Review: “L’Escargot” (By Funn)
L’Escargot <缺宅男女 >
TVB Drama 2012
Producer: Nelson Cheung
Genre: Modern Drama
Number of episodes: 30
Michael Miu – Kwan Ka Onn
Sonija Kwok – Sze Long Kiu
Linda Chung – Kwan Ka Lok
Ron Ng – Ting Koon Fung
Michael Tse – Jim Ko Wang Jim
Joyce Tang – Lee Man Wah
Oscar Leung – Kwan Ka Hong
Mandy Wong – Lau Siu Lan
Him Law – Kwan Ka Wing
Yoyo Chen – Book King
Leung Hoi Ching – Kwan Cho Kwai
Lam Chi Nok – Kwan Hau Lam
JJ Jia – Ko Chi Yiu (Joyce)
Jason Pai – Ting Hoi
Mannor Chan – Wong Lai Sim
James Wong – Ting Koon Kwan
Tina Shek – Ting Koon Fong
Joe Junior – Sze Yat Man
Pat Yan – Chung Pui Yiu
Geoffrey Wong – Yeung Chung Wai
Lo Mang – Yu Ying Chun
Hoffman Cheng – Pao For Sun
Felix Lok – Mr. Cheuk
Angelina Lo – Cheung Mei Ling
“Now matter how bad the character is, she (Linda Chung) has ways to make the viewers sympathize her. However illogical or insanely unreasonable, there is some part of her performance that you will like and feel a tinge of pity for her.”
The Title Deciphered
In the very last scene of the very last episode, the reason why L’Escargot, or “snail” in French is used as a title. They all saw a snail on the window panel and remarked “See that snail? He has to carry his house everywhere he goes” or something like that. Basically this is a series about houses and how small is it. Not really. It is a family drama which nowadays that’s what TVB’s been doing repeatedly and it centers on real life situations where houses are tiny. And even then I feel some measurements are not right!
The Chinese title if I am not mistaken basically and literally means “People without homes” or I suppose a nicer way to put it is Without A Home.
Sung by Ron and Linda, all I can say is … don’t remind me of the themesong!
In fact, the full story can be found in the same Wikipedia page in the cast-character list. The story is somewhat accurate except for some mistakes as to the relationship between Ka Lok and Jim. Quite frankly she never loved him and he was becoming a nuisance to her. Other than that, it looks like a good summary. So be forewarned; it has spoilers. I will not summarize the story in here but will touch a little on it in my comments.
Since I like Linda Chung, I decided to give this series a try. It turns out to be one of the best series of the year quite simply because it has some of the best character driven stories. At its heart, it is a family drama. Which TVB series isn’t that since time immemorial? However, it is not about struggles to control some financial empire even if towards the end there is a short squabble over the ownership of a tiny flat. The main crux is families and their ideals, each driven by their individual needs, wants, desires and expectations. And in the center, to make this series sort of different from other family dramas, all these needs, wants, desires and expectations are centered on house ownership. For Asians, Chinese that is, land is very important. To own one’s own house is an ideal of every working class family. None more illuminated than in this series where you have 8 or 9 people in a probably 700 or 800 square feet apartment. If you have problems with space, you will probably wince at the size of the apartments in this series. But I love the authenticity of it; I am simply tired of watching super huge 3 apartments combined into 1 sort of mega complex for an apartment in most series, especially when we have cops owning such luxury and space in Hong Kong is a luxury. It does remind me a bit of Burning Flame and the small apartment Wong Hei’s character lived with his mom, but that is much much smaller and only 2 people in it. In this series, with just 1 bathroom, 3 bedrooms and one tiny living room, how do 9 or so people live in it? I suppose with some military style sort of timing when it comes to using the bathroom. Which is why at the very beginning, I must applaud TVB and the set designers for piling up the small space with boxes, cupboards, etc. The set is very real, very believable. The Kwan family house is just one small warehouse of many, many stuff. It is quite funny to see how the actors deal with the space as well. Most just walked over boxes, some jumped, some take a short way around. And it is also a marvel to see how the camera man moves the camera in such tiny space, so most of the time, the camera is pretty much sitting still when in Ka Onn’s room or when showing the living room, it is outside the windows, moving left to right and right to left. In such limited space, I see some very imaginative way of filming and the actors had to be very, very close to the camera as well. No doubt, it looked and felt claustrophobic. This is one aspect of this series which I find excellent.
