Review: Beyond the Realm of Conscience (TVB 2009)

Beyond the Realm of Conscience <宮心計>
TVB 2009
Producer: Mui Siu Ching
Number of Episodes: 33


Moses Chan as Lee Yi
Tavia Yeung as Yiu Kam Ling
Charmaine Sheh as Lau Sam Ho
Kevin Cheng as Ko Hin Yeung
Michelle Yim as Chung Suet Ha
Susanna Kwan as Yuen Chui Wan
Lee Kwok Lun as Ma Yuen Zi
Selena Li as Man Po Yin
Lui San
Yoyo Chen as Chin Fei Yin
Ram Chiang as Bo Gut Chong
Lau Dan as Li Tak Yu 
Crystal Tin as Kong Choi-king
Mandy Cho as Concubine Wai
Tracy Yip as Concubine Wong



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 five of Moonlight Resonance 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 so Beyond the Realm of Conscience 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 five Moonlight Resonance actors, TVB then decided to go with two of their usual suspects: a pair of highly promoted, overused, questionably talented actors for lead roles,  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 have received 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 and Beauty and Dance of Passion, while failing epically.  War and Beauty was addictive, written cleverly and had an unconventional ending.  Dance of Passion was tense, compelling and boasted terrific performances and refreshing casting.  Beyond the Realm of Conscience 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 will ask Siu Yong to bring some water.  A few episodes later, Sam Ho says will 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 were not 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 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, and too late as the 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.

Other problems:

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.  Buh.  Clearly I am being way too analytical over this series.

Evaluation of Cast & Characters

Kevin Cheng

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 butt 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, which is 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.

Charmaine Sheh

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.

Tavia Yeung

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 the Realm of Conscience, 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 did not cross 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 in the series.

Moses Chan

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 character 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.  Selena 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 the Realm of Conscience 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 received, 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.

This review was written by Bridget, a Contributing Writer at

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  1. I can’t comment on “Beyond the Realm of Conscience” since I did not watch the series. However, I heard 5 minutes of some argument scenes between the key palace characters and I was not motivated to watch more. It was very noisy…is the rest of the series the same?

    1. Quite almost but the best were actually when Charmaine trying to protect the kingdom went against Tavia. For that short moment, I thought the series was very good and then she went back to being damsel in distress. Kevin was horrible in here, partly his performance, partly his character was mere wallflower.

    2. Yea, this series is NOT worth watching.. I saw many parts of it here and there and just could not watch anymore because it was sooo redundant… Tavia’s character was annoying and she overacted….

  2. Actually, I really liked the series with the cast and costumes. The only moment I was confused was at the end of the last episode. Charmaine meets Kevin 7 years later after their daughter is born and Kevin doesn’t seem to remember anything. He was considered dead. Did Kevin lose his memory or was he just like any other man who just didn’t care of his love?

  3. Granted, there are many holes in this series, but it’s not so different than any other “great” series of late from TVB. The biggest hole in this series Kam Ling didn’t die at the end.

    Overall, it’s one of the better series in the last few years with great casts. It has enough drama and conflicts to make the series enjoyable. The flow is also consistent, not “draggy” or dull.

  4. I wish they kept the storyline more like the sales presentation.

    I thought this series was not good at all. It was obviously TVB’s plan to make Tavia get the Best Actress award that year, but that story was pretty stupid and the characters were not really that well written. I actually liked Michelle Yim and Susanna Kwan’s relationship and storyline more.

    1. Me too. Urgh.

      I thought Tavia’s evil laugh near the end of the series was great. HAHAHA. I really liked it for some reason.

      Despite being a huge Charmaine fan, her character killed her. It was so fake and unrealistic (except for the part that Funn mentioned – loved it.) that no one could save it.

      Really wished that they kept it the same as the sales presentation. :I

  5. I must be outside the norm as I really enjoyed the series… 😛 It was painful at times as you always knew something bad was going to happen since something good rarely did, but I enjoyed it all the same.

  6. Wow. Did you even watch the whole thing? Not that I loved the series myself but I can tell you that:

    1. Siu Yong was saved in the nick of time. Her rescue (albeit not shown on screen) was explained in the next scene.

    2. Choi Seung Gung stirred up more misunderstandings between Yuen and Chung so that they bickered again after the reconciliation mediated by Sam Ho.

