I’m back! Well, at least for now. About a year and a half ago, I had stopped posting on this blog mostly because my life’s priorities at that time had changed to the point that I knew I would no longer have time to dedicate to this blog. It also didn’t help that, with the continued decline of the HK entertainment industry these past few years, I felt that writing about the industry started to become a huge waste of time. I felt like there were better ways to spend the limited leisure time that I have each day and consistently maintaining this blog just wasn’t worth the time.
So you must be thinking — if that’s the case, why did I decide to post again? The answer to that question is a bit complicated. First of all, nothing has changed in terms of my priorities — everything I stated above still stands and I definitely don’t intend on keeping this blog updated long-term. The reason why I decided to resurrect this blog temporarily is because I recently started watching HK series again and finally found one that is not only worthy of my time to actually watch, but also inspiring enough to spur me to write about it.
The series is called The Gutter (歎息橋), which is a production that just started airing on ViuTV this week. The Gutter reunites the creative team behind ViuTV’s earlier series Margaret and David: Green Bean — directors 25 (楊承恩) and Fat Ball (李紹波), award-winning scriptwriter Norris Wong (黃綺琳) — along with actors Bowie Lam (林保怡) and Catherine Chau (周家怡). This time around, Bowie has also taken up the role of producer for the series, so his involvement goes beyond that of lead actor.
As one of the few people who actually enjoyed and appreciated the Green Bean series (which, for those who never heard of it, was another non-mainstream HK series that realistically portrayed relationships and was based on the book series written by Nam Fong Mo Ting), I of course was excited when I heard, as far back as 2 years ago, that Bowie has plans to collaborate with 25 and Fat Ball again on a new series — so basically, this series has been on my radar for awhile.
Since I just started watching and am only on episode 3 (there are 15 episodes total), it will be awhile obviously before I’m in the position to write any type of review (if I decide to write a review that is — I’m still thinking about it). But one thing I do intend on doing (hence the reason for resurrecting this blog) is to share my thoughts on the series as I watch it and also provide a platform for others who may also be watching this series to share their thoughts as well.
Those of you who know me know that when become interested in a series, I don’t just “watch” the series — rather, I do my research and try to find out everything I can about the series, including reading / watching all the behind-the-scenes stuff about how the series was made, as it enhances my viewing experience (I do the same thing with books that I like....I spend a lot of time researching and reading up on stuff). With this series especially though, research is necessary because it’s not a typical “formulaic” HK series akin to the kind that TVB usually churns out. Instead, The Gutter is a series that requires those who watch to really pay attention, as there are a lot of nuances and nothing is clearly explained — the audience actually needs to think when they watch the series and reflect. According to Bowie (via various interviews he has done over the past week), this is a series that won’t be easily understood with only one viewing — I love the way he put it in his most recent interview for Mingpao Weekly: “If you are able to watch The Gutter only once and completely understand it, then you must be a genius!” Bowie said that he himself had to read the script twice in order for him to begin to understand the message the story is trying to convey.
My intention for this particular post is for it to be an “introduction” of sorts where I wanted to share some of the information I had gleaned while reading up on the series. I’m also sharing links to the 25 minute production special that gives a “making of” behind-the-scenes look at the series as well as interviews with cast and crew that give important insights into the series. I recommend watching those interviews and the production special before watching the series.
Also, just a word of warning: in order to get the most out of the experience, you need to go into this series without any preconceived notions of what you typically see in traditional HK (specifically TVB) series — in other words, if you are used to watching TVB’s formulaic series and are looking for something similar, you’re not going to find it with this series. The Gutter is very much a character-driven story where the focus is on how each of the main characters evolve and become who they are later in life and how that shapes how each of them view certain events that happen in their lives. I personally love character-driven stories so this series is a perfect match for me, but I know not everyone feels the same way. Also, it has been made very clear in multiple interviews with the cast and crew that this is not a series that you can just turn on in the background and make dinner while watching, nor can you multi-task and do other things at the same time — in other words, this series makes the audience “work” for their reward, taking the position that the audience is intelligent enough to work out the meaning on their own and interpret as they see fit (as opposed to TVB’s series, which mostly takes the position that their audiences are either dumb or lazy or, at minimum, aren’t the type who want to think for themselves). If that’s not something you are up for at the moment (which is perfectly fine given we are in the middle of a pandemic and many people may not be in the mood), then I recommend putting off watching this until you’re ready.
For my thoughts on specific episodes, stay tuned to my blog, and subsequent posts will cover that. For now, here is some introductory info to note:
- First, the significance of the series’ title. The English title “The Gutter” comes from renowned poet and playwright Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play Lady Windermere’s Fan, which is about the events that unfold when the titular character (Lady Windermere), suspects that her husband is having an affair. The title comes from a quote in Act III of the play, where Lord Darlington (Lady Windermere’s friend) comments: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” [Reference: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Windermere's_Fan]
- The Chinese title 歎息橋 is literally translated as “Bridge of Sighs”, which is a real-life bridge located in Venice, Italy. Built in the 1600s, the bridge connected prison rooms to the government palace rooms where prisoners were interrogated. The bridge’s name refers to how “prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells.” [Reference: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_of_Sighs]
- The style of the series takes inspiration from Japanese director Akita Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon in that it applies “the Rashomon effect” to tell its story. Dictionary.com defines the Rashomon effect as “an instance when the same event is described in significantly different (often contradictory) ways by different people who were involved.”