And then you contrast this with the beach mansion with sea view by Jim. I am for once glad a different location is used to film a rich mansion rather than that usual one where you see the darn swimming pool first. The view is spectacular and that is such a wide difference between the haves and have nots. The entire Sze apartment can fit into the living room, with room to spare! And of course the even wider space in those villages that is far away from town, wholly inconvenient but so much space that Onn basically built himself a small bungalow there.
Space as this series illustrates can be as small and narrow as the Sze family home or as wide and spacious as the Jim family home. But this series shows quite clearly that whatever the size of the family home, as long as a family sticks together, it doesn’t matter.
And in its very heart, that is the basis of this story. Familial ties.
Jim is rich and lives in luxury and could afford to give his wife such luxury, but in the end she laments what she really wanted was his love. Those huge spaces do not matter, even when they were much poorer, they were much happier. The same could be seen with Jim and Joyce’s relationship; he took care of his sister, loved her very much but once there was wealth and whole lot of other issues, their relationship soured when she realized her brother became very unreasonable and controlling whilst Jim realized his sister actually has a mind of her own, however naive or sometimes totally dumb in my humble opinion.
Contrast that with Ka Onn and his wife, Long Kiu. Ka Onn is a very principled man and in his own way as controlling as well, except in a good way. His family is first, and that means his mom, his brothers, his sister. His wife and child are second. But his wife was happy to suffer with him because what binds them was love and trust. When Onn believed his wife betrayed that trust, suddenly Kiu realized all these years she had been too lenient in her expectations. She was basically fed up with her husband’s attitude and decided to leave him. But in her heart she knew she fell for him because of this very same attitude, except he never changed whilst her perspective changed. I can’t remember specifically which episode or when but one scene Kiu scolded Onn and said, “I am always the last person in your priority!” I find that rather … wrong. Because the last person on Onn’s list priority is himself. He gave in to his family all the time, towards the end he gave in to his wife and child but the person he never quite considered himself until the pivotal scene where all family problems came flooding in, and that was when he simply said NO to his brother Hong and Siu Lan’s demands for ownership of the family home. He put his foot down and said no way. Of course he has every right to say no. He paid for the house and those 2 leeches only paid if I remembered corrected HKD $80,000-00 or something which is a tiny portion. On top of that, he paid for the bills, allowances, etc. Basically he paid for almost everything. That was a great scene when Onn realizes tough love is the best love for his useless brother and his even more useless wife. And that was when it became rather funny in terms of Kiu’s reaction. She earlier complained he never prioritize her, and yet when he did, so that he and his wife and child can move back into a house they can call home, she became rather negative in the way he was handling things. She felt this wasn’t the real Onn, that he has changed. I was simply thinking isn’t this what she wanted? The point is in all her rush to get a home of their own, in the end she realizes that she simply wanted her husband. Wherever and whatever the house, it is just a house.
I suppose you can say this series excels in the contrast between these 2 families and the way the man of the house handles the situation. Both are equally as harsh in their expectations of their siblings, except one is so because of love and the other because of his own selfishness. I really like the story of these 2 men; Jim and Onn. Whilst it is frustrating to watch Onn being so principled all the time, always to the detriment of his wife, child and himself, you can understand why he acted the way he did. He was the much older big brother, he took care of his much younger siblings. Father died young, mother had to work, probably he too had to stop studying and find work to support the family. This is the situation which most Asian families can identify with and believe it or not, I do think Asian familial ties are stronger, especially when there is a much older sibling with a dead parent. The way Onn went about his business, he reminds me of something very realistic. Let’s not make the mental calculations as to how much he paid out and how much he could reasonably afford. I wonder how he can bear so much sums and still find money to buy food. But the point is he is a very responsible man, sometimes so responsible to the detriment of his own siblings. He has to learned to say no and when he did, to me that was the best moment in this series. His relationship with his wife is simple; he makes the decisions and she happily or grudgingly follows, but the point is she follows in the end, however she feels on the subject matter. Until she decided she didn’t want to follow anymore when she became frustrated by his attitude.
