[Review] “Tiger Mom Blues” (By Funn)
Tiger Mom Blues <親親我好媽>
TVB Drama 2017
Producer: kwan Wing Chung
Number of Episodes: 20
“I really enjoyed this series and one of the few TVB series in recent times that is interesting and heartfelt.”
Ben Wong as Yim Ha
Elena Kong as Natalie Cha
Sharon Chan as Claire Man
Michelle Yim as Eliz Yu
Angelina Lo as Lo Fa
Koni Lui as Rebecca Yuen
Mathew Ho as Hayden Man
I can give you my very short opinion on this series. It started slow, picked up in the middle, ended satisfyingly but not perfectly. In short, this is like a performance driven non-story no-conflict no-drama series where every performance averages from good to star-in-the-making except if your name is Sharon Chan. Seriously, one of the best series for 2017 thus far and its scale is in the vein of House of Spirits where it is a small intimate series.
And now for the long one.
There is no plot. It is basically about mothers and it kinda covers the bases as to what sort of moms out there. Except for one, the others aren’t exactly tiger moms.
Natalie is the tiger mom. She is a housewife who manages her 2 very well-behaved teenage daughters, so frankly she hasn’t much conflict in that sense. Life isn’t too difficult in that sense. Her eldest is Venus, 18 years old super obedient daughter (for a very heart breaking reason) and then there’s I believe 12 year old Echo (who looks 13 or 14) who is precocious and slightly rebellious. Again, even slightly rebellious does not translate to any major drama or conflict. I find her life quite idyllic, with a devoted husband who listens to her, a mother-in-law who supports her and the little conflict is with her super grand mother (the grandchildren calls her GRANDma as it is reasoned because she is a very GRAND person) who dislikes her husband but again, not much conflict because she loves her daughter but had high expectations on her choice of husband. Money isn’t much but they make do. The only conflict is Natalie herself who is very strict, has very high expectations but isn’t a bad person.
Rebecca is a different sort of tiger mom. She is also a housewife except her husband is those rags-to-riches sort but still humble and she herself the daughter of a very rich father. She has one son, Oscar who is the same age and in the same class as Echo and basically, her problem is she is spoiled rotten as a daughter and as a wife and she spoils her son rotten as well. Her son turns out to be a bully who gets his way, always because of a mother who spoils him and a father who could not control him.
Claire is the youngest of the 3 I think and is a dedicated teacher as well as the head of discipline. She is a widow with a 9 year old son I believe, Isaac who is so well behaved, so smart, he is in the same class as Echo, thus creating a conflict where parents often complain of her biasness. She also has an 18 year old brother, Hayden who was a former good student and became what everyone sees as a badly behaved bad student ever since her husband died. Her brother is unhappy at home and at Claire’s strict sense of impartiality and feels she is never on his side.
Things get a tad complicated when Natalie’s husband, Yim Ha is accused of potentially having an improper relationship with a successful career woman, Venus falls for Hayden, Claire attempts in saving Oscar’s schooling good credit resulted in her husband, Ko Yan’s restaurants suffering a major setback and finally a little secret about Venus that led to the change in Natalie profoundly in her view as a mother.
But other than that, not much conflict. It is in fact a series with very little major problem because yes, the children are naughty but they aren’t bad, parents are unreasonable and gossipy but they aren’t very mean spirited or evil and husbands are mostly almost henpecked or chauvinistic but yet not truly chauvinistic because their philosophy as husbands is very old age; husbands work to provide food on the table and wives stay at home to educate children. Wives do not interfere with husbands’ career and husbands do not interfere with wives’ questionable choices when raising their children. I suspect feminists may not like this series, especially when Yim Ha forbids Natalie from working and Natalie, normally a very strongly opinionated woman seems ok with that until because of his suspected infidelity, it liberated her from that view and she rebelled by working whilst the normally non-confrontational Yim Ha rebelled and became more opinionated. Not a bad thing at all actually except I do feel Natalie was overreacting and Yim Ha was almost patient enough to withstand her OTT reaction to a non-issue.
The bigger issue is of course Venus and her past. From the get go you will already know Venus is not Natalie’s daughter but is Yim Ha’s child with another woman who ran away when Venus was very young. Natalie loves Venus like her own and in a way is very controlling of her every move, but it’s ok because it is out of concern. Natalie’s love can be suffocating but Venus doesn’t mind it until she and Hayden is in a relationship and she met her real mother and was given an opportunity for a different lifestyle. I was waiting for Venus to implode on Natalie because Natalie will only change if Venus seriously explodes tantrum wise and this series does not disappoint. That scene where Venus tearfully argued with a very angry and emotional Natalie when she found out Venus was secretly meeting with her real mother, except Natalie thinks Venues doesn’t know that fact was not only emotionally charged, but was very well acted. The revelation by Venus in the end was ended at just the right tone and manner and expressions and that was when Natalie changes, for the better.
