect him to be? He can't have a very outspoken personality, his character rarely shouts, rarely reacts in fact and in that respect I think Shek Sau finally delivered a performance worthy of some praise. I also like the fact that his character actually do love the unreasonable princess. Now that's unexpected.
The lesser known actors, like Eileen Yew and many others for once gave credible performances. They were the really funny ones and I can't imagine Eileen Yew delivering what I term as a good performance when usually she annoys the hell out of me with her deadpan monotone lazy delivery of her lines. Even the veteran actor who plays the emperor was good, as he displayed honour in the emperor whom you knew wouldn't really be that reasonable so as to chop off Mao Chun's head. As for Natalie Wong, surprisingly she was watcheable. But I must say, Akina Hong may have been typecast lately but she gave a strong performance as the adulterous concubine of the Emperor. Not only is this actress very pretty, she is also a very good actress. Unfortunately she is being relegated to playing such characters when I thought she should be in War & Beauty playing Sheren Teng's character. In some ways I feel she is a better actress than Sheren Teng or at least better at comedies.
The one bright light in this awful mess is actually Bosco Wong. I must say as But Lau Ming, he is so masculine and handsome even with his face half hidden. Not really the voice but the overall feel. I think he can play sophisticated character and Bosco's performances always give me this impression that he is a cool, calculating guy in a good way. Unlike Ron Ng who seems more explosive whilst looking he is sleep walking, Bosco seems more zen like. I must say he has amazing chemistry with his rumoured girlfriend (I believe this as true because certain scenes the intimacy seems too real to be fake) and I do like the scenes where he quietly scolded his unreasonable wife, especially when his mother was stripped off her title thanks to his wife. Some complained his character is non happening, too boring, like the father with little personality. Not true. His Mao Chun is a dutiful loving son and is a dutiful loving husband. Caught between two women he loved most (I believe he of course prefer his own mother over his wife) you can't expect him to throw a tantrum. Like I said, he seems zen like. He may seem docile, but this is one character that is actually quite observant, except when it comes to that poor girl that is his sifu's daughter. I enjoyed his scenes and whilst the story about his But Lau Ming kinda disappeared half way through the series, I do think if any praise should be given to this series, it must in some ways directed at Bosco Wong. He is not the lead, the 2 women were but he managed to stand out by simply acting normally, by not succumbing to over the top comedy though he did have his over the top expressions moments. Can't blame him. To tell you the truth, between Bosco Wong and the other bigger hot property of TVB that is Ron Ng (who gave his worst performance in that series that probably made Hacken Lee a very happy artiste who may go to TVB headquarters and kiss the producers on the lips as gratitude which I shall explain more in my review about that series of a hotel with a revolving door), I do think Bosco Wong is the one with the acting talent although you may argue Ron has the looks. But how far can looks get you when nowadays make up can do miracles? I was pretty surprised by how good Bosco looks in this series so there you have it; good looks and good talent does shine over gimmick sometimes. And in some ways he gives me an impression he is learned, smart. However he could get some professional help with his fashion sense which I believe Ron has more. I can't imagine Bosco playing a character that screams and act unreasonably so that would be an interesting development in his acting career if he ever takes on such role. But for now, to me he is the 1 of the 3 saving graces of this awful mess.
The 2nd saving grace is Christine Ng, the only really normal character in this series that doesn't require any comedic element. She gave a very elegant and often touching performance as the docile, gentle and soft spoken Hao Hao. Since this is a comedy and since she isn't funny, you can say she failed big time but since this series can't even decide whether it wants to be funny or sad, you can say she excels.
The Best Aspect
And the 3rd saving grace of this series, that if you don't watch it for the story or acting, at least for this; the costumes. Simply gorgeous.
Can't say more about everything else.
Funn, what about the themesong?
Ah yes, themesong. Never thought Bosco could sing. For once an actor who can carry a tune. A bit of rap, and bit of singing and whole lot of cute type of voices, I should have guessed the direction of this series by the opening theme alone. Cute shaking heads and all. Well the song is nice, I mean cute and nice. Not very memorable, quite well sung or rather well spoken by the leads. Other than that, nothing outstanding.
Not the worst (Perish In The Name Of Love and Return Of The Cuckoo would each earn a tie in this category) but one of the worst and definitely not worth all those word of mouth. I figure the only reason why it was praised like no other and won so many awards may be because of the mediocre qualities of the series produced by TVB the year this series was released. After watching crap, junk and ridiculous series, I am sure this series not being the worst may be like a relief. I don't feel that way though. I am the minority in the sea of opinions for this series, I know for sure ONE other reviewer felt the same way I did and pointed out similar points (I wrote this verdict after reading Bridget Au's review and was very happy to know great minds think alike .. sorry, humble, must be humble .. I meant we actually agree on something) but well there must be a dissenting voice sometimes, with which this sentence was what I wrote in my Hotelier review. Between this and Revolving Doors Of Vengeance, I feel Revolving Doors has the honour of being the worst of the two and that Revolving Doors has bad actors in lead roles as opposed to this series, good actors incapable of comedy in lead roles. I wouldn't recommend this to Myolie's fans because as her fan I felt like my world crashing down as I saw my faith in her as an actress capable of bringing great performances depleting with each passing comedic roles she take on, but fans of Liza Wong may want to watch this series to see a different side to the actress and feel smug about the fact Liza Wong is more bearable than Myolie whilst I definitely recommend this to Bosco's fans who may appreciate the art of subtlety.
If you're not into any of these actors or costumes or even story but like comedy, please unless you're into stupid comedy that dumbs you instead of making wit an art form, please heed my advice amidst my use of rather formal words in this review of mine which is rather perplexing to me (I may have been influenced by Casino Royale, who knows but just imagine me with an English accent as you read this review or rather re-read this review which I hope you will because sarcasm deserves a second reading so as to fully appreciate ... you know what I will just shut up) THAT THIS IS ONE SERIES THAT ALL THOSE BOILING WATER ARE IN MY PERSONAL AND HUMBLE OPINION FALSE.
AVOID THIS MESS AT ALL COST.
Questions Asked And Answered
So what's the ending?
Mao Chun survived, evil concubine got arrested, Hao Hao got herself a gwailo French boyfriend played by TVB's only gwailo actor, Eleven got pregnant and also published a book with her mom in law, both women still bickering but in a friendlier way, Sheuk Lan got her princess title back whilst Mao Chun's sifu died (tragic stuff). Everything else you can go watch it yourself since I wasn't paying attention.