In a way Jim is of similar background. He was poor when he was younger, he took care of his sister who is much younger, he made his fortune in real estate thanks in part to his wife’s connection and his wife was a famous actress who knows who to and how to socialize. She probably introduced him to his earlier investors, one of whom probably was her sugar daddy. And so together they forged an empire so to speak. I do feel there is mutual love, trust and respect. Jim often flirts and he has affairs, but to Man Wah she can accept those since those are just physical, until Ka Lok came along and for Jim it was to him love. That Man Wah couldn’t accept. One thing for your man to go off running around with women and another to have a kept mistress whom she spends nights with. She can share her husband physically, if she had to but she can’t share his heart.
It must be said I really enjoyed the scenes when Jim realised Ka Lok was very important to him. He is much older, more refined, more successful and for me, Ka Lok being someone young and inexperienced and who wanted to experience the world would naturally fall for Jim. This series shows a different aspect; she respected him, she trusted him, but she never loved him. Everything she did with him, including the act of sleeping with him flows from the fact of Jim’s generosity and she felt obliged to repay him and subsequently when she had her heart broken and she needed a floating device. Jim was her floating device, her defense mechanism against the broken heart and yes, she made a whole lot of mess of her life. But back to Jim and those wonderful scenes of perhaps going through the motions of first love. My feeling is Jim never had that moment before Ka Lok. He was probably busy taking care of his family and then taking of his business, his wife was convenient whom he loved but not someone he was so in love with that he couldn’t think or do anything else. It felt like a giddy sort of love. He suddenly wanted to please her, he wanted to possess her, he wanted to help her in any way he could and he started to look at himself in the mirror, noticing that hair that was out of place or that tie that wasn’t properly tied. It is realistic portrayal of a man who had his senses and his heart reawakened or awakened, depending on how you see it. One of my most favourite scene is when Ka Lok hurt her finger whilst sewing for him, he was full of concern but what confirmed his intentions with Ka Lok was his subsequent gesture; an act so simple and yet explained everything of how he felt. He took her finger and sucked, a very gentle gesture actually, if it was between 2 lovers, the thing here is they aren’t. There is no doubt how Jim felt about her. Even till the end, when he realised his unreasonable behaviour has caused a lot of hurt to the people who actually does matter, such as his sister, his aunt, his wife and he vowed to make things right, there was a tinge of regret that he could never spend the rest of his life with Ka Lok. It is as if he had given up his one true love for the love that was built on years of mutual help and respect. It is not a bad bargain actually, but I suppose everyone wants that one true love so powerful that nothing else matters. For Jim, it would be practical and the right thing to do if he returned to his wife. It is not gratefulness per se, love can be in many forms and many levels of intensity but the feeling is Ka Lok was the one he truly loved unconditionally. Now that would be rather sad if Ka Lok felt the same way.
