Review: Triumph in the Skies (By VCN)

Triumph in the Skies < 衝上雲宵>
Hong Kong TVB Drama, 2003

Producer: Poon Ka Tak
Genre: Modern Drama, Romance
Number of Episodes: 40



Francis Ng as “Samuel Tong” or “Sam
Flora Chan as “Isabelle Lok” or “Belle”
Joe Ma as “Vincent Ling”
Myolie Wu as “Zoe So”
Ron Ng as “Isaac Tong”
Sammul Chan as “Donald Man”
Michelle Ye as “Zita Tung”
Bosco Wong as “Chris Tse”
Shek Sau as “Phillip Tong”
Mary Hon as “Cammy Ying”
Nancy Wu as “Coco Ling”
Jerry Lam as “Paul Mok”
Louisa So as “Ruby Bui”
Kenneth Ma as “Roy Ko”


The original Triumph in the Skies was produced nearly 10 years ago but still remembered by viewers as one of TVB’s best written and best performed dramas. But, why review it so long after its initial debut in 2003? In light of the upcoming sequel that hasn’t even been scripted yet, I would like to offer the producers of TVB a gentle reminder to not repeat old errors.


Triumph in the Skies follows the calmly stoical airplane pilot, Sam Tong (Francis Ng) and the stereotypically dissolute pilot, Vincent Ling (Joe Ma), with a girlfriend at every port. During the series, these two experienced pilots vie for promotion as the first Chinese captain at Solar Airlines and the love of their lives, the sentimental Isabelle “Belle” Lok (Flora Chan), a flight attendant. Following her dreams, the frail and capricious Zoe So (Myolie Wu) meddles in everyone’s personal matters until love strikes her. Other characters include the arrogant Isaac Tong (Ron Ng), the irresponsible Donald Man (Sammul Chan), and the outspoken and independent Zita Tung (Michelle Ye), who strive to become successful airplane pilots. Minor characters abound in this 40 episode series as TVB creates a drama about life and work at Hong Kong’s International Airport.


In a drama titled as Triumph in the Skies, it would only be appropriate to expect happy endings over remorse and regret for each of its characters. However, I count only 3 triumphs in the series and also 2 tragedies by the end. In light of the drama’s content, Triumph in the Skies is definitely not one of TVB’s worst titles, but it also doesn’t evoke the romantic sensitivities present in the drama. Even a simple line like “Love Is in the Air” conveys a better sense of romance in an aviation setting than Triumph in the Skies.


Despite being critically acclaimed by viewers, TVB scriptwriters for Triumph in the Skiesseem committed to old errors and character inconsistencies. With 40 episodes or 30 hours of screen time, the scriptwriters were allotted a much more substantial amount of time to develop the plot and characters. However, scriptwriters continue to fall short of delivering an ideal drama. Family reunions, marriages, hook-ups/break-ups and deaths all occur to stimulate this plot-driven storyline. Because I do not want to start a tirade on content structure and proper character development, I will only comment on a single discrepancy on thematic content.

To flesh out Belle’s character, the scriptwriters invested a lot of time into the “triangel” lore and Belle’s obsession with fairy tales, thus alluding to Belle’s hopelessly romantic desire for a fairy tale life. But, nothing about her life or marriage is fairy tale-like: jealous bickering, misunderstanding, suspected adultery and wrongful romance constitute her troubled marriage. Then, a heroic death, a random death, and a death, that should have occurred but didn’t happen, unexpectedly sweep through the story like a whirlwind, grossly nullifying all foreshadowing from the aforementioned fairy tale allusion. Why did the scriptwriters introduce and emphasize the fairy tale theme to such great detail if there was no intention to follow through with it?

There is a limited amount of originality in the series. Like many of TVB’s previous dramas, the leading characters consist of the overly used good guy and playboy duo. Can the scriptwriters not invent a different combination? Even the romantic triangle between Donald, Zita and Isaac is just basically a replica of the Sam, Belle and Vincent relationship, whereby one male character altruistically sacrifices his interest in the girl for the sake of friendship. Although the outcomes to these relationships differ in the finale, the structure is essentially the same. TVB’s creativity department definitely needs a knock on the head for delivering recycled material to its viewers.

