Review: “Gloves Come Off” (By SDS)

Gloves Come Off <拳王>
Hong Kong TVB Drama 2012

Producer: Marco Law
Genre: Drama, Action
Number of episodes: 25



Kevin Cheng as “Tong Sap Yat”
Raymond Wong as “Pat Ka Sing” or Buddy
Selena Li as “Chai Pak Fai”
Natalie Tong as “Yam Ho Kau”
Nancy Wu as “Ting Yan Chi”
Kenny Wong as “Ko Wai Ting”
Power Chan as “Chu Sai Cheung”
Katy Kung as “Chung Po Kei”
and other miscellaneous characters

What’s This About? 

Well… it’s about Muay Thai…. Well actually it’s about a man named Tong Sap Yat, a Muay Thai practitioner, who returns to Hong Kong from Thailand after a long, long tour of the country under less than ideal circumstances. Sap Yat is a down-to-earth character, a single father who strives to bring food home to give his child the best, leaving behind his past. However, and perhaps it’s just fate, Sap Yat meets a man named Pat Ka Sing, and together, Sap Yat becomes embroiled again in the world he once left and tried to forget – the world of Muay Thai. And as stories go, Pat Ka Sing also enters that same world, and soon finds out there is more to life than slacking off. 

Round 1 

I think that’s a pretty good synopsis up above. It should give you the feeling of early morning dew meets flying silver tuna before crying schoolchildren… Now if only the rest of the series was able to give us such fresh and novel feelings of indescribable descriptions. Some people may be seriously anxious about a TVB on the supposedly gory, masculine, foreign and political subject of Muay Thai. Anxious because TVB has a history of gutting its dramatic subjects (and actors but let’s not go there). Anxious because how can a group of suits understand a sport, a martial art, a lifestyle such as Muay Thai. Anxious because the lead actors likely know nothing about Muay Thai. Well let me dispel that anxiety – Gloves Come Off is safe to watch! Why? Because I don’t believe anyone actually interested in Muay Thai would watch this for pointers (advice from Sap Yat Gor – “go for the lower body”). Also, those of us who watch this likely know extremely little about Muay Thai. Finally, we aren’t even watching this for Muay Thai anyway. So why the hell does TVB think a drama “about” Muay Thai would attract an audience greater than that of say the wonderfully (nauseating) bombastic Daddy Good Deeds <當旺爸爸>? 

About three quarters of the way through, episode 18.75 to be precise, I unlocked the mystery to the English title of the series and surreptitiously nodded in approval. Gloves Come Off. If you’ve gotten to episode 18.75 too, you must have also giggled at the unintended self-prank or possible in-joke TVB is having. Why? There is near-zero Muay Thai, if not near-nil fighting. Obviously it’s because the gloves have come off and you can’t fight if the gloves are off cause that would violate all sorts of rules some old geezers conjured up. It would be like cooking without mittens, sawing without goggles, or sleeping without closing your eyelids. Anyway, this is why any Muay Thai purists should not be anxious and why all of you who actually don’t want to see Muay Thai should also not be anxious. We’re safe. TVB played it safe. Imagination has come off. Creativity has come off. And in their place, weighing 120lbs in the left corner wearing red and green is the reigning TVB champion “Recycle” and in the right corner stands his youthful contender weighing I don’t know you decide, “Boring”. 

Round 2 

Personally, I’ve never really liked Kevin Cheng’s acting if not for what Burning Flame 3 <烈火雄心3 > did to his (and everyone else in it) image in my mind. Seriously, companies get sued overseas for ruining celebrity’s images by featuring them in trashy shows. Anyway, Kevin always seems rather distant. Rather vague and unstable, such as some enjoyable performances like Split Seconds <爭分奪秒>, The Ultimate Crime Fighter <通天幹探> and that little known series about lawyers with that really catchy theme song, Ghetto something – I forget… I feel Kevin hasn’t been able to find his niche. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since actors don’t want to be boxed, but having a a role which is your forte is better than not having one. Kevin’s not good doing humble roles. He’s not good at being a straight-arrow either. He’s best when playing borderline characters. I’m not simply talking about characters that do bad things with good intentions. I’m talking ones that keep you wondering, “What is he doing, why did he do that, is he a goodie or a baddie?” Maybe it’s because of his slightly fragmented facial expressions, as if there’s somewhere else he’d rather be or something else occupying his mind. In any case, he fulfills his duty as the unremarkable Tong Sap Yat. 

