Friday, December 17, 2010

Review of "Gambling on Life 賭霸天下"

This is an 'old' series from 1993 that came on TV a couple weeks ago, so I decided to watch it (while multi-tasking of course....lol). To be honest, I had never heard of the series before -- which means it was probably a low-budget series with not alot of hype, since I was pretty actively following HK entertainment in the 90s, so I probably would have at least heard about the series if it were a 'big production'. And the cast wasn't exactly 'all-star' (male lead was Eddie Kwan and female lead was Fiona Leung, with Vincent Lam playing the role of the villain -- the supporting cast was comprised of elders such as Felix Lok, Lau Siu Ming, Lo Lan, Kong Hon, etc.), plus there were some parts of the storyline that were flawed and confusing. Yet, surprisingly, I actually liked the series and even stopped 'multi-tasking' during the later half of the series so I could concentrate on watching it (those of you who know me know that it is rare of me to do this). In fact, I preferred watching this series over most of the TVB series that were made this year (which already tells you something) and it brought back for me the "chasing series" feeling (the 'I can't wait to watch the next episode to see what happens next' feeling) that I haven't felt for a TVB series in a LONG time.

Needless to say, based on the title, the theme of the series is gambling -- which doesn't surprise me one bit because during that era, the industry was saturated with tons of gambling-themed movies and TV series. This is partly the reason why I say that I'm surprised that I liked the series because I originally thought it was going to be another one of those 'run-of-the-mill' gambling series (a theme which I am already bored to death with because it has been overused so many times). Plus the first few episodes of the series were sort of boring and some parts dragged on way too long. Things started to really move along in terms of action in the second half of the series and the focus shifted from Vincent (who was dominant in the first half) to Eddie and Lau Siu Ming, Lo Lan, etc. (dominant in the second half), with Fiona dominant throughout both parts.

So with the slow start and draggy parts, what made me continue to watch the series? Well, I was definitely impressed with the awesome performances from the cast -- of course, with the seasoned veteran artists in the series, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed with the acting, even if they were only supporting cast and didn't have a whole lot of screen time. However, I was also definitely surprised with Eddie’s performance in the series. I've always been ok with Eddie as an actor (neutral -- don't like or dislike), but I've always felt that he was never able to mimic the short-lived success he had in the 80s with the "Police Cadet" and "The Battle Among the Clans" series -- plus the roles he got when he made his comeback in the 2000s were quite lame. As for Fiona, well, I’ve always liked her, but I could tell from the opening theme video that her character would be paired up with Vincent Lam, whom I was not fond of at all (I watched his first series “Romance Beyond” and hated his performance in it, though I liked everyone else) – plus this was only Vincent’s second series (yet he was already second male lead – though some could argue that he was actually first lead, since he had more screen time than Eddie, it seems) and his acting is too exaggerated and unnatural for my tastes. Therefore, going into this series, I didn’t have very high expectations at all. However, it turns out that Fiona plays two characters in this series and the first character (who was Vincent’s love interest) is not really the ‘main’ one, as she dies halfway through the series (which I was fine with since I didn’t like the character that much anyway). Her second character is paired with Eddie, which is what I was rooting for all along, and the storyline started getting more interesting, so that’s when I really started getting more ‘into’ the series.

Here are a few highlights in terms of the artists and their performances:

Eddie’s portrayal of the ‘useless’ little brother who becomes a disappointment to his ‘Gambler King’ father because all he knows how to do is play around all day was quite interesting, especially when we see how his character transforms into a mature young man set on avenging his father’s death later on in the series. I think that the most challenging part for Eddie was in the middle of the series when his older brother (played by Vincent) tried to kill him and he wound up in a mental institution after suffering brain damage. Eddie actually did those mental health patient scenes quite well, despite not having much dialogue during those parts. And even though his pairing with Fiona in the second half of the series (her second character is a worker at the mental institution) was quite predictable, I rooted for them because frankly, I prefer her with Eddie way more than Vincent.

Talking about Fiona, well, I don’t have too much to say because her 2 characters were not extremely complicated, though both had different personalities. But as I said earlier, I’ve always liked Fiona and have confidence in her acting, so no matter what type of character she plays, I would probably still watch. I definitely feel that when she was with TVB, she was very underrated, despite being a good actress – she was the lead in many series, though career-wise, she never made it to the ‘first rate fadan’ level (perhaps because there was too much competition back then in the 80s/90s and she was not the type who wanted to ‘fight’ for things). She is one of the few artists who came out of a contest (“Super New Talent Contest” in the 80s, which ironically was only held for 1 season and was axed) and didn’t get formal training whom I actually like because of her acting.

Another highlight of the series was Ming Sir’s (Lau Siu Ming) performance, which was absolutely brilliant and convincing. He played Vincent’s biological father and was the TRUE undefeated ‘Gambler King’ until he lost to Eddie’s father in a secret matchup, attempted to commit suicide, then went crazy. Of course, he winds up living at the mental institution, since his intelligence is that of a little kid now (the parts where the workers kept trying to bribe him with chocolate were hilarious) – despite going crazy however, he still retained all of the ‘special powers’ that he had when he was Gambler King, which eventually come to the surface as the series progresses. Ming Sir was absolutely convincing as a kid-like mental patient with special powers – the acting was very natural, which is a difficult feat for most artists, since a lot of them can’t play that type of role without making it look cheesy. This goes to show how superb Ming Sir’s acting truly is (especially given all the villain and tough father roles that he usually plays). Ming Sir has always been one of my favorites in terms of elderly ‘green leaf’ actors and continues to be, even now, though he doesn’t do too much acting anymore (not in series, at least).

Even though I don’t know what the purpose was of Felix Lok’s character (a bit pointless if you ask me), I actually did like the character he portrayed – way better than Vincent’s character. I like how Felix’s character was still very righteous and a man of his word, even though he was obsessed with being Gambler King and did some bad things as a result. I definitely would NOT describe his character as evil, because he wasn’t (at least he didn’t kill anyone like Vincent’s character did) – he was just a very self-confident man obsessed with being Gambler King (because of his love of gambling), even if it means sacrificing himself. What happened to his character in the end was quite tragic (though predictable) – however, as always, Felix did a great job with his role. He is another one of the veteran supporting artists who is on my ‘favorites’ list because of his awesome acting skills. And I like his personality as well – I read an interview about him a while back ago and he’s actually a very quiet person in real life. He doesn’t like to socialize and hates all of that political and ‘game-playing’ stuff that goes on, so he pretty much keeps to himself. The amazing thing about him is that when the cameras roll, he is 100% absorbed in his character and is able to portray whatever role he is given absolutely well, but once the cameras stop rolling, he’s a completely different person. And like many great talented actors, he takes his acting very seriously and actually studies each of his characters in depth before portraying them. (Ah, I miss those days when artists actually took their jobs seriously!!)

Lastly, I just wanted to mention how much I hated Vincent Lam’s character. And no, this is NOT one of those instances where hating the character means that the artist did a good job portraying the character (I call it characters we ‘love’ to hate). In fact, this one was quite opposite – first of all, his character itself was lame to the nth degree! It was stupid how he was always so obsessed with Fiona, to the point of trying to her force her 2nd character to marry him, even though she made it known that she hated him. And then when he started acting like a madman and killing people left and right just because they opposed his whim – the best way to describe it is that he came across to me like a gangster boss-wannabe in overdrive! Add to that the fact that Vincent’s acting in this series was absolutely horrible all the way through…for the first half of the series, before his character ‘turned bad’, his acting was like a piece of wood – very fake and forced. In the second half, as the ‘villain’, his acting still came across as forced, but now, instead of being wooden, it was very exaggerated (100 times worse than Alex Man, who is known for exaggerated acting – but at least Alex’s exaggeration looks natural) – to the point that I actually cringed every time I saw him on the screen (I just wanted to say “shut up already with your mad rants and get off my TV screen!”). Needless to say, it took A LOT of self-control on my part to avoid picking up the remote and fast-forwarding through all his scenes!

10 comments:

  1. Wow, you really left the negative stuffs toward the end. But definitely not something I want to watch even if I like Eddie and Fiona. It would be one of those on the borderline of driving at my patience. Thanks for the heads up though so I could avoid it.

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  2. Haha...no problem! Yea, I think I went a little overboard at the end, but I couldn't help it because I was already so annoyed at that point. I've seen 2 series with Vincent in it so far and hated him in both -- that's not a very good record if you ask me (2 for 2)...so by the time I got to the end of this series, I just wanted him off my TV screen.

    Yea, I agree...I probably would not have started the series if it hadn't come on TV...it's not the type that I would actually 'start' watching on my own...

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  3. I think the series I really liked Eddie Kwan in was "The Turbulent Decade" with Eddie Cheung Siu Fai, Jaime Chik, Carina Lau, Pak Yan, and others. I loved that series very much as it reminded me the happy days of youth and school. I liked it also because it had most of my favourites in. I never found out the name of the girl who played Deborah Lai's daughter in law in the end. She was quite small in height and always played supporting roles.

    I also liked Eddie Kwan in a sword fighting drama with Kathy Chow - can't remember name of it. He kidnapped her at first but then they fell in love and she died in the end. Another one of those series that I could have kicked myself for not recording. Really quite excellent.

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  4. @Peaches: Yup, "The Turbulent Decade" was definitely a classic -- it's one of my favorites as well!

    The name of the girl who plays Deborah Li's daughter in law is 吳夏萍 (Ng Ha Ping) -- sorry, I don't know her English name. She is no longer in the industry, as she got married a long time ago and has 2 daughters. I think she lives in the U.S. now....

    The Eddie Kwan / Kathy Chow series you're referring to is most likely "The Sword of Conquest" (怒劍嘯狂沙). I never really finished watching that one actually (saw parts of it years ago), but I do have the DVD and plan on re-watching it one of these days...

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  5. Nice review. I watched this series lonnng time ago (have a review on my website but I can't even remember what I wrote) and I remember being entertained by it. Every time they played New Kids On the Block's "I'll be loving you" in Lam Wai/Fiona Leung (the first one) scenes, I laughed and cringed at the same time.

    Do you remember what happened to one of the actresses in this series, named Ng Wing Hung? I think she played Eddie's childhood friend and died midway. She was in other series like "Mystery of the Twin Swords," " The Last Conquest," and she played a rather sadistic and perverted Mongolian princess in "The Rise of the Taiji Master" but I haven't seen her since and I was just wondering whatever happened to her.

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  6. @Clair: Welcome and thanks for visiting!

    Haha...well, I actually liked Fiona with Eddie better -- didn't really like Lam Wai all that much (obviously based on my review...lol) so didn't pay a whole lot of attention to his scenes.

    Yes, I definitely remember Ng Wing Hung -- she was actually in alot of series and was one of the supporting actresses whom I actually liked from that era. She is retired from the industry now and has taken on a career as a makeup artist. She married her boyfriend (former actor Ho Ying Wai)and they have a daughter together.

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  7. Totally agree with you there.
    I saw this serie LONG time ago and still remember its storyline (not every single detail though). It really was a pleasant surprise for me then, having nothing else to watch and suddenly came across it.
    Been searching for it ever since I began to surf the web.
    Especially the theme song...
    Do you happen to know its title?

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    1. @Anonymous: Wow, surprised to come across someone else who actually watched this series...LOL! :-)

      I definitely wouldn't seek out this series on my own to watch, so I'm glad that it did come on TV so I got the chance to at least watch it and be entertained by it.

      I was actually wondering about the themesong myself, as I haven't been able to find it either...unfortunately, I don't know the name of the song...all I know is that the song is sung by Alex To.

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    2. Pity that no one know about it! Let's keep in touch (I'll stop by often) and if I find out something, I'll share it.
      Alex To would be a good track to begin with...

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    3. @Anonymous: Ok, great! Glad to have you stop by often. And definitely feel free to share anything you find out -- either in the comments to the posts or in the chatbox (whichever you feel more comfortable with).

      See you around!

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