VERY IMPORTANT NOTICE

A must read, if you don't already know ...








Written by Funn Lim


This review was posted many years ago, exactly when I am not sure but it should be within months from the original broadcast of this series. I am posting it as I have posted it originally.


SPOILERS ... SPOILERS ... SPOILERS


Length
20 episodes/10 tapes
Year Of Release
1999

Cast-Characters
Frankie Lam , Ng Wing Mei, Margaret Chung Lai Kei, Felix Wong Yat Wah, Wong Wai, Lo Lan, Anna Yau Hoi Man and etc

The Themesong
Cantonese version of the mandarin version, both sung by Phil Chang. Very nice song, even in Cantonese.

The Plot
I won't be providing a detailed plot like in my usual reviews.

The Story & The Historical Background Summarized
This series was set in one of the most turbulent times in Chinese history; the time where heroes were born, military strategists were worshipped, where wars were military tactics rather than brute force and where villains were men who possessed intelligence. This series were set right before The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, though you'll meet the very same characters that you'll encounter in the book. Only in this era you'll find a villain that you'll love to hate (Cao Cao), a man so intelligent that he was and still is considered a genius even by today's standard (Zhuge Liang), a heroic man who believed in loyalty and friendship (Guan Yu) and a man that was and still is considered the father of Chinese Modern medicine (Wah To). This era existed and these people once lived. Much of the real history were romanticised and made into an entertaining book, a book considered the best literature ever from China, and what I considered as the best historical book, written by Luo Guanzhong circa 1300-1400, though the historical accounts may not be entirely unbiased. This period of time had many phases to it and every phase was a story in itself that must be told to the next generation for the values we can learn from that period of time. This series focused on one man, a man that is now known as the father of chinese medicine, Wah To.

Played by Frankie Lam Man Lung, much of the 10 tapes were focused on this young idealistic doctor's journey from a man with honour and loyalty to a man torn between honour and loyalty. We first see him as the son of an impoverished doctor. His father discouraged Wah To from becoming a doctor for obvious reasons. Doctors like his father never made any money and not many at that time can afford to feed their children more so to pay for medical care. But Wah To was a cut above his father. He believed that a doctor must treat all patients with due courtesy and care, with or without any fee in return. That is the very basic and most noblest foundation of the medical profession. But at that time medicine didn't just consist of acupuncture and herbs. Superstitious beliefs in curing a certain illness were also considered a form of medicine, where poor people were cheated of their life savings for a bottle of holy water that can cure it all. Wah To in a sense consolidated all medical practice and gave it a decent look; medicine is not about money, medicine is not about lies but medicine is about looking at an illness, and try your best to cure it within acceptable and logical medical solutions. Many doctors at that time, including Wah To's father were afraid to speak up against other doctors' opinion though they were blatantly wrong. But Wah To believed only by sharing medical knowledge can the medical profession progresses to a more sophisticated and higher level. He thought he found his master, and his teacher in Dr Cheung, who was a respected rich doctor. But Dr Cheung was not interested in passing his knowledge to Wah To and understandably frustrated, Wah To who has learned what he has to learn went on the journey of self discovery and self learning. He believed in himself and he believed if one can find the source of the illness there is always a way to treat the illness. His confidence and his idealism led him to Cao Cao, the powerful Prime Minister who was suffering from severe migraines. But Wah To had to do much more before he could join Cao Cao's respected Medical school and in a way it was his dedication and compassion that paved the way, rather than bribing the officials into writing a recommendation letter which was what his wife, Cheong Miu Sam did. He successfully invented new ways to cure illnesses, with never been heard before technique called surgery and anesthesia, which he successfully performed on Cao Cao's beloved son and thus winning Cao Cao's respect and trust. And Wah To stayed on to become the chief of the medical school but as his great knowledge in medicine began to open more eyes to the potential of medicine and surgery, Cao Cao began to notice the very same qualities in winning the war. He wanted Wah To to combine his anesthesia formula with poison, so that he could poison Guan Yu's men and kill them even without Guan Yu knowing the devious scheme. And Cao Cao did all that by making Wah To marry his adopted daughter, Lan Ting and threatened bodily harm to his family. But Wah To, a man with high integrity who believed that medicine is to cure not to kill would rather run with his whole family than to stay. But he went back when Lan Ting was caught and he stayed behind trying to find a cure for Cao Cao's migraine which was making Cao Cao descending into madness, killing the innocent lives that Wah To was not ready to sacrifice. In the end, what Wah To gave was much more than he anticipated and his whole life was spent in captivity. All these because he held the greatest idealism of the medical profession; all lives are precious. Which is why this series has the greatest potential to be one of the classics of TVB series but it wasn't meant to be.

