Review: “The Other Truth” (TVB 2011)
The Other Truth <真相>
Producer: Amy Wong
Genre: Modern, Legal Drama
Who’s In It?
Cast in no particular order:
Ruco Chan as “Keith”
Raymond Wong as “Wallace”
Tavia Yeung as “Mavis”
Natalie Tong as “Cecilia P”
Louis Yuen as “James”
and other miscellaneous characters not worthy of mention (it’s a joke okay!)
What’s This About?
Lawyers, clients, victims, and perpetrators. In rounding out the cast, there’s a father-killer, a narcissistic wife, a “loving” student, a greedy shopkeeper, a lying celebrity, a fiery mother, a bunch of crooked cops, an unfortunate husband, and a self-confused semi-triad. So how do the cases pan out? Who is to be believed? What methods do lawyers resort to for the win? And is this better than that other series that aired right before it? Answers await your discovery, but they are certainly not in the rest of this review. And if you’re seeking a better synopsis, then ask yourself the following and you might be more forgiving, “What is a series about lawyers going to be about?”
Review Formally Begins Here
So how does one review a series that is largely separated into disparate stories with insignificant strands of continuity that serve only to ease audiences into the next story? Now no one wants to read 16 pages of someone else’s dogma, so I will proceed with the easy path by freely vomiting the contents of my mind. Let’s start with the themes in the series, which there appears to be two. One theme is “line treading,” and Ruco Chan provides the major force for this. The other is “inexact truths,” which like it or not, much of the series is about, or so the title wants you to believe. Now TVB has always been a culprit of being preachy and patronizing in its delivery of moralistic issues, so no surprises if you’re immediately put off. In fact, the result this time is quite solid.
Ruco Is So Cool
The series begins quite sullenly and doesn’t really pick up unless you find the thought of Louise Lee being forcibly photographed naked somewhat alluring. However, we are offered some of the most solid acting in recent TVB history. Ruco is to credit. He carries his weight with sublime subtlety. Mysterious when required. Sour when required. Hateful when required. Watch as his eyes dart about as he speaks. Or when his tone changes ever so slightly. Or how his eyebrows gently twist to tell you he’s not buying what the other guy is saying. At the start of this series, I remember seeing him doing few expressions: cocky in My Date with a Vampire III <我和殭屍有個約會III 之永恆國度>, angry in When Lanes Merge <情越雙白線>, and sly in Relic of an Emissary<洪武三十二>. I had no other expectations; no hopes; I just watched. Perhaps coming with nothing meant I’m overstating his abilities. But even his oft wooden stature seems just to make sense here. It never seems out of place. He never seems out of place.
TVB Is Still TVB
And that’s probably where the applause stops. Despite there being no drawn out romances but one confused one and another entirely unconvincing love triangle, and no plots of family treachery, TVB still manages to commit old errors. Why bring us to the edge of our seats with the “corrupt cops” saga only to throw it all to hell with “undercover cop saves the day”? That’s some pretty lazy writing. Where’s the other truth in all of this? That lawyers are no match for crooked men with firearms? Or that Felix Lok is eerily convincing as a bent cop? At this point you will realize TVB has gone back to its roots by treating the series theme, lawyers here, as mere fodder for dramatizing. If you’re going to make law enforcers look bad, then at least do it with style or flair. Don’t just repeat and rinse from the Infernal Affairs <無間道> guide.
Of course things didn’t go south from that point. It already started looking shaky when the jury storyline completed. It’s good TVB took a step outside the box and created a situation where non-lead characters managed to invigorate excitement in the audience (well me anyway). However, if you actually listened and thought a little (maybe a lot), you’ll realize every point raised in defense of the alleged rapist by juror X isn’t rocket science. There’s no sudden spark of enlightenment introduced by a new interconnection of facts and inferences. Juror X merely convinced the others to think really hard about “what if” until they too thought “ahhh what if.” As some university professor once said, “the longer you dwell on a problem, the more doubtful you become.”
Then there’s the grossly monumental error TVB makes when Leanne Li shows up. Now I’m not talking about her acting, I’m talking about her revenge. If you believe the death of your mother was caused howsoever indirectly by person Y, would you just dump a paint bomb on Y? Enough said. A pattern emerges now. It’s the pattern of an unsophisticated narrative. If Ruco’s argument over the phrase “fresh injury” at the start of the series is any indicator, it is not that this series is any more sophisticated, but that it is about to inflict a new injury on your intellect. Why? Because every case is set up with the right elements, but then eventually and always hits an anticlimax.
