[Review] “A Fist Within Four Walls” (By Funn
A Fist Within Four Walls <城寨英雄>
TVB Drama 2016
Producer: Jazz Boon
Genre: Action Drama
Number of Episodes: 28
Ruco Chan as Chor Au Kuen
Benjamin Yuen as Duen Ying Fung
Nancy Wu as Tiu Lan
Philip Ng as Lung Shing Fu
Grace Wong as Fa Man
Moon Lau as Audrey
Yuen Chiu as Yuk Bo Fung
Carlo Ng as Fung Chun Mei
“I was ready to criticize and not see any good in it. However on reflection I see the good as well”
The title is so apt. As I was watching this series (purely for Ruco Chan), my hand formed into a fist and I found myself punching all 4 walls, purely out of frustration. This series won Best Series in TVB Awards and I feel it was the popular choice but it was the wrong choice. The best series of the year was House of Spirits and it wasn’t for its performances or story. It was for consistency in the story and performances.
What A Fist Within Four Walls lack is consistency in absolutely everything. Character, pacing, storytelling, focus, ending. It focused on A and ended on B when A was the more interesting story.
Basically it is all about Ruco Chan; he played father and then he played son. His two stories intertwined with many other as with every TVB series since time immemorial. TVB will never do a linear story because it would be too boring and they can’t ever really completely focus on one storyline. That’s fine until it reaches a crossroad of storytelling; continue with main story or go the other way and just muck up the main story. As with all TVB series, this series certainly went the other way. For example;
1. I was very interested in episode 1, the back story about the protectors of the walled city of Kowloon; Duen and Chiu. The series spent so little time on them and just zoom straight to meet, friend, kill, die, children grow up, in that order. I wanted to know more about Chiu Man San, and Duen Tung Tin. Surely the producer can take 6 episodes or so to just tell a proper backstory? Because it had TWO of the most heart wrenching death scenes ever; the mysterious unfortunate death of the noble upright Duen and then the downright murder of Chiu and his wife, the guest starring and almost zero dialogue Natalie Wong in a wasted guest appearance. It was a very shocking mob rule sort of scene that sets the pace of the story and then… the story simply failed to capitalize on that.
2. Whilst Kuen Lo had a very sad backstory, I can never understand why the writer chose to make him grow into a bumbling country bumpkin, ever optimistic whilst Duen Ying Fung, the son of the noble Duen was far more cynical. Maybe because he was a city kid? Anyway I was expecting Kuen Lo to be the angry sort. He did witnessed the mob murder of his parents. Not only did he failed to investigate their tragic double murder, later we will find out he didn’t even bother to bury them. He actually believed his father murdered Master Duen. The greatest joke is it was the younger Duen who suspected foul play. It was this change of direction that just frustrates me. Yes Ruco was cute to watch as some overoptimistic highly idealized person but Kuen Lo must have been blind, deaf and incapable of rationale thinking to grow up that way. He should be the one seeking answers, getting revenge, instead for the rest of the series he hardly did anything that one can say he did justice for his father and mother and his family honor. He was far too busy being noble, being forgiving, being in love, being blind and then being happy. The major dramatic thrust of responsibility of being the one doing all the questioning and all was left to Duen Ying Fung which makes me feel Duen Ying Fung was a far better character. And these two started as equal, and then Duen Ying Fung seems to take precedence, towards the end Duen Ying Fung was kicked to the back because the producers suddenly remember who is supposed to be the leading actor.
3. I was far more interested in the story of Fa Man than Tiu Lan and yet we are not shown Fa Man’s backstory, instead we have Tiu Lan’s story about assassins, etc. Fa Man in passing narrated her life where she had to do things she didn’t want to do but had to because she need to survive and because she wanted to investigate the murder of her parents. By the way this little girl buried her parents. This little girl who was lost grew up knowing her father was maligned and unfairly accused of Master Duen’s death. This little girl grew up seeking revenge and justice, and rightly so. And somehow she knew Kuen Lo was her big brother, so she was highly skilled in every area. I admire her from day 1. This is one strong female character and to me the strongest of all characters in this series, including the men. She was far ahead of her bumbling country bumpkin brother in all areas and she suffered more than he did and never wavered in her conviction. When she found love, it was sweet as opposed to her brother’s love which was to me a hindrance to the growth of the character. Like I said, we have Tiu Lan’s childhood story but nothing on Fa Man. How did Fa Man survived? Shouldn’t this story concentrate on her at one side and then on Kuen Lo on another? Maybe spend a few episodes actually showing us how they grew up? Not everything has to be flashbacks you know.