The on-off relationship between Philip Tong (Shek Sau) and Cammy Ying (Mary Hon) seems very fake. Their behaviors don’t suit them as mature adults. What sound-minded adult would behave as they do? Similarly, the romance between Paul Mok (Jerry Lamb) and Ruby Bui (Louisa So) is so utterly unbelievable and typical of TVB. How does Ruby, being a perfectionist, fall in love with a clumsy and unambitious significant other? Do opposites truly attract or is it folly in the hands of TVB scriptwriters again? As comic relief, these characters were somewhat funny but outrageously unrealistic.

Despite my criticisms, I do appreciate some of the finer nuances that the scriptwriters incorporated into the series. Among my favorites is a reference to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves when describing Zoe’s character and her seven brothers. This is a refreshing hint of sophistication that TVB has never demonstrated before in the past. There was also some very nice footage of Rome, Hokkaido and Adelaide that inspires traveling.


No single actor or actress performed consistently better than his/her co-stars. The performances were not mediocre but simply adequate. To maintain a reasonable review length, I will only evaluate the primary roles.

In Triumph in the Skies, Francis Ng portrayed Sam Tong, a reserved airplane pilot, who takes his profession very seriously. Francis did well, performing the quietly shy gentleman and strict instructor to trainee pilots. His more emotional scenes with Zoe were executed with the appropriate amount of tenderness, but I found his depiction of a well educated professional lacking. Though knowledgeable in aviation terms, his enunciation of them in English was not equal to his purported education and rank as the captain of an airline, making his character much less credible. Lastly, I found his verbal affirmations in the form of an oddly sounding “uh-huh” extremely annoying. If this was the producer’s idea, then I owe Mr. Ng an apology for this undeserved bit of criticism.

As Belle Lok, Flora Chan was marginally acceptable. I expected a more youthful and more classically beautiful face to portray the romantic character of Belle. I don’t usually allow physical appearances to affect my assessment of acting skills, but it seems highly unrealistic that someone Flora Chan’s age would still entertain such foolish thoughts as fairy tale dreams. When casting a character such as Belle, one should naturally consider the roles of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Vivian Leigh in Gone With the Wind. Lacking the graceful innocence of youth, Flora Chan was not very convincing as the free spirited Belle.

Joe Ma played Vincent Ling, the best friend of Sam Tong. In the series, Vincent is a known philanderer, but the audience sees very little of his indulgent lifestyle. During most of the series, viewers are only exposed to his arduous courtship of Belle and his futile attempts to reconcile his marriage. His promiscuous past is only revealed to the audience as hearsay from other characters. In drama, it is always better to show the audience than tell them. So, Joe Ma’s performance can only be described as sufficiently adequate because there was nothing extraordinary about his role; the more dynamic part of his character was unfortunately undisclosed to viewers.

Relatively new to the screen in 2003, Myolie Wu, Ron Ng, Sammul Chan and Michelle Ye portrayed their roles satisfactorily. Neither of their performances came through as exceptionally interesting or remarkable, but they managed to deliver their lines and emotions with enough effect to help the story unfold.

Conclusion and Hopes for the Sequel

The storyline in Triumph in the Skies is not a completely original one. Character and plot inconsistencies continue to plague TVB dramas and there are no breakthrough performances either. With reasons unbeknownst to me, the series succeeded in ratings anyway. Perhaps, it was the scenic footage of faraway places that attracted the audience. Or, the unfamiliar topic of aviation that piqued interest. Based on this critique, Triumph in the Skies only deserves 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Regardless of the reasons, Triumph in the Skies was well received in 2003 and an instant hit with viewers. Let’s hope that TVB scriptwriters will learn from previous mistakes, so thatTriumph in the Skies II will be even more successful.

To construct a successful sequel, TVB must take risks and not hide behind the safe harbor of formulaic plot-driven stories and instead embrace character-driven story arcs. Familiar characters should now be allowed to make sentient decisions instead of being carried on a wave of individual events that moves the plot along. By having Bosco Wong and Kenneth Ma reprise their roles in the sequel, TVB scriptwriters are moving in the right direction to developing a more realistic and consistent sequel. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that a better sequel is in the making.

This review was written by VCN, a Contributing Writer at

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  1. VCN,
    I agree with the weaknesses that you pointed out in “Triumph in the Skies,” however it is still one of the more memorable dramas I have watched in the last 10 years. It is not a drama that is entirely satisfactory in its story delivery, but the visuals were highly enjoyable, especially the segments featuring Rome. I felt an urge to visit Rome after seeing the drama….