    3. The only time Sam Ho left the palace was when the emperor allowed her to elope with Hin Yeung. With the exception of that time, Hin Yeung only left the palace when emperor asked him to investigate stuff for him, so of course he had a pass (ling pai).

    4. Hin Yeung won the previous emperor’s (Edwin) favour by drawing an important game of chess with a Japanese chess master. He became an imperial guard after Moses became emperor because he saved him from death/injury a couple of times. No point mentioning chess again when his station had changed.

    5. No comment.

    6. Well, we don’t know what happens after his two loyal subordinates left.

    7. That’s true.

    8. I’m pretty sure Kam Ling never loved the emperor. Seems like all she ever wanted was to become an imperial consort.

    1. No. 8: disagree. She did admire the emperor. I will say she fell for him but her insecurity took over.

    2. Well said, hunterx. As I was reading the review, I thought to myself “Are you kidding me??” Not to mention the reviewer’s praises for Tavia…had me almost laughing out loud.

      #8: Agreed. I don’t think she ever loved the emperor…she admired him cuz like josie said, he was the emperor!

    1. Now reading back my own recap, I realised one sentence is like often repeated in the series;

      The palace is full of scheming concubines and corrupt officials. Why? Self preservation!!

      Guess who said this?

    1. I don’t see any of female lead in BTROC to exist in real life. Just imagine Kam Ling with all of makeup and glare to exist, I laugh.

  7. It was ok. Not like wow excellent but pretty watchable for me.

    Good for Tavia to flex her acting chops by an evil role. Ok first attempt, not quite at the level of Michelle Yim, Gallen Lo, some of the veterans yet.

    Subtlety in acting goes a long way, only the best performers are capable of such acting, where the characters breath alive for the audience, whether he or she is good or bad, he or she is riverting to the audience.

    1. I dont see subtlety in Tavias performance here. She was plastering villain on her face and exaggerated eye expressions. If shes a villain wife in PF I hope she improves

  8. I have to disagree about Tavia. Shes one of the weaker performance to me. She was OTT while delivering her evilness and was trying too hard to look and act evil. It becomes unreal.

    1. Agreed with lol. Only the heavy make up made Tavia looks evil in this series, not her perfomance.

      1. Don’t forget the flash flash TVB used whenever she glared :P.

    2. I have to agree that Tavia’s performance was pretty weak in this series. It was an “exaggerated” evil. Not natural at all.

  9. Yay one of my favorite series. As much as I like the premise of the show the feuding was not fun. It’s was mainly just two concubines fighting and the king himself wasn’t really even interested in either making the whole point of them trying to get his attention seem kind of wasted.

    I agree with a lot of things the make up not being one of them. In reality of course Tang dynasty doesn’t even do makeup close to that. I don’t understand why the men even need makeup because half of the distractions I had were because I could easily spot Moses with eyeliner. I am not against men wearing makeup. But in here it’s not even necessary. I guess they wanted to go dramatic but it’s weird. Some guy actually had his eyelids glued to appear more slanted. Awkward. The makeup ruined a lot of the show for me.
    I love tavia’s character in this series. Or maybe I love her acting but like the previous statement about makeup. This is just too much. She looks bad. IN the beginning it was fine but after she got “evil” she looked like a fool. Another thing that bothered me was her outfit while it started out fine it was awkward at the end she was wearing a japanese outfit? I mean I get this is supposed to be fantasy and not historically correct but that is JUST off. I can forgive everything else historically, that is wrong. However, wearing a modern japanese inspired outfit seems way out of character for a chinese person of the tang dynasty. Even if the japanese were inspired by the chinese han clothing to begin with. Susan Tse was one of my favorite actors in the show I’ll have to say. I actually find she is the most believable of all the people to be of that time because of how she spoke, even if they probably spoke mandarin. I actually like Kevin in this show. I wish they shot this in China though. He fit a good ancient look, and before this I don’t think he’s done a ancient show. His character was nothing special though. Love charmaine but I liked her character more towards the end when she was being rude to tavia. I don’t agree about bosco and steven being replacements though. But then again that could be because I don’t like bosco to begin with.

    1. Yea .. Kam Ling’s costume is so ridiculous and laughable towards the end.. Her costume is more sophisticated than the empress, let alone of Concubine Yin’s costume, even though she is of the same status as Kam Ling.. Laughable

  10. how many charvin series are there?
    and one thing that i love is charmaine with roger in a herbalist affair, their chemistry were outstanding,if not, better. they were such a cute couple, so cute. but people dont really talk about the one and only. hehehe

    1. 3 – Yummy Yummy, FH2, and BTROC. I don’t count “point of no return” and “life begins at 40” b/c Kevin only play small part.