My problem with that scene is the afterward and what happened. We never got to see Natalie suffering. We are told she is sick, she is without energy, she is emotional, she misses her daughter despite Venus not being her daughter, she regrets her over controlling ways, is very afraid Venus will never return… no such scenes. The most we get is Natalie looking sick on bed. It would have made this series so much more better if we get to see Natalie moping around sadly, scared, fearful. We do get to see Venus being slightly worried but after that revelation and explaining to her grandmother (father’s mother) why she hid it so well, it was a heart breaking moment to reveal all the insecurities and yet, it feels almost nonchalant and detached. Her staying with her grandmother is more like vacation than running away or being fearful.
I also don’t quite like the treatment of the real mother. Yes she abandoned Venus and Yim Ha but I find her reasons rather…. reasonable. Making her the villain of this series without villains is not the right move. Could it be because the actress playing this character is a nobody? Why not get a special guest star, put some star power in it rather than cast a third tier actress who did well but not well known enough. The blame or part of it should be on Yim Ha for being a chauvinistic husband. The feeling is the real mother was very young when she had Venus and felt trapped and so, left. She came back when she survived a cancer scare and wanted to reconnect with her daughter. However her methods are questionable as she either truly believes Venus is bullied by Natalie or is a sinister person, that whatever she does results in driving a wedge and creating mistrust between Venus and Natalie, rather unsuccessfully. This series probably takes the sinister path and so Venus basically had to choose between two mothers. To be honest, there’s no choosing because the series had already decided the answer since Episode 1. I wanted TVB to surprise me. Instead, I get the message that “the bond with the birth mother is not as strong as the bond with the woman who raised you” thing but I don’t see why can’t Venus have best of both worlds. The real mother gives a sense of a woman who has seen much, traveled much, rather than Natalie’s rather narrow view of the world out there and so why can’t Venus have both, goes overseas to study and live with her real mother and come back home to Natalie? Why can’t she have two mothers? Why must she choose between the two and it was to her the easiest choice and why must she walk away from her real mother, in a way blaming her real mother for walking out and thus choosing her father effectively? I mean why can’t for once things end amicably with best of all worlds? And why again in the world of TVB career women got the blame?
Other than these slight hiccups, the other stories are very entertaining even if atypical of TVB.
There’s the very entertaining antics of Rebecca and her son Oscar who both pack some major surprises at the end of the series by becoming truly nice people. I mean they’re not bad people, just bad influence, especially in the case of Oscar whose bad behaviour is thanks to an overindulgent Princess Rebecca who always gets her way.
I also like the progression of Hayden who from rebel turns out to be one of the wisest sounding young man in this series. His relationship with Venus is believable as well although, again, no conflict.
Frankly, I do find the character Sing Kat Sze to be rather interesting as well, as a man who came to find Claire for good ulterior motive. However their love story is unconvincing, as much as his job as a janitor. I have never seen him fix anything outside of his own living quarters and Claire’s room. In fact he seems to be so free; baking, chatting, dispensing with good advice. I was wondering what is his real job and when it is revealed he is a restaurant owner in Paris (rich, cultured, etc) which explains why he bakes so well, it is kinda surprising for me because that’s rather convenient.
It ended ok but doesn’t tie up the lose ends like what happened to Venus’ mom? She just goes away? What about Hugo’s mom? Still as insane and abusive? Miss Man goes to Paris or not? Does she even love Sing Kai Sze? Or she just loves his eyes? Where’s Frances? It feels like a sudden death sort of ending. I thought it deserves one more episode to end properly, tie up all the loose ends instead of rushing at the last episode and everything is just a-ok and perfect. The so called dilemma of Venus not being able to see her boyfriend for the next few years is non-dilemma. It is solved with a promise that all will be fine. So that ended in about 10 minutes of dilemma. The whole scene of Yim Ha trying to gain entry into university to study engineering I think is to me.. I don’t know, it that how it’s done in HK? Since he is a mature student with experience, he should be gaining entry via part time and open university sort of courses where it is night and weekend classes. Does he have to go begging for a place to study since his route is different from a young student? However I do like the ending scene where Rebecca and Oscar are up to their old tricks, being their competitive selves and racing with Yim Ha and family. Seriously, this series will be so less entertaining without Rebecca and Oscar.
