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.
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”.
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!
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.
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 JayneStars.com.