Episodic Thoughts: “Silver Spoon, Sterling Shackles” (Episode 1)
Silver Spoon, Sterling Shackles <名媛望族>
TVB Series 2012
Cast: Damien Lau, Kenneth Ma, Tavia Yeung, Idy Chan, Ron Ng, Rebecca Zhu, JJ Jia, Elena Kong, Mary Hon, Sire Ma, and Vincent Wong.
This is a watch as I write episodic thoughts and some information may not be accurate since this is memory based. Certain dialogue is reproduced with some creative license adopted. I apologise if there is any mistake. All opinion remains my own.
“The story is ok, will appeal to those who likes this sort of “rich people with rich people’s problem” sort of series.”
I can never remember the English title even when it is staring at my face. So I suppose I should start all my episodic thoughts with how many variations of S.S.S.S I can think of.
Silver Sickle Shackle Shingle
Debut of this series starts with 2 episodes back to back. Kinda a lot to take in since TVB is famous for cramming everything into first 2 episodes, and you can’t decide whether you love it or hate it until perhaps 4th or 5th episode when it settles down from being so overly dramatic to actually developing the storyline.
So far episodes 1 and 2 does not indicate where this series is heading, what is the agenda. Anyway 1st episode and I am having quite a difficult time in identifying who is whose child in the Chung family but that is because I did not read Wiki. If you did not, here goes;
Patriarch of the family is HK’s very first barrister called Arthur Chung Cheuk Man who has NEVER lost a case before. He is also very rich, respectable and gets along with Chinese traders and Westerners. He is also a business owner. He is also a very strict father but a loving husband to all his 3 wives.
Matriach of the family is the first of his 3 wives, Koo Sum Lan who runs the household with an iron fist. She represents the traditional woman, always in dark qi paos. She has 2 children, eldest son Charles and 2nd child is the 3rd child in the family, a girl Ho Yee.
2nd wife was a former gege/Manchurian princess who lived in the forbidden palace, highly respected by outsiders, has great connections, that is Aisin-Goro Yee Yin or Yee Yin Gege. The fact that as a Gege who is so connected, whose father is connected to Emperor Guangxu himself and to have married Cheuk Man as 2nd wife means;
a. Cheuk Man is very rich
b. she loves him very much
c. he must have pursued her intently.
From the get go we see Cheuk Man professing to her that he loved her the most. She has no children. she represents the elegant stylish high class woman and from her looks, wears light make up and light coloured dresses.
The third wife is Yik Yi Fong represents the modern woman, wearing modern western clothing but with very heavy make up, as if she is trying to disguise herself to be higher class than she really is.She is the one between 1st wife and 2nd wife whenever they argue and is smart enough to get along well with everyone but deep down she is a very calculative jealous woman. Will soon be a trouble maker I tell you. She has 2 young children, one boy Kai Hei and girl (played by cutest little girl in TVB now), Ho Ching.
Then there’s another son that confused me since he did not call all 3 moms as his mother and he is the joker of the family who provides the laughter played by Vincent Wong whose name I did not get. You will know who he is in 2nd episode only and not to spoil your fun, I won’t reveal it here.
They siblings get along well with one another. Charles is also a barrister who works for his father. All wives seem to get along well with Arthur being the stern patriarch who makes an effort to be nice to all 3 wives, and I suspect why they all love him so is because secretly he must have told each one that he loved that one the most. That sort of man who knows what to say at the right place at the right time. Charles is not married and is more inexperienced or rather more eager to right the wrongs whilst daddy is more of a man with connection. They’re westernised in thinking. All children respects the father and is somewhat terrified of him because he is a disciplinarian. And he scolds them in English which counts for something.
And before I began recap proper, let me just say Damian Lau speaks proper English. You can see he is good already, with HK accent but he makes an effort to minimise that HK effort and you hear a lot of English being spoken, because that is to emphasise his education. And you know right away he is ok when he said Charles like as it should be said. And so Charles also speaks English and let;’s just say Kenneth Ma’s English is not the worst but for me it is not the accent but the pronunciation is off, however he makes an effort and so I applaud him. Obviously Damian speaks better English than Kenneth. The only other one speaking some English is Vincent but so far just one short sentence so no comment. I can understand why Kenneth got the role; can you imagine Ron as Charles speaking English?
