I've been meaning to write this review, but just never got around to it. Though technically, this review covers Part 2 primarily (since I just finished watching it not too long ago), there will be many references to Part 1 as well as the series as a whole, since it's necessary to understanding the entire series.
As we all know, ATE was made in 1999/2000 to commemorate the changing of eras (transition to Y2K). It was a huge production back in the days and made history in a sense because 1) it was the first modern day "long" non-sitcom series (total 100+ episodes), which TVB had not done since the 70s (and even then, none of the series were more than 100 eps long), 2) the series boasted an ALL-STAR cast consisting of many of the biggest siu sangs and fadans of that era, plus other big names in the TV and music world (Gallen Lo, Roger Kwok, Sunny Chan, Kenix Kwok, Flora Chan, Maggie Siu, Liza Wang, Paul Chun, Ada Choi, Louis Koo, Joe Ma, Wu Qi Long, plus a supporting cast of well-known veterans).
After having watched part 1 years ago and only watching part 2 recently, I must say that I liked part 2 way better than part 1, even though part 1 has one of my favorite actors Sunny Chan. One reason is because the majority of Part 1 was spent "building up" the characters and the storyline -- and with so many "big stars", of course their would be multiple storylines and sub-storylines involving all the various characters. This is why, in my opinion, part 1 had alot of "draggy" scenes which were not always necessary to further the plot -- which is a shame because I truly feel that the length of this series is what caused it to get low ratings back when it aired on TV (well, not really that low, but lower than expected).....audiences probably lost interest at certain points with the dragginess (especially near the beginning of the series) and also the confusion with all the different storylines. I feel that part 1 only started getting "climactic" after the scene where Sunny Chan's character Hui Man Biu becomes evil -- it's the turning point of the series and many of the scenes following that one focuses on the emotional and physical struggles between the characters, which is where we get to see the true test of each person's acting.
Part 2, on the other hand, was "climactic" throughout (so much so that I found myself 'glued' to the TV set!). I think part of the reason why Part 2 was so much better was because it did not have to do any "buildup" because that was done already in part 1. The entire premise of part 2 was based on everything that happened in Part 1; in terms of plot, it continues where Part 1 left off, but most importantly, it also talks about the aftermath -- the repercussions of the events that happened in part 1 (the death of Sunny and Kenix's characters, Gallen's role in pushing Sunny over the edge, the kidnapping of Maggie and Wu Qi Long's characters, etc. etc.) and how they affected the lives of the characters. If I remember correctly, I believe TVB aired Parts 1 and 2 separately, in different years and the "selling point" so to speak for Part 2 was centered around the question of "How did Hui Man Biu die?" -- therefore, the first few episodes were spent 'unraveling' this mystery. I must say that this tactic was pretty clever because it makes those who watched part 1 want to tune in for part 2 in order to find out the answer and then continue watching as the events unfold.
Well, the revelation that comes out in Part 2 of how Sunny's character Hui Man Biu actually died was a bit of a shocker because up until that point, almost everyone thought that Gallen's character Yip Wing Tim somehow killed him -- or hired a hitman to do the job, since he wasn't actually at the scene. This is very important to note because this is the catalyst for why Louis Koo's character Cheung Zi Lik wants to avenge his brother's death in Part 2 (which drives everything that he does) -- so in a sense, it "sets up" the plot for Part 2, with Louis obviously taking over for Sunny as the "evil" character this time around. The revelation also changes the relationship between Gallen and Roger's characters -- who, along with Sunny, started off as close buddies, but were torn apart at the end of part 1 due to all the things that happened.....so going into Part 2, Roger was mad at Gallen for "killing" Sunny and causing his wife Kenix to die as well, leaving their baby son an orphan. But when it turns out that Roger actually caused Sunny's death and not only was Gallen innocent all along, but he actually tried to protect Roger by letting the whole world believe that he did kill Sunny, the 2 'brothers' end up reconciling. This is definitely one of the climactic points in the series, both from a "plot" as well as an "acting" standpoint: from a "plot" standpoint, it's important because Gallen and Roger's relationship is taken to a whole new level and they spend most of Part 2 working toward a common goal -- realizing the architectural "dream" that Sunny had prior to his death and doing everything they can to make it come true, in honor of their friend. From an acting standpoint, Gallen and Roger were absolutely brilliant with how they played out these scenes -- the emotional aspect was way up there and you could really feel Roger's guilt and anguish as well as Gallen's emotional struggle between protecting his friend and dealing with the entire world misunderstanding him.
One of the things that really impressed me about this series is the AWESOME acting by all the main players, especially Sunny, Gallen, Roger, Kenix, and Louis. The series really shows the acting prowess of these artists extremely well, as there are alot of emotional scenes and at certain points in the series, the same character ends up at 2 opposite extremes ("good" and "evil") -- it takes alot of skill to be able to pull off the superb acting that these artists did!
I'm just going to focus on 3 of the characters here, as there were way too many to do an in-depth review of each.