Ka Lok is one very confusing character; maybe it was the way she was written. There was definitely attraction between her and Jim. She liked him, she looked up to him and she blushed hard when he sucked his finger and she had to convince herself she didn’t feel anything for Jim. She loved her childhood love, her first love probably and that is Dai Ding. But she was led astray for just a little while and then she became convinced Dai Ding is the man for her. And then when she found out Jim did so much for her, and mind you he NEVER asked her to do anything for him at all, she felt obliged. And here it became confusing. I didn’t feel she felt obliged at all. When Jim failed to return from a business trip with news of plane crash, Ka Lok was genuinely concerned; she cried and when she saw him she hugged him and they ended up kissing and having sex. Fine. That I get. So I thought she might have channeled her feelings to him from Dai Ding. And then she went to some spa and bathed and cried so hard, I thought I was watching an aftermath of a rape. She felt dirty, she scrubbed herself, she cried. Her entire behavior was wholly inconsistent with what was a rather romantic scene before. Later she explained she felt obliged to sleep with Jim. BUT Jim never asked her to exchange his favors for sex! He would never have asked her to do that anyway; that would tantamount to treating his goddess as a prostitute. He looked very highly on Ka Lok but it would seem Ka Lok didn’t look too highly on him; she felt her body was part of some bargain. She avoided him, she then got dumped by Dai Ding, then she got drunk and this time she voluntarily again slept with him. And yet.. YET she behaved as if she was forced. In real life I would say she was using Jim for comfort sex. Because every time she was upset, she slept with him. Her behavior was confusing as hell and in one of the best scene in this series, Man Wah confronted her and told her to name her price to leave her husband and tearfully Ka Lok said “I am not in this for money. I am not in this for my career. It is not that I don’t want to leave him, it is that he doesn’t want to stop harassing me”. WHAT?! Man Wah was right to slap her and said coldly “You don’t even know what you’re doing. You just stumbled into this relationship and break up a perfectly good marriage, and you don’t even know why you’re doing it!!”. TRUE! I was like WHAT? What sort of nonsensical reason is this? Fine, Jim was like a love sick puppy, he follows her around, he goes after her but he was never THAT aggressive. In fact he helped her, he pulled back, he never told her he helped her, it was she who goes running to Jim every time! I feel if Man Wah is a victim in here, so was Jim because Ka Lok made a mess of her own life and in the process made a mess on everyone else’s life.
And that comes back to Dai Ding. He is a good guy, a character with character, forceful at times but he is not unreasonable. He is that sort of guy you want to marry. He works hard, he works carefully, he has plans, he looks into the future when it comes to marriage. He adores Ka Lok and yet let her does her thing. And she basically screwed up this relationship by being so darn confused. Dai Ding was right to be unforgiving but what he did next was… uncharacteristic of someone so mature. He has daddy issues, he has major issues with his dad having an affair and having a mistress and an illegitimate child. The major issue he has, deep within him is one of trust. He is that sort that if he doesn’t trust you anymore, it turns to hate, the same way he treated his dad as with Ka Lok. He wanted to prove to Ka Lok that he can be rich, because he thought Ka Lok rather become Jim’s mistress for money. Truth is Ka Lok didn’t even know why she is Jim’s mistress. In the process he used Joyce, Jim’s naive but in the end stronger sister. Joyce knew he was using her, but frankly the using part is only towards money and business. I was thinking Dai Ding will go into Jim’s business and destroy it or something, but in the end it was more realistic; he wanted to earn a huge income from the man who stole his girl. It does make sense if you think about it. But in the end he fell for Joyce, because she was unequivocally supportive of him. Much like Man Wah was toward Jim or Long Kiu towards Onn. Except hers come without conditions. Man Wah’s support is only as far as Jim’s heart is hers. Long Kiu’s support is only as far as her patience allows her to be. Joyce’s support is unconditional. She knew he loved Ka Lok deeply, after all first love and all. I was thinking is this series going to show Joyce as someone who uses deceptive manners to hold onto Dai Ding? She didn’t, thankfully because that would be so cliché. She was simply waiting and in the end it was Ka Lok who in part made the decision to leave for studies and so left Dai Ding with Joyce whilst Dai Ding himself realises his relationship with Ka Lok is truly over. He has to start a new chapter, but not with Ka Lok but with someone else, someone like Joyce. How far will it go it doesn’t matter. Point is they moved on. It was as if when they were in love and in a relationship it was like some teenaged love but when they parted they became adults and for Dai Ding, Joyce was the adult part of him, whilst Ka Lok will forever remain his first true love. I love this ending because it is practical and realistic. In a way it is a happy ending for all concerned. Ka Lok can’t remain with Dai Ding and vice versa simply because during their battle against one another, Dai Ding who held onto Joyce and Ka Lok to Jim, too many hurtful words were said, too many insults flung at the other. However much love there is, when so many hurt was done to one another, how can these 2 get back together? This is one of those bittersweet endings that I feel is perfect for what the characters went through.