It is 1920 in HK. Everything I said above is about half of episode 1. So let’s zoom to contents proper, where we see Charles dissing a man named Tung Ting Hang, a traditional Chinese man who happens to be the chairman of the HK Chamber of Commerce and this Tung has a reputation; he is a greedy merchant, he is an abusive master to his maids and Charles is gathering support to oppose Tung’s maltreatment of his servants, but Arthur does not approve of his son meddling into this as he says to his son (some in English) that Charles is too meddlesome in other people’s problems. So basically we see Arthur as someone who self perseveres for his own interest whilst Charles is more genuine in helping others. So Charles kept quiet.
Meanwhile HK is having rice crisis. The greedy merchants led by Tung wants to raise prices but the Governor or someone of high ranking wants Arthur to help to persuade the Chamber of Commerce not to do so. So he went to their meeting and lo and behold Tung hates him and refuses and insults him as the lackey for the westerners whilst Arthur warns everyone the consequences; not only do Chinese merchants look bad for not helping own people, there will be chaos and ultimately riot and theft and whatnots. He lets them think about it but Tung merely sneers. So the problem with rice shortage and prices remains.
Here is one of the worst scene of this episode because of the huge room, huge table and how Damian had to walk left, right, left, right, pacing up and down as if he is very menacing and yet all I can hear is the sounds of his heels which is distracting and the way he paced the room was to me counter productive. The entire scene just in the end looked silly. It would have been better if he sat down and smoked a cigar as he delivered his monologue which is supposed to strike fear into their hearts and he did sit down, and I do hope you counted because 1…2…3 and he stood up and left. What a bothersome scene if you know what I mean.
Anyway, Arthur wants to organise a huge birthday party for 2nd wife, Yee Yin and he is using this opportunity to invite some majorly big gun people, like former ministers under the Qing empire and now some big guns politicians who will attend for the sake of Yee Yin. Yee Yin understands Arthur’s reasons and she doesn’t mind. 3rd wife minds it very much, becomes rather jealous until the nameless son whose name I shall try to catch in episode 3 and so for now just call him Vincent (as he is played by Vincent Wong) sorta giave his theory on what is happening and 3rd wife laughs and says “Imagine your own birthday party made into some huge show, if I were her, I’d rather not have such a birthday party” and happily she walks away.
Charles goes to Shanghai and met with the most famous (Wiki says) Daomadan of Peking Opera of the time, Choi Fung Wong. And here very first scene we see Tavia in full opera make up.
I don’t care if you call me anti Tavia because I am not. Very first scene in full make up and the first thing the person next to me said was “WOW! HER NOSE IS HUGE!!”. Come to think of it, it was huge, more so the make up emphasizes her nose. It is again becoming distracting. And the 2nd thing this person said was “She does look like a male opera singer” which again is true. I can never understand why Tavia chooses to downgrade herself that way. So let’s make several facts clear; her nose is huge, her nose tip is round and huge, her nose side profile is long, high and huge, it is like half the length of her face and her nose is distracting. In every episodic thought of mine I shall silently repeat these few facts, but for the sake of enjoying her performance whilst ignoring her Gerard Depardieu nose, except way way sharper, I shall say this; let’s just move on from her nose. It will always be there, forever and ever.
Charles wants to invite her to perform in HK, she hesitates until he asks “How much?” and she says “$3000″ which is a huge sum. He looks ok with that and she adds “With conditions. You will bear all costs of my entourage, I will no accept any interview, there will be no publicity, if not I will leave immediately” and he smiles and seems ok with the conditions and she says “Fine, I will think about it”.
Turns out she may be no. 1 daomadan whatever, her troupe is not rich. I am very curious about this fact though. Seem rather poor in fact. Her master (and his missus) seem desperate for the money and they left an injured female (again did not catch her name but I suppose her si-mui) to advise her as she says “I know you do not like going back to HK, for whatever reason you have been avoiding going back to HK all these years but with this sum, it helps us a lot” and indeed will help for the next 6 months and Taukeh Choi (as Charles calls her by her professional name) hesitates as si-mui continues “Moreover you can pay respect to your parents’ at their graves”
But why? Why not HK? We shall know… soon enough.
Charles at the hotel looking over the birthday preparations and then Taukeh Choi appears, wearing extravagant clothes looking like a woman of modern times back in those days and Charles looks stunned to see her. She smiles and coyly asks “Do I look so different when I am not wearing my full make up?” and he gathers his wit and says “No, no, just that… never mind..I mean.. you look very familiar, like someone I once knew” (and here I groan oh no, not that sort of plot again!!) as Choi says “Then you must have remembered wrongly since I have never been to HK before” and Taukeh Choi looks at him curiously as he continues to stare at her, a bit too intently.
