Lives of Omission – <潛行狙擊>
Producer: Chong Wai Kin
Genre: Crime Thriller
Number of episodes: 30
Who’s In It?
Cast in no particular order:
Michael Tse as “Leung Siu Tong” or “Laughing Sir” or “Laughing Gor” or just “Laughing”
Bosco Wong as “Michael So” or “Cripple Co”
Fala Chen as “Jodie Chau” or “Madam Jo”
Kate Tsui as “Paris Yiu”
Damian Lau as “Harry Kung”
Cheung Kwok Keung as “Mok Yat Lit” or “Lit Gor”
Elena Kong as “Yuen Kwan Lam”
Ben Wong as “Tang Kwok Ban” or “Spicy Ginger”
MC Jin as “Yeung Lap Ching”
Derek Kok as “Szeto Hoi”
Mandy Wong as “Vicky Mung”
What’s It About?
Expert undercover officer Laughing Gor/Sir is back from his last mission (or grave, according to the original ending in E.U.) and he’s now placed in the Criminal Intelligence Bureau (CIB) to train novice officers in how to be good undercover police officers with the help of Madam Jo (Jodie). Apart from his normal job, Laughing also meets Cripple Co (Bosco Wong), a low-level gangster with a limp, and the two begin a cooperative relationship with very conflicting goals: Laughing wants to rid the triad named “Yee Fung”; Co wants to become top dog of Yee Fung. A battle of the wits ensues!
Review Begins Here
Now if you have watched (and finished) the series already, you will have realised my emphatic statement regarding “a battle of wits” is not only misleading, but virtually outright incorrect. I could have replaced it with “an action-packed thrill ride” but that would just be throwing a pie in your face and I’ll explain why later. First, I’d like to clarify that I have a personal bias towards dramas about cops and triads, and despite the fact the whole “undercover” concept being excessively overused, I’d still buy it. Problem: what appeared at the start to be a potential shift in tone from the formulaic rehashes of the undercover cop genre, soon revealed itself to be little less than just that formula with two exceptions plus a few gaping plot holes.
My first complaint is an obvious one. Where is the action? Alright, I know cops don’t have action-packed days every day, nor do they create complex schemes to outsmart their superiors, but they don’t fold origami and leave it everywhere, or keep having boardroom conversations. The action sequences are limited. So limited that it has become extremely difficult to believe this is a series about triads. Triads also don’t gather in meetings this often. It is not sensible for kingpins to be located in one space so often for one million reasons. Nor are, and this one is a guess, so many triad seniors compared to junior leaders. Yee Fung really lacks some youth on its board. They should have convened a special meeting to select some new directors…
Much of the series becomes a coming together of words. It gradually shifts from being an acts-driven drama to a talk-driven drama. In detective style dramas this may be appropriate. But for a triad style police drama, all this talk is superfluous. Then there’s Laughing, who’s a character with a shady personality. He is the highlight in all of this, as every time he is on screen, you’re just dying to find out what he is going to do next. This also changes gradually. You find your sensation of “dying to find out” shifting to “waiting to find out” because as the drama progresses, you will have realised that Laughing isn’t really such a complex border-treading wild-horse as we were led to believe in the first five episodes. In fact, he is really quite a good respectable cop, until the end of course.
Laughing At The Plot Devices
What is with all the illogical plot devices? The first one is obvious, and although strictly speaking it is a spoiler, it isn’t going to spoil much if you were slightly aware of Laughing’s back story, or watched episode one, as you will have realised his penchant for going undercover. Of course, the series wasn’t going to break the fourth wall and have characters acknowledge this. In fact most of Yee Fung acknowledge this in a half-ass manner and generally accepted that Laughing is so “useful” to overlook his roots. Hong Kong triads must be suffering from brain drain to overlook this punch in the face. One and a half punches to be exact, but that’s another spoiler for later.
The second plot device is Co and Laughing’s movement up the ranks of Yee Fung, when Laughing joins. It all sort of happens in the amorphous unknown. Sure Laughing and Co get together and “take out” some supposed triad mid-tier leader to gain control of some turf that is supposedly extremely valuable. So valuable is said turf that no other triads want to take it off some half-ass mid-tier leader who doubles as a police-informant (illogicity #61?). Has Laughing actually committed any other crimes? Shouldn’t he chop a few goons to prove his loyalty? And why does Lit Gor have no right-hand man? Why doesn’t he have an entourage? Why doesn’t any of the triad members have an entourage? Is the economy that bad to hire some good muscle?
A final plot device I will mention is Paris. Is Paris a plot device? Not really. So am I deluded? To be honest, anyone who finds the character of Paris to be anything other than wasting screen time for bigger things is deluded. Paris serves no purpose than flushing out Co’s back story and provide a love interest. Both things could have been better achieved if her character was written into the actual plot, rather than as a side character who has zero interaction with anyone else other than Co. This is a narrative fault. You either write parallel plots or write a main plot that branches into side plots. Paris fits into neither category. She is the creation of writers’ fatigue: too tired to interweave characters, events and relationships.
