“Gung Sam Gai” (roughly translates to scheming in the palace)
No. of episodes
“Gung Sam Gai” (Schemes) by Susanna Kwan (opening);
“Fung Che” (Windmill) by Charmaine Sheh (closing)
Hear, download and read translated lyrics of Windmill here - Funn
Lee Kwok Lun
Cheong Chi Kwong
I had high hopes for this series. They were dashed.
Great name, not-so-great series. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. When you recycle material, you better bring something new to the game. Otherwise, you’re just wasting money and (my) time. The question that kept reappearing for me while I watched this series was: Doesn’t TVB know anyone else?!
TVB’s answer to Korea’s Jewel in the Palace, Beyond the Realm of Conscience was supposed to be the Moonlight Resonance of 2009. They cast 5 of the MR actors in key roles. Hell, I half-expected Ha Yu to stroll out at some point as the Emperor. Let’s remember that the 2009 awards ceremony was pushed back into December just so Beyond could be included. And yet, the only award it picked up was Most Favourite Female Character, and that was mostly due to Tavia’s popularity. You gotta love the irony.
After casting 5 of the MR actors, TVB then decided to go with two of their usual suspects: a pair of highly promoted, overused, questionably talented actors for the other important characters: Charmaine Sheh and Kevin Cheng. This pair has got to be the most uninspiring casting decision ever. I am so bored with these two. Neither is a gifted actor, and the amount of improvement they’ve shown despite the amount of opportunities they’ve gotten is just, well, not enough. I guess it’s one of life’s cruel jokes that the reason they are so compatible onscreen is that they have both become astonishingly uninteresting.
It’s not just the uninspiring casting. The script tries to reinvent the success of War & Beauty and The Dance of Passion and fails epically. W&B was addictive, cleverly written and had an unconventional ending. DOP was tense, compelling and boasted terrific performances and refreshing casting. Beyond is characterized by bad continuity, poor writing, and choppy editing. For instance:
1) Siu Yong, a palace maid, hangs herself early on in the series. Two episodes later, Yuen says that she’ll “ask Siu Yong to bring some water”. A few episodes later, Sam Ho says she’ll get Siu Yong to do something else. Writers: please remember when you kill people off so that you don’t bring them back later.
2) St. Sam Ho helps Yuen and Chung reconcile, but a few episodes later they’re bickering again and giving each other a hard time. This happens on several occasions and half the time, the arguments weren’t really provoked and it seemed like the reconciliations never happened.
3) People enter and exit the palace way too easily. It seemed more like a shelter house rather than a palace. Sam Ho and Hin Yeung, especially, come and go as they please and the fact that Sam Ho was able to leave the palace even after she became a concubine was just laughably ridiculous. This is topped off by the fact that most characters have a few-episode stint, which means the audience doesn’t get time to get to know them or care about them.
4) Hin Yeung appears as a swordsman (more on this later), so I think “OK, he’ll probably become the Emperor’s guard” (predictable). And then the next scene switched to the fact that he’s a master at chess. After that, this skill in chess was never mentioned again.
5) Things are revealed, too little too late as lame plot attempts at killing people off. This happens in the case of the original Head of House, eunuch Zhong and Lui San’s character.
6) There is no way in hell that the Emperor would survive in the ruthless palace with only two loyal subordinates, both who left the palace at the end.
7) Kam Ling’s fate was so anti-climactic. She deserved some kind of glorious, dramatic end and the writers didn’t give it to her.
8) The writers suggest that Kam Ling had fallen in love with the Emperor early on in the series, but this wasn’t mentioned or alluded to anytime after that and only focused on her thirst for power.
1) The makeup is borderline terrifying. I never believed in dark eye shadow for men and if it takes makeup to make you look evil, then all I can say is that maybe even TVB had their reservations about their actors’ ability to act ruthless.
2) Can’t they just shut up about the beans (seeds?) already? Every time they mentioned them, I pressed the fast-forward button.
One of the few qualities of this series is that you do get to see some faces who are in ancient dress for the first time, such as Tracy Yip and Mandy Cho. Too bad they look better than they act.
Another gem in this series is the highly promoted character of Kam Ling. She is easily the most well-written character, multi-layered and morally ambiguous. Very late into the series, she tells Sam Ho “You and I are different. You treat everyone very well, but I treat only you well”. This line explains much about Kam Ling. Throughout their childhood and into their early adulthood, Kam Ling is protective only of Sam Ho and in a way, her friendship with Sam Ho kept her in check about her less-than-noble intentions. This also brings me to one of the other missing pieces of the series. What if Kam Ling was forced to choose between Sam Ho and her power? After all, she risks her life a few times to save Sam Ho’s. Buh. Clearly I am being way too analytical over this series.
Evaluation of Cast & Characters
I will confess right here that I laughed when Kevin first appeared. He just does not work in an ancient series. That is one of his (many) problems in Beyond. First of all, he is all wrong for this character:
1) Hin Yeung is supposed to be DASHING. Ok?! Dashing. Kevin is good-looking, yes. Tall enough, yes. But dashing?! He is not dashing. In fact, he has this problem where he looks like a cross between boredom / arrogance unless he tries very hard to look interested.