For Onn and Long Kiu, the solution seems too cliché. When Long Kiu was frustrated with how Onn was handling their familial matters, she decided to leave him. And then she began to rely on her friend, the bank manager. I felt that part was absolutely wrong because she has yet to divorce her husband, and there she was, seemingly in a friendly relationship with a guy who has often confessed he liked her very much. I felt she was playing a dangerous game and Onn was in his own way right to question her feelings and their trust issue. But all that didn’t matter when conveniently Onn has some eye problem, on the verge of going blind, and naturally Long Kiu went back him. And of course the miraculous way his eyes healed would be one of the reason why this series isn’t amazing 100%. It was just a convenient plot to bring 2 characters back together again, more so when the third party isn’t really a real third party. But these whole drama thing shows the transformation of Onn in his always giving in attitude to his siblings. For once he stood up, slammed his foot down and said no. But in the end he still relented until his useless brother and even more useless wife realised they have pushed his buttons too far and they were the one relented.
Indeed, useless brother and even more useless wife. The leeches in the family, don’t we all have a pair in all our family relationships? They misused the love their family have for them and turned everything into some sort of a bargain. The useless brother, Hong knew he was wrong most of the time, he does chastised his wife but in the end he did nothing. His wife, Lan knew how much this older brother has done for them and yet she continued to behave the way she did. It was infuriating to watch; one part entertainment but the other part was how repetitive it was. But in the final showdown, they argued like they were right, like they were victimised. That was a particularly good scene because it was so realistic. The dialogue was well written and I feel the scene was well acted as well. There was however no one way to end this conflict except suddenly one bright day the useless brother and his even more useless wife decided to stop bickering over the property. Because right up until that last moment, they were still bickering. And next they were out of town with the rest helping Onn to build that small bungalow and then next they agreed to move to that small bungalow so that Onn and Kiu can move into the family apartment which was more convenient. In the middle of all these, there was nothing to show that sudden change. Mainly because it was not some sudden change; they knew all along how well they’re treated, they just abused that love.
Then there’s Wing and Book King. Honestly, this is one relationship I enjoyed the most in this series. A pity it was developed too late, too little and too fast. Book King is a really nice girl and Wing is that sort that needs such a good wife. She is not like Lan who is greedy and selfish and yet she is not like Kiu who follows her husband blindly. She has plans; she invests, she saves for their first apartment. Seriously, I really like Book King. Problem with this story is as I said, everything was just too little too late. And I do feel this series is overcrowded with siblings already, so for me Wing was a sibling too many. In fact Wing can be written out because basically, whilst he is the good boy who loves his family and all, he really doesn’t do much in terms of plot and story line. His story can be independent from the rest and yet his story is just making the other already crowded story into very very crowded story. Much like how 9 of them had to squeezed into the tiny apartment, Wing and Book King’s story is in Chinese word “Dor yu” (waste of time). But I do like them.
A majority of this series is centered on Onn and Ka Lok, but imagine in it you also have Wing, Long Kiu, children fighting, Man Wah, Joyce, Dai Ding, Dai Ding’s family, Kiu’s family, co workers, dangerous buildings, fire and the central issue that in the end disappeared for awhile before resurfacing towards the end, the time and energy spent towards buying that first property. Earlier scenes you have a lot of references to how expensive the property market is, etc which is what this series is based on, more so in Hong Kong where the property market is expensive. But sometime later when the drama kicks in, this seems to disappear. Which is usual as with all TVB series. Frankly I think by midway I was bored with all those “I want to buy a house”, “The house is so expensive”, “Why can’t we ever afford a house”… that sort of talk. But the drama itself is also in a way punishing because every episode you will see Onn getting swindled in a way by his useless brother, or Ka Lok’s insane indecision or Dai Ding’s anger, that sort. From a moderate drama it became heavy drama until the end. I am not saying that is a bad thing but after a while it became very difficult to watch. You feel like is that how it is going to be until the end? But sometimes in the middle yet get a bit of relief, like the story of Wing and Book King which I did say was a waste of time but it does deflect from the whole serious stuff and also some fine acting that made you review your evaluation of some actors.