It was obvious TVB didn't put much effort into this series. Apart from poor casting decisions, a weak script, small budget sets to unbelievably out of this world historical distortions ( I seriously doubt Guan Yu died even before the start of the 3 warring states), this series failed because it has an aim that they did not fully utilise. Wah To's life would have made an interesting watch, since we will get to see colourful characters like Guan Yu, Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, Zhou Yu and Cao Cao. But TVB did not put much thought into developing on that potential. What we have at the end of the day is a series that should have been much more. I can't deny the fact that I enjoyed watching this series because I am one who enjoys a different type of storyline. When I read that this series would be about Wah To, I was imagining how TVB would approach such an interesting person in such a colourful era. But I was sorely disappointed by the shallowness in the presentation of the story and much insulted that such a series was not given the full royal treatment that was given to an all too familiar storyline like At The Threshold Of An Era. Whilst TVB wisely chose to concentrate on one man and his journey in life, and wisely did not include too many characters that may confuse the viewers, it was still a great pity that not even one mention was made of Zhuge Liang (though admittedly this man wasn't in the picture until much later) or even a look at Liu Bei and his men. I must applaud TVB for simplifying the history into a 20 episodes series but by doing so, by making the era easier to understand, a lot of values has been lost and a lot of rich materials has to be left out. What we are left with is a story that is lacking in both substance and heart. And I find this most disappointing of all; that TVB preferred to deny the viewers of a good story and preferred to show us nonsense in many other series. Either they were afraid to make a big budget historical drama or they didn't care at all. Whilst it could have been educational to watch such a series, in the end many laughed at this series' presentation of the story and the performances. And I find that the worst aspect of this series; it could have been so much more.

The Performances
Everybody seemed miscast in this series.

Frankie Lam does not look like an idealistic Wah To; he doesn't even look like a jaded Wah To. He looks like a wooden Wah To. Though I could imagine that Wah To must have been a very calm man, a man with principle and high intelligence, a man that shows little emotion, which are the qualities that a doctor healing a person's physical wound should have, Frankie Lam's interpretation of Wah To seems more like a man who is often blur about his surroundings, like he doesn't belong there. Wah To didn't like the war and didn't like being a political pawn and perhaps a blur expression on Wah To's face would have suited the circumstances that Wah To was in, unfortunately Frankie Lam lacked the screen presence to hold my attention longer than 5 minutes. His performance in here and in all his series with a few notable exceptions were like a lullaby to me; I just can't keep my eyes open. He was badly miscast and one of the reason why this series failed was because of his lack lustre and lacking in direction of a performance.

Felix Wong has always been a fine actor. Even when he was playing hot tempered man he still retains a certain integrity that we could respect. And his Cao Cao has such qualities. But I would imagine Cao Cao as someone conniving, someone who is a great strategist, smart, ruthless and calm when making decisions. If not Cao Cao could not have been Cao Cao in the history books. I am sure Felix Wong is an intelligent man, since I do know that he reads newspapers and is up to date on world affairs. But even under heavy make up he still lacks that ruthless conniving edge that Cao Cao should have. Felix is too honest looking to be Cao Cao and I believe he is wrong for what the book referred to as the villain.

Ng Wing Mei gave one of her worst performances as Cheong Miu Sam, the wife who sacrificed too much for Wah To. She is too old to play a young Miu Sum, that often I see her as someone who may have some genetic defect that goes to the way she carries herself. She seems more like an idiotic person than a young wife who is willing to do everything and sacrifice a life of wealth for Wah To. Her performance is exactly like her character, Miu Sam..shallow. And I find her most disappointing of all.

