Monday, February 21, 2011

Review of "The Stamp of Love 肥婆奶奶扭計媳"

This series came on TV recently and since there hasn't been much worth watching (on TV at least) lately, I decided to give this one a try (plus I like some of the cast anyway, so figured this would be better than sitting through some of the recent junk that TVB has been putting out). I have to make it clear though that this is technically considered an "old" series because it's actually from 2001 -- most of the cast from the series are no longer active in the TV industry and 2 of them passed away already within the last 2-3 years (I mention this because it really affected my decision to stick with the series despite some of the 'issues' I had with the plot and such).

Anyways, this series was quite entertaining as a comedy and I wouldn't go as far as to say that it's a "bad" series, but definitely not one of the best -- in fact, it was a very disappointing series for me and the only reason I kept going with it was because of the cast and also the entertainment value. I'm actually glad that this series was only 20 episodes because to be honest, I don't know if I would have been able to sit through it if it were longer -- but at least I didn't give up on watching it, which is already saying alot (since I usually stop watching if a series gets overly boring or just plain sucks).

So what was disappointing about this series? ALOT....but also depends on the way you look at it (you'll see why after reading this review)....

Here are some of the highlights (and "low"-lights)....

First and foremost, the Chinese title of the series was completely misleading! Literally translated, the title means "Fat mother-in-law, incorrigible daughter-in-law" and the poster for the series features Lydia Shum, Anne Heung, and Kwong Wah as the leads. So based on the above, I expected this series to be about Lydia as an opinionated mother whose son Kwong Wah marries Anne against her wishes and so the battle erupts between mother-in-law (Lydia) and her son's wife (Anne) -- if this were truly the premise to the series, I actually wouldn't mind watching (even though this is an age old theme that has been used and re-used many times by TVB) because I like both Kwong Wah and Lydia and can tolerate Anne. BUT.....after the first few episodes, I could already tell that the plot would be nowhere near what I thought it would be -- Lydia is technically not a mother in this series (well, she's a step-mother who "inherits" 2 good-for-nothing sons when she marries the owner of a sauce factory) and she is not related to Kwong Wah at all (Kwong Wah is just some guy who went to school with one of her step-sons and whom she has a good relationship with). As for Anne -- well, her character is a mail-order bride who comes to HK to marry an old man (Lau Dan) due to her family's financial situation, then when he dies (on their wedding day), Kwong Wah agrees to marry her even though he didn't love her (at that time) because he's a nice person and wanted to help her out....but then when Kwong Wah 'disappears' after he loses everything in a bad investment, she moves in with Marco Lo (one of Lydia's step-sons) technically, Anne was never Lydia's daughter-in-law to begin with (and despite what the title may say, Anne doesn't become Lydia's daughter-in-law at any point in the series). So WTH??? The plot is a FAR CRY from what is implied in the series title.....

In terms of performances....well, in my opinion, no one really 'stuck out'....a few characters were "likable" but other than those 2-3 people, everyone else's characters were downright annoying!

Let's start with Lydia....her character is very 'misunderstood' in the series. She's actually a good woman who has a very strong personality and can come across as bossy, but at the end of the day, she definitely has a good heart....her goal in life is to take care of her husband (who is paralyzed and can't speak), continue to run the family business (a soy sauce factory), and try as best she can to keep the Bao family together -- including trying to "reform" her husband's 2 bastard sons who are constantly scheming to kill him so they can get their hands on his wealth. Lydia is constantly battling these 2 step-sons (played by Anderson Junior and Marco Lo) as well as the older son's wife (played by Jo Jo Cho), all of whom hate her because she is "in their way" and is always trying to prevent them from hurting their father and messing with the family fortune. Even though Lydia's character is annoying at times with her prejudice against Anne and the sometimes unreasonable / overbearing demands that she imposes, I actually liked her character because of her underlying strength and virtue -- plus everything she does is for the good of her husband's family, which shows how much she truly loved him. Lydia definitely puts in a respectable performance in this series and though I wouldn't call her acting "awesome", I really did enjoy watching her! Plus, let's face it -- who is able to portray the bossy, loud-mouthed, overbearing housewife with the "natural" arguing skills better than Lydia? She was definitely the highlight of this series for me, as her performance was very natural and watching the interaction between her and some of the other characters was hilarious! Reflecting on this series now makes me realize how much I miss Lydia (she passed away in 2008)....

Lydia's husband is played by Spencer Lam [Sheung Yee] (known as "Uncle" in the entertainment circles, he is actually a sportscaster who rarely participates in TV series). Though he doesn't do a whole lot because his character is paralzyed and can't speak, we (the audience) do get to hear his thoughts and see his facial expressions, which gives us insight into his character (plus he has a significant role near the end of the series, which I will refrain from talking about in efforts not to spoil the ending). There's really nothing much to 'dislike' about Uncle's character, except how 'helpless' he is in preventing his sons from doing all those bad things. He's actually the wisest and most righteous character in the entire series and even though he's in a wheelchair or lying on a bed most of the time, that doesn't prevent us from learning alot about what he thinks. His character has a little bit of a comedic element to it because of how he reacts to things that Lydia's character tells him.....also I found it hilarious how the 2 characters are so compatible on all levels EXCEPT the attitude toward the sons – Uncle actually wants Lydia to let the bastard sons have the money so they will leave him and Lydia alone to live their lives together in peace and quiet, yet Lydia thinks that he wants her to "reform" the sons and protect the family business (unfortunately, since he can't speak, he can't tell Lydia's character this and can only watch / listen helplessly). I feel that Uncle also put in a good performance in this series -- especially given the fact that he is not an actor but rather a sports commenter (sadly, Uncle also passed away in 2009).

On to Anne's character....