If you ask me for one real criticism apart from the utterly confused state of one character for no good reason and another character hinting as if he is going to do something major but in the end, did nothing of those sort is that this series lacks a villain. No one is a villain in here and I would if there is such a thing as situation comedy, then this is a situation drama. Place the characters in certain situation and you will get the reaction as shown in this series. In the end we can basically just give a one sentence description of each character which won’t be off the mark; an angry ex boyfriend (Dai Ding), a confused girl (Ka Lok), an over generous big brother (Onn), a fed up wife (Kiu), a selfish sister in law (Lan), a cowardly younger brother (Hong), a love sick rich man (Jim), a jealous and determined wife (Man Wah), etc etc. Not necessarily a bad thing but it just shows the story and the characters aren’t complicated. This is in fact a rather simple story, in my opinion that tends to be overly dramatic when it shouldn’t be. No TVB series today is perfect; there is always flaw and if you can stomach such minor flaws, then this series by itself is an entertaining story to watch.
What makes it better than most recent production is some unexpectedly good performances even if there is still those poor performances from a few expected faces.
I am one of those who have had it with the continued resurrection of Laughing Gor, so when I saw Michael Tse I was groaning. Oh no, not another chok look performance. Michael Tse surprised me big time. He was very convincing as the very attractive and rich Jim. I mean he is believable as that sort. And he is also believable as that sort of runs around like a puppy dog following his goddess. And he displayed some fire later on when Joyce as Man Wah decided to give him an ultimatum. It has been a long time I feel Michael Tse can act. In this series I began to review my opinion of him. That one single scene when Linda’s Ka Lok agreed to go to I think dinner with him, he rushed into the toilet and was looking at himself in the mirror when he realised he was paying very particular attention on how he looked, like he wanted so much to look for her. There was like a twinkling in his eyes. And yet when she later didn’t want to go anymore, there was major disappointment. No dialogue, just his eyes, his much botoxed looks and it was a magnificent moment. That’s the Michael Tse I want to see; not Laughing Gor. To death with Laughing Gor, he is already being bloody typecast in it! I just never expected though to see Joyce Tang bigger sized than he is.
Linda Chung surprises me. She is leading actress, one of the top fadan and here she is sharing her scenes and limelight with so many other actors and actresses. She doesn’t prejudice herself as an actress; she takes on whatever roles she is either given or she fancied and often her roles aren’t pretty roles. Her public image is that of a nice sweet personality but interesting the types of roles she has played is always beyond that of her public image.That is to mean there is always some character flaws, they’re not perfect and in a less likeable actress, that character would be irritating. Because at some point in this series I felt annoyed, but not too much. I just didn’t understand the whole Ka Lok confusion and the whole as if she was raped moments of tears because it didn’t make sense. But viewing the performance as a whole, Linda didn’t disappoint. Yes her voice is irritating since it is so high pitched; again she cries too much in this series and often too pitifully. But considering what her character went through or as I will argue, WHAT SHE THOUGHT she went through, and being someone who started out naive and simple minded and ended up at the end as someone mature and much grown up, it is understandable. I have a respect for Linda in the way she will take on potentially ugly characters and make them sympathetic. That is why I like her. No matter how bad the character is, she has ways to make the viewers sympathize her. However illogical or insanely unreasonable, there is some part of her performance that you will like and feel a tinge of pity for her. Her Ka Lok was pitiful in the sense that she wanted to be rid of Jim who didn’t want to be rid of, she wanted to return to Dai Ding who didn’t want to, she loved her brother and yet she knew she disappointed him repeatedly, that she is innately a good person and yet the things she did inadvertently hurt so many people. Her performance encompasses all that. I am not saying this is her best, it is not one of her worst and definitely not one of the worst performance by any actress in any TVB series. It is a confusing character, sometime badly written, so much development and yet her character just give a vibe as someone utterly confused with everything and being swept away by her uncertain emotions and the uncontrollable surrounding circumstances which in truth was created by herself until she woke up and that was when she knew she and Dai Ding was no longer possible. I am sure some other actresses can play this character but can they make her sympathetic when everything she did would want you to shake her and slap her like her brother did, no less than 2 times if I remember correctly, is another matter. Also must add those kissing scenes with Michael were well done. I didn’t cringe like I always did with TVB series’ sort of kissing.
