[Episodic Thoughts] “All That is Bitter is Sweet” Episode 1

All That is Bitter is Sweet <大藥坊>
TVB Series 2014

Cast: Linda Chung, Ruco Chan, Raymond Wong, Natalie Tong, Shirley Yeung, Sammy Sum, Pierre Ngo, Elliot Ngok

Disclaimer: This is a watch as I write episodic thoughts and some information may not be accurate since this is memory based. Certain dialogue is reproduced with some creative license adopted. I apologize if there is any mistake. All opinion remains my own.


“I get it. She is very very very talented and good at this. But seriously? The doctors can’t differentiate? The pill makers with decades of experience only follows recipe?”

The title in Chinese is simple enough but in English it was difficult to pronounce. The Big Apothecary which is a good and direct title but difficult. So they changed to a new title, All That Is Bitter Is Sweet which is a mouthful. I will just call it ATIBIS although why not call it Bittersweet Medicine or something like that?

Anyway I decided to do what I did with Outbound Love episodic thoughts and add an emoticon to represent my feeling for a particular episode, in case you just want a short short summary.



So here’s episode 1 and it is full of rats, men and OTT acting from 1 person. This is one series, apart from Three Kingdoms RPG where TVB probably has to utilize their entire secondary male actors and like Three Kingdoms RPG, very very few female. Thus far 3 main actresses; Linda, Bak Yan, Shirley and Natalie. The ratio of old men to young men is high whilst young women to old women is high. Point is, a lot of people in this series, 90% of whom I do not know their names but I have seen them often enough.

First, theme song and I was told sung by a famous singer. I will get the name later on. The song is old style and tells me a lot about the direction of this series; tragedy. Lots and lots of tragedy plus some story of empowerment for women, that I am sure.

Ok, recap proper.

RATS! Scene opens with sigh… cutesy music which is so 100% different from the tone of the theme song. Poor dirty looking villagers chasing after rats.

Before I go on any further, I need to explain a bit on the relationships because it can get confusing.

The TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) shop is run by a feared big boss who is assisted by his younger little brother, Pierre. Pierre’s mom (I am assuming that) is Bak Yan who is the 2nd wife of the dead big master. Big Boss has a young 2nd wife who is Shirley, probably was an actress or some poor background since she is not respected at all. Big Boss has a daughter (no mention of any son) that is Linda who is getting married to the deputy City Commissioner played by Raymond Wong who is a popular guy. Ruco is the local “businessman” who deals with both black and white and his assistant is Jazz Lam. Sammy Shum is the town’s chief police and yeah, corrupted. Natalie is the daughter of the general and the cousin of Raymond. As to who is the general, we shall know later since Poon Chi Man is in this series (probably Raymond’s father?) and Elliot Ngok the general? Maybe the other way around? Susan Tse is also in here, probably the mother. That we shall know in Episode 2. The beauty of this episode is main guys all appear already, so for fans arguing on minute details, I will say so far equal screen time for our 2 male leads.

Ok, continue.

Pierre was busy chasing after rats to clean up the medicine factory and ended up toppling and mixing 2 similar looking pills, one for oral consumption and the other for application on skin. No one knows how to differentiate between the 2 as the maker of the pills is just the maker whilst the doctor who demands for the pills is incompetent. They ended up arguing in front of everyone and started to accusing one another and one of the younger worker was forced to call on the big boss who was doing some facial thing and his young wife Shirley was afraid to disturb him. Well, he was disturbed.

Meanwhile the argument continued and who came to the rescue? A very tall and robust looking Linda who added some medicinal powder and the pills with the powder stuck on it is for application on skin whilst the others are for oral consumption. She got praised, everyone was happy and life goes on.

I get it. She is very very very talented and good at this. But seriously? The doctors can’t differentiate? The pill makers with decades of experience only follows recipe? I just feel this scene is too forced. And it is not the only problem thus far.

Pierre refuses to take responsibilities for his actions of disturbing everyone and got a scolding by his much much much older brother. But he went AH HA!!!!! when he saw big huge computer generated rats running around and they all ran after the rats and Linda saw how the poor were scooping up the rats because they thought these rats have medicinal properties since they came from the medicinal factory. Linda panicking at their level of stupidity (in a nice way of course) agreed to pay a huge sum of $1 per rat and Pierre was like “Why are we paying for what we own?” since the rats came from the factory. One girl was clutching a bag with a rat and Linda kindly offered to pay her $2 for it but her father refuses saying “We need this for your brother’s illness” and ran away pretty fast. Linda told her boy to chase but alas, for someone half starving they could run very fast.