Wong Wai doesn't strike me as a greedy man, and so when his Dr Cheong turns out to be quite a shallow petty mindless small person, I didn't buy it.

Kong Yan Yin gave one of her worst performance in here; shallow and without depth though her character was given ample space and time to develop. In the end her performance was insignificant and without much thought.

Margaret Chung's character was simply to fill in space. Whilst much more of the screen time could have given to other characters, the writers preferred to put in a character that had little to do. I pity Margaret Chung.

Whenever I hear Guan Yu's name, I would imagine a man who is 6 feet tall, bulging muscles and a very serious and fierce face. The face of a warrior. Wan Yeung Ming could play a heroic man, a man who believes in loyalty but he lacks the warrior part for the role of Guan Yu. Though he still has that obligatory long beard, green costumes and red face, he doesn't look nor behave like Guan Yu. What he lacks in looks he made it all up with his fine performance. I believe apart from Felix Wong, he is the one actor that tries hard in his role, but he just doesn't fit the description of Guan Yu. He is just too small sized, and too un-Guan Gong like. But let me say that Wan Yeung Ming is a fine actor. But this role is not his.

The only person that did a credible job in here, apart from Lo Lan who played Wah To's understanding mother was a newcomer that I have never seen before and I have not seen since. I don't even know her name. But she was the girl who played Lan Ting. Though her dresses often resembled more like a maid than the adopted daughter of Cao Cao, and though she wasn't pretty enough, this is not a series about beautiful women and beautiful costumes. Her performance was an eye opener and she gave a thoughtful and sophisticated portrayal of Lan Ting, a girl who fell for Wah To and sacrifice everything for him. Her Lan Ting was sophisticated, thoughtful, considerate, intelligent and compassionate. Her performance was the only one that I thought would worth your time to watch this series. If you know her name, please do E-Mail me. Her name deserves to be mentioned here.

(Note : I just found out the name of the girl who played Lan Ting. She is Anna Yau Hoi Man and I was told she is a DJ. I am not joking here when I thank a guy with the alias of Dayo Wong. Thank you Dayo Wong.)

Funn's Recommendation
I watched this series from the beginning till the end. The only reason why it held my interest and attention was its potential and the era it was set in. Other than these reasons I would have switched off the TV, even if I didn't have to pay to watch it. I believe many said that this series is one of the worst, and the most boring series from TVB. Well, it depends on how you would like to see this series. For the era and the relationship of Wah To and Guan Yu, Lan Ting and Cao Cao, I would say it's worth a watch. I like this series because it talks more about work than love, so to speak. But if you're those who prefers something dramatic, where revenge is in every episode, or sex is a way of expression of love rather than longing stares, or that you want a happy ending, this is not your series. In the end this series is quite depressing. It won't make you feel happy or satisfied; but it will make you think of all the possibilities of only TVB was serious in telling the story about Wah To's life.

The Ending
Wah To was imprisoned for the rest of his remaining life by Cao Cao. In prison he died whilst trying to finish his medical journal, the methods and techniques that he had created and used for future generations to learn and pratice. He died thinking he failed to pass his knowledge. Upon hearing Wah To's death, Cao Cao died, knowing that no other doctors will ever cure him of his severe migraine. What Wah To didn't know as his work may not have been passed down through the books he had written and destroyed by Cao Cao, however his wives, Miu Sam and Lan Ting together with his in laws and students passed down whatever knowledge that they have learned from Wah To during his lifetime and from whatever medical journals that they managed to save before they were completely destroyed.

This is perhaps the most satisfying ending that I have seen thus far in all series, and though it was depressing to know that Wah To died alone and in captivity, it was something that perhaps could have happened to the real Wah To. The entire series is salvaged by this different and depressing ending, however I shall maintain my comments on the performances and TVB's lack of dedication in telling the world Wah To's story.

Interesting Fiction
It often interests much very very much to know how much TVB could possibly distort the truth. Since we never knew whether he really invented such methods of medical care, let us however assumed Wah To did invented what the series claimed he invented; let's see...