The other Michael, Michael Miu looks good for his age. He was believable as Onn and I do like his performance. In fact I will say this to me is his finest among his recent performances; however I feel he was not the perfect casting. For me, this role screams for Felix Wong. Felix Wong has the everyday man quality, like Steven Ma does. In fact, I will say Steven Ma will excel in this series except it would be weird to see him as Linda’s brother. Michael didn’t have that everyday man quality, that sort of earnestness that you will just be convinced by instead of questioning it but he did exhibited the right amount of weariness. It helps he has great chemistry with his siblings in this series. I think this role is similar to that of Steven’s A Journey Called Life. Except in that series, I feel like crying for Steven, in this one, I didn’t feel that way. I just felt he was giving in too much too often.
Sonija Kwok has improved leaps and bounds in terms of acting. She looks much older, and I suppose with that more experience in conveying her emotional look. Because when she first started acting, she was wooden, her face was wooden and her lips was weird. Now, her lips is still weird, her eyes registered emotion but the honest truth is, her improvement was from absolute worst to acceptable. She isn’t amazing. I would think Esther Kwan would fit this role though but Sonija Kwok was competent. However at some point or some interval, I was wondering is she that convincing? My answer is no. First of all, her voice is a problem. She still has that lazy intonation that didn’t sound real. Her lips is still a problem, you can’t help but look at it and then wonder what’s wrong? Whilst her eyes registered emotions, her face like Michael Tse was basically frozen, except Michael Tse made it all up with his body language. Sonija Kwok has very little body language. I just feel her performance was competent, but if look deeper, it was inadequate.
Mandy Wong is a rising star, well according to TVB. You’re as much of a rising star when TVB decides that you are. She looks like Nnadia Chan and frankly she is a far better actress than Nnadia Chan, whom I never liked as an actress. However, her performance in here is OTT as in over the top. The way she spoke her lines, the way she moved, the way she expressed herself, everything screamed too much. It doesn’t help that her character is so unlikeable, and in some ways Mandy deserves the credit for playing her character to the hilt, but yet I can’t help but feel if she toned down a bit, maybe her character wouldn’t be such a caricature. Because she felt like a caricature. Not a bad performance, but as opposed to Sonija’s under emotional performance (most of the time), Mandy’s was too much. I’d rather under emotional because at least that is wooden but still servicing the character well rather than too much which turns the character into a caricature and thus making the character into a joke.
Oscar Leung is a fine actor, unfortunately I have an issue with his lazy tones. Apart from that, his character doesn’t do much except to sulk, complain, and argue. His Hong is pretty one dimensional most of the time but I still notice him. The problem is not the actor, but the character.
Him Law is surprisingly funny and he could be cute. However, his acting is raw although he did well in those lighthearted scene. I have the chance to watch him in The Hippocratic Crush and I am not sure which was filmed first but he was the shining star in The Hippocratic Crush (in some ways shinier than Kenneth Ma), where his acting improved leaps and bounds to the territory of potentially very good.
Yoyo Chen’s character is underdeveloped and no reason why a girl like her would fall for a guy like Wing but I really like her Book King and that spunkiness in her. I noticed Yoyo for a bit now, never quite liked her but she has improved quite a lot these days. I happen to feel her husband (whose name I forgot, again!) as someone with loads of potential and now I feel Yoyo can be too. She does look perky.
JJ Jia is an anomaly. I can’t say she is terrible because her Joyce is supposed to be that way in the beginning. The way she talked, painfully slow and I am sure in real life she doesn’t talk that way. I read some posts who wrote that they think her Joyce is autistic. Hardly! She is just socially inept and painfully shy. But as her Joyce met Dai Ding and opened up a little, I felt her performance becomes more fluid. That doesn’t mean she was good though. It just means she stopped with those painfully long pauses between each lines. Not terrible like I said, but frankly isn’t there someone else for this role?