      Charmaine did match w/ roger in HA but they didn’t end up together. And “glittering days” was kinda dumb.

      I think charm’s best chemistry was w/ chilam.

  11. Oh my, perhaps I’ve a biased view towards Charmaine, but I thought she acted really well, and I really liked it! And she and Kevin did make a good couple, I feel! 🙂

    1. charm’s character is boring to the 9th level in Beyond. didn’t like her storyline with the chess master aka king’s bodyguard either.

      BUUUUTTT Charm and kevin in FH2 was super cute…!! lol

  12. The only performance that stood out in BTROC was Selena. She did great work in those few episodes she did, showing more character development and depth than anyone else in less episodes.

    Please. Tavia was BAD. Her exaggerated evil was downright comical. She just plain sucked. There was zero nuance and zero depth.

    Even Charmaine did better just because she at least was consistent and tried to make her saintlike character as realistic as possible. Her Sam Ho was definitely too good to be true, and frankly, got annoying – and lord so boring in scene with Kevin! But she had great chemistry with Moses.

    He actually also gave a pretty good, consistent performance. Moses should NOT do comedy anymore because dude has forgotten what subtle means. Too bad they took the good chemistry and stuffed it into a craptastic show like CBML, where Moses (and everyone else) got to go crazy. And by crazy, I literally mean that every character behaved like a loony that had escaped from the loony bin.

    1. *The only performance that stood out in BTROC was Selena. She did great work in those few episodes, showing more character development and depth than anyone else who had more episodes.

    2. Forgot to add my comment on Kevin. BBJX proves that he can do ancient. But boy was he BORING and had zero screen presence. He was SO forgetable. Maybe that’s why I forgot him in my original comment, LOL

      1. Kevin in BTROC wasn’t only boring and has no screen presence but has a stiff speech. He has the same symptom with Jessica. Stiff unnatural ancient speech.

      2. He improved his anceint presence tremendously in BBJX after all these years he was looking fake and awkward in ancient

      3. @ Funn

        It is always a balance between the writing and the acting. BTROC was so badly written and made at a point where I believe Kevin had really improved his acting so I do blame the script here.

      4. @ Funn

        True. But all the characters were so darn badly written, I almost (!!!) can’t blame the poor fellow. Moses did better but he had good chemistry with Charmaine (Kevin had the opposite!) and his character was written a tad bit better. Before I would have said Moses was the better actor, but he’s been very disappointing lately while Kevin improves steadily. Enjoyed him in Only You this year. And GJ has good WOM.

      1. Yep. Ironically, Selena took the opposite character development – bad to good – and acted the hell out of it. Tavia OTOH, who was supposed to give a brilliant performance, failed big time in showing any kind of character development. That said, the horrendous script certainly didn’t make her job any easier BUT Selena proved you can do something good out of a bad script.

      2. Yes. Selena is better than Tavia in this series. Tavias role is custom made to make her brilliant but she failed to deliver but Selena took a small character and made it her own

    3. Well said, advo!

      I, too, think Selena gave a strong performance with the limited episodes given.

      Tavia was way OTT…she was more bearable in the beginning when she wasn’t in-your-face-evil and was in the “grey area.” Tavia, IMO, did so much better when she was playing supporting roles.

      Charmaine did well with what was given to her, she especially shined in the last few episodes when she tried to save the kingdom and the empress dowager.

      1. I agree with you. Tavias perfromance lately shows that she’s better off in supporting roles. She doesnt hve enough charisma

  13. I liked the series in general, despite the boring parts…and I would have to say that those were the charmaine/kevin parts. I wanted to skip those scenes 🙁

    Nothing so special about this drama. It’s just like any other palace show. I did enjoy their costumes, and I also loved the cast. As well, this drama was the one that made me notice Tavia and that she can actually act.

  14. Hahaha ..I have to say I was laughing so hard after reading Bridget’s review – more so on the choice of words she used to describe her disappointments of this drama .. An entertaining review! Basically, I would say the drama is a bit anti-climax, boring sceneries, story-line & characters jumping abit here-and-there – not enough in-depth & closure. Btw, had hoped Sam Ho would end up with Lee Yi though – thats one of the anti-climaxes apart from Kam Ling not getting a much severe punishment ..

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