There was open heart surgery, (almost) surgery on the brain called Neurology, Orthopedics, Chiropractics, Anesthesia, charted the whole human body's organs, and many many other big advancements.

Which surprises me indeed how far can fiction go. Perhaps Wah To may have invented the notion of modern medicine like surgery but neurosurgery?! First of all there was no way he could have replenish the blood lost by the patient, more so the tools to break open the skull, and may I add the whole skull at the top. Then there's complications like clean surroundings (there were more than 10 people in the room) and also do remember the brain is a big piece of organ and how would Wah To have searched for the so called blood clot in Cao Cao's brain?

To give so much to Wah To for the many advancement of modern surgery may have been a bit too much. Telling the facts is good, but distorting the facts to such ridiculous proportion by transporting modern medical techniques into the old world may be a bit too out of proportion in such a factual distortion. I just can't imagine that Neurosurgery could have existed then. the idea may have been there but the method may not.

And one very interesting scene that I would advise you to watch after or before but not during dinner would be the scene he operated on Guan Yu. Guan Yu didn't need any anesthetic and so he withstood the pain of someone cutting deep into his flesh, straight to his bones and well...you just have to watch that scene. I like that scene but I believe no man could have withstood such a pain unless of course you're Guan Yu.

Interesting Facts
I don't profess to know a lot about the history. Nor do I believe the facts below are entirely accurate. I didn't have much time to do my research since I was in a rush to post this review. So if the dates are wrong, do E-mail me.

The war
The war lasted from AD 168 to AD 265, between primarily three states, Shu (Liu Bei and gang), Wu (the Sun Quan guy) and Wei (Cao Cao). Wei won of course but like Chinese has a saying, "Good fortune does not last longer than 3 generations" and so in the end somebody else will take over Wei to unite/reunite China. But this series was before there were these three warring states which was why in this series Cao Cao was a Prime Minister. I was confused at first and then I realised this series took place in an era where Han Dynasty was dying, as illustrated below. I took this info from the Felix Wong site.

"However this series is based around the events before the formation of the Three Kingdoms of Wei (220 - 265), Shu (221 - 263) and Wu (222 - 280). This period was one of the most turbulent periods in Chinese history. Towards the end of the Han Dynasty ( 206 BC - 220 AD), China was plagued by corruption, floods, plagues, and the locust swarms which destroyed farmer's crops. The peasants began to be dissatisfied with the Han government, and in 184 AD Zhang Jiao led the "Yellow Turban Rebellion". This small group of rebels began to grow with commoners joining in with the Rebellion. Han Emperor Ling then called on his warlords to assist him in quelling the rebellion. But the warlords began fighting each other over territory and power, until the formation of the three Kingdoms. War continued to rage between the three nations as they contended for supremacy. Sima Yan reunited China in 280 AD under the Jin Dynasty (265 - 420), when the Shu Empire was conquered by the Wei Empire in 263AD and then Wu in 280 AD."

Wah To
I took the info below from a site about Felix Wong , the link is at the end of this review.

"Wah To existed somewhere around 145 AD to 265 AD. The exact date of his birth and death are not known. Some historians note that Wah To was born in either 144 AD or 145 AD. Others say that Wah To lived from 190 AD to 265 AD. In this series Wah To was younger than Cao Cao. However Wah To died before Cao Cao. In history Cao Cao died in 220 AD. Thus if Wah To was born in 190 AD he lived for only 30 years. However if he was born in 145 AD he would have been 75 years of age. So there are some inconsistencies depending on his actual birth date."

Guan Yu
I am sure you do know Guan Yu is Guan Gong himself. You know, the man that every Chinese policemen and triad members would pray to before every mission. Guan Gong represents loyalty. He died like a hero (assassinated though I may have been confused with Zhang Fei's death who was also assassinated) and was worshipped like a hero and a God (a few hundred years later). But don't ask me why he would consider blessing the triad members. Guan Gong's most famous word is the "Yi" word; loyalty.

Some more info for you....by the way Chang Fei is Zhang Fei/Cheung Fei, Liu Bei is Lau Bei, Kwan Yin is Guan Yu and Cho Cho is Cao Cao or Tsao Tsao...