    The triangel doll is such an enduring symbol of the drama, that Chinese manufacturers on advertise it as the doll seen in Triumph in the Skies. The triangel doll was a welcome element in the beginning of the story, hinting at predestined love. However, instead of being an idealistic woman looking for love, Belle quickly fell apart into a helpless woman entirely consumed by her feelings.

    I found Myolie to be a welcome presence in Triumph in the Skies. She held her ground while acting opposite Francis and she had good chemistry with the younger cast. It was the sincerity and enthusiasm in her character and acting that make her very likeable.

    The camaraderie and easy friendship among the pilot trainees also made the drama enjoyable. What made Triumph in the Skies special was its stellar cast. The veterans did well in their roles, although I do agree that Flora Chan was a bit of a miscast, and the young actors were “stars in the making.”

    Triumph in the Skies was far from perfect, lacked an exciting plot and major driving force (love took central stage), however it held its ground and has a special place among viewers. The look and feel of the drama was very nice, presenting a bit of glamorous escapism (via the intrigue of international air travel), filled with friendship and romantic love.

  2. What a good review and agree with you VCN! I do love the series and is looking forward for the sequel and hope they can make it better.

  3. “Familiar characters should now be allowed to make sentient decisions instead of being carried on a wave of individual events that moves the plot along. By having Bosco Wong and Kenneth Ma reprise their roles in the sequel, TVB scriptwriters are moving in the right direction to developing a more realistic and consistent sequel.”

    It will not be a direct sequel.

    1. Maybe VCN didn’t pay attention the the news. The sequal won’t be a direct sequel, and the only cast remaining are Francis, Myolie, Kenneth and Ron but they might not reprise their original roles. Bosco will not participate.

  4. this drama is lengthy and draggy for me, I gave up after watching the first 3 eps.! Maybe it does get better as the drama goes on…idk I still give this drama a benefit of a doubt though.

  5. Myolie gives a fresh appeal as Zoe. I think she was remarkable over Michelle in this series.

    1. Eh, Zoe was annoying. Actually, all the female characters were. The supporting were better.

      1. I agree, Jessie! I can see how Zoe could appeal to some people, but I did find her enthusiasm grating after a while. My favorite character in the whole series was Louisa So’s Ruby. So sarcastic, and yet a thoroughly loyal friend.

  6. VCN,

    Good review! And one with several points that I heartily agree with.

    I actually just watched this series a few months ago for the first time, in preparation for the promised sequel. Maybe time has not been kind to this series, or maybe I’m just an old grump… but I found the plot unbearably unrealistic and increasingly maddening. May your pleas to TVB for better-thought-out plots not fall on deaf ears!

    (And may they take more picturesque wide-angle, HD location shots please!)

    You raise a good point too about the casting of Belle. There were times during the series when I wanted to throttle her pretty unrealistic immature head. But perhaps you are correct; if presented by a younger actress of an ingenue type, maybe I would have been more generous.

    Thanks for the review!

  7. Personally I did not find this drama series good ….. without a good script. It is just something that we don’t usually see in usual drama series ….. scenes filmed on planes, airports, how to operate a plane, and duties of pilots, co-pilots, etc. Of course, scenes taken in Rome would make the drama series more fascinating.

  8. I can only remember vividly how Joe Ma embarrassed himself as an actor in those english speaking scene. He never even tried. He spoke gibberish and I lost respect for him as an actor for a very very long time.

    1. Funn,
      I can forgive Joe Ma for his English, as many TVB actors also struggle in basic English exchanges.

      What made Triumph in the Skies memorable for me was the feisty character of Myolie, Francis’ stability (a somewhat dull character but probably more true to life than most TVB protagonists), Ron Ng and the rest of S4, and the lore of Triangel.

      The setting in Italy was truly magical, as I remember Flora and Francis’ hot kiss in Florence, their chance meeting at the Coliseum, and Myolie’s numerous wanderings in Rome. Italy added a romanticized gloss to the drama. I admit that I am a travelogue fan, as I enjoy nice scenery and seeing sights that I may not be able to experience in real life at times.

      I mention somewhat superficial elements, but the drama is a bit of romanticized fluff. Even the stories of love and departure at the airport didn’t do much for me. The almost manual-like explanation of how the airport operates did not help either.