Why is every woman in this series wearing so much make up?! Choi’s so called less make up or modern make up is like 3 inches of powder. Tavia looks somewhat awful. I know Idy Chan wears a lot of make up as the 2nd wife but hers is more understated make up and even Tavia’s make up looks 1 inch thicker than Idy Chan! Why?!
Charles recovers and takes Choi to see the ballroom and the stage and it is huge. He leaves her alone and she takes off her coat and starts practicing, which to me at first feels more like ballet but seriously she was doing some Peking Opera moves, badly. That is not Tavia’s strong point, her strong point comes in episode 2.
Anyway in the room Choi is happy to see char siew pau which she hasn’t had any since leaving HK. Then her maid says something and Choi then is upset her opera costume’s has a small hole through the embroidery when they heard a fiasco at the corridor.
We see a man bullying a young girl in the hotel, shouting “YOU STOLE THE WATCH DIDN’T YOU? I WILL REPORT THIS THEFT TO THE POLICE, LET THEM ARREST YOU!” and poor girl was dragged along the corridor as she cried and pleaded “Please believe me, I didn’t! I didn’t! Please!!” as she cried very hard, dragged roughly and Choi sees everything and shouts for him to stop and says “Is this how a gentleman treats a lady?” and the bully, a hotel manager stutters “Madam, she is a thief! She stole a customer’s watch!” and the girls cries “No no I didn’t! I swear!!” and Choi says “Do you have any proof? No? On what basis you said she is the thief? Look at her arms, look at her skinny frame. She looks hungry and she will sooner steal a char siew pau than to steal a watch” and someone runs up and says “Manager, the customer found the watch, in his own pocket” and manager stutters “Oh if that is the case errmmmm ok, let this end here” and rushes off. Girl cries and thanks Choi gratefully and we know her as Kwai Siu Yau.
Kwai Siu Yau is Rebecca Zhu, first time acting from what I read and she really really looks like a younger version of Fala Chen! Seriously! So Fala was sick eh? Or as rumours said, she didn’t want to be second fiddle to Tavia. BUT I asked the person next to me “Then she is willing to be 2nd fiddle to Liu Shi Shi in Da Mo Yao?” and the person next to me wisely says “Mainland China production, money talks ma!”. I am humbled by this amazing all consuming revelation. A pity though. The role does suit Fala very much. Reminds me of No Regrets sort of character, hopefully less annoying, not dying of some heart disease that running 10 blocks did not kill her.
Siu Yau is grateful to Choi who gave her the paus and then she finds out Choi has been looking for someone to fix the hole in the costume. Later when Choi comes back into her room she finds her hotel room ajar and there is Siu Yau, having fixed the hole and does it well. If Siu Yau expects thanks, she is in for a shock as Choi sternly says;
“I know you are that type of want to repay kindness, and you’re a grateful person, a kind person. But the world does not work that way. When I helped you, I was just merely voicing an opinion, I did not expect any gratefulness in return, all I did was just saying something to assist another in distress. Being helpful is a good thing, but being too helpful is not. By doing what you did, you have revealed to others your good heart which can be detrimental to you because bad people knows now how to make use of that good heart of yours. Don’t be so naive, wise up, protect yourself and next time, you don’t need to go to such lengths to repay any kindness when no one expects it. Understand?” and Siu Yau somewhat surprised by this says “Yes” and goes away.
When we see Choi when Charles first met her, she looks stern, cold, and I suppose she is protecting herself. At her house with her fellow si-muis, she seems mellowed down, more gentle in the way she speaks, a totally different person. She has to be strong in public, but her real self is someone who is gentle and helpful. Deep down she is a good person, if not she wouldn’t have helped Siu Yau. Siu Yau may be more like Choi deep down but on the surface, Choi is Taukeh Choi, the tough girl. She also gave Siu Yau good advice since Siu Yau seems vulnerable by being too helpful.
Small scene of Siu Yau going to a shop looking for a guy named Kam Muk Sui but he is nowhere to be found.
