Review: “Triumph in the Skies 2” (By VCN)
Triumph in the Skies 2 <衝上雲霄II>
Hong Kong TVB Drama 2013
Producer: Sharon Au, Joe Chan
Genre: Modern, Romance
Francis Ng as Samuel Tong
Chilam Cheung as Jayden Koo
Fala Chen as Holiday Ho
Myolie Wu as Zoe So/ Summer Ko
Ron Ng as Issac Tong
Kenneth Ma as Roy Ko
Elena Kong as Heather Fong
Nancy Wu as Coco Ling
Him Law as Jim Jim
Michelle Yim as Manna
Toby Leung as Apple Tung
Eliza Sam as Tracy Mok
Kelly Fu as Jose
Patrick Dunn as Tony Ching
Ten years have elapsed since the original Triumph in the Skies concluded. The renowned Captain Samuel Tong, once the stoical perfectionist, is now a widower grieving the loss of his young wife, Zoe So. This series follow Sam as he learns to cope with his grief and return to a life of normalcy. Meanwhile, Sam’s brother, Isaac Tong, and his friend, Roy Ko, aspire to be the youngest Captain of Skylette airlines. Alongside them, flight attendant CoCo Ling has matured and confronts her own struggles against social convention. New comers to the series include the charismatic pilot, Captain Jayden Koo, and the free spirited Holiday Ho as they individually endure life changing events while seeking true love and discovering their real purpose(s) in life. Also, the brooding and sullen Summer Koo finds her emotions and learns to give voice to these feelings. Using Hong Kong’s International Airport as the background, a myriad of other cast members, both young and old, populate the series as they go through life on their journeys of self discovery and romance.
Even in the original series, the English title, Triumph in the Skies, was criticized for being grossly inadequate because it does not encompass the love stories that unfolded during the series. For the same reasons, the current title, Triumph in the Skies 2, continues to fall short of being accurate. However, this title is marginally more acceptable because it is the ideal title for no reason other than continuity’s sake. Although I tend to dislike the lengthy titles employed by TVB producers, I think a more descriptive title might be appropriate for this series. Suggestions include Triumph in the Skies: 10 Years Later, Romancing Love or The Triangel Chronicles.
The characters, Holiday Ho and Captain Jayden Koo, are the most complex characters in the series and for that same reason, they are also the most interesting characters to watch. Not to mention that both Chilam Cheung and Fala Chan turned in their best performances. Chilam’s portrayal of the charming and charismatic Captain Koo is convincing and captivating. Though not a completely original role, Fala’s Holiday Ho is alternately entertaining and heartrending while she exhibits minimal restraint in depicting the bohemian free spirit. Furthermore, her youth and physical appearance fits the bill for a free spirited girl and that alone finished half her work for her. Regarding Francis Ng’s Sam Tong, my opinion of his English remains the same. (See review of the original series.) I just think that if Damian Lau can learn English for his role in Silver Spoons and Sterling Shackles, so can Francis. How difficult can it be! Despite this, he executed the role of Sam quite adequately. Ron Ng’s Isaac Tong, Myolie Wu’s Zoe So and Nancy Wu’s CoCo Ling are also nicely reprised. However, Myolie Wu’s performance of Summer Koo is unfortunately hindered by her character’s stoical personality.
From the filming technique to the plot structure, it is obvious that this series is not crafted by the creative team from the original series. Every scene from this series has been westernized for better or for worse. Even the unusual relationships seem to be culled from the American hit comedy, Friends. These airline pilots and their coworkers are constantly huddled over coffee and booze, gossiping about each other. Every relationship is an awkwardly situated love triangle (or pentagon in some cases). Equally shallow in content, most of these romances lack a credible sense of raison d’être. Simply speaking, there are just too many relationships. This series offered more romantic combinations than the movie, Love Actually. Forty-one episodes of screen time should not equal 41 relationships. A few very well-developed ones should be sufficient. This series very nearly suffered death by too many romances.
Despite these shortcomings, this series succeeds in offering more subtle nuances, parallels and foreshadowing than the original series. The conclusion of the series and its resulting romances are quickly and artistically alluded to in as early as the initial five episodes of the series. For example, Holiday flies by Jayden en route to a warm and friendly embrace with her former lover’s sister. Similarly, Roy’s romantic interest is decided for him when he inadvertently eats Tony’s choice dinner entree. Likewise, Nick’s many failed attempts at proposing also foretells the doom of his relationship with CoCo. Even Sam’s and Holiday’s abilities to temporarily quell each other’s misery predict the finale with ease. Many more hints are delivered throughout the series if the audience is attentive and attuned to metaphoric techniques.
The success of the original series rested heavily on its travelogue style, taking the audience on a whirlwind tour of Rome, Hokkaido and Adelaide. Despite the high-budget stops in London and Paris, the travelogues in this series appear lacking in scope and in style. Even the panoramic sequences fail to awe viewers after repetitive use of the same sets during different visits by different couples. A note to the producers: You’re in Paris, the capital city of romance. There are eight neighborhoods and countless scenic views in Paris–please make good use of them.
