Bottled Passion <我的如意狼君>
Producer: Lee Tim Shing
Genre: Pre-Modern Drama
Number of episodes: 21
Who’s In It?
Cast in no particular order:
Raymond Wong as “Tung Bun Sin”
Niki Chow as “Tsui Sum”
Samuel Kwok as “Ko Siu Tong”
Rebecca Chan as “Tung Kwok Hing”
Elaine Yiu as “Ko Yee Kiu”
Joel Chan as “Ko Yee Tai”
Eric Lee as “Lo Yat”
Claire Yiu as “Wun You”
Raymond Cho as “Tsui Ping”
and some other miscellaneous characters
What’s This About?
A long long time ago, a rich family adopted a young orphan boy. Despite believing his fortunes may have changed, the boy soon finds out that his adoptive parents aren’t all that loving, and in fact, one of them resorts to an attempt of murdering the boy. Many years later, this boy, now a young man, returns to this forsaken place, in search of a long lost friend and with revenge deeply engraved into his mind. With a mysterious past and an equally mysterious plan, this young man now strives to realize the two things that have kept him alive all this time.
Review Formally Begins Here
No matter who may view this series, there is only one possible conclusion to draw after a completed viewing: it’s solid entertainment. Obviously the proverbial “for a TVB series” is true still. But unlike many other TVB products, a clear tale is told here, and told coherently. Characters do not feel obsolete, each serving their own purpose furthering the plot (which I thought was Raymond’s taste for revenge) and none command a presence that chokes said plot. Further, trying to find faults in the execution would be like trying to find something small amongst something vast, or a whale in an ocean scenario. So was the last series of 2011 the best series for the bygone year? As I’ve said time and again, that decision is for you to make, not for some product of mass media misinformation or blind fandom (or“fanaticism” if don’t know what “fandom” means) to tell you.
Now this “review” could (or should) have ended here since I am by no stretch anti-TVB or an expert in locating whales, but something inside me says this is far from over. First it goes without saying there are far more things done right than wrong here, but is that enough? Can you win awards by merely doing what’s right? Does comparing against things in your league bore you? Should you treat yourself with more dignity and go up one notch? Well if the series has Raymond’s vengeance as its driving force, then it unlikely tops that notch. If you view it as a love story, it still only comes close but not quite to surmount that bar. For me, the love angle was more a side dish from the start. A side dish that eventually comes close to becoming the main course but then guess what, the waiter drops your dinner on the floor. I’ll come back to this point later. So if it’s Raymond’s revenge that’s the springboard which gives this series purpose, was it a convincing purpose or vengeance?
Tong Bun Sin’s Vengeance
In “vengeancentry,” the study and theory of vengeance, if ever there was one, we can split two types of vengeance. The first is the convincing vengeance where person Y kills person X’s spouse so X plots to off Y. We may call this “trans-linear vengeance,” you kill my thing, I kill you. Then there’s unconvincing vengeance, which is in the same scenario above, X plots to off Z, where Z is a near-innocent bystander. We may call this “non-linear vengeance” or psychosis. Then there’s vengeance with convincing origins but unconvincing ends. We call this third type “Bottled Passion” vengeance or “復仇:我的如意狼君”. Apparently Raymond has lost sleep over a decade because Rebecca Chan tried to kill him when he was a child, so he decides to return for vengeance. Vengeance convincing. Raymond then somehow establishes a minor fortune, unwittingly is able to buy Niki’s land to resell to Elaine which fortunately wins the latter’s heart, which in turn is used to perpetrate Rebecca’s downfall. Persuasiveness waning. On top of this, as Rebecca is near ruins, Raymond decides to stop. Unconvincing. Look, if you’ve cooked up some vengeance for a decade, you one, won’t use such uncontrollable means–there was zero guarantee Elaine would bite but for Lee Tim Shing, and even if she bites, so what? The advent of the long lost son was really what spelled Rebecca’s downfall. Also you’ll likely have a distinct plan, whereas Raymond had little of–yes he may have improvised but improv should support your main agenda, not be its core. Three, you wouldn’t rest so easily. So maybe Raymond gave up his revenge for Niki, but that begs the question, if he is such a swell loving guy, why did he appear to have such dire conviction for Rebecca and plot this arcane scheme for so many years? And can someone with so much pent anger change so easily? None of this convinces. Even if “love” somehow changes him, it’s a “love” we learn by telling, not acting.
Love Story or Tragedy?
Raymond and Niki’s chemistry is mediocre at best. Whilst I admire their crying effort, most of the emotion we witness in the two derives from the story backlog, the sound editing and good story development. No scene is wasted. Niki tends to fluctuate between blank, unpleasant and slightly prickly expressions. Her emotional range never wanders far. She appeared more lost than hurt when seeing Raymond’s scars. Though Niki does bring a pleasant face, but a rather disconnected face.