Direction Is Key
The problem with the series is poor direction. Poor direction because many parts showing good potential for development to upgrade this whole undercover shenanigan to a new level is begun but not followed through. For instance, the consequences of betraying people while undercover and then have the betrayed person come to terms with it many years later and forgive the cop. That is a very intimate story I would have liked being fleshed out. Another plot that would have enlivened matters is showing a stronger brotherhood between Laughing and Co, going through life and death together, resulting in Laughing’s wavering loyalty to his duty. Instead, Laughing and Co are ambivalent towards each other most the way, and because neither ends up showing much wit at the end of the day, the rivalry is more contrived, contrived by Lit Gor and the scriptwriter, than convincing logical build up. However, the most disappointing let down has to be the underused triple-crosser portrayed by Ben Wong. His character was a genuine surprise, and his being as a confounding factor disrupting both sides was a welcome development. But nothing is pushed further. Neither is his motivation for straddling his loyalties. Instead, his character is reduced to an annoying spoilt brat who just messes about without a defined plan.
Performances Are Key!
What of the characters then? Tse’s Laughing is understandably the highlight and he deserves most of that luminescence because his screen charisma is second to none and only upstaged by Tse’s constant hands-on-hips posing. It looks kind of silly for Laughing Sir to keep posing, but it looks cool for Laughing Gor. This is truly one of those split personality issues. I find Tse’s injection of attitude truly noteworthy as he outshines, partly by exaggerative gestures, everyone else. What is important is that in a cop and triad drama, some attitude is necessary. No one else has any attitude. Most of the other gangsters are cardboard cut outs, except for Ben Wong.
What about Bosco? His hyped performance was truly undermined by the script. There was no other performance in the series that showed more potential than Bosco, yet he was confined by the script as his character never received any defining treatment. Even Paris had her upheavals and chaos. Bosco got nothing. He was supposed to be a cunning, suave and tactful mobster. The white-collar gangster. Instead his character ended up limping around, talking here, talking there, smiling in a few shots and being angry with Paris. Who killed So Sing Pak you ask? The writers killed him.
Then there’s Fala Chen, who is fine in her role, but because she is never given any substantial role it would be unfair to say she was just “bland.” Safe to say she could have provided a bit more strength into her role. She has the bossy-classy tone. But she misses the mark when required to be tough and determined. However, co-female lead Kate Tsui faired worse. While her expressions are there, she is unable to channel a distinct personality. She goes from manipulative, to resourceful, to cool, to loving, to lovelorn. She shows each of those emotions in ways she knows how to show them but she forgets she is playing a “character” with an actual personality. People have different ways of expressing emotions. A person who is externally cool will not pout and show the puppy dog tears of being cheated in love. Of course, nothing is definitive, but Kate has failed to convince me that her character is such a varied person. My guess is she would play a great schizophrenic though.
The series staple is undoubtedly Damian Lau, who proves he can play any role you throw at him. A darker character would have suited the story better, but whatever the case, Damian did his job here. The supporting actors were acceptable, two notable performances was MC Jin, who plays righteous triad and juvenile cop fittingly. The other deserved mention is Derek Kwok but for different reasons. His character was rather ingenuous, but he seemed too detached most the time to convey any memorable weight. I suspect it was a scripting issue for Derek as his not known to give poor boring performances. Mandy Wong also suffers from poor scripting and once again is able to make much work of the small unimpressive role.
Before I end this, I’d like to point out two very odd developments in the series. One is that smoking is actually shown. Wasn’t that banned? And two, there is indeed some “rough” language. I suppose both were required to give the triad theme some credibility, but TVB doesn’t have me on this one. There are too many poor plot devices to convince me Yee Fung is a real triad. Lit Gor is a big one, being one of the most uninspired triad leaders I’ve seen in fiction to date. He is neither scary nor sauve nor cunning. He is nothing. Worst of all, where’s his entourage?! A very special note is the fact that there are actually five total “undercover” personnel operating in this series. Isn’t that a little too many? And what about that anticlimax ending? It makes the whole series just that much better by leaving us feeling incomplete and swindled (because some twerp decided to make a movie…)!
I found it quite difficult to assess how much I liked this series, as opposed to how much I was let down by it. Sure it was interesting in some parts, but in many other parts it was too derivative, too illogical, too annoying (Paris and Yuen Kwan Lam). The presence of so many double-crossers should have provided a new dynamic to the genre. This would have required a much more innovative and interwoven narrative, but the scriptwriters failed to deliver. The final product ended up being a crowded mess – a reservation for two people, but instead, five people show up and no one gets to eat.
A few genuine plot twists cannot lift what is really more of the same thing. Nothing here has taken it beyond E.U., its closest predecessor. Laughing was really the soul of the series, but even he was too underused to convince me this was really something great.
This review was written by SDS, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com.
Obligatory disclaimer: in writing this review, I encountered numerous obstacles, including general fatigue, lapses of concentration, corrupted computer files, and a feeling that a pair of eyes were constantly watching me; hence the late entry. On the upside, this should slightly prevent the problem of giving away too many spoilers, right?