Joyce Tang is beautiful. I can still remember her look in Ghetto Justice since I spent every night recapping the series and I was so surprised to see her here, looking 100% different than in Ghetto Justice. She was graceful, elegant and very, very beautiful. Performance was fantastic too. She shares most of her scene with Michael Tse and these two have chemistry. Their kissing scenes were rather sensual and Joyce certainly did well in giving off the vibe of a mature sophisticated woman. But she has aged hasn’t she? None more so when she stood next to Linda, Linda looks like a little girl whilst Joyce…was a marvel. However, if there is any criticism I can give, it is her hair. Great hair but always one side tucked behind the year, whether she is going about anywhere or sleeping. Always that same way, that it was frustrating. Much like how the women never remove their handbags or the men their jackets. But in the end when she visited Michael in prison, I specifically remember her hair was tied back. I thought that was so refreshing after episodes of that same bloody look, I am sure even when she is swimming! Maybe the hair is of some symbolic thing.
Angelina Lo. I didn’t even know she is called Angelina. Her death scene in this series was very touching. But she died happy. Anyway I was shocked to see her with so little makeup, she looked so old! But appropriately so. No complaints about her performance at all.
From the list of characters, Sonija and Michael’s daughter was played by Lam Chi Nok. And for me, the best performance in the series. Poor girl! When she cried, I actually thought Michael or the director must have slapped her for real. She cried so real, real tears and all and very very cute girl as well. I feel there is an upgrade to child actors in TVB these days, some of them are rather memorable and like this one, made the show much more better in terms of performances. She puts to shame some of the adults in here.
Last but not least…
Ron Ng. He is cute in here in the earlier parts, especially when he was dancing imitating Rain (in here of course I think he is referred to some major Korean superstar but forgot the name). I don’t think I have ever seen Ron that playful on screen and looks like he was having a majorly good time. That being said, he is still wooden. His acting is darn predictable. He still talks with his head stuck out whenever he is doing some dramatic stuff, his face still registered one single emotion and that is of serious nonchalance like, “Do I look like I care?” whether it is for joy, pain, disappointment, betrayal, love… everything. But he fits this role of an earnest young man. I do like Dai Ding and with that I do like Ron Ng for this series. I do think he is rather good looking, and I do think he improved in his performance. But I also do think his performance was inadequate. It is 3 steps above JJ Jia but considering he is now a veteran, I will say that is not good enough. But I can’t expect much; I always felt Ron is a weak actor. I still feel he is but maybe he would do well in comedies like how Louis Koo did. Deadpan is a good comedic look.
Yes, Ka Lok should just quit her job and move away. But if she did that, no more drama to tell. Yes, Jim should move on sooner but again, if he did that, then what is the dilemma for Ka Lok? Yes, Onn should put his foot down much earlier but the point of this series is, no it isn’t about the property market and small living spaces. That is the topic so to speak but the running theme is family. Family that stays together (not literally as this series demonstrated) is a happy family. I feel this series succeeds on the family part. The dialogue is mostly wonderful and realistic, and the cast has great chemistry. Most performances were good, despite my nitpicking, the sets were fantastic and the ending was to me one of the best because it didn’t force the issues; it was a practical and reasonable ending for the characters. This is to me one of the best series of the year because it could get you emotionally involved, some times. It doesn’t leave you cold, some times. It is not the best series because it can get you emotionally cold, some times, not get you involved, some times. It is a mixed bag with this one. I like this sort of drama that actually has a story to tell, not some hypothesis, not some concept, not some pretentious garbage but rather a proper story, however OTT or crazy or insane or even confusing, it is nonetheless a story. Highly recommended for fans of any stars in this series, especially those sick with Laughing Gor can watch this and see why Michael Tse is a fine actor if he is not busy being killed and revived as Laughing. I personally watched this for Linda, though she didn’t disappoint, I grew quite tired of her Ka Lok so much so I almost didn’t want to continue to watch but I stuck with it and for better or for worse, like that of a family, this series has its ups and downs but good thing is, it is mostly ups.
I read this series copied another Mainland China series. Obviously I haven’t seen the other series but if it is true, I would hope only the good aspects were copied. I mean if you want to copy, at least make a conscientious effort to copy well.
This review was written by Funn Lim, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com. This review was originally posted at Funn’s blog.