Three Kingdoms RPG <回到三國>
Hong Kong TVB Drama 2012
Producer: Lau Ka Ho
Genre: Historical Comedy
A perfect example of a promising series… and then it all goes to hell.
A Step Into the Past is one of my favorite TVB series, so with its similar premise and a solid cast, I was excited to watch Three Kingdoms RPG. And up until the last act, the series was doing pretty well. Then the ending happened. You may not think one episode can possibly be bad enough to ruin the other 24, but Three Kingdoms RPG proves it’s possible. Congratulations, TVB. You proved what we all know – you’re on your way down and it’s only uphill from here…I hope.
Poor Tavia. One of TVB’s top fadans and she gets the mandatory wallpaper vase role. Why didn’t they cast her as Yuet Ying instead? She is too old to be Song Yau and the one-dimensional character does nothing to showcase her acting ability. With that said, she is perfectly adequate as a side character.
I used to think Kenneth Ma was a boring actor until watching Survivor’s Law 2 where he shows potential in the crass, laidback type of characters. His Wan Shun is no exception. He was funny and likeable in the earlier scenes as fanboy to Zhuge Liang, and his tantrums with both Zhuge and his father were believable as a lazy good-for-nothing. It’s hard to believe he’s approaching 40 in real life. I think this will seriously limit his roles and versatility in the future. He has a young face and tends to mug a lot for the camera; it’s hard to take him seriously as someone his own age. Call me mean, but in the last episode when he was crying that it wasn’t Song Yau in the temple, I laughed. It was supposed to be a poignant, tragic moment but Kenneth looked like he was crying about dropping his ice cream cone. I think for now, as long as Kenneth doesn’t get into heavy drama, he will be fine. In fact, he demonstrates some decent comic timing in the funny scenes in the early part of the series. The contrast between his character and Raymond Lam’s Zhuge Liang was set up nicely; and the odd-couple chemistry between the two leading men is obvious.
Raymond Lam started out strong but then started to look wearier as time passed. I think this series was filmed during Mavis-gate and that’s probably why he started looking so worn out near the end. He cuts a dashing figure as the brilliant Zhuge Liang; he looks handsome and fits well in ancient series, and he does look like an intelligent guy. His best moments were earlier on in the series when he would stare at Shun and be all like “what the hell is up with this dude” and his caring and respect for Yuet Ying. The rest of his performance, he tends to fade into the crowd, which isn’t helped by the fact that the portrayal of Zhuge in the story really wasn’t as brilliant as the guy was supposed to be. Mostly it was Shun and Yuet Ying’s ideas that inspired his “brilliance”. Overall, I don’t see the passion in Ray’s acting anymore, and I’ve felt that way for a while. He delivers in the role, but this isn’t his strongest performance.
Casting is all over the place for the rest of the cast. I initially thought Joseph Lee was all wrong for the role of Lau Bei, but as time passed his performance was convincing as the benevolent, principled character. Same goes for Savio Tsang as Cheung Fei – usually this actor plays the calm, composed, and gentlemanly types so it was a surprise to see him in this role, but one of the good things about this series is that they cast actors against-type, but most of the time the performances are pleasant surprises. Other times – the second wife of Lau Bei (too catty to be someone of the high class), Sharon Chan as Zhou’s wife – the against-type casting doesn’t work, leaving the audience to cringe.
I recommended Vin Choi as a newcomer to look out for since his performance in The Brink of Law, and he delivers a good performance here. One of his problems is that he does this funny thing with his eyebrows where he sometimes looks perpetually surprised. If he can dial that back, I think he has a bright future since he can do both ancient and modern drama.
Pierre Ngo was fantastic as Sun Quan – he looks good in ancient drama. He looks regal, and despite his small frame, he does exude the confidence and power of a young king.
Ruco Chan was adequate as Zhou Yu – he works in ancient series, and did well in the arrogant and jealous scenes. He has a tendency to shout his lines sometimes which gets annoying. I also don’t think he has the leading-man charisma; maybe he can excel in supporting roles.
Jonathan Cheung who portrayed Fan Gan was a breath of fresh air in the series – who is he and where does he come from? I always looked forward to his scenes in here and I almost wish he was the one who ended up traveling back into the future instead of Shun. If Three Kingdoms RPG does a sequel (maybe a futuristic version), I hope he makes a comeback.
Kaki Leung hits the right note as the feminine, quietly intelligent Yuet Ying even if her chemistry with Raymond is tepid at best, and Ram Chiang made his character so much more than what it probably was on paper. His Sun Yuk gives the impression that he was a fit strategist, but someone who was essentially forced into working for a brutal ruler and somehow still maintained some kind of integrity. Mary Hon’s performance was too loud and brash as someone of royal descent. Jack Wong is underwhelming as Kei, although his character is not supposed to be particularly bright or useful, which I suppose fits the performance.
As for everything else, let’s start with the production. TVB must have allotted all of its annual budget to Tiger Cubs, because this series looks cheap. Aside from the lame CGI effects and the sets that look nothing like what a palace should look like, the worst of the lot were the battle scenes. Instead of the epic battles that they’re supposed to be, they looked more like gang fights of no more than 30 random dudes. The camera didn’t even have to move around much. What results is some pretty poor portrayals of pivotal, dramatic scenes such as the Red Cliff battle and the scene where Cheung Fei yells and breaks the bridge. I laughed and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to.
And now we get to the ending. I’m starting to think TVB has some kind of death wish. What started out as a lame romantic subplot between Shun and Song Yau ends up being the core of the story at the end. And everyone else’s endings – and I really do mean everyone else – unexplained, forgotten. What the hell?
All in all, an entertaining, watcheable series – as long as you skip the ending.
This review was written by Bridget, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com. Visit Bridget’s blog!