- Each episode is told from the point of view of each of the 6 main characters (Thomas, Sammy, Ken, Joyce, Catherine, and Kevin).
- The first 15 minutes or so of each episode is dedicated to telling the back story of each character through some of the events that occurred when they were young. The purpose of these scenes is to show how things that happen in our youth, the environment we were raised in, etc., influence the type of person we become later in life.
- Part of the series was filmed on location in Belgium (the entire series was filmed in early 2019, so prior to the coronavirus outbreak).
- The cast of this series is one of the best I’ve seen in years! From veterans to newbies, the cast is star-studded and from the few episodes I’ve watched so far, the acting is excellent! Even if you’re not keen on the story, I would suggest watching this for the cast alone.
Here’s a brief rundown of the main 6 characters and the actors who portray them:
- Thomas (李子勇) is played by Bowie Lam (林保怡), younger version is played by Kelvin Chan (陳健朗)
- Sammy (方小薇) is played by Catherine Chau (周家怡), younger version played by Hedwig Tam (談善言)
- Joyce (何樂兒) is played by Michelle Wai (衛詩雅), younger version played by Renci Yeung (楊偲泳)
- Ken (胡啟源) is played by Hanjin Tan (陳奐仁), younger version played by Himmy Wong (黃定謙)
- Catherine (梁淑媛) is played by Christine Ng (伍詠薇), younger version played by Leila Tong (唐寧)
- Kevin (鍾家俊) is played by Kaki Sham (岑珈其)
Other supporting characters also important to the story are:
- Lau Siu Ming (劉兆銘) who plays Thomas’s father 李文滔 , younger version is played by Samuel Kwok (郭鋒)
- Paul Chun (秦沛) plays Joyce’s father 何永昌 , younger version played by Wilson Tsui (艾威)
- Poon Chan Leung (潘燦良) plays Catherine’s husband Ryan 鍾懷安, younger version played by Ling Man Lung (凌文龍)
- Bonnie Wong (黃文慧) plays Ken’s mother 胡彩雲, younger version played by Luna Shaw (邵美君)
- Alan Luk (陸駿光) plays Sammy’s boyfriend 黎銘南, younger version played by Yatho Wong (黃溢濠)
- Angie Cheong (張慧儀) plays Thomas’s mother, who dies early on (not a spoiler since it’s in the summary)
Here’s a quick translation of the summary that is in the Wikipedia page for the series (though please note that the summary is very incomplete....I translated what was there but there is way more to the story than that):
Summary: 李子勇 Thomas (林保怡/陳健朗飾) 出生貧窮，年輕時為了賺取母親的醫藥費，拼命打工賺錢，認識了同在茶餐廳打工的少女 方小薇 Sammy (周家怡/談善言飾)，自此成了好朋友。母親離世後，Thomas開了一間餐應，生意不俗，與 好友兼拍檔 Sammy 一起打拼。一天，Thomas 重遇在比利時結識的 何樂兒 Joyce (衛詩雅/楊偲泳飾)。二人一拍即合，很快便走在一起，但種種跡象均顯示 Joyce 似對 Thomas 不忠。Thomas 決定要當場拆穿她，卻沒料到自己才是第三者。原來 Joyce 與 胡啟源 Ken (陳奐仁/黃定謙飾) 已拍拖八年，當意識到到 Ken 似乎沒有求婚的打算時，Joyce 決定與有主見、有見識的 Thomas 開始另一段新感情。Thomas 知道自己莫名奇妙地做了 Joyce 與 Ken 之間的第三者之後，識趣地離去，本來不想再介入二人的關係…
Translation: In order to raise money to pay his mother’s medical expenses, Thomas Lee, who grew up poor, takes up a job at a cafe, where he meets Sammy Fong, also a worker there. The two of them become close friends into adulthood. After the death of his mother, Thomas teams up with Sammy to open a restaurant, which does good business. One day, Thomas is reunited with with Joyce Ho, a girl he met many years ago when he was working as a poor artist in Belgium. The two of them hit it off immediately and begin dating. Soon however, Thomas starts to notice things that suggest Joyce has perhaps been unfaithful to him. When Thomas decides to confront Joyce, he makes the discovery that all along, he has actually been the third wheel in Joyce’s relationship with her boyfriend Ken. Joyce and Ken had actually been dating for 8 years, but when she gets the feeling that Ken has no intentions of marrying her, their relationship hits a snag. When Joyce sees Thomas again, she is attracted to his ambitious and hardworking nature and decides to enter a relationship with him. After Thomas finds out that Joyce is still seeing Ken, he no longer wants to come between them, so he breaks things off with her....
Behind-the-scenes production special feature:
Cast and Crew Interviews: