I can't say to ignore the last 2 episodes and how bad the editing was and how rushed it was as well but the last 2 episodes should not be used to deny the greatness of this series.
This review is a companion piece to the episodic commentary which you can read here.
NO. OF EPISODES
CAST-CHARACTERS & SYNOPSIS
Please refer to Wikipedia
I realise the Poon family is very very very forgiving.
Family forgives Ka Sing for killing Hau Yee and everyone is agreeable that Hau Yee would have forgiven him too. And Ka Sing spends the rest of his life helping others in repayment of this "debt".
Family forgives Ka Hin for sorta killing the father. He didn't actually do the actual killing but he did scold and threaten and do all sorts of act short of plunging the knife into the old man's heart and the father had a stroke and became incapacitated. The actual killing is by Cheung Chi Yan but it is fair to say Ka Hin put his already frail father into a very delicate situation. And the entire family forgives Ka Hin. Also he did kick his mother out, chased the workers away and they all forgave him. Chor Gau's death was not his fault and poor Chor Gau was very nice to stress that TWICE before dying. I suppose everybody knew he was used by the dastardly Cheung Chi Yan.
No one questions exactly what did Poon Weng Nin did to Ka Hin's mom. We know he had a wife whom he loved very much, he needed a son to secure his position and so he made his maid pregnant and gave birth to Ka Hin, knowing that the maid was in love and involved with Cheung Chi Yan. And he chased Cheung Chi Yan away. What is not said is he raped the maid. But the maid could have volunteered, because frankly series never mentioned what exactly did he do which resulted in Ka Hin. I mean they had sex, but was it voluntary? Did the wife tell the maid to do it? The fact that she felt so much injustice suggests to me that it was involuntary and perhaps the wife had something to do with it. Poon Weng Nin was quite a bastard and yet no on questioned that. In fact for Ka Yeung those were the older generations' problems, should not be exacted its revenge on the younger generation.
Bing Bing forgave Ka Yeung for using her to get to Cheung Chi Yan. Frankly I don't think she cares for her father one bit, and rightly so even if frankly Cheung Chi Yang could have been a good guy driven mad by his love for his wife (Bing Bing's mom) and his thirst for revenge for the man who took away his wife's purity and mobility. But then Ka Yeung was so loving to Bing Bing that he took all the guilt and left none for her. How can Bing Bing ever hate him for more than 1 episode?
Lai Kuen suddenly forgave Bing Bing and Ka Yeung. Frankly she had nothing to forgive them for since her brother was the one at fault and her mother as chinese said "grew a horn on her forehead" so to speak. But the sudden forgiveness is jarring and inconsistent with how much hate spew from her mouth and very very monotone delivery of lines which is pretty scary. Editing problem. I am sure in the middle there was a story leading to that forgiveness.
AND ALL THESE happened within 9 months of Yin Foon's pregnancy and subsequent birth. So many things happened on 9 months! I bet it was no more than a year from Hau Yee's death to Yin Foon giving birth. The timeline is a bit too fast. And if there is a sequel, WWII will probably drive the Poons to HK.
You know how much I love Steven-Tavia combination and I love their love story too except for Bing Bing leaving Steven for 1 episode. I detested Matt Yeung in Outbound Love who was busy reciting his line without any emotion but in here, his death scene was heartbreaking. Maybe because he has better chemistry with Natalie Tong. His death served a purpose; drama, grief and to show Ka Hin is not a complete monster yet. He did try to save Chor Gau.
But I don't get Natalie Tong's character. I remember in the beginning she was cheating money and then held many gold bracelets or something like that and suddenly the story shifted and giving her a more humane story. I believe somewhere in the middle something was changed. Whatever the change may be, her story is unnecessary and I find her love for Chor Gau unconvincing mainly due to lack of development.
Of all the characters in this series, I really like Poon Weng Cheung and his wife's story. They were the supposed villains but in the end redeemed themselves or as Ka Yeung said of his uncle that he actually had a backbone when the uncle refused to compromise his integrity and his wife actually was quite accurate in all the things she said to Ka Hin before she left. In fact this couple knew more than everybody else except Cheung got one fact wrong; Ka Hin was the son of Poon Weng Nin. But this couple, especially Weng Cheung the dastardly uncle had a very good ending that I feel was a proper way to begin and a proper way to end.