"In 184 AD Kwan Yin (162 - 219), Chang Fei (167 - 221), and Lau Bei (161 - 223), took an oath to swear brotherhood ( at a place called "The Peach Garden" Or "Tim Yuen" ) and formed their own forces to quell the Yellow Turban Rebellion which ended with the death of Zhang Jiao. Kwan Yin was a strong fierce warrior who was the leader of the "Five Tiger" generals in the Shu Empire. Kwan Yin wanted to restore peace and order to the land and thus fought alongside men who shared the same vision. When Cao Cao attacked Lau Bei and Chang Fei, Kwan Yin left the city of Xuzchou where Lau Bei was the governor, to help his sworn brothers. With Kwan Yin gone, Cao Cao easily captured the city of Xuchou. After the defeat Kwan Yin felt ashamed for letting his sworn brothers down and thought about committing suicide if not for the persuasion of Zhang Liao, Cao Cao's general. In return for the safety of Lau Bei's wives, Kwan Yin promised to surrender to Cao Cao. Kwan Yin then helped Cao Cao fight off fierce rival, Yuan Shao but slaying great generals Yan Liang and Wen Chou. After repaying Cao Cao, Kwan Yin, decided to escort Lau Bei's wives and rejoin his sworn brothers. During this journey Kwan Yin killed many of Cho Cho's generals who refused to allow him to pass through the territories. During the battle at Chibi, great advisor Chi Kwok Leung (181 - 234) assigned Kwan Yin with the task of capturing Cao Cao. Kwan Yin was reminded of Cho Cho's kind treatment, and decided to set him free. Ashamed Kwan Yin wanted to commit suicide, but was given a second chance to redeem himself by conquering Xaingyang. Later when Kwan Yin was defending Jingzhou, he engaged in battle with Cho Cho's forces in the northern region. Sin Kin's forces from the Wu Empire captured Jingzhou in a surprise attack. Kwan Yin made an attempt to contact reinforcements, but was captured in an ambush. He refused to surrender and defect over to Sin Kin and was thus executed in 219 AD."

Cao Cao
There was a Cao Cao. In the book, he was the villain. Many hated him and saw him as an oppressor which I guess was why the old historical books depicted him as someone ruthless and heartless. The real man Cao Cao was a gifted poet, ruthless and with great ambition. He was a celebrated General under the previous Emperor, but when the Dynasty fell he took the opportunity and rose to power through sheer determination, brilliant military strategies and loyal generals. There is a saying in Chinese..

" Guan Yu had enemies, and Cao Cao had friends"

So you and I might see Cao Cao as evil but those who were his friends, his loyal generals didn't think so. They saw Guan Yu as the enemy.

During his lifetime he never really saw an united China because he won over many states but he could not usurp Shu Dynasty, which belonged to Liu Bei and gang. And this was because Liu Bei had Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, and a great military strategist and advisor, a man that I myself admire, Zhuge Liang, otherwise known as Kung Ming, who turned down the offer to be King when Liu Bei was on his deathbed because he believed in serving his master loyally and he did so to his death (he died of exhaustion in his 50s). Only after his death did Cao Cao's vision was finally fulfilled (by then Cao Cao had already died). A pity this series did not mention this man. If you're wondering where you have heard about Zhuge Liang in my reviews, I have included Zhuge Liang's famous quotes as Yip Wing Tim's possible slogans in my ATE I review. And for more about this man, read below.

"born AD 155, Po-hsien [in modern Anhwei province, China]
died 220, Lo-yang [in modern Honan province]
Pinyin Cao Cao , courtesy name (tzu) Meng-te one of the greatest of the generals at the end of the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220) of China.
Ts'ao's father was the adopted son of the chief eunuch of the imperial court. Ts'ao was initially a minor garrison commander and rose to prominence as a general when he suppressed the Turban Rebellion, which threatened the last years of Han rule. The dynasty, however, was greatly weakened by the rebellion, and in the ensuing chaos the country was divided among the major generals into three kingdoms. Ts'ao occupied the strategic northern section around the emperor's capital at Lo-yang and gradually assumed all imperial prerogatives. His domain was known as the kingdom of Wei."

And some more useful info below.

