Review: “Master of Play” (By H)

Master of Play <心戰>
Hong Kong TVB Drama 2012

Producer: Jonathan Chik
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Number of episodes: 30

Moses Chan as “Cheung Sai Yin” 
Adam Cheng as “Kan Siu Nam”
Maggie Shiu as “Esther”
Kenny Wong as “Eric”
Aimee Chan as “Cheung Sai Ting”
Rachel Kan as “Michelle”
Rebecca Chan as “Mok Lai Hing”


Let’s just say, first of all, that the all the killings and violence were part of what made this drama unique. I really wouldn’t want to just sit there just watching Adam Cheng talk on an on about philosophy and how humans think and act for 30 episodes. Trust me, 1 episode is already enough. In addition, I think the sand paintings at the end of the drama were very creative and I liked how some of them acted as a “preview” to what was going to happen in the next episode.

Enough of all the praises I’m giving. Time to critique!!!


Plot Summary:

Esther (Maggie) had her arm cut off a few years ago by a mentally unstable man. She was depressed but good thing Ivan (Moses), a magician who was performing at the hospital, encouraged her. Thus, this was the start of a budding relationship.
On the other hand, Kan Siu Nam (Adam), a stage actor, is still searching for his daughter who was kidnapped 20 years ago. He and his wife (Rebecca) separated shortly after the kidnapping because they had different points of views. Natalie (Aimee) is Moses sister and she has mental issues but there is no reason why.
Suddenly, Ivan kills someone and five people appear (in his mind) and his old self starts to appear. This sets off a chain of events that last for 30 episodes.
I remember quite well the first episode. It started off great and intense, quickly luring my parents and I to continue watching. The man who cut off Esther’s arm was portrayed well and was very realistic. After episodes 1 to 5, I completely forgot what happened until Jerry’s death in episode 15. You know why? Well, it had great pacing in the first few episodes but suddenly, it became really boring and “deep”. Kan Siu Nam just kept talking and talking and sometimes the things he said didn’t even make much sense. Even the entire When Heaven Burns was not as boring as episodes 5 to 15. I’m not crazy but I think when more people started dying, I was more interested in why and how they got killed rather than the hidden meaning the scriptwriter was trying to convey.
On the other hand, something that was very enjoyable to watch was the 5 “personalities” of Ivan. It was so entertaining to see him portray his 4 different sides (one was his conscience). He could change from a normal person to evil, to lustful, to violent and then to cunning.
The plot wasn’t bad; it’s just that it was too draggy and boring for Hong Kong viewers who like things fast and don’t like guessing very much. If the drama was shortened by 5 to 10 episodes, it would capture a larger audience. It was also very confusing as the drama often shifted from reality to imagination. One second you think something happened, but in the end it was actually just a figment of imagination. This was extremely clever but sometimes difficult to comprehend. Therefore, there were many complaints on how it was “difficult to understand.”
Now onto the cast. The actors were great. Even Aimee Chan did well; however, her character was at times very illogical. Moses looked cool and passed off well as his character (he must have practiced his magic tricks a lot). Maggie was terrific and her character was well-written, surprising me and probably most of the viewers. Adam, a veteran actor, obviously acted well but as I’ve been saying in this review, he talked too much. Overall, acting was a thumbs-up.
The drama wouldn’t even be half as “scary” if it wasn’t shot under little to no light and if there wasn’t any background music. It’s good that Jonathan Chik’s dramas aren’t rushed in post-production because it is these seemingly little things, that make a drama successful. Imagine a murder scene with circus music in the background. Not very intriguing right?
Between recent dramas of the same genre, I prefer When Heaven Burns because it was controversial, yet more meaningful than Master of Play. Both were nicely executed but it felt as if Master of Play was a second When Heaven Burns, with more violence, more talking and an entire cast of mentally unstable murderers. Both dramas are definitely worth watching but if you’re super excited to see lots of action and adventure, you’ll be disappointed.
Just one last thing before I conclude this review. Please no more Moses and Aimee collaborations.
This review is written by H, a Contributing Writer at

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  1. This is the first drama that I have no clue or whatsoever even after watching a few episodes. But then, I skipped a lot of the talking part and skipped Aimee talking to the tree scene.

    The only thing I looked forward too was Kenny Wong’s character but then after skipping all other scene, the whole drama made me really confused.

    I never felt so stress watching a drama before. With Master Of Play, I kept trying to figure what is the hidden meaning of this scene, what is he trying to convey?

    Yeah. and the murdering part was the most ezciting.

    So I feel like I better stop watching before I turned into a mentally unstable person like the characters. LOL!

    1. Which is why you shouldn’t skip. You can doze off, fast forward, but no skipping.

  2. The reason why Honkers hated this series cause you had to use your brain to figure out this series, it’s not like Tiger Clubs where you just sit back and relax and the storyline will unfold before your eyes.

  3. I had no problems with pacing, dialogue, or imagery. It was the mood. I was depressed after almost every single episode until I could not watch after ep 19 without “rinsing” out my brain with crappy but happy stupid comedy. Unfortunately the “comedy” co-airing at the time was Wish and Switch and L’Escargot….

  4. The concept and the contents I can understand well even I am not Chinese (Cantonese) speaker. However, the drama tries to convey things too “deep” but in fact meaningless.

    The fact that Adam turns into a person with multiple personalities like Moses is so f**k up.

  5. I have to say I loved Master Of Play – definitely one of TVB’s best drama’s this year. And… the moment when it was revealed that Esther was the killer was such a brilliant twist!

  6. I think this drama series gave its audience very depressed feelings. I was very down, too, when I watched those few episodes. The flow was very slow and the scenes were very dark. I almost fell asleep towards the end of an episode.

  7. It was enjoyable watching MOP.. the sand painting was great and the actors were good narrators, that helps me to think of its meaning.. I like that it was creative and can challenge the audience

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