Meanwhile Linda is preparing for her wedding and her grandma happily gave her a very nice necklace which she must wear. As they banter on the wedding, Shirley tried to contribute to the conversation on the wedding only to have the grandma shoot her down with sarcastic remarks about “How would you know about the traditions of the weddings? You did not come through the main front door!”. Her husband also says “Shut up”. Linda never said “Grandma, young mom was just trying to help”. Nope! In fact grandma has no right to question poor Shirley’s knowledge or position in the family since grandma is also 2nd wife and so never entered through main front door. So I assume Shirley was a singer/actress or from very poor family and so got disrespected and ignored. But who is Linda getting married to?

The town is busy and brimming with people as an expensive car weaves through the crowd with Natalie in it. She looks haughty, arrogant and when a girl offers to sell her a flower, she gives the girl money but refuses the flower. Poor flower girl seems offended for no reason (hey! got money, and extra merchandise to sell to someone else!) and Linda quickly offers to buy the very same flower so the little girl is a business genius for being paid twice for the same exact item. Anyway Natalie reaches the city hall and meets with 2 men (one of whom is a gwailo) and leads them upstairs only to see a huge crowd, some with piglets, some with basket full of goodies and all of them waiting to greet the popular deputy commissioner, Raymond. Natalie introduces the 2 men, one of whom a photographer for his impending wedding and Raymond gets a call that his fiance is here and he rushes out to meet her and Natalie looks at them wistfully.

Raymond greets his fiance, that is Linda who hides behind a shawl as she says her grandma says they can’t meet before the actual wedding. Raymond teases her and says he is surprised she is suddenly so superstitious and so she removes her shawl. Ahhhh bad sign! Bad bad sign! Anyway she is there to ask for his help in locating the young girl who ran away with the rat since they’re foreigners and he might know where they are. He brings her there (cycling!) and she is shocked to find such a dirty, creepy run down place. They go in there and finds the young girl who half starving runs faster than Usain Bolt. Raymond runs after her and poor Linda gets left behind. And more bad sign to come as she encounters dirty water, broken cups, funeral stuff, sick people and… a woman casually eating a nice plump pear. Weird. Anyway she panicked (not over the pear I am sure) and runs and runs and runs and gets so scared she freezes and by the wall someone uses some wayar or whatever to pull her expensive necklace and she runs after I suppose the thief for the necklace (can’t remember) and bumps into a guy who is.. RUCO!! It takes her about 5 seconds delay to scream her heart out in a moment of insanely OTT moment so out of sync with the timing and Ruco, one second with black glasses, next second black glasses is gone tries to calm her as she says she lost her necklace and Ruco tells her to close her eyes and she obediently does so and he frets, looks over to see Jazz hiding and took off his hat and made a gesture demanding Jazz to give up what he has and Jazz reluctantly threw the necklace into the hat and he returns it to Linda who never really asked “Errr handsome dude, where did you find my necklace?”. She is very happy, grateful and so they parted ways. No passionate kissing and all, a bit too soon. I am sure Ruco will have to jump into a puddle, a pool, a lake, a dam, the river and the sea and even then no kiss.

Linda goes away and Ruco chastises Jazz who argues “She was the one running around with that expensive necklace! Count herself lucky she bumped into me! If it was another guy, I can imagine she will lose more than her necklace!!” Good logic. Anyway Ruco goes with Jazz and finds Sammy Shum looking more rugged than in Line Walker but still as pretty. Sammy is the corrupt chief cop making Ruco buy two boxes of low grade tea for $100 instead of the usual $50.

If you’re wondering how come all the young men all in high positions? Well Raymond probably got his thanks to daddy, Sammy probably got his thanks to corruption. It is believable because corruption is rampant back then.

Ruco tries to persuade Sammy and made some nifty calculation and in the end says smiling that why not bet? If the tea is low grade, Ruco gets the tea for free. If it is high grade, he will pay Sammy $200 or any sum he demands. Sammy seems persuaded when they hear some noises and Sammy sees Raymond and knows he will be in huge trouble if Raymond sees the confiscated tea being sold. Ruco smartly takes off the cover to cover the boxes and that reveals the little girl who squeaks and runs, yet again! This time Sammy reaches her first and forcefully drags her around and her father comes to the rescue and tries to beat Sammy who of course violently bashes the poor man up until Raymond arrives and stops Sammy. Sammy doesn’t seem pleased to stop, that’s for sure. Linda reaches the little girl and assures her she is merely trying to help, the little brother can’t eat rats but mommy is already making rat soup. Ruco watches all these with some interest and then goes away.