"Cao Cao (155 - 220) was appointed "Commandant of the Valiant Cavaliers", and ordered to suppress the Yellow Turban rebellion in 184 AD. In 189 AD Cao Cao attempted to assassinate Dong Zhou, who seized power but failed. Due to his failure Cao Cao was forced to flee. Cao Cao is often regarded as the villain, because he slained his uncle and many others after lodging at his uncle's house. He was in a panic after failing to assassinate Dong Zhou and thought that his uncle wanted to kill him. Also after the defeat of Dong Zhou, Emperor Ling sought the protection of Cao Cao. But Cao Cao made the Emperor a puppet ruler and held power. Thus he was perceived to be no different than Dong Zhou. Finally Cao Cao caused the death of mythical doctor Wah To. Cao Cao was very suspicious and thought that Wah To wanted to kill him, when he suggested operating on his head as the method to cure his head pains. Wah To was locked up in prison where he died. Cao Cao established the foundations of the Wei Empire after defeating rival Yaun Shao in a decisive battle at Gaundu. At that time Kwan Yin served under him and defeated most of Yaun Shao's greatest generals, Yan Liang and Wen Chou. After this victory Cao Cao, pursued Lau Bei who had escaped to Jiang Xia. Being weary of Lau Bei's abilities, Cao Cao wanted to form an alliance with the Wu Empire. The Wu Empire decided to form an alliance with Lau Bei instead, however. Furious at being rejected, Cao Cao launched an attack to conquer the south by attempting to defeat both Lau Bei and Sin Kin. At the battle of Chibi, Cao Cao suffered the worst defeat of his life. If not for Kwan Yin, Cao Cao would have died. Cao Cao then returned to Xuchang, built up his forces and attacked Lau Bei once more at Hanzhong. He retreated back to Xuchang after realizing that Lau Bei would soon force him back. Upon his return to Xuchang Cao Cao suffered pains in his head and died in 220 AD."

Interesting Sites For More Info
As for information on Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, Sun Quan, Sima Yan, the era and etc, there are two very good sites you can go to.

http://www.threekingdoms.com/
-you can even download the whole book from this site, which is in English by the way. The first stop you must make. Imagine how much money you could save by downloading the WHOLE BOOK from this site that has much much more facts about the era. And they even provide era by era explanation as well! Wow!

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/4560/Romance.htm
-a simple site where I took all the facts from, apart from Britannica.com which has become a pay site so not much info I can get from now on. People should not have to pay for educational information!

http://www.geocities.com/televisioncity/network/7039/doctor.html
-the Felix Wong fan site, the site where I got all the Wah To, Guan Yu and many more info. It has a well written review that gave this series a thumbs up, which I can understand why. I almost did too for this series.

The funny thing about this book is that the writer put so much emphasis into Liu Bei's dynasty that when I read his dynasty was one small piece of land, it was quite disappointing. Which I guess many romaticised the whole era, but what Liu Bei had was much less. Imagine this; with all the men he had, in the end he had such a small piece and Cao Cao had such a big piece. But you must admire Liu Bei and gang; they successfully prevented any usurpation of power, until of course Zhuge Liang's death.

By the way you do know there is a game called Romance Of The Three Kingdoms right? Very difficult to play and perhaps let me lighten the whole mood of my rather serious review with a joke;

I played the game five times and then I gave up.

The first time I was Liu Bei and Liu Bei died. Then I played as Guan Yu and Guan Yu died. Then I played as Zhuge Liang and he died as well. And then it was Zhang Fei and he died. And finally I thought Cao Cao had a lot of men and army so what could go wrong? Well, he died as well. Whenever I played the game, for fun sake I would send a representative to demand for something, and if they said no I will start a war. And I will always lose. This proves one thing; if Zhuge Liang was ever reincarnated, he could not have been me.



1 comments:

  1. I love all the various thoughts and views on this topic. Who the villains were depends so much on where you retrieve your data or on what version of history you prefer. For fiction, I like the "Romance of the Three Kingdsom," which is why I based my novel on it. But for history, I love the actual story. Thanks for sharing all of this! It was helpful. ;D

    ReplyDelete

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