I’ve been wanting to watch this series since last year and figured since it’s airing on TV here, I might as well watch it rather than wait until later (since I have the series on DVD as well). The reason I wanted to watch the series was not because it won so many awards last year (to me, TVB’s awards have no significance and I would not use them to judge the ‘quality’ or ‘merit’ of any series or artists anyway, but that’s a different topic) – rather, I wanted to watch the series because I knew I would be treated to a high quality production. With experienced producer Lee Tim Sing and script writer Cheung Wah Biu at the helm, I already knew the series would probably be better than a lot of the other ones that came out the same year – plus add to that brilliant performances by Wayne Lai and Sheren Tang – it’s no wonder that the series was so successful garnered as much public accolade as it did.
I won’t attempt to do an in-depth or thorough review of the series, as that would be way too much, but I want to at least express some of my thoughts about the series and things that stuck out for me….more of a commentary of sorts…
First of all, Wayne’s performance was absolutely amazing in this series! Despite being in the industry 20+ years, this was only his second time as lead actor in a series and I must say that TVB is blind for not seeing the talent this guy had from the beginning. Since I’m an 80s/90s HK entertainment fanatic, I am definitely familiar with Wayne and have seen most of the series that he had been in throughout those decades. Even though he was mostly in supporting or minor roles, his acting prowess was already evident even back then (those who have seen “The Challenge of Life” from 1990 will know exactly what I mean). Anyway, knowing Wayne, I had high hopes for his performance going into this and I definitely was not disappointed – in fact, I was actually ‘blown away’ by his brilliant performance. Now I understand why Cheung Wah Biu likes working with him so much – he is able to bring out even the most minute characteristics of each character he portrays and make the character convincing as well as memorable.
In my opinion, watching Wayne perform is like watching the ‘master’ at work – it’s no surprise then, that Wayne is known in the industry for his meticulous acting (and rightly so). The best way to describe his acting: “perfect” – he never goes overboard with his expressions or gestures and always gets it ‘just right’. Many artists who have worked with Wayne have talked about how ‘mesmerized’ and ‘captivated’ they were whenever they watched him perform a scene (not just in this series, but in others as well)….and as a member of the audience, I definitely agree, as I was mesmerized by his performance as well!
His portrayal of Chai Gau – a ‘scoundrel’ who eventually works his way up to become ‘3rd in charge’ of a rice shop (actually a huge rice business) and a great leader for the citizens of his country – was very realistic and convincing. Of course, it does help that the character of Chai Gau was well written and had a lot of depth, so Wayne was able to use the ‘opportunity’ to let his acting skills shine. The important thing about the character of Chai Gau is that he is neither a ‘good’ person nor a ‘bad’ person – he had characteristics from both sides in that deep down he has a good heart, but he did do some things that a truly ‘good’ person would not do. Not everyone is able to pull off a brilliant performance of such a complex character, but for Wayne, it’s no problem at all!
Sheren’s portrayal of Fourth Mistress Hong Bo Kei was also very well done. Granted, Sheren’s acting may not be as ‘refined’ or ‘perfect’ as Wayne’s, but the most important thing is that her acting is of a higher level of quality than most of today’s artists. Her character was very smart and likable – extremely clever and as well as persistent -- always coming to the rescue whenever the Tseung family was in a bind and never giving up her values even in the face of adversity. She is well respected in the family (well, at least part of the family – except the evil Eldest Wife and her son Bit Man, both of whom hated her for making them fall out of favor)…not only that, she is also well-respected in the entire village, which is evident when she is wrongly arrested near the end of the series and all the villagers (led by Chai Gau) come to her defense. In fact, they would form a ‘Sei Lai Lai Bang’ (Fourth Mistress Party) to show their support of her.
