[Review] “Ghost Dragon of Cold Mountain” (By Funn)
Ghost Dragon of Cold Mountain <寒山潛龍>
Hong Kong TVB Drama 2014
Producer: Marco Law
Genre: Ancient, detective
“One thing is absolutely dismal and total fail in this series; the kung fu. It is so terrible, so amateurish, so inadequate, it is not even worth reviewing this aspect”
Cast of Characters
Kenneth Ma – Chu Cheung Sing
Pierre Ngo – Ngau Tai Lik
Power Chan – Ma Chuen Kung
Selena Li – To Fa / Yan Mei Leung
Lin Xia Wei – Yeung Mau
Raymond Cho – Hung Sap Kau
Lau Kong – Fung Nam Tin
Ram Tseung – Emperor
Law Lok Lam
Cheung Kwok Keung – 4th Duke/Royal uncle
Mary Hon – Empress Dowager
Candy Chang – Wan Ling
Eric Li – Sheh Pak Nin
Jonathan Cheung – Jin prince
The Tin Kei Agency of the Northern Song, an investigation agency specializing in solving strange cases in the kingdom, is headed by the wise Fung Nam Tin (Lau Kong), who leads a group of extremely well-trained constables. His favorite apprentice, Chu Cheung Sing (Kenneth Ma), is wisdom and courage embodied in one, but Nam Tin and Cheung Sing end their partnership when they fail to come to a consensus on how to solve a particular case. Cheung Sing ends up leaving the agency to live a simple and peaceful life with his wife, To Fa (Selena Li).
Ten years later, the aging Nam Tin orders three of his most-skilled apprentices – Ma Chuen Kung (Power Chan), Ngau Tai Lik (Ngo Ka Nin), and Yeung Mau (Lin Xiawei) – to reach out to Cheung Sing and convince him to return. Cheung Sing agrees to work with the agency again, but his personality often clashes with his three partners, causing the four to frequently fight. Meanwhile, Cheung Sing is separated from his wife, but his feelings become conflicted when he ends up meeting a prostitute who looks exactly like her.
Cheung Sing learns that the opposing Jurchen kingdom has placed a mole within the Tin Kei Agency and his good friend, Hung Sap Kau (Raymond Cho) is exploited by the enemy. Cheung Sing does not know whom to trust. The line between friend and foe continues to be blurry.
For More Info
Some episodic reviews here at http://www.point2e.com/2014/07/o-ghost-dragon-of-cold-mountain-tvb2014.html
Originally billed as a return to wuxia until the story proper begins and it is nothing about wuxia. It is in fact a modern concept of a series with semi pseudo modern lingo throw in everywhere purportedly in the Song Dynasty which could have been Ming Dynasty for all I care and with characters doing things that I don’t suppose anyone will understand. For one, what is this “Tin Gei Agency”? What does it do? Why is it there? Why the people in the town who knows the officers in “Tin Gei Agency” doesn’t seem to know them when they’re supposedly in disguise whilst looking the same or are they in another town? Is this Infernal Affairs in ancient time? And oh no, not another twin sisters storyline!!
But you know what? I like it. I was charmed by it. It has its good points as well as many many bad points but the effort and sincerity in the performances are good enough reasons to give this series a chance. Just a chance because I am sure you may be tempted to give up after 3 episodes. If you keep going, it takes a good further few more episodes to like this series and by the end of it, if you persevere, it has one of the most complete and to me satisfying ending in a TVB series. It is not i crap or Ruse Of Engagement sadness; it is hopeful and for some, joyous.
The story itself is confusing. It tries to be too modern with the modern lingo and concept.
For example, Cheung Sing’s wife suing for divorce based on Cheung Sing’s adultery with her evil twin sister, Yan Mei Leung. Looks good in modern times but in olden times, if she succeeded and in a highly moral society like Song Dynasty, Cheung Sing and Yan Mei Leung would have been drowned. So it made no sense, but it made for a rather romantic moment as Cheung Sing repeatedly and forcefully tells Yan Mei Leung he couldn’t care less about her. In fact, he couldn’t care less about his unborn child “baking” in Yan Mei Leung’s body which to me is nice to watch. It is realistic. This man is not gonna give up on the love of his life over a fetus.
Then there’s the medical procedures, etc which made me see this series is pseudo Criminal Minds meets CSI meets FBI meets CIA. “Tin Gei Agency” has more characteristics of FBI (investigating federal crimes) than just a simple investigative bureau. They only investigate cases that falls within national crisis, like deaths of ministers, etc although after a while they investigate basically everything.
The story is nothing amazing, not consistent and you will need to suspend logic and well and everything your mind is telling you, such as this is a silly series. There are times I wonder where is the consistency, at most times I wonder “how on earth???” where the plot needed to proceed and didn’t do too well in bridging between 2 scenes to proceed credibly. This is especially so during “Yan Mei Leung disguising as To Fa” scenes. There were too many things Yan Mei Leung seems to know about To Fa to make any of those scenes credible. It was quite simply too convenient.