I am pretty impressed with most of the performances but it is the performances of the younger generation or younger younger generation.. you know what, there are like 4 generations here; grandparents, parents/sisters, older children and young children. I should say 4 levels of category here.
So few old people here but all of them did as veterans are expected to do; be the anchor. I won’t talk about all of them but I particularly enjoy Michelle Yim’s performance as the ultra arrogant GRANDma. However as the series goes on, you will likely to like her because in the end she is not a mean person, just an honest one. She doesn’t mince her words and yes, she loves Echo more and she admits that much but in the end she did something for her daughter and that is to drag Venus away from the “evil” real mother. I think Michelle Yim is perfectly cast as the elegant former ballerina. She does have an air of sophistication to her and a certain innocence like she doesn’t know she is creating conflict or is arrogant.
By the way I am watching Saimdang starring the ever beautiful Lee Young Ae and in that series in the modern times timeline, there is also a GRANDma but compared to Michelle’s version, Saimdang’s GRANDma is someone I wish I could slap eventhough both walk with their noses in the air and a perpetual scowl at the sight of poor people or poor neighbourhood.
My only gripe is when there should be more shown, this series held back and that is Natalie’s suffering. But performance wise, wow…
Elena Kong seems ill suited for the role of a housewife at first because I always see her as an arrogant egoistical pretentious career woman, like she is perpetually bored with what you have to say and isn’t too bothered to even listen. But her acting is not to be criticized. I especially love the scenes where she argues. She will go all out and argue, and not just argue loudly but emotionally, like really really argue. Never argue with Elena. She wins with her bulging eyes and louder, louder and louder voice and her very scary angry look. At her more quieter gentler moments, that’s when I feel I find her inconsistent or rather her Natalie is inconsistent. Controlling at home, nice outside. Which makes me think she is not a bad person at all, but she does have control issues. I suppose in that sense Elena is perfectly cast.
Ben Wong excels as the ordinary man, and does look really frustrated when he is in those argument scenes with Elena. These two did not hold back and really looked like an arguing couple. If this was done years ago, I will want Felix Wong in this role, as someone who is likable. His Yim Ha is a soft sort of guy who found his voice to argue back but yet is chauvinistic in his view of the role of a wife? I am confused on this point. I suppose a man can be chauvinistic and yet empowering in a positive way at the same time.
Savio Tsang is a surprise addition to this series in the sense that this man has been languishing in third-dary roles of late and suddenly here he is in a secondary role with a character who is very prominent in this series. Whilst I wonder why his spoilt rich brat of a wife married him who was probably not too poor but wasn’t too rich either, he and Koni Lui do make an interesting couple because they look so out of place together but just seems right towards the end. At first I did not like Ko Yan who I feel just couldn’t control his wife or his son but towards the end when his business was suffering a major setback and he quietly narrated his father’s story and his own vision and then silently alone (or he thought he was alone), he was crying his heart out, that was a very beautiful scene. For almost entire series this man was stoically silent, frustrating at times, and sometimes I wouldn’t even notice him. His Ko Yan is serious but proves to be a good man with good intentions and ethics who somehow married a spoiled wife and a spoiled son. You will wonder what went wrong for him. I also like how this series highlighted his goodness when he proposed a very interesting scheme to guide his wife to the path of “goodness” so to speak and with that I just can’t help but feel Rebecca is such a lucky woman to have such a wonderful husband. But make no mistake, he was lucky too to have Rebecca as a wife too.
Koni Lui is someone who is now cast in 2 quite similar roles; both loud and both unreasonable but both with redeeming factors and both wives to husbands with no voice and who spoil her. Her role is similar to House of Spirits and frankly I very much enjoyed her performance in here too. Fine, she speaks loudly but in her case, it is apt. I like how she will preface her son’s name or when talking about her son to others with “My precious son, Oscar” or just “My precious son”. She makes it sound so effortlessly right that it was rather funny. She is no great dramatic actress nor is she particularly funny but even when her Rebecca is frustratingly childish and incredibly spoiled, you can’t say she is not one dedicated mother except she teaches her son all the wrong values. She is not a bad or mean person, but she is just highly competitive and always gets her way. I feel Koni’s performance embodies all that. However, towards the end, her change is rather incredible. It isn’t too in your face but it was more subtle. Koni never changed her acting style and yet there is a nice difference with her Rebecca in the way she dresses, the way she talks. I don’t like that I never got to see a more slow change because her change was too sudden but it is never a doubt her Rebecca did change for her son.