The next character I grew to like and respect is Ka Hin's nosy and not so smart wife, Yin To. Yes she had a bad mouth, she is a poor judge of character but in the end she was the one who questioned Ka Hin when Pik Wan herself failed to do so. Pik Wan asked but Pik Wan never really openly questioned Ka Hin. She loved him too much. And here lies this series greatest moment(s); Ka Hin was loved by Pik Wan and Yin To and yet both women reacted very differently to the challenges regarding Ka Hin. Pik Wan chose to die with Ka Hin whilst Yin To chose to lie and give Ka Hin his life. Very moving moments, and Ka Hin is a lucky man who have been loved so deeply by both women. And I like his ending where he learned to love and appreciate Yin To. Not to say Pik Wan died needlessly but it is funny how Yin To never thought of death whilst Pik Wan chose death as a way out.
Hau Yee is one character that is mentioned from episode 1 to the last episode. Her influence is great on the actions of everyone even if her presence is missing. Hau Yee turns out to be a very very flawed person but as Ka Yeung said, she was only human restricted by the unjust laws of the village. Same goes for Kwok Leung who may be a bastard but was not a murderer. The biggest change was Yin Foon (not through editing or change of story but proper change) whom I thought was gonna be the usual bad mouthing small minded villain but surprise surprise, once she fell in love, she actually matured and it was Lai Kuen who was the bad mouthing small minded villain.
I may dislike the last 2 episodes, from episodes 1 to 30 highlights what TVB can do with some smart storytelling, good location and a set of good actors. There were so many unexpected twists and turns, first with who killed Hau Yee and then what did Cheung Chi Yan wanted. Along the way various problems, mysteries and romantic love. The last 2 episode prevented this from being a classic in terms of storytelling but these 2 uninspired episodes and the uninspired ending does not ruin the entire series at all, just made it out of character.
Needless to say, the performances is for the most part solid.
Steven Ma is not the best actor nor is he the most expressive but he has been through ups and downs and rumours and gossips and has matured as a person and as an actor. Whilst he was hated in his debut as Kangxi in Duke Of Mount Deer, I felt he had potential even if raw. Frankly over the years he is still raw, very raw. But he has a quality that is very very similar with Felix Wong; a certain sense of likability and a sense of heroism that even if he is a villain, he had to be a villain with a purpose that we can all empathise with. He is definitely a viewers' actor, with an ability to be well liked in any role he takes on even if we can't agree on his acting abilities. He isn't Bowie Lam but he is almost Bobby Au Yeung except Steven has to be the hero and nothing else. Even if he was a hero downtrodden and tepped on, we will cheer him on. His performance in here is I can consider his best thus far. His character is very well written with very good lines and does things that is within the usual real life expectations and not just TV sort of life. I like how he breaks the rules to save someone all the time and to him black and white is not a definite black and white. His Ka Yeung is educated, well mannered, understanding and compassionate and yet he is also forceful and knows what he wants and gets it without walking over dead bodies. There is something very honourable about Ka Yeung and he is one of my most favourite heroes on TV, apart from Seung Chi from Safe Guards who is also played by Steven Ma.
Tavia Yeung is someone I kept saying does not look like a heroine or is able to hold up a series on her own. I stand by that. But she is also one actress who is at her best when she is partnered with Steven. In fact she, Fala and Linda Chung all do their best when with Steven. The chemistry is there, you know they like each other as people and yet they're able to show the romantic side despite not being romantically involved in real life. A simple eye contact, a simple hand holding.. I don't know, I wish Tavia or Linda or Fala marries Steven and make us all happy. Tavia's performance in here is at first very very jarring. Someone told me she is the most glamorous looking village girl. It really isn't her looks but rather the amount of lip gloss and make up put on her to make her look "natural". Tavia looks best with less make up. The look normalises when she marries Ka Yeung because she dresses better so there is a consistency. But the lip gloss bothers me a lot. It does nothing to add to her performance, I feel it held her back. Ignore the gloss, the amount of makeup, the nose, everything and what you have is Tavia in one of her best performance. She didn't have to do much really, but there was so much more in so little displayed. She started out talking loudly but that is to show her nature as someone who dares to speak up. Quite annoying at first but as she settled down and speaks normally, I love the tone of her voice, a little bit raspy (probably sore throat) but very gentle. My most favourite scene of her is that scene under the bridge on the boat as Steven held her hand and kissed her hand gently. Her face shows us all how deeply she is in love with that man. I love also the declaration scene of "Yes! I am a widow! Yes I am marrying again!". Very beautifully written with dialogue sure to be remembered for long.