4. And so we have Tiu Lan taking the spotlight from Fa Man when Fa Man was the main character to me. For everything about Tiu Lan, I feel those can be shifted to Fa Man, meaning Fa Man can be the one hungry and willing to kill for food, trained to be assassin, etc. That will explain why she can fight so well. And it will tie in with why she left the organisation and came to Kowloon. Basically Tiu Lan’s character was just a surplus who did nothing to contribute to the story and frankly Kuen Lo doesn’t need a love story to show he is capable of love and gentleness. That can be exhibited through his love for his sister, his only living family.
5. Even if we have Tiu Lan, which is ok with me, my biggest problem is Tiu Lan is a waste of space. For a moment she had so much potential. This was like Kung Fu Hustle, a place where great kung fu warriors live and hide their identities. When Tiu Lan was so distraught over the death of an innocent girl that she cared deeply about, that one scene where she single handedly killed all those men was probably the greatest highlight of this series, apart from Fa Man killing those responsible for the death of her father. It was so promising, like what will Tiu Lan do next? I was expecting her to do more, to be unleashed more. Well, she fainted, woke up, had amnesia or pretended to and for the rest of the series quite simply disappeared into the background and occasionally resurface because hey, that’s Nancy Wu, she’s the leading lady, nobody can tell her her Tiu Lan was after that forgettable and rendered useless to the plot. It was so frustrating to watch. I was waiting and waiting for her to do something everytime there’s injustice but nope, nothing.
6. I was never convinced by the love story of Tiu Lan and Kuen Lo. Tiu Lan was too cartoonish. For someone who wanted to hide from the world, she behaved in such a way that the world will notice her. His blindness and her way of taking care of him led to one of the silliest plot error ever; apparently no one could find Kuen Lo since he was blind and wasting away somewhere deep in remorse, guilt, regret. People asked around, in fact people were dispatched to look for him but no one ever asked Tiu Lan because she could find him very easily. she knew exactly where he was.
7. Fa Man’s death was tragic but in the end could have packed more punch. I just feel at that point the writer just wanted to move on from Fa Man who by then was my most favourite character so I perfectly understood that meant her death because it was either her or Tiu Lan and again you don’t kill Nancy Wu because she is the leading lady. Would have been much better if Tiu Lan died because Fa Man had more things to be done.
8. One of the most tragic deaths, apart from the elder Duen and Chiu was Lung Shing Fu who spent half the series misunderstood and the other half just ended up doing the right thing. His death was brutal and was one of the best scenes in this series for the intensity and the drama. Again he was dispatched away and then for the rest of the series, pushed aside as the stories unfold. I feel he needn’t die so soon or die at all.
9. My memory may have failed me but I kinda remember the folks in the Walled City didn’t deserve protection from day 1. I didn’t see them standing up for themselves, more so for others. In fact most of the time for such a packed city, I didn’t see much people when there was trouble. There was no unity and sometimes you wonder why bother to fight for these people?
10. I didn’t get why the ultimate bad guy wanted to control walled city unless he wanted a factory to produce his opium or drugs. Because I distinctly remember the pudding man had control outside the walled city so why is it so important that he must control the walled city? There must have been a reason for his disguise, for his secret identity but somewhere along the way the series abandoned that reason and just went all out of kung fu fighting and less about story development. When pudding man said he slept with the wife of another prominent villain and produced a very sweet nice daughter, I wonder was it real? There was no flashback. TVB, this is one scene you need flashback and amp up the sex but nope, nothing. So I wonder, was he telling the truth or was that scene cut? Poor Audrey; between a bad guy father and an evil father, I am not sure if she had the best of either world.
11. Poor Audrey that she never married. I mean she deserves a happy ending and it isn’t learning muay tai and taking care of her would be mother in law. She never married Lung Shing Fu anyway. Her happy ending is going away, doing something, marrying someone else, moving on. Nobody ever moves on in TVB world, she’s far too young to be a would be widow. I was hoping she ended up with Duen Ying Fung but I guess Duen Ying Fung is the bona fide widower. Wait! He wasn’t married either. Was he?