Raymond Wong is more convincing here and he has the more difficult character to play. Buddy goes from lazy prick to ambitious nut to arrogant snob to filial son. No other character in recent TVB serials has undergone such a full range of development under the rainbow. Raymond also does it well. He’s convincing. He’s annoying when he’s being arrogant; he’s lovable when being charming and well… passable as a raging boxer. He’s also someone who has chemistry with like every actress. Not that Natalie Tong is a crummy actress, it’s just that Raymond has a talent for being “involved” with his characters, cast and subject matter. Perhaps it’s his forte. He stands in stark contrast to Kevin – in terms of variety, not capability (well… *giggles*). However, Raymond has played similar brash characters such as in When Lanes Merge <情越雙白線>. But that’s okay because we like him. Honestly, Buddy is the maker of the series. Without Buddy, this series would have come off long ago. Buddy drove the series. He drove Sap Yat back to Muay Thai, he drove Sap Yat back to “Tung Lung,” and he arguably drove the series onto topics other than Muay Thai. 

There’s also Selena Li, who I feel deserves a bit of a mention for well and truly assuming Flora Chan’s old role of playing the classy professional. Both also have difficulty in their crying scenes, but who really does look ready for a catwalk when they’re crying anyway? She has my vote. 

Round … 4? 

As an aside, a few weeks back there was news complaining about Kevin’s lack of “discipline” or “professionalism” when playing his fighting scenes. What’s the fuss? How could they judge? Kevin had an aggregate of 20 minutes of montage ring time throughout the whole series. How could they really judge him with such little action scenes? Look, there are some professions where you’d expect the person to rise above their employer, such as doctors, law enforcers and teachers, but seriously if TVB can’t be bothered choreographing proper fight sequences, then why should an actor be required to go above and beyond? Not everyone is Dicky Cheung or Nick Cheung.  

Then we have the real problems. The love story between Sap Yat and Pak Fai verges into the “omfg” territory of everything a modern day TV series should not do where supposedly real individuals are portrayed. There was absolutely no reason for Sap Yat to suggest to Pak Fai that she had some sort of “duty” to be with Edwin Siu’s character. That was needless self-sacrifice. No one benefits from it in the long-run. From a artistic or dramatic perspective, this has been voted one of the worst form of telling a romance story. TVB really needs to get rid of this staple device of love self-sacrifice. It’s tiring; it’s not modern and it’s not very affective frankly. At least not when two individuals have declared their love towards each other and where even the “third party” admits they are the odd one out. Get a life! 

Now for the real problem: suicide. No, that wasn’t advice for TVB. My gripe isn’t exactly about the fact that Edwin Siu’s character committed suicide or that he did it to relieve his physical and mental anguish. My gripe is how it was portrayed to be an acceptable form of relief. A relief for Pak Fai and for Sap Yat, because they are now be able to turn their silly decision around. It was a portrayal that suicide, at least in this case, can be observed to be something of a necessity, of use, of pain relief, of logic, of love, and of self-sacrifice, as helpfully confirmed in Leung Yan Wah’s death note. Sorry, but the idea of suicide as a means of placating or facilitating others leaves a distaste in my mouth, even if not intentionally done by TVB. Perhaps it’s a silly gripe, and I’m looking at things that aren’t there–I blame the non-existence of any fighting! 

Round 15…? 