Raymond and Linda arrives just in time to throw the bowl of soup away and mommy crying “My son needs that!!!” and poor boy looking very sickly and was convulsing and everyone keeps repeating they need the rat, he needs the soup, he is sick… for such a bloody long time I was thinking why can’t she just say “Everyone! I am from the medicinal shop XXX and I can take your son to our doctors to cure him!”. Nope, drama dictates she must show her talent in desperate time during desperate situations, which she does by doing something to stop the convulsing and the parents say “You’re a lady doctor? Can you cure my son?” and she says “I will try” and well.. that’s for episode 2. Meanwhile Sammy looks ok without emotion and says sarcastically since the deputy commissioner is chasing rats, he told his men to make sure to clean up all rats and even the rats’ droppings.

Will the boy die? Ahhhhh cliffhanger of the century!

Anyway I wouldn’t say this is a bad 1st episode. Any TVB series will need at least 5 episodes to settle down. I already expected the cutesy music which is such a throw off. I just didn’t expect some truly illogical moments like experienced doctors and pill makers can’t differentiate between 2 pills because I suppose the method she used is revolutionary? And then there’s the obvious editing mistake with Ruco’s glasses? Or did I miss him taking his glasses off? Then there’s the whole thing about bad signs that the wedding or marriage is doomed. It was rather funny and Dayo Wong would have made one hell of a comedy out of that scene. Then there’s the Usain Bolt moments and finally the whole “My son needs the rat” and “He can’t eat the rat” when she can just end all the wrangling with “Let me take you to my 10000 square feet medicinal shop which comes complete with pill making factory, 10000 doctors and 10000000 workers and I will treat your son for free!!”

Performances wise, too early to tell but I like to comment on 3 people.

One is Du Yan Ge who is a miscast as the much feared big boss. Elliot Ngok should be in this role but I suppose he has to be in an even more feared character.  I think TVB is exhausting their list of male veterans although there are a few who can take on this role more effectively.

Second is Linda. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, I don’t know why but when did Linda become such an OTT actress? Since Brother’s Keeper? She was fine before that. Now in this 1st episode her performance was almost unbearable to watch. I like her, I think she is a fine actress but her overacting, especially those scared parts or 5 seconds delay to manic loud scream is just pure bad timing. I am sure she can do better but at times I feel her performance is digressing. I am hoping she gets rid of her bad habit of OTT acting and come back down on earth and be the lovely sublime Linda she once was.

Third is Sammy. What a beautiful man with a face made for HDTV. He is to me TVB’s Wallace Huo except his acting is still lacking. He is better in Line Walker but truthfully speaking, he is better now than he was some time back. He is improving but he is improving in such a rate where it is so slow to catch up on his hotness, his charisma, his chameleon-like face which suits any sort of character. I just wish his acting abilities just catch up on his physical side. He will get there some day, hopefully sooner before other people catches up on him.

I am not too excited about 2nd episode, no preview to encourage me to stay glued to the telly but 1st episode isn’t too bad.

This Episodic Thoughts is written by Funn Lim, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com, and was originally posted at http://bigapothecary.blogspot.com/.

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  1. wallace huo is hotter than sammy,but agree that he is versatile and can play evil as well good guy roles.and for this serie so far one word:boring.

  2. Theme song is sung by same person who sang the theme song to the popular wuxia series in the 80’s with Andy Lau and Idy Chan? Don’t remember her exact name, Cheung Tak Han or Cheung Tak Lan. I felt the song had a nolstagic vibe when I first heard it. Sure enough, it’s from the same singer when I checked the credits.

      1. Typical Joseph Koo style but it matches the era i guess. Linda’s sub theme sounds more contemporary.

      2. Cheung Tak Lan is a singer and has a beautiful voice.

        I haven’t listened to the song yet, and cannot comment on it. I always like Joseph Koo’s melodies and Lam Jik’s lyrics.

      3. @Funn Yeah, I felt the same way too when I first heard the song. But it’s gotta match the era, right?

      4. I suppose it is on point. I think given a few more episodes i will be convinced it is the best song ever which it isnt

  3. Haha, I agree, Linda’s screaming was way over the top. But I loved Ruco’s reaction to it 😛 They did show him taking off his glasses, and then Linda stopped screaming.

    If the two medicines were identical but for completely different uses, and they knew they couldn’t differentiate them, why would they put them next to each other?! Very illogical indeed.

    I definitely like Sammy better in Line Walker, but I’m looking forward to seeing more of him. I also think Natalie was pretty good as the snobby, but not necessarily mean, rich girl.

    1. I think so too. She seems to be doing so much for Raymond though she knows that she’ll never have a chance with him.

    2. oh yes, i wanted to say that too. Maybe the version Funn watched was not edited well.

      1. Maybe I blinked. I just can’t keep staring at Ruco without blinking.

  4. Linda is very pretty. Much more pleasant to watch than Tavia whose nose is too distracting.

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