2) He is supposed to be a swordsman. There is not a single ounce of “warrior” in Kevin’s being. I was laughing my ass off when he appeared flashing the sword around in his first scene.
Horrid casting aside, Kevin is – dare I say – boring in here! He tries hard in this series but let’s just say he attempts more than he delivers. For one thing, he isn’t very scholarly – weird because he thoroughly convinces as a beta academic in modern series. His performance here is flat throughout but it was his dad’s death scene that really killed it for me. I kept asking myself: “Where are the tears”? I guess this proves that good looks can only take you so far. A mediocre performance.
She looks tired and I am also tired of her. Charm is too old for this role and I can name 4 or 5 series off the top of my head where she played the same character. Sure, she looks very compatible with Kevin, but what do you get when you add boring to boring? That’s right, double boring. The scenes with Hin Yeung belong in a music video and both are too old for the cheesy “love at first sight” scene. While Charm conveys the femininity of Sam Ho and to a certain extent her quiet strength, she also comes off as extremely pretentious. While this is partly the script’s fault for ramming it in our brains that Sam Ho is a good person and somewhat of a know-it-all, Charm’s acting does not help it. She did excel in the moments where she tearfully looked at Kam Ling, wondering why she has become the person she has become.
A better actress could have done more to flesh out what is basically an unrelatable character on paper, and Charm offers nothing new here. A largely unsatisfying performance.
I’m not a diehard Tavia fan but I respect the fact that she chose the real way to stardom by going to acting school instead of short-cutting her way through beauty pageants. And I will be the first to agree that she can act the pants off most of the pageant queens currently being promoted by TVB (Charm included). I’ve always felt that she tends to do better in ancient series or secondary characters in modern ones (the one exception being The Building Blocks of Life, my most favourite performance of hers) and in Beyond, she takes on the role of the villain for the first time. To a certain extent, Tavia rises to the challenge and delivers what is the most consistent performance of the series. Her acting was best during the earlier parts when she hadn’t yet crossed over to the dark side, when her character starts to consider doing bad things but is still held back by her friendship with Sam Ho. When she becomes evil, I thought Tavia was good, but very much helped by her Cat Woman makeup. I would have preferred to see how ruthless she could be without help from her makeup. Overall, definitely one of the better performances of the series.
My favourite character of the series and an adequate performance by Moses. He offers nothing earth-shattering here but (I can’t believe I’m saying this) he does convey the gentlemanly, loser-in-love side of the Emperor well.
The Headmistresses & Four Heads of House
Yes, I’m a Harry Potter fan. Anyway, I have never seen Susan Tse but based on this performance alone, I think she belongs more in stage theatre rather than television. She has this rhythmically odd speech and is not nearly despicable enough as the Dowager Empress. Though she looks good in ancient dress and exudes royal elegance, she is not “daggers-in-smile” enough for this role. Nor does she breathe the authority that the role warrants. Mary Hon doesn’t quite exude royal elegance either but her acting is still very good in this series.
Michelle Yim and Susanna Kwan were exceptional. Their characters go through the most illogical crap in the series, yet both actresses managed to give them very intriguing interpretations. Michelle came off as girly and almost whiny despite her age, Susanna’s Yuen was straightforward, unafraid to voice her opinion and sometimes even brash. The actresses who portrayed the Head of the four houses and her niece were excellent.
Lee Kwok Lun was fantastic as the evil Ma and the actor who played upright general Man Kin Fung was also very good.
The Young Guns
Edwin Siu has never been a good actor (or singer, which is his official profession) and his performance here proves it again. The good thing about him is that he does not have an ounce of charisma or royal aura, which is exactly what his Emperor is supposed to be – useless. It also helps that he lasts a total of probably 5 episodes. Selina Li usually does better in ancient series than modern ones, and she doesn’t disappoint in this series, the best scene being her death scene. Yoyo Chen was surprisingly good, although her voice is a bit grating on the ears. If she can get her offscreen act together and dial back some of the overacting, she may be a talent to be reckoned with in the future. Her rumoured boyfriend Vin Choi impressed me in his minor role as eunuch Siu Sun.
So back to the question that begs to be answered: Can TVB recruit some more actors or bring back some good ones?! It’s the same incestuous party over and over again! For instance, how interesting would Beyond be if it was made up of the following cast?
Replace Kevin and Moses with Steven Ma and Bosco Wong! I’m not a Bosco fan but for some reason he comes off as very gentlemanly in ancient series, which is bizarre because he has somewhat of a playful / goofball image out of camera. Steven Ma always does well in ancient series and has a very scholarly, gentlemanly demeanor.
Replace Michelle Yim and Susanna Kwan with Akina Hong and Florence Kwok. They’re beautiful, look great in ancient costume, are convincing for the roles age-wise, and fantastic actresses. Or what about Louisa So?
Replace Charmaine with Nancy Wu, who is also a competent actress and looks great in ancient series.
To Watch or Not To Watch, That is the Question
I don’t think many people will care about what I said in this review. By the sheer fan base of some of the stars, and the hype that this series has gotten, people will watch this anyway. Just be prepared to be bewildered and/or disappointed. Beyond the Realm of Conscience is what happens when you get lazy.