12. The ending for Tiu Lan and Kuen Lo quite frankly left a bad taste in my mouth. Yes, I said people should move on but at some point with so many deaths, it was highly inappropriate to have them ended up having sex in a public place as a happy ending. A wedding perhaps, traveling the world perhaps, a nice ending kissing scene by the sunset perhaps. But her removing his clothes and pulling him into some secluded area and giggling till the end? By this time, after being through so many things, so many deaths, so much pain and regret and sorrow, I feel the ending shouldn’t be this childish and playful. This is no time for playful since they began playful, the ending should have been a more mature end because people do grow up and perspective change but love stays and with that, a more quiet mature ending was more apt. It just feel like all the deaths didn’t matter; these two matters. By that time I didn’t quite care for these two at all because I have had it with Kuen Lo spending most of the series moping around doing nothing much and Tiu Lan spending almost entire series doing absolutely nothing. And the fact that she wore a tight catsuit to fight is not a plus point.
13. The ultimate villain is a problem. I don’t know what’s with TVB these days. Any drama about mystery, murder, suspense, and they have this idea of villains and ultimate villain or rather ultimate boss, like some video game. In this series, the ultimate boss is Pudding Man. And it felt incomplete. Surely Pudding Man was working for someone? There must be an ultimate boss to the ultimate boss? If Pudding Man is the ultimate boss, and indeed he was, it was such a let down.
But there are goods in this series but they are almost always the secondary characters.
This series had 3 strong villains. Pudding Man was not one of them because I never quite got the guy. If only he had more time to be developed as a proper villain, he could have been a very cruel calculating cold one. The ultimate CCC combination. The 3 villains were the 3 fractions at the start of this series;
1. Fuk Sau Kam was an interesting character. He was the drug lord of the walled city and what I love about him was his death scene; because that was when Fa Man was unleashed and the way she killed him was the highlight for me.
2. Or Man Cheung was also an interesting character in the sense he was the hypocrite and he controlled the gambling dens. However he wasn’t the ultimate villain because his villaness was checked by his love for his daughter, Audrey.
3. Fung Ha Moon was one half of the duo villains who controlled the prostitution empire. He spent his time mostly sneering. It was his other half, his older brother Fung Chun Mei who to me was the most memorable villain in this series. Cold, calculating, cruel, he had the CCC but he had one I suppose redeeming factor that Pudding Man didn’t have; Fung Chun Mei loved his brother very much, blindly in fact. I felt he dominated every scene he was in by not really saying much or even talking loudly; he was rather soft spoken and to me he was the scariest of the lot.
Then there was a character I grew to like who was Lung Shing Fu who started shady and mostly half naked with oil slathered on his body. Then when he moved past that stage, he was in the end a rather noble character forced by his own sense of misdirected loyalty and saved by his love for his mother who disapproved of everything he did and his love for the sweet Audrey. That was why his death scene was significant; this was a major character heavily involved in the story and to lose him so soon for me is what a waste of a good story.
And of course there was Audrey whom I really like. There are characters that are so sweet you just want to slap them. But Audrey is a sweet character that you can’t help but like. She has her own viewpoint and her own moral compass. Considering that she had the DNA of the Pudding Man (which isn’t good news) and raised by another hypocritical bad guy (which should really have made her rotten), she turned out to be a rather upstanding character that you can cheer for.
Finally there was Fa Man, possibly my most favorite female character to-date in a TVB series. She was strong as she was gentle, she was forceful as she was soft spoken, she sacrificed and she knew why she had to sacrifice. Whilst her brother was very forgiving of those who murdered their parents, she was far less forgiving and I felt her revenge scenes were the highlight. Her death was tragic but from my memory, not much significance given to her AFTER death scenes which frustrates me. I felt Fa Man could have merged with Tiu Lan as one character so that I don’t ever have to see the silly Tiu Lan again but it seems a man is only whole if he ever got a girlfriend and the world will stop spinning if Kuen Lo doesn’t get his love story. The joke is the quiet moments between Kuen Lo and Fa Man were the love story for me; the sibling love story as they reconnect and his horrified look as she told him her very very brief backstory which deserved a flashback! TVB, flashback here!!!
There are other characters and it suddenly hit me But Tak Liu’s wife was Emma in Dead Wrong. No complaints about those characters since they represent the ordinary folks of the walled city.
I should also mention the walled city itself. It was quite stunning backdrop even at times I do know it is a studio because it was too clean and too much echo. I like Thai Po’s shop, in Malaysia we used to have such shops which we called “Kedai Runcit” where you see biscuits in glass jars, etc. Those are dying breed here except in small towns. I like the costumes or for men, the lack of costumes since whenever they fight, their upper torso is devoid of clothing and is mysteriously suddenly oily. Not complaining although the only one who should ever take off his top is Lung Shing Fu. The rest can keep their clothes on. And yet the one who was scariest was the guy who was always in the same costume and that was Fung Chun Mei. You don’t see him losing his top at all. Not even his lipstick and eyeshadow.