As a free-standing story, Triumph in the Skies 2 is adequate, but as a sequel, it falls very far from perfection. In a successful follow-up, the reprising roles are expected to carry the burden of consequences from the previous series. Here, only Sam and Holiday possess a palpable and genuine past. We are left wondering what happened to Isaac, CoCo and Roy. How did the arrogant Isaac Tong of yesteryear morph into this altruistic Sam-like personage? Did Isaac get assimilated into the Sam collective? (Forgive the pun.) And what happened to his last love interest, Zita? Are they still friends as the previous ending promised or did she marry Donald after all? Last but not least, what happened to Roy? Wasn’t he a gawkish cadet with minimal lines? What event caused this cataclysmic 180 degree transformation? To deliver a successful sequel, the producers owe the audience these answers either through flashbacks or character conversations.
Like all TVB dramas before this one, there seems to be absolutely nothing new here. Every romance has been told before and every character has been played before. Do we not recognize the sweet innocent diary themes, love triangles, the bohemian girl and the cocky playboy alongside the shy good-willed perfectionist? But, STOP! and rewind. Unlike previous TVB productions, this series surprisingly embrace the rarely used character-driven storyline that most great dramas are based upon. For this very reason, the action rolls along at a relatively slower pace than a plot-driven story. All action relies on the meditations and motivation of each character. Even if this series falls short of perfection, these producers deserve tepid applause for the courageous attempt to create this artistic and philosophical piece of work.
A proper analysis of a character-driven story necessitates a discussion of character development. Because the primary love triangle between Sam, Holiday and Jayden seem to be the most confounding for audiences, I will only evaluate these three characters in a humble attempt to explain their actions and decisions.
Captain Samuel Tong is a traditionalist and seems to be ignorantly clueless of how the times have changed over the course of ten years–people are more relaxed; culture has taken a sidestep; relationships are more casual than ever. Only Sam can be oblivious to the changing times. Given his unawareness, one would think that he has been a recluse for ten plus years when in fact he had only taken a two year hiatus from the world of aviation to care and grieve for Zoe. Sam is also not a free thinker. He is best described as a tightly bound volume of regulations and remains as pedantic as ever. Sam finds everyone’s behavior reproachable, unworthy of his or her stature as an airline pilot. His vision is myopic and he believes that being a pilot represents an innate ability to show discipline and reason, to act maturely and speak technically. He does not believe that that professional etiquette can be acquired through education, experience and time. He also does not believe that individual uniqueness brings about change and hopefully, improvements. If he is stigmatized against someone, that individual is condemned to failure with no chance of redemption.
But, Sam was not always like this. Recall that the Sam from the original series was a much more reasonable and admirable character. His generosity in this series seems petty compared to his altruism in the original series. In certain aspects, he has lost his magic the very day that he allowed Zoe to run away and die alone in Kaohsiung. Consequently, a devastated Sam exiles himself to cake baking in London instead of returning to his passion of being a pilot. The whole world mistakes his misery for grief, but it is guilt that imprisons him because he failed to understand Zoe in her last days. His reluctance to surrender to the reality that Zoe’s lease on life has expired nearly destroys their relationship. Zoe understands that love and life are not everlasting things and urges Sam to return to work. His refusal to accept the fragility of these things drove Zoe away from him. Because he cannot come to terms with this truth, he deceives himself and his family into believing that Zoe died peacefully in his embrace. For the same reason, he dodges all mention of Kaohsiung and avoids all flights to the city.
After Holiday chooses Sam over Jayden, the inevitable question arises, Does Sam love Holiday as much as he loved Zoe? To properly answer this question, one must ask, Did Sam even know how to love Zoe? Sam was not fully cognizant of how to love Zoe. Otherwise, he would not have allowed her to slip away from him unnoticed. In the climactic scene in the finale, Sam is given a new chance to learn from his mistakes. Paralleling Zoe’s illness to the near death experience of episode 41, Sam is given the choice to either repeat old errors and live with enduring regret or to take a chance, to openly acknowledge and celebrate love. Life is just as fleeting as love itself. With this in mind, the love story of Sam and Zoe comes full circle and becomes the love story of Sam and Holiday. Thus, the answer to the premise is a resounding Yes!
Captain Jayden Koo, the celebrity pilot, is young, handsome and skilled in aviation after serving in the Australian Air Force. He basks in his superstar status as the celebrity pilot of Skylette airlines and he indulges in his lifestyle of endless parties and women. On multiple occasions, he likens himself to the DC comic book hero, Batman, a wealthy playboy by day and a vigilante crime fighter by night, alluding to his ability to accomplish heroic deeds should the need arise. But despite the confidant and nonchalant facade, he is very human and as confused about life as the rest of humanity. He has no lucid dreams to pursue and he does not plan extensively for the future. He simply lives his life on a day-to-day basis, finding the next great party, trying to mend his broken relationship with his sister and maintaining his famed existence.
