I just finished re-watching one of my favorite series of all time: “Detective Investigation Files" (DIF). There are actually a total of 4 installments to this series, however since the 4th installment is a completely different cast and is not related to the first 3 at all (except for the ‘cop series / investigative cases’ theme), I will write about the 4th installment separately at a later date.
When it comes to series and sequels, the general sentiment is usually that the sequels don’t live up to the original and that the original work will always be the best one. Well, with the DIF installments, my personal opinion is that the sequels were actually better than the original, both in terms of cast (guest stars for each case), storyline (more cases to solve, more characters so more depth to storyline) and overall suspense. Out of the 3 installments, my favorite one is actually the 3rd one – which was actually the last one with the same cast as the original (Michael Tao, Joey Leung, Kenix Kwok)….I’ll talk more about why this one is my favorite later on in this review.
The 1st and 2nd installments were spaced pretty close together (1st was in 1995 and 2nd was made at the end of 1995 through 1996) – I actually read that when the first installment aired, it was so popular that TVB decided to do a sequel before the series even finished airing, so that’s why those 2 were spaced so close together (unlike a lot of other series and their sequels where they are usually spaced at least a year or more apart). The 3rd installment was made in 1997 and even though the main leads were the same (Michael, Joey, and Kenix), the remaining cast was completely changed – even the supporting cast. But I’m actually fine with this though because I really like the supporting cast in the 3rd installment anyway (not that I didn’t like the cast in the 1st two installments, but the cast was pretty much ‘beefed up’ in the 3rd one and it made the storyline way more interesting). Plus I guess you could say that the cast wasn’t completely changed because some of the characters from the first 2 installments (i.e.: Maggie Chan as Kenix’s older sister, Yvonne Lam as Madam Lui, Lau Dan as Michael’s dad, etc.) did have cameos in the 3rd installment (though their screen time was very limited)….also, the storyline in the 3rd installment flowed / continued from the 2nd installment very well.
One of the biggest defining factors of the DIF franchise that sets it apart from other run of the mill cop dramas is the use of individual cases to build the plot / storyline as well as the various relationships of the characters. In this review, I’m not really going to talk about the cases in detail, since there were way too many of them – but I have to say that all the cases were done really well. I remember the first time I watched all 3 installments (years ago – I’ve since re-watched all 3 installments at least 5 times if not more), I was praising the writers for the cleverness of the cases and how I would never have been able to come up with so much material to make all the cases so different from one installment to the other. Not only that, but the cases were more suspenseful from one installment to the next – I liked how the cases in the 3rd installment really intertwined with each other so that when one case ended, it wasn’t truly ended because there was one or two things that happened that becomes the impetus for a future case (or affects one of the future cases). This is one of the reasons why I love the 3rd installment so much.
So let’s talk briefly about the original DIF – even though the series was very well made in and of itself, I felt there was a certain amount of predictability in that installment in terms of the relationships – for instance, that Kenix would end up with Michael (even though she was dating Kenneth Chan throughout most of the 1st installment) and that Joey would end up with Louisa. Honestly speaking, neither pair was particularly endearing to me in the 1st installment – I mean, I like Michael and Kenix together because I think they match quite well, but they really aren’t a couple until the end of the 1st installment and throughout most of the 2nd installment. Same with Joey and Louisa – they don’t get together until the end of the 1st installment and when the 2nd installment starts (where the first one left off, pretty much), Joey and Louisa were already married. Pretty much to summarize – in the first installment, I primarily liked the cases because the storyline surrounding the relationships was sort of cheesy (though Michael and Louisa’s relationship in the beginning was absolutely hilarious for me).
Ok, so onto the 2nd installment…the cast was exactly the same (even the supporting artists and the cop A, cop B people), except for the addition of Amy Kwok (definitely the other female lead besides Kenix and Louisa) as well as recurring supporting characters such as Lee Kwok Lun, Maggie Chan, etc. Of course, when Louisa’s character dies about ¾ of the way through the series and Amy’s character leaves, Sammi Cheng is added as the other lead (I guess they had to find someone in addition to Kenix to balance things out – plus they probably wanted to add a love interest for Joey after his wife dies).
Just a quick mention that the cases in this installment were actually quite interesting and the guest stars for each case did AWESOME jobs (again, not going to go into details, but some of the ‘guest stars’ included: KK Cheung, Eddie Cheung, Astrid Chan, Hoyan Mok, Gordan Lam, Rebecca Chan, Helena Law, etc. etc. etc.)
Back to the 2nd installment plot / characters….
Even though the primary focus of the series is investigative stuff, of course there’s a need to intersperse relationship storylines throughout in order to ‘beef up’ the plot. I actually think this is a good method and it’s one reason why I like DIF so much as opposed to the other cop series of this generation (i.e. the whole Academy thing). The way that Michael‘s and Kenix’s relationship developed throughout this installment was very well done -- though I sort of felt that putting Amy in there as the ‘3rd wheel’ in their relationship was a bit pointless, especially since it made people hate her character. But I can see where they were going with that too, especially in the end when Michael and Kenix get back together and are about to be married after going through so much turmoil in their relationship, only for tragedy to strike….it definitely made the ending more suspenseful.
In terms of Joey’s and Louisa’s relationship, it was cute, but I honestly didn’t feel that they were that compatible – though I’m sure this wasn’t the case in real life, I really felt that Louisa’s character seemed older than Joey’s in the series and so, to me at least, they didn’t really seem to match. I think this is partly because in both the 1st and 2nd installments, the writers made Joey’s character sort of ‘boyish’. But at least Joey’s and Louisa’s characters truly did love each other and the writers did do a good job developing their relationship, since it didn’t come out all weird or stupid. It’s not that I didn’t like their pairing, I just didn’t feel much chemistry between them.
(I obviously have a lot more to say about DIF 1 and 2, but since I know this review is going to be long already, I wanted to spend more time on DIF 3).
Ok, let’s talk about the 3rd installment – my absolute favorite DIF installment!!
First of all, I must say that it was already obvious from the ending of the 2nd installment that a 3rd one was going to be made because they left it so open. So once the 2nd installment ended, there were a lot of unanswered questions: now that Kenix’s character lost her memory and doesn’t remember Michael or anything that happened up to that point, what is that going to mean in terms of their relationship? Is it over for good? How about Joey? Are they going to continue the Sammi storyline or find another love interest for him? Oh, and how would the cases be like?
There was definitely a lot of anticipation for the 3rd installment (for me at least) and that could be why I enjoyed it so much.
One of the (many) things I liked about the 3rd installment is that they developed Joey’s character a lot and made him more mature – he’s no longer the ‘boyish’ sidekick and when this particular installment starts, he’s actually the ‘head’ of his own team at a separate police station from the one that Michael is at. Yes, of course the two end up joining forces again after the first few episodes, but the way the writers handle it this time makes them more like equals (Michael is still Joey’s ‘boss’ technically, but their collaboration is more like brothers in this installment). So I guess you could say that in this installment, Joey becomes the ‘big brother’ and Michael becomes the ‘big big brother’ (LOL!!).
With regard to the relationships in the 3rd installment – ok, I have to admit that Joey definitely stole the show, at least for me (I’ll talk more about this later). I sort of got annoyed with the Michael / Kenix relationship in this installment and even when they added Monica Chan in as a potential love interest for Michael (they don’t get together until later in the series, though their relationship doesn’t last), I still sort of found the storyline about their relationship a bit boring. I don’t know how to describe it – maybe because I had already watched 2 installments with Michael’s and Kenix’s on again / off again relationship and the 3rd installment was more of the same in that regard, so I really didn’t care too much about them anymore.
Also, it doesn’t help that Kenix’s character was super-annoying in the 3rd installment – it’s as though after she lost her memory, she becomes ultra-stubborn. I hated how throughout the entire installment, she was so obsessed with trying to ‘remember’ everything that happened in the past and would get pissed off at Michael for not telling her about things that had happened before she lost her memory (I side with Michael on this one – he doesn’t want to tell her because he doesn’t see the point of digging up old wounds, especially since they have a happy life now) – this of course erodes their relationship (since the 2 of them have strong personalities in this series) and ultimately results in them separating (again). To be honest, I blame Kenix’s character for what happens between her and Michael and have absolutely no sympathy for her whatsoever.
Moving on to the relationship storyline involving Joey….
Joey is paired with Winnie Yeung (Miss HK) for most of the 3rd installment and it’s not until the very end that he and Margaret are truly together (though inklings of their relationship develop throughout the series). I have to say that I really like Joey and Margaret’s relationship in this series because it’s different, refreshing, and kind of sweet – plus the 2 of them have awesome chemistry in this series (I guess it does help that Joey and Margaret were a couple in real life during that time).
Their relationship starts off as ‘brother/sister’ (they are not related by blood technically, but they are from the same village and everyone from that village has the same last name because their ancestors were probably related at some point, so they regard each other as siblings) – plus it makes sense because Joey’s character is obviously older than Margaret’s (she refers to him as ‘apprentice brother’ and he calls her ‘lang mui’ which is Cantonese slang for ‘little sister’). Eventually, they find out that Margaret is really the daughter of a rich businessman (played by Law Lok Lam) and her mother moved to that village after she was born, so technically, she is not a ‘member’ of that village at all (which is important because it means that Joey and Margaret are not even remotely related and so are definitely not brother/sister). Margaret’s character has had a crush on Joey’s character since childhood – by the time Joey finds out about this and realizes that he’s had feelings for Margaret all along, it’s “too late” because he is already in a steady relationship with Winnie. Neither of them (Margaret especially) want to hurt Winnie, so they suppress their feelings for each other – which is painful because they have to see each other every day (not only do they live next door to each other, they also work together, since Joey leads the team at the police station that Margaret is a part of).
For me, what makes Joey and Margaret’s relationship so appealing is the “bittersweetness” of it. They’re so compatible in many ways (in the series, that is) and it just seems natural that they should be together, yet you’ve got all these factors preventing it from happening. I could definitely feel their pain (the way they would look at each other was heart-wrenching). Both Joey and Margaret definitely put in great performances (the emotions and chemistry were awesome – plain and simple) in the 3rd installment and the storyline involving them is absolutely one of my favorites!
As I said earlier, Joey definitely stole the show and his performance in the DIF franchise is certainly deserving of the recognition and ‘popularity’ he gained as a result – BUT too bad he didn’t treasure it. That was a stupid move that he made cheating on Margaret like that (I’m talking in real life now) and even though he was ‘man’ enough to ‘face the music’ and ‘take a beating’ for it, his career as well as his love life (not to mention his image) went down the toilet (and rightfully so, in my opinion!!). Ironically, despite how much I loved their pairing in DIF 3 (because of who their characters were), I actually didn’t feel that the 2 of them were compatible as a couple in real life (don’t ask me why – that’s just the way I feel).
Of course, I have to mention how much I loved the cases in the 3rd installment (though I talked about that already), but I also applaud the supporting cast as well as the 'guest stars' in this installment, as they all put in excellent performances. Well, not surprised with the supporting cast because almost all of them are veteran artists (i.e.: Liu Kai Chi, Law Koon Lan, Kam Hing Yin, etc.). Oh, and since I mentioned some of the 'guest stars' in the 2nd installment, might as well mention a few from the 3rd installment as well (Melissa Ng, Patrick Tam, Ellesmere Choi, Gabriel Harrison -- who, btw, did an excellent job as Michael's younger brother, Joe Ma, Angela Tong, etc. etc.)
I think I’ve made it quite obvious already how much I love the DIF franchise. If you haven’t seen any of the DIF installments yet, you’re definitely missing out! My personal opinion: if you want to watch good, quality cop dramas that are suspenseful and will keep you ‘chasing’ each episode, forget ‘The Academy’ franchise (I found all 3 installments of THAT franchise extremely boring) – watch DIF instead!!!
My review only scratches the surface and doesn’t come close to doing justice to the entire DIF franchise. You need to watch all 3 installments (well, technically all 4 installments) for yourself to truly understand why I enjoy this franchise so much!