Sharon Chan is a disappointment. Her Miss Man is so dry, so boring, for someone with such a sad backstory, I find her character the least interesting one. Her only saving grace is her interaction with Wai Ka Hung as Sing Kat Sze or the young besotted student but even then she is frustratingly restraint for all the wrong reasons. I only like her individual scene where she asked her biased principal if she is expected to resign and she won’t. Her Miss Man is supposed to be someone stoic and with character, with principle but she comes across as someone preachy, almost like a young Liza Wang where everything from her mouth is preachy stuff. I get it she’s a teacher, she’s got to be strict, she’s got to be a moral example, blah blah blah. I find her performance just about tolerable. As a teacher, as a sister, as a mother, as a friend, as a widow who misses her husband terribly (by the way her dead husband played the god awful SOB in Destination Nowhere, two polar opposites!) and she is not remotely convincing in any of the role except as Sharon Chan playing these roles.
Wai Ka Hung is Willie Wai, so says Wikipedia. Anyway, he plays his Sing Kat Sze in a straightforward way. A man without temper, he is also a very mild mannered nice guy. So he isn’t convincing as either a chef, a restaurant owner in France or a janitor but I like his no nonsense performance as someone who has some kind encouraging words for everyone.He’s like a beacon of positivity as opposed to Sharon Chan’s pessimism.
I have not much comment for Becky Lee who seems perpetually typecast as either the suffering third party or any career woman character with her signature very glossy lipstick. I am however rather pissed that TVB continually shows a career woman as a childless, unhappy mistress who drinks and drive dangerously and almost causes the breakdown of a decent man’s marriage whether intentionally or unintentionally. In this series, it is unintentionally and sadly she suddenly disappears from screen thereafter. And it is also why I hate TVB for making a guy choose between wife or female friend instead of having both.
Plenty of talent in this group and I am very very happy to see young faces who can act so TVB has hope! Frankly I don’t know any of them. May have seen them before.
Kaman Kong.. Kong Ka Man issit? Because that’s a weird name for a pretty-ish actress. She isn’t some great beauty, maybe because throughout the series she wears very little make up which highlights her youth. So she’s 22 in real life, but she does look like a convincing 18 year old. She plays Venus in a very restraint non confrontational non emotional way and it suits Venus perfectly. Some might mistake that as no acting but it takes a good actress to be that restraint and yet emotional at the same time. She’s raw but with much potential. Her biggest moment was when she had that huge argument with Elena and Elena as I have said, could really really argue. Kaman Kong held her own and delivered the punchline, that huge revelation with such aplomb that I too was taken aback. I like her performance. I like her ease of banter with her cast mates and how she fares very well against seniors and senior’s seniors. Not this series’ best young actress but quite close.
Matthew Ho plays Hayden. Nice name. I kept telling my viewing partner that this guy could have been perfect if his voice is deeper. He should really train his voice, to speak in lower tone because right now, his voice is the only problem. He does have a naturally gentle effeminate face, so his Hayden being a rebel is not convincing at all. I don’t even find his Hayden as a loner convincing also. BUT I find his Hayden as a romantic guy or a nice guy rather nice to watch. I think Hayden is a great character with the cool loner surface, but passionate and kind and caring deep inside. Venus chooses well for her first boyfriend. I also like his scenes with his seniors where he held his own and even delivered some convincing lines about his choice for his future. This Hayden is someone who knows what he wants and knows how to get them. I especially like the scene where Yim Ha was discussing with him about his future and Hayden brilliantly turns the table around and in his own way, praises and criticises Yim Ha. That was a well written scene and well acted as well. Still raw but the talent’s there.
What I like about Matthew and Kaman is they are both natural in respective role, so however raw, you can see the potential. And TVB needs that right now for this age group.
Arnold Kwok.. who?! No idea but man this guy is very good. His Hugo Lin Kwok Kai is someone you wanna kick and then hug and then give an encouraging pat on his back. Whilst I feel Kaman and Matthew were raw, I feel Arnold was a step up in a supporting role that required him to do 3 different characters in one series. His Hugo was at first a mean arrogant bully which he excelled. Then he was a lovable cute goofy guy besotted with his pretty teacher which he also excelled. And finally the abused son of an abusive mother which he also excelled. His only problem is towards the end he looks a tad too grown up for a teenager but I always keep forgetting, this series depict form 6 students, they are 18, technically end of teenagehood and almost young adult. I feel he makes Miss Man aka Sharon Chan interesting and I would not go NO WAY! if his Hugo comes back sayyyyy 8 years later and woo Miss Man. Miss Man isn’t too old in this series. Arnold is handsome, tall-ish, robust. He just needs a tan. That’s all and you have your future star for TVB. Frankly I know nothing about him so I googled and read he was in House of Spirits? As who? And he was a fashion model? Figures. So I suppose he has absssss….. perfect!