      1. Yes, Sam and belle’s initial romance in Italy was hot. But to my disappointment, belle turned out to be a wimpy character. Zoe was already annoying enough, but I resented her even more b/c I felt like flora was sacrificed in order to promote myolie. TITS was the beginning of the end of flora’s career.


        On a side note, do u ever watch “the amazing race”? I love that show b/c it’s part competition and part travelogue.

      2. Jayne, I can’t. Francis can’t speak English but he tries. Joe Ma NEVER tried. He actually spoke gibberish. I thought his performance was absolute nonsense. Many can’t speak a certain language, but they tried anyway, that is called acting. Whether the pronunciation is accurate or not is a different matter. Which is why I respected Francis because he really tried. The word struggling is just a poor excuse.

      3. Jayne, have you seen Rush Hour 2? Don Cheadle? After that movie I really respected him. Because he spoke Cantonese, and mind you perfect intonation, and i doubt he knew Cantonese in the first place. Now that is called acting.

  9. I never find Francis Ng as a good actor. His pronunciation of words is terrible, both Chinese and English. His English standard is inadequate for a qualified professional, such as a pilot.

    Agree that Flora does not look too convincing to act the character of Belle who should be pretty, young and sweet, romantic and sentimental. She looks too old and practical for this character.

  10. I’ve also just recently watched this series and with high expectation, too. The first half was quite enjoyable to watch but 40 episodes are way too lengthy for someone with my short attention span, so I gave up on it right before Joe’s death cos’ I just lost interest, especially having read the spoiler about Flora’s deep depression. Flora was indeed a miscast and yes, Zoe got on my nerves too with her effervescent personality. And moreover, I did not enjoy her love relationship with Francis either.

    And pretty much what VCN wrote in her review reflect my feelings about this series.

    1. That was a good time to stop b/c it all went downhill f/ there. Belle started seeing dead people, had a hiv scare, Sam acted against his responsible nature by piloting when he shouldn’t, and Donald gave up the girl of his dreams for the stupidest reason.

      I was hoping zoe would die like Vivian’s “han mui” in ‘greed of man’. But darn it, she got her heart transplant instead.

      1. There’s always organ rejection. Haaahaaaa …. Sorry, couldn’t resist the sarcasm.

  11. There was also some very nice footage of Rome, Hokkaido and Adelaide that inspires traveling.

  12. “There was also some very nice footage of Rome, Hokkaido and Adelaide that inspires traveling.”

    That’s true… I did feel the urge go to to Italy after I saw the series…. and I finally did two years ago!

  13. ahhh i remember Michelle Ye was quite annoying in TITS. didn’t like her. her acting was blahhhhh… stoned-face. and talked in monotone, thinking she was cute or something. glad she didn’t end up with anyone.

    as for francis.. didn’t like the ending how he ended up with Myolie… he clearly had more chemistry with Flora and their relationship was really interesting.. but in the end, he chose Myolie coz ‘she was sick’ and ‘that showed how much he cared about her’… yeh whatever.. he’ll always love flora.. and poor flora, ends up with noone =( sad… i wish joe came back alive.. his death was sad. that was the highlight/climax of joe ma’s career.

  14. i can’t recall much of this series, but i only saw it once, with no urge to re-watch, so it can’t be that good. i don’t remember liking any of the characters neither. also, the triangel doll freaks me out.

  15. What I rmb the most about TITS? That’s how I like the triangel theory and the couple of Lam Hai Fung and Louise So.

    Talk about the main couple, I personally dislike both of Belle and Sam. They are annoying to me from the first start of their love. I feel pity for Vincent instead. The moment when Vincent understood, he died. It was a good moment of the series. After that, Belle and Sam made me dislike more and more when they tried to reprise their relationship. Even it didn’t work, they were annoying and more annoying. For Sam and Zoe, I prefer Zoe over Belle despite the fact she wasn’t much better. At least, Zoe got cuter and cuter with the development of the series. In the beginning, she was kind annoying. Then, it got less. I quite like her toward the end. But Sam and Zoe, I did hope that they didn’t work out as a couple. Somehow I think Zoe is deserved to have another guy that someone who is “trying” to love her but not really love.

    The relationship of Donald – Zita – Issac isn’t less complicated or annoying than the main love. Must say that I like Issac but it can’t help to save a triangle love with nothing but draggy. Michelle was one of my fave but her Zita is one of the most “I can’t understand what she is thinking” character. The director tried too hard to make their love as a love of young ppl, but failed, failed so bad.