And finally, the stunt work and kung fu deserves a mention, even if some of the actors do more dancing or aerobic exercises than kung fu. Some you know are trained, so it looked more effortless and packed with power. Some you know are good dancers, therefore they are more fluid, graceful and able to showcase a different aspect of the real kung fu used here when they used a bit more power. Some you know are hopeless and they seemed to be doing tai chi more than forceful kung fu and you can imagine them counting one.. two… three.. when throwing the not so powerful punches. It beggars belief why that particular person is even hired for this series playing not one but TWO kung fu experts when he didn’t even played a convincing dentist. You will be surprised who was convincing; the secondary actors were the ones who surprised me most with their fluid movements and they were pretty convincing. You gets snippets of their choreography at the end of each episodes, how meticulous they were, how difficult it all was and how effortless they made it all looked.
No doubt this series is a group effort and should be commended for their effort. Whilst the story is to me a total waste of resources, talent and opportunity and absolutely undeserving of any award, it is time TVB should create an award known as Best Cast or something like that to honor not the best series but the best group. I feel this series and House of Spirits should win that award.
I watched this series for him and I ended up despising his Kuen Lo from episode 2. I wished he was Duen Ying Fung because I think I long to see Ruco in a role that doesn’t involve him being impestous, reckless, shouting his lines. Between he and Nancy Wu, I needed ear plugs because they were loud. And I would think Ruco will look more covincing as a dentist, a master in kung fu and look mighty dashing in a suit. Unfortunately for Ruco, he got stuck with Kuen Lo. Or maybe fortunately because he undeservingly won the Best Actor award at the TVB awards. For body of work, I will give it to Ruco but for this series, no I won’t. Kuen Lo was one of his weakest performances because his character was not well written and he didn’t have much to do apart from spending most of the series moping around. Now I am really hoping TVB will remake Hanzawa Naoki. I always said I thought Roger Kwok would be my Hanzawa but since Roger Kwok had most of the more interesting characters, it is time Ruco is given a role like Hanzawa. In fact if there is a Nirvana In Fire, I want Ruco as the Prince where he can be honorable and impetuous, his best traits in all his characters. For Kuen Lo, I am not saying he was terrible but Kuen Lo hardly stretched his acting prowess. Also Kuen Lo made no sense; I just hated the whole country bumpkin over enthusiastic overly kindly noble sort of guy who was his father’s greatest critic because he never believed his father. And no one ever remembers the poor mother. By the way Ruco was far better as the father and his kung fu was very convincing.
He played the senior Duen weakly (I wasn’t even convinced he was the respected master) and the junior Duen in a way that when he wasn’t doing the fighting, he was tolerable. Duen Ying Fung, if you must know, is my most favorite male character in this series because he is a human being unlike Kuen Lo who is god knows what he is. Duen Ying Fung actually do human stuff and have human emotions and could think better. Problem is Benjamin Yuen is such a snore. That guy just slowed down everything and his kung fu scenes were the weakest because he was so skinny, his kung fu had no force and he was rather slow. But his best scene was when he discovered his entire family murdered. Even then the grief was too brief, too little but since Duen Ying Fung is not a very emotional guy, you can interprete his detachment in the sense he is that sort of a person.
A strange guy. He actually looks handsomer as the series went on and his character suits his performance or the other way around. Yes he was wooden, but Lung Shing Fu is wooden. Yes he was not very emotional or expressive but Lung Shing Fu is that sort of guy. The role is kinda written with him in mind. Another actor who could have played this role and not change one expression is Kenny Wong but frankly, Philip Ng is a far more expressive actor than Kenny Wong and that is saying something. Philip Ng was also very convincing in his fight scenes, considering his background. Really packed a punch.
She is the leading lady here. I find her performance here and her every other performances lacking variety. However the problem for her here is the lack of depth for her character. I could only imagine if Tiu Lan didn’t go back to hiding but was unleashed or Tiu Lan is merged with Fa Man, what can Nancy Wu do? Maybe much more. Her scene where she killed all those men was the highlight. It was beautifully filmed, she was quite convincing except for the jumping up scene and for someone so skinny she packed a punch. Whilst fans lauded her chemistry with Ruco, I don’t see any. Of course they are now basking in their popularity and no doubt helped by their so called chemistry and rumors of a relationship (could be true if Ruco ever change his taste in women and he might), but I feel she had far more chemistry with the older Bobby Au Yeung in House of Spirits than in this series. And I liked her much much more in the other series. In here, she is wasted and a waste of space. I will not mince my words about Tiu Lan; I am bitter that Tiu Lan took away much screentime from Fa Man who deserved her backstory. Tiu Lan to me could be removed and A Fist Within Four Walls will still be the story it is.