Ostensibly, Jayden is the reincarnation of Sam’s bosom buddy, Vincent Ling, at least in philandering spirit. However, that is not the case; Jayden is not the typical womanizer portrayed in TVB productions. Even he denies being a womanizer. He only admits to a profligate lifestyle that involves women because he genuinely admires the unique beauty of every woman. As a romantic, he believes that love is not meant to be safe and everlasting nor is it meant to enslave or hold one captive. Locking love and throwing away the keys is “stupid” in his opinion. In fact, he openly denounces the act while strolling with Holiday on the Pont des Arts in Paris. Instead, he subscribes to the notion that love is inherently vulnerable and that to love is to embrace its fragility and to give one’s beloved complete freedom in exchange for a very slight chance of retaining his or her undying gratitude or love. This philosophy of love is the Parisienne’s definition of love.
This is the great love that Jayden offers Holiday. He gives her a love that allows her to be true to herself by condoning her mischief and urging her toward her goals without trying to tame her like a wild beast. His love for her also breaks through his mask; he finally shares his personal issues, matters that he has previously guarded with fierce privacy. Only with her does he describe his anguish over his broken promise to Summer and only with her does he share the true story of his origins without resorting to grand tales of the Aisin Gioro or fabulous wealth. Despite his own imminent suffering, he respects her decision to leave him and frees her from their relationship. Contrary to the comments of other critics, Holiday does touch Jayden. She brings him a sense of home and family, something he has never had, in his lonely chaotic world of excesses. This is best represented when Jayden begins to mope around his apartment, waiting for dinner from his sister instead of dining out and clubbing at bars, after their separation. Furthermore, Jayden learns to appreciate and embrace family life, visiting Summer on a regular basis and staying with his half-sister, Alizee, in Paris. He emerges from their romance a changed man. If that is not love, what is?
Holiday Ho is a quirky British born Chinese girl, who is heartbroken after the disappearance of her lover, Daniel. Like Sam, she is in denial of his flight accident and subsequent death. Lovesick, she quits both her job and family to wander the world and later pursues a career as a pilot. Being a free spirit, Holiday is a romantic at heart, absconding with her flight instructor as her newly discovered lover. Her interest in the Greek myth of Europa further attests to her hope and trust that love is a romantic affair. Her love with Daniel was her personal tale of great love, but Daniel’s untimely death turned it into her cage, imprisoning her until Jayden rescues her from her suffering.
Jayden and Holiday’s romance seems to be the most plausible relationship in the entire series. Whether or not Jayden knows it, he happens to be present at practically all of Holiday’s darkest moments, supporting her and protecting her. Throughout the series, Jayden remains steadfastly by her side regardless of her decision to leave him for another man. Together, they emerge from their biggest obstacle, comforting each other throughout their separate ordeals. These experiences should be the guiding light to love; however, Holiday inexplicably chooses Sam, the most unlikely choice. This baffling decision leaves the audience completely confused.
Haunted by shadows from her past, Holiday makes her choice out of fear. By choosing Sam, Holiday picks the safest choice that a girl can elect. Sam does not take risks of any kind and he always takes precautionary measures to ensure safety at all cost. He would not pilot an airplane through a lightening storm for all the fanfare in the world. More importantly, her reason for choosing Sam is because she could not possibly endure another loss and another heartbreak. She acknowledges Jayden’s similarities to her dead lover, Daniel. Both men are popular with ladies and both of them has a penchant for spoiling her. Similarly, they are capable of disappearing without notice; Daniel was swallowed up by a storm and Jayden is nearly incinerated in a voluntary rescue operation. Holiday is naturally drawn to Jayden because of these similarities to Daniel. Sadly, these similarities are also the sole reason why she so desperately runs away from him. By the end, she admits that Jayden remains a very tempting choice for her when she tearfully begs him to stop treating her with such tender affection for fear that she would no longer be capable of resisting him.
Quite frankly, Triumph in the Skies 2 is a story about different romances and the theme of the series is romantic love. The message is to not pass over love while fussing over insignificant matters. Love is too precious to miss; it is the greatest emotion, so celebrate it while it lasts. In the end of the series, one realizes that the drama only pretends to extol the Parisienne philosophy of love because it ends with Holiday, the leading lady, embracing a risk-free love with Sam. Countless other relationships conclude in marriage, engagement or a promising courtship. These relationships and the Triangel/Guardian Angel all imply the safety net of a permanent love and point away from the ephemerally romantic side of love, thereby closing the series with uncertainty and declaring love a sentimental expression. By the end, only Jayden dares to start a new love affair with heroism, a romantic theme that has spanned time itself.
In conclusion, the producers of Triumph in the Skies 2 tried to convey the philosophy of love in layman terms, admittedly a very difficult task to undertake. Their attempt resulted in an ambiguous ending; however, the courage to try deserves commendation. As to stars, I think this drama series, Triumph in the Skies 2, is worthy of 4 stars out of 5. So, if this series is still a bore and a complete disaster to you, I can only respond with Captain Jayden Koo’s trademark answer, “Excuse me?”
This review was written by VCN, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com.