Evergreen Mak was also competent. I see a huge change in his from being nice docile Ka Hin to angry jealous Ka Hin back to wiser nice Ka Hin. The eyes speak volume even if I quite dislike the way he delivers his line when he is near tears. He tends to go up very high pitch which is distracting. However his Ka Hin is interesting to watch. The unloved son. I feel he had every cause to be as angry as he was except maybe it was totally uncalled for to pin his anger and jealousy on Ka Yeung. But his father deserves his comeuppance in the sense for treating Ka Hin unfairly over the years mainly due to his own shame and guilt.
Maggie Siu's role is in the end not much to contribute. I think even the writers' don't know what to do with her so they just killed her off. I never knew how youthful she is until I saw her in this series; lacking make up, years older than Tavia but her every wrinkle and every line (not much by the way) enhances her performance and her beauty. She has hardly aged. Wonderful performance and Pik Wan has such a sad life.
Natalie Tong improved a lot but she is in a role that had me scratching my head as to her purpose. She is less dramatic these days though which is good. And she matches very well with Matt Yeung.
I don't know what is wrong with Matt Yeung. You can't say he is bad and yet you can't say he is good. He was at his worst in Outbound Love but in here, his Chor Gau is likable and a simpleton.
Tracy Ip impresses me with her performance. She is beautiful, she speaks her lines clearly and well even if in a higher pitch and she can act very very well. I thought her performance in here is one of the few I look forward to every night, like what she's gonna say and how she's gonna react. I also like that her story has a nice ending instead of some tragic end and hows her character to be a strong woman who can withstand the bad times.
Akina Hong is one of my most anticipated actress in any performance she gives. She is amazing as an actress in the sense same tone, same look, same face and yet she can play all sorts of characters. In restrospect her Hau Yee is a woman of substance even if she has a lot of skeletons in the closet. She ran the factory, the plantation and as a woman, she had to held back her greedy uncle and the unreasonable villagers. Akina Hong certainly displayed the woman of substance character very very well and although her character died earlier on, fans of Akina will be happy to know she is featured heavily in a lot of flashback scenes.
Katy Kung and Cilla Kung, two Kungs who deliver their lines as different as night and day. Cilla tends to shout and yet in here she holds herself back and for once I felt this girl has the potential and she is very pretty. Katy tends to whisper and with her half closed eyes, she looks like someone ready to hypnotise you, whether to sleep or to full attention is up to your preference. Between the 2, I prefer neither. They're not ready for big time yet. If the likes of Tracy Ip is not ready, they're double not ready yet. But you can see vast improvement in their performances.
Yeung Chiu Hoi (I got the name from Wiki) is someone I do not know, but he looks like a cleanly scholarly handsome young man, akin to Steven when he was younger. Acting wise is raw but definitely not raw enough to make you want to switch off the TV. He looks good in costumes of that era.
Stephen Wong has grown up. In A Fistful Of Stances he was still a kid. In Brother's Keeper he suddenly grew up and in here, he looks like a man. Handsome, dark and these days, in menacing role. There will come a point he will graduate from menacing roles and become one of the leads. Performance wise, not much to comment on.
Stefan Wong has also grown up as an actor. I used to remember he was raw but in this series he actually acted very well. His role is small but pivotal.
Cheung Kwok Keung seems to be the lead actor amongst veterans these days. He has a huge role in Return Of The Silver Tongue and although he appeared half way in this series, his role is huge in its impact on everyone, much like how Hau Yee was in the first half. It was a great performance simply because there is consistency; he walks like an old man and he is an old man in this series. Cheung Chi Yan probably died not knowing if Bing Bing is his child.
I never thought Raymond Cho had such a short role. I thought nahhh he didn't die.. but he did. Shocking eh? One of the many shocks from this series. Competent performance as always from him.
The other veterans are flawless except for Elliot Ngok who to me is a bit jumpy whenever he delivers any line especially those near heart attack sort of lines. I do believe if Chun Pui was here, he would have been cast. Elliot is a good actor but nowhere near Chun Pui.
Exciting plot, unexpected twists and turns, great dialogue, memorable scenes, romantic scenes, war, death, betrayal, sex, this series has everything. Fans of Steven Ma and Tavia Yeung will love this series. I can't say to ignore the last 2 episodes and how bad the editing was and how rushed it was as well but the last 2 episodes should not be used to deny the greatness of this series. But it did deny this series' label as a classic. It could have been perfection and I was disappointed how it ended for many characters in the last 2 episodes but it is near perfect and for many fans, this is indeed good enough.
A must watch.