    Complaining much, but in fact TITS is an quite interesting series, especially comparing with the quality Txb’s current series. It has good scenes, good dialogues and provided a view on the pilot/waitress’s life, which I find kinda refresh. These things are enough for me to complete the whole 40 episodes without any regret.

    And how about a TITS2? Personally, I blv TITS2 will fail.

  16. I beg to disagree. I loved this series before, and I still do. While I agree that the overall plot was on the trite side, this series really does not deserve such harsh criticism.

    The point of the triangel was that Belle was seeking for a fairy tale so much that she missed out on having true happiness in reality. I actually thought it was handled very well. It was not the romantic ideal, but it was good and true.

    Everyone, try checking out “spcnet” for some good reviews from back then. I watched the series because of what I read there =)

  17. Hmm, I stopped watching TVB dramas since the late nineties and only picked it up again around 2008, so I’ve missed quite a large chunk…

    To be honest, the synopsis comes off as rather dull to me so I’m surprised it did so well. How does this drama fare with TVB’s output in the 90s (I’m not even going to compare with the 80s…) or is it simply just one of the standouts from TVB’s pool of mediocrity within the last decade?

    With all the hype surrounding the sequel – and Francis’s supposed return – I hope the drama does well. Or else…

  18. I had high hopes for this drama but was unfortunately disappointed.

    I like Flora as an actreseyes.

    Random thought, I thought Sek Sau as Francis’s father was extremely unconvincing to the point of being annoying. I understand that Sek Sau supposedly had Francis when he was 17 but physically Sek Sau just doesn’t look that much older than Francis. It also didn’t help that the character Phillip is “immature” and Sam is “mature”. I thought at most, they can pass for brothers.

    1. (Please ignore the comment on top. It didn’t save properly.)

      I had high hopes for this drama but was unfortunately disappointed.

      I like Flora as an actress but disliked Belle. I didn’t like Vincent or Sam. I thought Zoe was actually quite cute but did not feel any chemistry between her and Sam.

      I thought Zita was annoying and so was Donald. Issac was ok.

      My favorites were actually Bosco and Nancy but they had small roles.

      I do agree with those who thought the drama was visually done very well. Even the non-overseas scenes (ie. airport, outdoor) were pleasing on the eyes.

      Random thought, I thought Sek Sau as Francis’s father was extremely unconvincing to the point of being annoying. I understand that Sek Sau supposedly had Francis when he was 17 but physically Sek Sau just doesn’t look that much older than Francis. It also didn’t help that the character Phillip is “immature” and Sam is “mature”. I thought at most, they can pass for brothers.

  19. Even back in 2003, I thought the best actor in the series was the cinematography (locations) and best supporting was the theme song.

    I remember wishing they limited the English speaking because dialogue became really distracting as only several of the cast pronounced words correctly (i.e. Flora, Michelle).

    Flora did not come across convincing as a frail character given to dreams of fantasy, she does much better as resolute woman with steely glare or hard shell – maybe the show was missing Gallen Lo. (I think it is similar to how I dislike watching Jessica Hsuan play whiny girly characters.)

    I thought the flow/dialogue was very chaotic after Vincent’s death – the story very stretched out to meet 40 episode requirement. Also felt that at some point the side stories were just a parade of current pop stars (e.g. Twins, Eason Chan, Wong Kit).

    This was also first TVB drama that I felt Michelle Ye just “called in” her performance which in retrospect was probably true since she finally ended her contract with TVB in 2005.

  20. I enjoyed the drama for what it was, an escape really. Nice sceneries, nice friendships and interactions, decent acting.

    1. Agree with ya!! i loved the sceneries and vowed to visit Italy myself and I did last year!!!

      Have to admit there were some very unnecessary scenes which could have been taken out…like how Flora approaches a lady in a car crash and she thought she had aids…

  21. This drama is getting boring after Joe Ma death ,and his cheap wife Flora Chan sleep with Francis Ng in Rome by giving green Hat Joe Ma wear ,this drama is good but it against Asian and Muslim value for a women who sleep around ,Joe Ma was role wasted in this drama and Francis role in this drama if you want to have free sex ,that no need to have sex with with best friends wife.

    1. ?????
      i don’t get what you’re trying to say.
      sam knew belle before vincent
      and they did not have sex after vincent’s death
      i think you are missing out of something.

  22. The acronym of this drama is great.

    It sounds like a new Wong Jing production.

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