Some characters will have you wondering “are they, aren’t they” which at times make for good suspense but at most times just confuses the hell out of me. When there is a spy in “Tin Gei Agency” and we know that much earlier on, we are left wondering who can that be? It was pretty obvious but not quite sure.
At first I suspected Sheh Pak Nin but he turns out to be a loser and nothing else. Disappointing though because this character could have turned out to be either redeemed hero or ultimate loser and he was the latter. I was hoping he would be redeemed when half way through the series Chuen Kung told Cheung Sing that Pak Nin lost his confidence due to the presence of Cheung Sing and I was really hoping Cheung Sing would try to help Pak Nin to find his groove again. Unfortunately the series needed a villain and Pak Nin was it. Poor Eric Li.
Then I suspected Chuen Kung because I like the potential dilemma; his father was framed as a traitor and so potentially he had every reason to turn on the Song Dynasty although it is shown earlier on Chuen Kung was steadfastly loyal to the emperor, his boyhood friend as well as saviour (the emperor saved his life from execution and becoming sort of stateless when his father was declared a traitor). Towards the end I was really hoping his father WAS a traitor or was a mole and so the son will continue his work. But then, that would be a great insult to what a great guy Chuen Kueng was. So in the end I am quite pleased he turned out to be a hero although he also had me guessing who he loved and guess what? His ending is very satisfying as well.
So in the end it was the chief of the agency who became the PM, that was Fung Nam Tin. You probably have guessed he was the one but yet, there is something you can emphatise with this Fung Nam Tin. He probably became a Song citizen longer than he was a Jin citizen. He was placed as a mole since very very young and he worked his way up which shows he was a capable man. He seemed to genuinely care about the emperor but we all know that is a fallacy. But he also seemed to genuinely care about his subordinates, like Cheung Sing whom he treated as his own son, his 2nd chance at life to Tai Lik, his gentle approach to Yeung Mau and his leadership with his agency. Like how Cheung Sing said in the end, Fung Nam Tin treated them with kindness, so was he a bad person? I find Fung Nam Tin very intriguing for the fact that he is a mole, he probably believe in his country’s case and he was probably quite conflicted with his dual identity. His sorry ending was in a way bittersweet eventhough frankly he had zero chance at what he was doing. I find that the revelation of his deviousness half baked and rushed.
Then there was the 2 strange characters.
The emperor is one strange man. Many times he showed himself a kind person but useless. It was agreed he wasn’t a good candidate to be emperor, and he only got the position because I believe his brother died young. He never wanted the position anyway. Many times this emperor had me wondering was he pretending or was he really that dumb? Let me assure you most of the time he was really that dumb. However his ending was to me the best ending for this series. In fact anyone questioning how will he survive will be answered by Chuen Kung himself. No half done or half baked ending. His ending was complete and the most joyous one for his situation.
The 4th duke/royal uncle is also strange. First he was the villain, trying to take over and supplant the emperor and he became sort of mad with anger when he failed and was imprisoned in a temple for the rest of his life. Even his eunuch was devious and I thought that was the end of his story until of course he will be revealed as the ultimate villain. Well, I was wrong. Fung Nam Tin was the ultimate villain and the 4th duke’s story did not end when his bid for the throne ended. In fact the 4th duke’s story has a rather strange twist and in the end a good one which redeems his character and just shows in the beginning all his wariness and suspicion over the emperor and Fung Nam Tin was justified.
But for me, I enjoyed this series because of a few interesting reasons. Some you may agree, some may baffle you.
I really do enjoy Kenneth Ma’s performance in a limited sort of way. He looks great in this series, however I still dislike how he manages to “wimp” his every character by simply being really bad at showing sadness or crying. I hate how his character became so wimp like towards the end, nothing heroic, and certainly nothing suave. That being said, I also find him effectively funny when he is needed to be funny or cute or humorous. Just don’t expect him to be great at the dramatic parts. Not a bad performance in my book and one of his better ones.
Surprisingly I also enjoyed Selena Li’s performance. I will even declare this is her breakthrough performance and by her own standard, it is her best ever. And I stress, her own standard because a better actress, or rather a more nuanced actress would have been better than Selena Li. You can see she tried really hard in 3 different personalities and it shows. As To Fa, she was silly, not so bright (but not stupid either) and loud as the supportive wife of Cheung Sing. As Yan Mei Leung, she was dark, brooding, devious and a very very very angry woman. The third character was in the last episode she is the changed Yan Mei Leung who more gentle, refined and a happier person. I can certainly see the differences in all these 3 distinct personalities and I salute her for a job (or jobs) well done. However she seems rather OTT in the first 2 personalities, that to make the difference she has to be so totally and very very different which makes her performance not as great as it should have been. But she has improved a lot, she made the effort, she did her part(s) and kudos to her breakthrough and best performance todate.
I thoroughly enjoyed Raymond Cho’s performance. He may be too old for this sort of character but he happens to excel as the goofy guy in this series who provides the comedy and the drama as well. I really enjoyed his chemistry with the male case and although Candy as Wan Ling was not the best performance ever, they shared this cute chemistry together, mostly because of Raymond Cho. I also love how cute Raymond Cho was with Law Lok Lam. Have you ever imagined Law Lok Lam, the man with such a fierce and serious face with a very serious demeanour and a serious reputation as an actor (although a caring one) could be cute and funny? Yes he was! Check out his many cute moments when he was with Raymond Cho, especially the later scene where his character was facing the emperor waiting for rewards. It was just a little or small gesture but any gesture capable of bringing out the cuteness in this awesome well respected titan of a veteran is much appreciated.