I really liked Sheren and Wayne’s relationship in this series. It wasn’t a relationship based on love and passion like most ‘close’ relationships between a male and female. Rather, their relationship (and feelings for each other) was at a higher level and was one based on mutual trust and admiration. Fourth Mistress went from being Chai Gau’s enemy to being his closest confidante – sort of like ‘soulmates’ but without the intimate love relationship. It’s a very unconventional relationship and one that is not usually found in TVB’s series (which is what made it so special). Both Fourth Mistress and Chai Gau admired and supported each other so much that they were willing to make sacrifices for each other – especially Chai Gau. In the second half of the series, I finally understand why Chai Gau admired Fourth Mistress so much and eventually developed feelings for her near the end (though it never goes beyond that, which is what makes the relationship so righteous) – it’s because throughout her life, Fourth Mistress never did anything for herself – she was very self-less in that everything she did was always for others….Chai Gau had never met anyone like her – someone who would always give of herself self-lessly and sacrifice for others.
All those times when Chai Gau would come to Fourth Mistress’s rescue whenever she was in a tough situation and how he would trust her word fully because he respected her so much – it was definitely very moving. I feel that the turning point to their relationship – the part that made their relationship ascend to a whole new level (though still not a traditional ‘love’ relationship, since both were already married) – was the part when Fourth Mistress goes missing due to the invasion of the ‘long-haired robbers’ and Chai Gau does everything in his power to find her – including entering a disease-ridden village to look for her and eventually contracting the disease himself (which is what he ends up dying from). When Fourth Mistress finds out that her best friend contracted the disease because of her, she is devastated. The amazing thing is that despite being so ill and weak, during the last half of the last episode when Governor Lam tries to arrest Fourth Mistress again (after plotting with the evil First Wife and Bit Man), Chai Gau comes to Fourth Mistress’s rescue again – not only does he argue with Pang Hang as well as the governor, he also reveals that he and Fourth Mistress are actually working undercover for Master Wong (Kwok Fung’s character). He and Master Wong are finally able to get rid of the ‘evil clan’ once and for all, but then Chai Gau coughs up blood and falls to the ground….later on, when Chai Gau is very weak from his illness and everyone is celebrating his birthday with him (bittersweet, since he was dying), he kept saying that even if he dies, at least he knows that he had all these good friends and won’t have regrets. Fourth Mistress tells him to stop talking like that and demands that he must give the disease a good fight at least and not give up – and he does, but only because Fourth Mistress told him to. In the end, Fourth Mistress agrees to go with him to Shanghai (where he goes to seek treatment for his illness) and when he died 2 years later, she was at his side – the best friend and confidante who never gave up on him and would always support him….
Though I felt sad about the ending, I felt that the series at least did a good job with wrapping up the Chai Gau/Fourth Mistress relationship. The narrative that they did at the very end (like the last few scenes) after Chai Gau died was a very good summary of his life and a touching (though solemn) tribute to him.
There is so much more I could say about this series and perhaps in later posts, I will do so….one last point I want to mention is how successful this series was last year – and I can definitely see why. There was not much promotion for this series originally because TVB did not think it would do well (since it doesn’t star their “favorites”) – yet it was able to garner ratings of 47 points at its peak….and that’s not counting HDTV. (As a side note, it sort of sucks that they didn’t count the HDTV ratings because it surely would have exceeded 50 points…though TVB said that it was because RB finished airing right before HDTV ratings were to be counted, so they just missed it by like a day, I have my own ‘speculations as to what actually happened…but won’t go into that here).
And even though the series did win a lot of awards at last year’s TVB Anniversary awards, my personal opinion is that what mattered more is the quality of the script and of the acting, which in turn garnered accolades from audiences and from the general public in Hong Kong. Though there were (and continue to be) accusations that the series ‘copied’ mainland China series “The Grand Gate Mansion” and certain aspects of the “Rosy Business” storyline itself are VERY similar to that of another TVB series “Safeguards” (which was coincidentally also a Lee Tim Sing / Cheung Wah Biu / Wayne Lai collaboration), it really doesn’t matter to me – all I care about is that I enjoyed a good quality series with superb acting – something I haven’t seen from a TVB series in a LONG time.