She gave perhaps her career defining performance in this series. Before, her acting is credible, except people hated her for her religious views. But the girl can act and I like that she whispers rather than shouts. She is Mandy Wong but Mandy Wong’s problem is she speaks like she is teaching a language class whilst Grace speaks as if that’s how she speaks. For someone so skinny, her kung fu was the most convincing amongst the women, Yuen Qiu included. Maybe it was her dancing background, but her movements were fluid, almost dancer like, very graceful and with such force you will believe she can throttle you to the floor and sweet talk you at the same time. I love her scenes with Ruco, the way they were rather sweet to one another and I love how she played Fa Man as someone that went through so much hell and yet could be the voice of reason, even if she was seeking revenge. I feel Grace Wong should have been the leading lady in this series because her Fa Man is so significant to this story, without her, there is no A Fist Within Four Walls. Fans of Grace Wong should seriously watch this for her.
She was another actress whom I feel should have won Most Improved Actress in TVB awards. I couldn’t believe this was the same actress I saw in other series where she wasn’t wooden, but I never paid much attention to. Her Audrey could have been very annoying; I quite imagine if this series was made a decade ago or earlier, this role would probably be played by a young Charmaine Sheh or Shirley Yeung, neither I believe could have made Audrey not annoying. Because Audrey is supposed to be so sweet that you find her annoying. That’s TVB’s dictum in every series; Mary Sues I believe. But Moon manages to make her spunky, likable, lovable and god forbid, cute! Very very enjoyable performance but drama wise, she could work on her crying scenes where she squints a lot; a bad habit to me.
Yuen Qiu is Yuen Qiu. Her best scenes were with Philip Ng. No comments. So is KK Cheung.
Jonathan Cheung appeared for reasons I can’t understand why. Like Tiu Lan, his character was a surplus. Perhaps to create some tension, like a choice for Tiu Lan to make when… come on, this ain’t her story. It was so strange to see him appear and even stranger, his performance was so wooden. I wasn’t sure whether he was good guy or bad guy and frankly, you don’t need to care. He was a surplus.
Now I must comment on the 3 villains plus the Pudding Man.
What I love about this series is it gives probably the main characters in terms of villains to secondary actors who some I frankly do not know their names but I have seen them. You would expect a more famous face but that’s where this series excels; it offers a chance to these actors to show their capabilities in a different way. Much like how it was in Three Kingdoms RPG, where that was a necessity since there weren’t enough famous faces to fill so many roles. In fact it was Three Kingdoms RPG which I refer to everytime I need to know the names of some obscure secondary actor because I sort of listed all the names of almost everyone in that series and deservingly so. Three Kingdoms RPG became my encyclopedia of secondary actors’ name, one of whom is in here playing a very prominent role.
I think Oscar Li played the pervert very well. Not much comment. Vincent Lam was also very convincing in his fighting scenes and looking like he is always high on drugs. I am happy that Au Sui Wai is getting some love from TVB. He was convincing as the creepy villain Pudding Man except his character was not given much depth and development which is a great pity. All these 3 fought very very well, including KK who were all convincing and worthy adversaries to our heroes.
However the one deserving a huge praise is Carlo Ng. I would never guess him as a kung fu fighting super scary supremely calm villain but he was very very convincing in both. I will say of all the villans his Fung Chun Mei was most fleshed out although we hardly know his background, just enough to go on. A pity he hardly had a costume change but I think he gave an amazing performance and a special recognition award given to him at the recent TVB awards was most deserving although he deserved the Best Supporting Actor because that was what he was. I do think Raymond Cho could also nail this character if he was given a chance. But what a surprise to see Carlo Ng nailing this.
Oh how I hated the story. The more accolades, the more I hated it. But as I wrote this review, something I haven’t done in a long while, I was ready to criticize and not see any good in it. however on reflection I see the good as well; how this series was the shining moment for secondary actors who deserved this breakout chance. For the performances of Grace Wong and Carlo Ng alone, this for me is highly recommended. But if you feel no love for this sort of genre, or you can’t stand another bad role for Ruco and another series with Nancy, perhaps give this a miss. There are better series with Ruco Chan in it. As a fan of Ruco Chan, I can’t bring myself to recommend this series. Don’t watch this for Ruco because Ruco deserves better than this half baked character.
This review is written by Funn Lim, a Contributor at JayneStars.com and was originally posted at www.point2e.com.