Arthur is having a small private celebration with 2nd wife, Yee Yin and he certainly favours her since he finds some royal imperial chef that Yee Yin recognises to cook for her. She is very happy, unfortunately in comes the drunkard Tung who pushe and bullies his own wife that Yee Yin couldn’t help but said “Mr Tung, you will do well to treat your wife with a bit more respect”. Imagine he treats his wife that way, more so his servants. Anyway Tung sneers “I see you are having celebration with that gege from the past! Come on! We haven’t been under Qing imperial rule since decades ago! Move on, rather than sticking to that glorified past of yours with that former gege!!” and mind you no English can translate the sneer effect of the Chinese words used. Basically he insulted Yee Yin and Arthur angrily says “I expect you to apologise to my wife now!” and Tung sneers even more “You, working for those westerners! You’re like a banana, yellow skin on the outside, all white on the inside! Are you ever been one of us? Rather than selling your soul to the westerners, be Chinese!! Your betrayal of your own people in that rice issue! Disgusting!” and Arthur angrily said “It is because of greedy merchants such as yourself monopolising, speculating on the prices that our people suffers! Have you ever spared a thought for the hungry ordinary folks?!” and Tung says “Well I AM CHAIRMAN of the Chamber of Commerce! I can make any decision I want!” and Arthur raising his voice said “You think you’re the only one who can be Chairman? I will contest that seat!!” and Tung says “We shall see if you can ever win!!” and his wife drags her husband away and Arthur looks at Yee Yin and says gently “I am sorry if he ruins your appetite” and Yee Yin smiles with understanding.
Birthday party, other merchants are invited when they are shocked to see some huge guns at the party, especially a Lord Kwan who is very powerful and who can help with the rice crisis I think. I didn’t get that part. Anyway he is godfather to Yee Yin and some former ministers of the Qing Dynasty and still has huge influence on current government so to speak. Basically Yee Yin is the ultimate socialite.
Opera time, and we see Choi performing, and before I can pinpoint any weaknesses, Tung marches in with the police I think, and shouted to Choi “Stop the show! Stop the show!” and Arthur sits there just smiling as Charles walks forward and asks “Master Tung, this is my 2nd mother’s birthday party. To what do we own the pleasure of your presence?” and Tung says “I am here to have someone arrested…” and Charles says “Who will that be?” and he looks at Choi who looks shocked at Tung as he sneers with a vengeance “I am here to arrest her, Hong Chi Kwan, my runaway maid!” and Choi shouts “I am not Hong Chi Kwan! I am Choi Fung Wong!” as Charles looks at her, with some recognition on his face as he asks Tung “And your evidence?” and Tung waves a paper and says “This is the service contract which Hong Chi Kwan signed. Hong Chi Kwan, do you think I can’t recognise you?” as Choi says “I am Choi Fung Wong!!” as Tung says “Arrest her and take her to Man Mo temple and see if she dares to deny her true identity!!” as Charles looks at Choi who whispers but loud enough for him to hear “Mr Potato Sir, please help me!” and Charles finally recognised her as they stared at each other intently.
What happens next? Next episode!!
So far, 1st episode’s story is interesting in so far as dramatic but I don’t the direction of this series, just yet. I just hope Damian doesn’t die too soon or the series will crash. I have no problem with the acting, everyone is between decent to very good.
For example, Damian Lau the centrepiece of this series. He gives a wonderful performance except for the silly pacing he did in that meeting room scene. What a long cumbersome scene. He speaks a lot of English and he speaks very very convincingly although he falters sometimes, you know this man either knows his English or understand the meaning of practising so as to give a good performance in that regard. He is also quite flirtatious with his 3 wives, careful with the 1st, gentle with the 2nd, probably rather passionate with the 3rd. We see all these aspects in Damian’s performance and so I have no complaints whatsoever. He looks good also for his age.
Idy Chan’s return out of retirement? She actually looks better now than she did many years ago! Of course she is older, but there is a certain elegance to her that fits the role. However the acting part is not so good. The person next to me says “She has never been that good anyway” which may be true I suppose. Let’s just say her performance thus far requires her to smile and be understanding, hardly a stretch. BUT the ability to portray a gege aura so to speak, someone of nobility takes a lot more inborn effort and again the person sitting next to me has the answer; “Come on! She was Siu Lung Lui!” which again is very true.
Elena Kong did fantastic in her role as the sneering arrogant woman pretending to be nice to all but deep down is a jealous wife. Her make up is scary but fits her part, like the makeup is compensating for her lack of class as opposed to Yee Yin, the one with the inborn classiness.