This lack of emotional range resides in Raymond too. He gives a good suave performance as a cool, conniving and smart Tong Bun Sin, and he performs well in his solo scenes despite lacking a flexibility to portray gradated change. He either operates on cool-suave or sincere-kind. They are like parallel personalities. This was possibly intended, and if so, it’s quite a weak portrayal (by the story board presumably) of such a defining character. Raymond seems slightly awkward in his emotive sequences with Niki. The two just don’t click. Both appear more interested in crying than why they are crying. At most, the two do look lovey-dovey when the camera wants them to.
Personally, I love a good revenge story. But a good revenge story needs an externally strong but internally scarred lead character who attempts to mangle his or her way through the moral dilemmas via sheer intelligence and a hardened heart. Interestingly, producer Lee Timg Shing, in shrewd fashion given his approximately 20 episode cap, skims the revenge story, and spins it into a semi love-tragedy. That is why I say the side dish (the love story) comes to the foreground towards the finale. However, this would never pass as a tragedy as the fact remains–not enough character-driven tragedy occurs through the hands of Tong Bun Sin or co. General illness do not count. Neither do accidents or plot-unrelated occurrences. This squarely defies a good tragedy. I suppose the tragedy is interconnected with the vengeance aspect of the series. However, I would have preferred to see a Tong Bun Sin that really walked the path of carnage than talk it. Finding humanity within carnage is a much more exhilarating journey than “oh I’m saving these lollies for my friend.” Thought-provoked I am not… Nor am I titillated. At most only passingly entertained.
So if we view this as a love story instead, will it excel the mediocrity which pervades a viewing of the series as a revenge story? Not for me anyway. The primary problem is the chemistry between the leads is wanting. The “nice” setup between Tong Bun Sin and Tsui Sum’s orphan past is hackneyed but effective. Also, this is a prime example of a solid series marred by an absolutely and utterly unnecessary finale. If the series ended at episode 20, I would clear it as a apt love story. But by episode 21, I thought otherwise. Besides the boundless illogicity in the finale, the conclusion depicts some “tentative separation.” Was this necessary? Did it pull on your heartstrings? Did it make narrative sense? And does Lee Tim Shing even believe in reincarnation? You see, if the series intended to convey the message that Tong Bun Sin dropped his vengeful ways because of love, then why the hell kill the guy? His turned over a new leaf. He deserves a chance! Besides, his vengeful ways weren’t even that vengeful. Alternatively, if the series wants to tell us something about karma, then I ask this: was betraying Elaine’s love worthy of death? The story would have ended much more intelligently if Elaine told her mom in their final scene together that it wasn’t love that caused her rebellion, but her desire for freedom and hatred towards her mother’s domineering persona. But no, that’s not affecting enough. Through both lenses, I believe the love story failed and became a forced tragedy. Thus, the side dish that becomes the main course that becomes floor decoration.
A curious flaw with TVB’s period pieces is that the environs are always so clean, distilled and dead plain (the walls)! I note, period pieces from greater China have a similar problem to a lesser extent. I can forgive street scenes, but the indoor scenes are even worse. Every item in the room is upright, always in a place one would expect it to be, never a hint of a possible crime scene, or a rampaging toddler about, or even a clumsy waiter or a whale. It’s just like when actors and actresses put on their “evil” face when asked to give an “evil” face. You hit the mark but miss the effect.
Eric Lee deserves a mention as Lo Yat, although I still think that’s his codename in the series, not his real name. Eric has been playing villains or less than upstanding gentlemen for long. There was considerable angst within me as I watched this series–will he stab Tong Bun Sin in the back? Surprisingly, he doesn’t, and he plays quite a refreshing, pleasant and rightly aloof sidekick-buddy. On another note, and Raymond aside, the role with most room for flexing was Ko Yee Kiu. I must congratulate Elaine for performing the role with such flat routine repetitiveness. Congratulations!
On the whole, this was probably a love story, not a tale about sweet, sweet revenge or apocalyptic tragedy. Fact is there was inadequate momentum for a good revenge drama. At the end of the first episode, I literally fell head over heels thinking this was something different. By the last episode, I again fell head over heels but for totally opposite reasons. On the bright side, this was still a solid entry by TVB, as expected from Producer Lee. What is a little unwarranted is the fact the series played it safe, even when the producer knew he was capable of delivering greater. If anything, Rosy Business <巾帼枭雄>, Safe Guards <鐵血保鏢> and even A Fistful of Stances <鐵馬尋橋> should attest to that. So now that we got here, we come to the realization that this did not take it beyond just another TVB entry (start by removing the crappy ending). Next time, give us more carnage, more love and more twists–putting them in the final 30 minutes does not count.
An all round competent series that won’t keep you guessing, but will keep you tuning back for more, especially if you like endings that make you laugh out loud- lol.
Obligatory Disclaimer: The writer of this article wishes to remind all readers that this article goes beyond the rating, which means you should READ it before you comment, and if after reading it you disagree, please ENSURE you read it properly, because for every instance you misread this article or espouse what is merely your fandom, a TVB employee gets axed, demoted or possibly a wedgie, and we wouldn’t want that.
This review was written by SDS, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com.