A special mention has to be made to some of the plot oddities. It’s odd that Sap Yat quickly got over the fact Ko Wai Ting had a slight hand in his imprisonment in Thailand. It’s odd that Sap Yat let his son, who appeared to be one of his most important pillars in life, go to Canada with a grandfather who may fall down unconscious at any moment. It’s odd that Sap Yat’s dog vanished after episodes 2 to 3. It’s also odd that Pak Fai developed some sort of amnesia when the plot didn’t really need it. And why memory loss? Why not carpal syndrome or severe periodontal disease? Then there’s Katy Kung, who seems to be developing a forte for playing the villainess, or the slightly debase woman. It’s not a forte she really wants to develop, but how can you dispute your (TVB) calling right? Oh and Nancy Wu deserves a mention for playing a character that is more symbolically important than being important to the plot. Yes TVB, thank you for patronizing the disabled, but we see through your act. Sap Yat does too, that’s why he rejects her. The final oddity is why do they keep repeating “Boxing should not be fought like this” [or some variation]? It doesn’t sound deep; it sounds silly because no one ever elaborates on this claim – so how are you meant to box/fight? Come on, impress me with your wisdom TVB. Try me. 

Final Round 

There’s really nothing new here, but since this is a series about Muay Thai, I felt I needed to reassure everyone that despite the new context, novelty has come off and gone quite a while ago for much of TVB. I’m not being hateful, just discerning. If the purpose of a series format is so that the subtleties of character relationships can be told in a greater depth and magnitude, so the journey from being a novice to becoming a veteran can be finely experienced, the purpose has nearly totally failed. I don’t feel as if I want to meet any of these characters. Nor do I feel that I like any of these characters or feel attached to their journey. On the other hand, a series format can be quite spectacular to scrutinize topics that most of us usually don’t encounter. Why was there no explanation of what Muay Thai is? Why was there little to no talk about fighting techniques? Why was there no inspiring story about the feverish bouts of trial and failure to become an athlete? So given that all these things aren’t present, how can such a dramatic series really be dramatic? TVB again chose the easy way out to “affect” us by killing off characters, literally and figuratively, who really should not have come off.  And just for the record, I win. 


Do you really believe a bunch of Hong Kong low wage writers in some backwater broadcasting station could write a decent story about Muay Thai? *Turns face and giggles* 


Obligatory Disclaimer: The author of this article does not warrant the accuracy, completeness, veracity, quality, validity or reliability of the content of this article, possibly because it was written on a pogo stick, but in any case, should the reader choose to read this article, they must accept that in some cases, even very rare cases as it is, whale should not be victims to our cruelty and… what the? Herein lies an example of poor disclaimer drafting that goes off-topic. So please readers, don’t use this for your legal documents and always read disclaimers. Ding!

This review is written by SDS, a Contributing Writer at

Related Articles


  1. SDS,
    “Do you really believe a bunch of Hong Kong low wage writers in some backwater broadcasting station could write a decent story about Muay Thai? *Turns face and giggles*”

    Muay Thai serves only as a trimming in an attempt to give the series some novelty. As you pointed out, the amount of recycling and repackaging has been common in recent years. Other than making the trimming new, the basic elements of good story telling are missing.

    I suspect the heavy focus on love triangles is due to the fact that the young TVB scriptwriters lack the life experience to write material that is more deeply affecting. Romantic love, involving more than 2 people, seems to be the tool of choice. It is also easier to write stories of romantic love than other love forms.

  2. On Fight Scenes:

    I actually forged on to end for this one to see how far and disjointed the writers (who have proven they are either young or overworked because I kept imagining they wrote the plot over a series of IM’s, texts, and updates on weibo…”oh crap, I have turn this edit in 15 minutes, give me ideas!”).

    Found the training sequences to be more formidable – jogging and push-up scenes far outnumber fight scenes. Also fight scenes pretty much just amount to change clothes, get in ring, Jab 1, Jab 2, pose, kick, grab head, someone gets knocked out. I agree with you that Kevin had no need to be serious but I still feel bad for the real martial artist extras who got hoodwinked into thinking this was serious boxing display.

  3. On …errr..relationships:

    I tried to keep things light by telling myself Katy Kung is there solely to get back at Tong Bun Sin for screwing over her family back in Guangzhou. You just don’t remember her because she was 15 yr old teenager and now she is 20 yr mistress type back for REVENGE!