Hebe Chan plays Venus’ best friend, Meg who hilariously from a girl who shops a lot whose career is to marry a rich man became a girl who wants to be a boxer. I find that hilarious but uplifting. Her speech about finding her passion and her purpose must resonate with a lot of young people and there are always a Meg or a Venus or a Hayden or a Hugo somewhere. They all teach a lesson for all young people; find your passion, pursue your dream but remember, be patient in getting your family’s blessing and if they love you, and they do, they will accept your choice eventually.
Come to think of it, this series pretty much cover the types of teenagers today, of course like I said, if you ignore the delinquents and the trouble makers and those who are from very troubled background. Wait! Hayden’s crush in this series got pregnant whilst at school and her boyfriend was charged and imprisoned for statutory rape! So that covers another type.
The talent pool is in this category and the future of TVB is in here as well.
The weakest of the lot is Ivan Chan who plays Isaac, the youngest of the lot and brilliant nice good perfect son of Miss Perfect Miss Chan. I have nothing against Isaac but this series is kinda telling us if you are a good person, you are a good mom, your son is also gonna be very very very good. I do think Ivan was ok as the decent kid. He’s not cute though but as an actor, he was adequate.
Coleman Tam (wow! Coleman!) as Oscar is a standout. I really love this kid. I love how he was just so spoiled and mean bully that I just wanna slap him and scream at him to shut up. I love how he was so unrestrained in his performance. I mean I am sure his friends must tease him for those scenes where his Oscar throws himself onto the floor or bed or just went spastic and crying and throwing stuff and just being very very rude. He has most scenes with Koni and some guys may also think he’s the luckiest because Koni’s Rebecca just doesn’t call him “my precious son” or in Chinese you can say it is closer to “my most treasured beloved precious son” who in her eyes is utter perfection, every time they are in a scene, there’s a hug. A lot of skinship between these two. I also love his transformation to a good kid which was sudden, not too convincing (the process, not the acting) but it was a great change of character. He’s very natural and I just love his performance.
Sophia Hung who plays Ben and Elena’s youngest daughter, Echo is a revelation. To me she is the best actress in here who gave the most natural and best performance of a person of her age group. She was so precocious, behaving in such a natural way and the way she delivered her lines was so easy, so at ease and without any pretentiousness. She’s a natural. I love her every scene, even when again she was arguing with super quarrel woman, Elena and she held her own. That was the only time Elena’s character did not and could not answer back. So Echo’s the boss! Back to that argument scene, her Echo was rude and selfish but her performance, the tears, the anger, the frustration, the rudeness, so very real. When she’s teasing people, she really looks like a precocious kid. Both she and Coleman stole the show for me. Between these two, I feel Sophia is by far the best actress in the young and younger generation group. I could quite imagine her in a wuxia series playing a playful intelligent precocious princess or something. This girl has acting chops and yes, TVB’s great new hope. She even sounds young.
Looking at these two pools, I hope TVB will consider a new category for 2017’s award show, call it Breakout Star or Tomorrow’s Star or Best Young Actor award. I will favour Best Young Actor and it should be for actors below 25 years of age (because if below 18, effectively the list will be short) and I will want to see Coleman, Sophia, and the gang in here all nominated and I will want to see Sophia win unless there’s another acting prodigy hidden somewhere. To think decades ago TVB did not have a decent child actor or young actor or teenage actor, now in one series, there so many to choose from. Of course there’s still Most Improved and that should be for actors who are most improved but it is time to create a Best Young Actor award to cater and to encourage young actors. Then create a Breakout Star award to recognise a breakout role, if there isn’t one. I don’t mean Most Popular or Best Actress, but Breakout Star can be anyone, any character, any role, any actor, need not just be leads or secondary or big production. Pump some new blood, build the bases for new idols instead of those nearing 40s still playing late 20s or worse still, 30s playing 50s. Not sure which is worse.
This is no huge drama. There isn’t much conflict. It falters towards the end because there are just too many characters to focus on, some unconvincing but each serves his or her purpose. The acting for most is the highlight of this series, especially the younger generation where there are a few that if the progression is done right, will probably be the anchor of TVB if TVB is willing to invest in them. I really enjoyed this series and one of the few TVB series in recent times that is interesting and heartfelt. It’s a small series, the actors are no big names but it has a huge heart. Whilst I may not like some aspects and some stories, overall my affection for it is the same as I have for House of Spirits. I appreciate this series and I will recommend this to anyone who likes good acting, decent story, great ensemble cast with personality and heart.
Seriously, it’s good. Go watch it.
This review is written by Funn Lim, a Contributor at JayneStars.com and was originally posted at www.point2e.com.