I already talked a little bit about her character earlier, so I won't elaborate too much -- to be honest though, I found Anne's character to be quite annoying to the point that I really disliked her. For most of the series, she plays the usual "naive nice girl" character, except for whenever she encountered Lydia's character, then she would turn into a screaming mad woman trying to "out-yell" or "out-argue" Lydia. I've never been a fan of Anne's acting and I absolutely cannot stand the "drawl" in her voice when she speaks (especially in dramatic scenes), but at least she was tolerable in this series, probably because she does alot of arguing and yelling (which makes the "drawl" less noticeable). The reason I don't like Anne's character though is because I've always disliked weak, naive, gullible characters and for most of the series, Anne's character was definitely that I didn't like how her character would always act so virtuous and nice to everyone, yet turn into a different person when she was around Lydia's character. True, Lydia was definitely prejudiced against her because she felt that Anne was a golddigger and had 'complicated' relationships with men (which isn't entirely untrue), but the changing back and forth from "naive and virtuous" to "bxxchy and loud" sort of came across as fake and annoying to me. Plus I was totally disappointed that she actually believed Marco's fakeness and insincerity (he was just using her to get back at Lydia) and ended up moving in with him despite how adamant she was previously about waiting for her "husband" Kwong Wah to come back (not to mention that it absolutely does not make sense for her to move in with another man when she is still legally married). Basically, her character was too wishy-washy and fake, which really annoyed the hell out of me....though she does redeem herself in the last few episodes of the series when she actually becomes friends with Lydia after resolving their misunderstandings, it was too late by then because of how her character was portrayed for majority of the series....

The biggest disappointment of all had to be Kwong Wah's character (I'm talking about his CHARACTER, not his ACTING). I'm sorry, but I thought he was supposed to be male lead in this series, yet he has so little screen time that I don't even know if I can call his role "supporting", let alone "lead"! Not only that, but his character BARELY DOES ANYTHING in this series -- I mean, his character is nice and helps out Anne's character and such, but that's about it....the character is so boring that anyone could play the role. In fact, the impression I got after watching this series is that Kwong Wah's role was primarily to be by Anne's side and "look pretty" -- such a waste of talent! And even though Kwong Wah and Anne are paired up (again) in this series, they technically aren't "truly" together until the end, so there really isn't a whole lot of chemistry between them. Honestly speaking though, I'm sort of sick of seeing Kwong Wah and Anne paired together in yet another series, as I don't feel they match THAT much, especially in modern series -- their pairing in ancient or pre-modern series is ok, but I actually prefer him with Melissa Ng instead (that's a different topic though, so I won't get into it here).

Suprisingly, Anderson Junior [On Tak Juen] and Marco Lo [Hing Fai] actually had pretty significant roles in this series (I personally think that they had more screentime than Kwong Wah, but I didn’t keep track of the amount of time, so I don’t know for sure). I guess you could say that they were the “villains” in the series, though Marco was the truly ‘evil’ one (Anderson was just pitiful and stupid, but not really ‘evil’). I’m not going to go into details on what their characters were like but rather, I prefer to talk about their performances….

Anderson Junior – sorry, but he really should keep his day job (hosting) because his performance was horrible! His acting was so exaggerated and silly, I couldn’t help but cringe at certain parts….plus he wasn’t convincing at all! I’m actually not the type to concentrate on looks because I firmly believe that as an artist, there's more to it than just beauty and physical attributes (i.e.: having talent is more important and as long as you are good in what you do, I could care less how you look) – but I have to say that Anderson has neither the looks nor the acting talent (and THAT’s putting it mildly). His role was actually not too difficult to play -- there are so many people that TVB could have put in that role and they would have done a better job….bad casting choice right there!

Marco Lo – I didn’t like his character much either, but got to admit that he did way better than Anderson Junior. I remember Marco from the “Kindred Spirit” days and was really impressed with his performance in that series, so I was really wondering if he would be able to do as good a job as he did there….the conclusion I came to is that he was okay in this series, but not great. I definitely would have preferred to see much more of Kwong Wah and less of both him and Anderson!

The rest of the cast includes Maple Hui as a conniving golddigger who uses Anderson for his money; Celine Ma as Lau Dan’s sister and a truly loyal friend, even though she portrays herself as bad-mouthed and obnoxious; Ha Ping as the Bao family nanny who may be old and senile, but ultimately 100% loyal and dedicated to the family (Ha Ping actually did a great job – I was laughing so hard at her scenes!), and Liu Kai Chi as one of Kwong Wah’s business associates…which brings me to the second biggest disappointment of all (ok, this may even top the Kwong Wah one for me) – WTH was the point of Liu Kai Chi’s character? I mean, he pretty much only had a minor speaking role in the series! He is one of my favorite veteran actors and a truly talented one at that, yet he is relegated to such a minor role in this series, it’s ridiculous! Of course, he did his part absolutely well (being the fine actor that he is), BUT such a small role???? And they gave people like Anderson (who can’t act to save his life) a bigger role than him?? Ugh!!!

In terms of whether I would recommend this series….well, that’s a tough question. Whether to watch this series or not really depends upon whether you are a fan of any of the artists because to be honest, parts of the plot don’t really make sense and some of the scenes are draggy. If you’re a Lydia or Anne fan, then yes, this would probably be a series worth watching; if you’re a Kwong Wah fan though, maybe not (though his acting is not bad in this series, it’s just the character is sort of useless) – unless you’re attracted to his suaveness and looks, in which case this series would probably be an okay choice.

Though I didn’t “dislike” this series persay, I probably wouldn’t re-watch it again, at least not any time soon….there are some good qualities to it (some parts were genuinely funny and part of the ending was not really typical of a comedy and came as a bit of a shock to me), but overall, I would say that this is an “okay” series only….

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