Mary Hon is Mary Hon.
Sire Ma very little role, hardly noticed her, and amazing she is being pushed back to secondary role.
Vincent Wong to me is sort of miscast. I don’t see him as the playful funny younger brother, I kept seeing Him Law in L’escargot. In a way I feel perhaps Vincent would be better off as Charles.
Tavia Yeung… I may complain about her nose, her make up, her looks, her age, her skinny frame, everything but if the focus is not on her she does very very well. She is after all a competent actress and if given the right role she shines. In here she is not convincing as some daomadan or Peking Opera expert but she is convincing as a woman having to be tough in front of others when deep down she is vulnerable.
Kenneth Ma speaks bad English in so far as pronunciation. One scene wrong English because he had to speak fast, not sure this or 2nd episode. He converses a lot of English since Arthur speaks English to his son which is believable considering their background. He looks handsome, tall, well built but the hair, can’t they just gel his hair back instead of creating some twirl? He looks silly with that. His skin is terrible, must be the pressure but I like the fact that he is one those few TVB actors who looks like he had a good lunch. We all know Vincent Wong has a killer body and he is probably an inch or 2 taller than Kenneth, from my perspective but somehow next to Kenneth he looks tiny. Kenneth has the matinee idol built but yes, his age is a hindrance. But again why won’t TVB cast him in some modern day chaebol drama?! He has the looks, he wears suit well!! Performance wise, not much I can comment on. I think he has toned down his pouty lips, that puppy dog looks, which to me is great news. So far, so good.
And now the new girl on the block, the Fala Chen lookalike, Rebecca Zhu. She does not have the toned down elegance of Fala Chen but what she has is youth. She looks pretty, not amazingly beautiful but with a face good enough for TV. Not so beautiful to hinder her progress as an actress and not so ugly. Shehas a moldable face and I do think with a moldable face, the danger is no one can recognise a moldable face, most of the time. But not in some cases where there is charisma, a bit of talent and a whole lot of a moldable face that is never the same face but not a forgettable face. That is Rebecca Zhu to me. I have issues with her performance but no in episode 1. She seems eager, she plays the naive kind Siu Yau well, she looks tiny next to the guys so that helps a lot in a lot more ways than anyone care to mention, and she looks girly which is good. She is also fresh which is also very good. She does her crying and begging scene well but so far the drama in her performance is some dramatic scene. We have yet to come to a truly dramatic moment so it is hard to say if my feeling of somewhat liking her will remain. But so far, so good. However she will do well to speak her lines louder and clearer. She was mumbling in some scenes (probably episode 2), her Cantonese is ok but sometimes a bit off but seriously, she speaks too softly, that is the major issue. When she cries, again she tends to speak not very clearly. This of course takes practice.
Like I said, performance wise, ok no problem.
Set wise, beautiful. Where they filmed this? Streets look amazing! Costume ok, negligible because I think the suits and ties are a bit too modern for 1920. Fur looks fake but at least looks new. A lot of attention to the sets actually.
The story is ok, will appeal to those who likes this sort of “rich people with rich people’s problem” sort of series. I suspect the perfection we see now will unravel later on. All these is a facade, an illusion.
However the worst part is the editing.
This episode feels like it jumps from one scene to the other. The editing nearly spoilt my viewing pleasure, like how one scene 1st wife, Mary Hon walking down the stairs about to twist her ankle, suddenly skip to next scene, her outer coat I believe is missing and she is already sitting on the stairs and Damian walking towards her to hold her. It was like 0.1 second skipped but still feel disjointed. Many scene felt like that. One of the worst editing ever this year.
The soundtrack is terrible. The themesong is terrible, but the background music is worst. Again feels disjointed, stops suddenly, changes tune suddenly, too loud, too distracting.
Overall a good 1st episode but let down by the music, the editing and the feeling that this series does not have a direction planned out, yet.
However I do not feel the amount of English spoken and spoken well is snobbery. Again I applaud Damian Lau’s effort and if he had something to do with the rewriting of the script, I suppose the 1st episode must have sucked big time.
Episode 2 is of course more dramatic and fans of Ron Ng, he appears in Episode 2.
P/S I know the title is Silver Spoon (very rich people), Sterling Shackles (extra strong bond, not family bond but cuff?).
This Episodic Thoughts was written by Funn Lim, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com, and was originally posted at http://silverspoonsterlingschackles.blogspot.com.