The truth is this drama never treads too far into the legal realm. It safely wanders back to your average criminal-drama plot that is difficult to distinguish from general TVB material. The final act states this case further. This is a plot-driven series. Events drive people. Characters are used to fulfill the story. They should not drive the story. Come the final act and TVB has gone back to basics with the contrived finale that consists of the wonderful combination we have all come to expect of TVB finales: zero suspense, zero logic and zero fulfilment. To top that off a confused Kenneth Ma shows up, transforming between “evil, hate, despair, love, and amicable” as if he was a magician and emotions were made to order. What is most disturbing here is not that Kenneth’s character shows early signs of schizophrenia or that Natalie Tong is possibly the most inept and unconvincing trainee barrister TVB may come to know. The most disturbing thing is that the final act is not filled by the leads. Instead center stage is given to the always affable Kenneth Ma. Wonderful.
Despite the criticisms, which are tailored to be pedantic (but I suppose if you’re going to critique something of a higher standard, you must also raise your standard of critique, otherwise this would be quite a boring review that reads no different to SARFT’s annual report, if there is one). This series is still a move in the correct direction for TVB legal dramas. Either give us quirky characters or make cases more realistic and interesting.
Whatever you do, do not give us Tavia Yeung. So maybe she was sick or the character was derived from the ageless expression of watching grass grow, but why was her presence even necessary? Lead characters that do not contribute to the value of a narrative equates to one thing and one thing only. Eye candy. But Tavia was definitely not dressed to be candy, or toffee or any other sweet. She wasn’t sour either. She was just… unfit. It crosses my mind sometimes that Tavia is practising the sacred art of converting three dimensions back to two. There’s no other reason for her recent insipid performances.
Special mention must be given to Louis Yuen, whom I’m still unsure if the word good should be attached before actor when spoken of. Could you trust such a barrister? Okay, you might be a clutz behind the scenes, but when your colleagues and clients think you are a clutz, you are not invoking much confidence. Given the requisite comic relief needed in every modern TVB series, we cannot do much. Can a character not be funny, endearing and smart at the same time? Again we are struck with unsophistication.
I have found it tough to reach my conclusions because it now seems Ruco did all the work. He didn’t of course. We all know it. But he did make this series much more enjoyable even though he could not undo the pitfalls making the audience feel somewhat detached from everything that goes. Part and parcel of a near-episodic approach to narratives is that audiences may know what is happening, but they the audience never feels like they are there, or how each scene connects entirely or how to empathize with characters. This is made more apparent when you realize all the times Ruco’s character acts out of line, which I should mention becomes mere memory by later episodes, no real consequences occur. We are simply told of events. This is a major barrier against a series getting from good to great.
It would be nice to see TVB do a legal drama, say 20 episodes, focus on one major case alone. That way the writers can concentrate weaving in mysteries and plot twists. Look if I want to watch a legal drama, I want the law to be embellished so it’s entertaining yet dramatic. If I want dull I could just visit my nearest local court. If I want pure fluff I would be better watching any number of other genres. And why does Ruco keep making empty threats to Kenneth? That really bothers me. Even more than the fact I have not mentioned Raymond Wong until now. Go figure.
In the words of my mother, the series was “Okay lah but some parts were exaggerated.” Since she is arguably a fervent consumer of TVB dramas, thanks to my provisions as a means to get her to stop bothering me, and because she is generally a tough cookie to satisfy, I’m inclined to say that this series is generally worth watching. Solid would have been my answer, but mother would not really understand why I would call a series not hollow (translate to Cantonese if you must). Room for improvement abounds as the narrative is still far too simple to earn the name “legal drama.” Right now I’d call it a “legal” drama. What is the difference? Scroll back up and read this rant again, and you may understand why.
TVB’s most recent rendition of a legal drama won’t make you like lawyers, but it’ll give you a slightly better idea of what they do if you never actually meet one.
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This review was written by SDS, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com.
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Review: “The Other Truth” (TVB 2011)