I also enjoyed Pierre Ngo’s performance as Tai Lik. He seemed like a ruffian at first and I thought for a while he may be an eunuch (how awesome would that be?!) but in the end he has a heart of gold. His character went through a huge change, for the better and even his complexion got smoother towards the end. Pierre Ngo is a dependable actor when in the right role and in here, he is supporting at best but he manages to stay within the eyesight of viewers and yet does not grab the limelight from others. In short, he is a team player and I enjoyed his performance.
I never liked Lin Xiawei. I never considered her pretty and I never liked the way she talked with that baby voice but luckily, she turned off the baby voice and adopted a serious voice. If her Yeung Mau is a tomboy, she failed. But if her Yeung Mau is strong and steadfast in her duty and person, then yes, she did well. However I never liked Lin Xiawei for reasons I do not know why. I just don’t like her and so whilst she was ok as Yeung Mau, for me she didn’t stand out nor should she since she is not the leading lady. Yes her face may be the biggest in the poster, bigger than Selena but the truth is she is at best supporting.
The one I absolutely love is Power Chan as Chuen Kung. That man is pure arrogance but I don’t think he knows he is arrogant. He knows himself as very smart, the smartest of them all, very capable and very wise and he doesn’t seem to know it offends people since he knows he is just that sort of a person and everyone should just accept that. Many times in earlier scenes he always declared himself as the most capable. He is in fact the most capable and should be leading the departments or even as the main top guy or even the PM. However he is not and I will assume he is the most important, respected and with the highest profile of anyone in a lowly position as his. But he is wise and perhaps the best representative of the Song era and none of the modern lingo and jargon we hear. He is the “what if” for me; meaning if the series were properly written in the way Chuen Kung best represent it in terms of his speech and in his seriousness, perhaps this series would have been a classic. Chuen Kung also happens to have perhaps a great unexpected ending and he also has the distinction of uttering my most favourite line in this series (not verbatim);
“Your majesty, a person should only be concerned with 3 stages in life; past, present and future. Since whatever happened has happened, why worry about the past? Since whatever is going to happen you can’t know, why worry about the present? Since whatever is going to happen has yet to happen, why worry about the future?”
That line hit me like a runaway train. Very very wise and a complete gem. Who knew TVB actually had smart writers writing such a classy line eh? By the way Power Chan even got the chance to repeat his famous line from The Confidant (the one about the fiery phoenix) and in this series, he did it in a masculine way. I really do understand why Chuen Kung got all the attentions of the ladies!
But sadly, the writing isn’t as classy for the rest of the series. This is such a confusing series. The title suggests a good wuxia series about the wulin world but it is so far removed from that. The English title is deceptive. The dynasty suggests it is about moral, law and justice but this series isn’t really that. The content suggests a smart olden day Ruse Of Engagement sort of story; a mole within the organisation with a huge emotional back story but that was never properly realised, never properly told. It was more of a climax rather than the story itself, meaning it meant to shock more than assist in telling a complete story. The characters are fun to watch but in the end dragged down by the modern lingoes, modern concept and nothing resembling the olden days of Song Dynasty or any dynasty for that matter. It never felt Song, never felt ancient. In fact it would have been better to set this in Ming Dynasty to show highly skilled corrupt eunuchs but then there’s no story of the barbarians or invaders like the Jins. Hence the necessity of this dynasty. The story is not consistent enough to be compelling but there were some moments where the story is good enough to chase and this was towards the end. The beginning of this series is more on investigations which were rather fun to watch but again bears no resemblance to the route it will eventually take for the ending. Like I said, not consistent but rather enjoyable to watch.
However 2 things were absolutely right with this series.
The costumes are good even if limited. And the scenery is jaw droppingly awesome, all filmed in China and is the redeeming factor of this series, apart from Power Chan. I love the natural surroundings, I can see Hengdian I believe but the temple where 4th Duke was supposedly imprisoned was amazing looking. You have got to see it to believe it. It may not felt like Song or ancient dynasty but these scenery and locations made this series look credibly well budgeted for a series set in ancient times. You can’t fault the locations.
One thing is absolutely dismal and total fail in this series; the kung fu. It is so terrible, so amateurish, so inadequate, it is not even worth reviewing this aspect. In fact this series consciously knows how terrible it is that there are very very very few scenes of major kung fu moments and even if there were, they were mostly short. I find it very sad that TVB who were once rather good with all those kung fu in ancient series could be so terrible in this series. Maybe lack of good practice. TVB hasn’t made any decent wuxia series in recent years. Maybe it is time to bring out the trampoline and go back to basics.
A good entertaining series that many will find elements to enjoy. I certainly enjoyed it very much, much to my surprise.
This review is written by Funn Lim, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com, and was originally posted at www.point2e.com.