-- Gallen Lo (Yip Wing Tim): I must say that I was extremely impressed with Gallen's acting in this series. His character in Part 1 undergoes a major transformation in Part 2 and he played the part extremely well. In part 1, his character is essentially good, but is very ambitious and oftentimes would take extreme measures in order to achieve his goals -- including doing things that are borderline criminal. His character in Part 1 is very selfish and has no regard for anyone else when it comes to meeting his goals -- even if it means sacrificing his family, friends, girlfriend, and anyone else who cares about him. In fact, it can be said that he pretty much single-handedly "pushed" Sunny over the edge and set him on the course of 'evilness'. Of course, Gallen pays the price at the end of Part 1, especially after he witnesses the death of Kenix's character Shum Wing Yan and realizes the role he played (albeit indirectly). In part 2, except for the first few episodes where he is obsessed with avenging Sunny and Kenix's deaths, Gallen does a 180 degree turn -- he realizes everything that he had lost and how many people he had hurt with his actions and truly turns his life around. He goes from being the "selfish jerk" who would always act irrationally and oftentimes aggressively, to the humble, rational, righteous man who puts his family first above all things, is considerate about his friends' feelings, and even when people wrong him, he does not try to seek revenge like he would in the past.
His character goes through 2 opposite extremes, however Gallen's precise acting skills allow him to pull it off almost flawlessly -- he makes the character come across very realistic (you actually feel for him), yet not in a "cheesy" type of way. I actually went from "hating" his character in Part 1 to "loving" him in Part 2. As I've been saying ever since I finished watching part 2 -- Gallen should have received the TV King award for his acting in this series, as there was so much depth to the character and the acting was brilliant! (Well, I guess I should be happy, since he has 3 TV King awards already and still holds the record for getting the award the most times).
-- Sunny Chan (Hui Man Biu): Since I talked alot about Sunny in the earlier part of this review, I won't go as much in depth here....I do have to say though that Sunny is also a very skilled actor and is able to pull off every single role that is given to him with near perfection. His acting in this series was excellent -- especially with his transformation from "good" to "evil". Prior to watching this series, I was actually anticipating Sunny's role, as this would be the first time he portrayed an "evil" character -- and especially since all of the previous characters he portrayed were so righteous and good. Just as I was impressed with Gallen back in the early 90s when he started playing evil roles (and played them well!), I was also impressed with Sunny. Since he came out of the Acting Academy, his skills are of course very precise, especially his facial expressions in certain scenes -- which makes the characters that he plays so convincing and easy to relate to.
Even though the premise of Part 2 was based on Sunny's character, unfortunately, he was not in part 2 because he left TVB in 2000 and went to ATV (the reason why they "killed" his character off in Part 1) -- Louis Koo ends up taking on the "evil" role in Part 2, where his only goal in life is to avenge his brother's (Sunny) death. So imagine my surprise when, during one of the scenes near the end of the series, Sunny appears as his character Hui Man Biu from Part 1.....sure, the scene is technically a "dream sequence", but it was definitely not a flashback -- without revealing too much detail, he basically "appears" in that particular scene to tell his younger brother to "let go" of his anger and desire for revenge and to repent. I'm pretty sure the scene was probably filmed prior to Sunny leaving TVB, but it was still a pleasant surprise for me to see him at the end of Part 2 -- again, it was very clever of the script writer to put that scene in because it essentially "closes the loop" on the part of the storyline dealing with the Gallen/Roger/Sunny/Louis conflict.
-- Kenix Kwok (Shum Wing Yan / Kao Mei Na): Kenix actually plays 2 roles in this series. In Part 1, she plays Shum Wing Yan: quiet, reserved, innocent, compassionate, nice to everyone -- the epitome of the "ideal wife and mother" -- who has a secret crush on Gallen (and they do have a brief relationship), but ends up falling in love with and marrying Sunny. Her character in Part 1 is actually quite tragic -- she grows up in an orphanage and the only "relative" she has is Roger's family; as far as relationships, she has to go through alot of pain and suffering emotionally, first with Gallen, then with Sunny. In the end, she becomes the 'sacrificial lamb' in the whole Gallen/Roger/Sunny conflict -- going to jail for something she didn't do and then ultimately, death. In Part 2, the character she plays -- Kao Mei Na -- is completely opposite: loud and vocal, a little tomboyish, a little wild, willing to take advantage of a situation if given the chance -- and more importantly she grew up with a father who is part of HK's triad gangs (hence her background is a bit complicated and messy). Her role also has a bit of a "comedic" element to it because of her "bubbly" personality (plus her relationship with her father is funny at times as well) -- a stark comparison to the "tragic" element of Shum Wing Yan. It turns out that these 2 characters with completely opposite personalities are actually long lost sisters. No surprise that Kenix's character in Part 2 ends up with Gallen.
I have to say that I liked Kenix's pairing with both Sunny (in part 1) and Gallen (in part 2).....she had alot of chemistry with both actors and both pairings were so endearing that I can't decide which I like more (though I'm leaning more toward the Gallen/Kenix pairing....lol!). The other reason why I liked the 2 pairings is because the relationships (Gallen/Kenix and Sunny/Kenix) were actually pretty well depicted in the series -- there was substance to it and there were alot of emotional ups and downs as well as life and death decisions that both pairs went through, which, to me, makes the relationships more real.
Kenix definitely has talent as an actress, as she was able to take on both roles and make them so different in a way that was comfortable for the audience (me). I've seen most of Kenix's series and have liked all of them!
Overall, I really enjoyed this series -- part 2 especially! The series is extremely long and probably not everyone would be willing to sit through it, but with the awesome acting and the strong storyline for the latter half of the series, I feel it is well worth the time. I highly recommend it!