    Bobo’s death completely necessary for Buddy’s “change” or he will forever be unemployed and never learn how to babysit his daughter. Natalie’s murder got sympathy points in Other Truth, why not here?

    Power loves Nancy loves Kevin (11) loves Selina who is also loved by Edwin.

    Power is a ambitious controlling pyscho, why do they still make it a possibility that Nancy and Power could be a “thing” when he gets out of jail???

    I was also wincing when they used Edwin’s suicide as Selena’s out for the marriage instead of simple divorce. (unspoken TVB writer rules: divorce = bad family image; and death to release someone = unselfish love??) But after all that they give Selena a second out by having a brain degenerative disease to wipe out her guilt of Edwin.

    1. I was hoping Kevin and Nancy might develop instead. Since 11 ridiculously pushed Donna to marry Edward, he should’ve let her go.

      But I think Donna did try to commit herself to her husband. It would’ve been too cruel to divorce him after he became paralyzed. He probably would’ve died naturally due to his body breaking down anyway. Using early onset dementia as a plot device was so unnecessary.

      Oh well, at least everyone looked good in the series.

  4. “Do you really believe a bunch of Hong Kong low wage writers in some backwater broadcasting station could write a decent story about Muay Thai? *Turns face and giggles*”

    *Sighs* Haven’t we all learn, muay thai, medical profession, legal profession, cannibalism, serial killers, etc all are just the means of getting to an end which is the usual plot device. At least the writers knew muay thai uses legs.

  5. I actually enjoyed this series…the ending scene where he was crying was superb…and main cast had great chemistry…

    1. Me too. I enjoyed it. Dont understand the critism

      1. i totally agree withh u guys! tv is for entertainment and enjoyment- so dont need to be too critical over small matters like picking on the phrase “boxing shouldnt be like this”.

  6. This was undoubtedly one of the worst TVB productions I’ve seen in a while. I had high hopes for this one. The cast was decent as well!

    The script went all over the place I felt. There was no focus, and the series was very anti-climactic.

    Raymond Wong steals the show as Buddy, whilst Kevin Cheng’s Tong Sap Yat gradually became a character you could care less about. As the series nears its’ finish the exhaustion and ill-inspired aspects are written all over Kevin Cheng’s face; it was as if he didn’t give much of a damn for the series. Though, that final scene between him and Selena Li was quite promising.

    2/5 indeed. A Terrible viewing exercise.

  7. So this drama isn’t worth my time. Expected.

  8. I think this series is lame, characters in here changes too quickly. Raymond was good, suddenly turn bad in the middle, then turns back to good at the end.
    Florence sister suddenly turn good after wake up from the accident. It was too quick!
    And the story between Kevin and Selena is lame. Copying from Return of Condor Heroes book. Just like how Xiao longnu trick Yangguo that she find medicine to cure her poison and tell him to meet again in 16 years. Now Selena did the same thing, tell Kevin to meet her again in 1 year. Fortunately, it turns out that Selena lost her memory or else it will be an exact copy cat from Return of Condor Heroes love story.
    TVB getting suck lately. No pretty face, too rush storyline. TVB now is not as good as the 80’s and the 90’s. Also the actress here are no way in compared to the actress back then.

  9. Not gonna lie I only finished this drama solely for Selena XD

  10. You’re back SDS! 😀

    I’ll probably only finish this because Selena looks so gorgeous <3

  11. Agree that the storyline was poorly written. There were drastic changes in some of the main lead characters, such as Buddy and Sai Cheung. It did not make sense, especially everything bad happened so quickly after Episode 18.

    In terms of acting, I think all the artistes did a good job. I think Kevin Cheng, Raymond Wong, Nancy Wu and Power Chan did well. Even Natalie Tong showed a big improvement in this drama series.

    Agree, too, that more emphasis should be put in Thai Boxing. Buddy became King of Thai Boxing so easily, just after one or two competitions. There should be more competitions for Buddy, Tong Sap Yat, and Ting Ting to show their improvements in Thai boxing. People would get very disappointed if they wanted to see Thai Boxing in this drama series.

    I think the drama and acting were badly ruined by the abrupt and poorly written storyline. I hope the scriptwriters would adopt a better approach to have a more reasonable and smooth flow of the developments in a script.

  12. I think the reviewer should write about the acting of the artistes. Only brief comments were written on the acting of Kevin Cheng and Raymond Wong. How about the others, such as Nancy Wu, Power Chan, Selena Li, Natalie Tong, Kenny Wong, Florence Kwok and Katy Kung?

    1. Maybe…

      good, good, ok, ok, ok, excellent, ok?

    2. I tend to not write about things that I can’t really add anything insight on. Thats just me. In most tvb series the acting is acceptable for tvb standards so I’d rather not critique whats not broken. Hope you understand.

      1. SDS:

        This is only my choice in reading a review. I usually like to learn about the critique on:

        1) storyline
        2) acting
        3) overall production

        However, I enjoyed reading your review because you did not spend so much time in writing every single detail of the plots and developments of the storyline.

        I don’t think people should learn too many details before they watch a drama series. A general idea/opinion should be good enough. Otherwise, it will spoil a person’s “motivation and interest”.

  13. Whatever, I did enjoy watching the series. For me, there was enough boxing to last me a lifetime but I loved the scenes between Kevin and Lo Kut and Kevin and Selina. She gave a very credible performance and I could see that Kevin and she had that special chemistry which was touching. Lo Kut was super!

    1. But the ending with selina was cliche, reminded me of some k-drama. Why can’t they just give it the usual proper happy ending instead of some bloody amnesia or whatever? And who the hell speak like that?!

      1. Totally agree.

        Don (acted by Selena Li) 患有腦退化症 (suffering from cerebral degeneration), which should not be the same as amnesia (memory loss). If Don had 腦退化症, she should look like a sick person, but she looked very healthy and pretty at the end. She just lost her memory and did not recognize Tong Eleven. Also Don was too young to have 腦退化症. It did not make sense to have that kind of ending.

      2. Could celebral degenaration make someone wheelchair bound? Maybe that would be a better ending? For me she looked too glamarous. Like some Miss HK participant trying to act. I am sorry to say I still think Selena if more fluff as an actress than an actress with some serious acting chops.

      3. i disagree about Selena’s acting. I think she’s doing well although I wish her character can have a better script just like the rest of the series

  14. The actors that stands out the most are Nancy Wu and Kenny Wong.. The rest seems mediocre

  15. I like Nat and Nancy here. The character development of Raymond also good. just that I really don’t buy KC’s acting here, not convincing to me!
    and.. why casting Benjamin and Gregory there when you won’t give them descent scenes? I kept wondering why they speak nothing in the first 10+ episode!?

  16. The show started off well enough, but the moment they shipped Kevin’s kid off, it deteriorated into one hot mess.

    There was not a single likeable or rootable character in the end, except from perhaps Nancy. But as the reviewer expresses it, she was only peripherally relevant to the plot. Oh yeah, and Natalie Tong’s character who unfortunately suffered her untimely demise. It was refreshing to not see a woman grovel for her cheating douche husband – of course, his infidelity STILL indirectly caused her death anyway,

  17. Not that we realized Muay Thai is such a popular sport.. really ? Merely a showcase of kevin and Raymond’s Abs with a Very Predictable storyline especially the ” I forgotton you but memories still lingers” ending.

  18. i think most if not all tvb dramas are tragic and end with one main character having ammnesia, people dying etc. Like Lives of Omission where Fala Chen’s character Madam Jo fell off some ledge and died… since 1990s Detective Investigation Files, the same idea of amnesia is still being used. think Gao Jie and losing her memory 2 times in the 3 installments… losing memory is quite lame since it doesnt propel the storyline forward. just makes us fast forward those boring hospital scenes

  19. Thai boxing is an odd subject to be used as the background of a tv drama series. How many people are interested in Thai boxing and can related to Thai boxers?

    Gloves Come Off is another boring tv drama series using the same old boring formula. Every tv drama has a villain character. And the villain usually get caught and go to prison in the final episode. Can’t the producers write something different?

Comments are closed.