I was visiting retrotvb’s blog earlier and came across this review on one of my favorite series, The Challenge of Life – obviously, I couldn’t pass up the chance to comment on the series and in so doing, I guess I sort of ended up doing a ‘review’ of sorts.
I’ve seen this particular series many times and though I have not watched the series recently, I’ve seen it enough to remember almost everything that goes on in the series. So I decided to go ahead and compile the comments I made (with a few modifications) and create a blog post on it, as my feelings on the series come through in it – in terms of ‘official’ review, I will most likely do one later on when I actually get around to re-watching this series.
Note: Some of my comments are in response to retrotvb’s review of the series, so they might not make sense taken on their own – therefore, for those who are truly interested in watching this series and want more detail, I recommend reading retrotvb’s review prior to reading my comments.
First off, thank you to retrotvb for writing a commentary / review on The Challenge of Life. Even though I've seen this series a gazillion times, I have yet to write a review on it because I just started my blog a couple months ago, so obviously it will take some time (if I had to write reviews on all of the 80s and 90s series I've seen, I would be glued to my laptop for years to come...lol!).
Before I get too far into things, I do want to mention about the friendship between Kitty Lai, Jacqueline Law, and Monica Chan. This is the only series that I know of (other than all the 5 Tiger ones) where the real-life actors continued to maintain a close relationship years after the series finished. Even today, 21 years later, Kitty, Jacqueline, and Monica are still the best of friends – in fact, just last week, Monica posted a picture of the three of them on her weibo – they were at Jacqueline’s house, hanging out together, as they usually do. When I saw the picture, I got a bit teary-eyed because frankly, I really miss Kitty and Jacqueline – 2 great actresses who (in my opinion at least) had successful careers, but now lead quiet, happily married lives. I’m definitely happy for them – but a bit saddened that the only way I get to see them is by watching old TVB series. Oh well….I can always reminisce!
Ok, now that I got that out of the way, on to my actual responses to retrotvb’s review….
I have to make mention of the songs that were used in this series, which I absolutely loved. I remember when I watched this series for the first time years ago, I fell in love with Stephen Bishop’s “It Might Be You” song and absolutely adored it to the point that I was hunting all over for the song….it took me years to find it, but when I finally did, I was so happy (obviously). And when I was actually watching the series, I actually wanted more scenes between Sean and Monica (even though I didn’t really like the pairing) just so I could hear the song again! Anyway, it is an absolutely great song and complemented the series extremely well!
As for the themesong and sub-theme song by Leon Lai – as I’ve said before, most of the songs that I like of his were from the early 90s when he was still with Polygram, plus all of the TV series themesongs. Not going to go into an in-depth analysis of the themesongs, but one thing I do want to mention…the sub-theme song to this series – “If This is Love” – was very popular back when the series aired and for years afterwards…the interesting thing about this song is that it was also used in both of Leon’s subsequent series (though not as a subtheme, since those series already had their own subtheme songs, but rather during a few of the scenes only): “The Breaking Point” from 1991 and “The Legendary Ranger” from 1993. Hmmm…I wonder if TVB was just being lazy and reused the song in the other series or if there was a particular purpose for doing so….guess I may never know!
The cast of this series consisted of: Sean Lau, Kitty Lai, Monica Chan, Jacqueline Law, Leon Lai, Frankie Lam, Wayne Lai, Andy Dai, Fong Gong, Ng Yuen Yi, Liu Kai Chi (these were the main actors/actresses in the series).
Here are my comments on a few of the main characters / artists:
SEAN LAU – absolutely one of my all time favorite actors…I absolutely ADORE him – not just because of his acting, but because of how he is in real life (let me just say that Amy Kwok is extremely lucky to have a man like him!).
If you want my honest opinion, I feel that Sean’s performance was so successful in this series (and his character so endearing) partly because he is actually playing himself! I definitely see elements of his character in the series that are very similar to how he is in real life. He’s not good looking by any means, but he is cute and adorable and extremely nice, upright, responsible, friendly, and most of all, has an awesome sense of humor – pretty much the type of guy that any sensible girl would have a crush on!
I could go on forever about Sean because I have ‘followed’ him for a long time and he is one of the best actors this industry has (I cried so hard when he finally won the HKFA Best Actor award after so many years!) – but I don’t want to go too much off tangent, so I’ll stop here (for now).
KITTY LAI – another one of my favorites! She’s another actress that I loved back in the 80s (and early 90s) and one of the few who was actually very versatile -- she could play the meek, innocent characters such as her Ah Wah character in COL, yet do the 180 degree turn to play the strong, willful Chiu Man in HSDS (but that’s another long review altogether, so won’t go there).
Kitty’s character was very well-written in this series and she was given a great opportunity to shine as an actress – and shine, she did!! Her performance was absolutely awesome and perfect – as always, her acting is ‘just right’ and never over the top. This is why I love watching her series because I just feel so comfortable with her!
Her character was definitely tragic and I also kept wondering how so many bad things could happen to her, especially given what a good person she is. To be honest, I preferred her with Sean (instead of pairinig him with Monica), as I felt she was a better match for him over Monica, but then again, I could understand why things happened the way they did in the series.
LEON LAI – to be honest, Leon’s performance pales in comparisons to everyone else’s in this series (not just Sean and Frankie, but the females and also Wayne). But I was fine with his character and performance in this series because – as it was mentioned – it was a great role for him and he suited it well (and with this character being a precursor to his character in the The Breaking Point, I’m totally fine with him in here).
Is it just me, or was his ‘slur’ kind of strong in this series? I know Leon is not a native HKer and Cantonese is not his first language, so when he talks too fast, I’ve noticed that he slurs his speech sometimes – maybe I’m just being nit-picky, but in some scenes, I felt that it was hard to understand what he was saying.
JACQUELINE LAW – another great actress from the 80s era…I liked her as an actress (come to think of it, I liked almost all of the actors/actresses from the 80s) and her character in here was very endearing (funny at times, but serious when she needed to be) – I loved her character and enjoyed the fun and laughter that her character brought (remember that scene where she’s registering for night classes because she wants to please Leon and, pretending not to know English, let’s that dumb teacher put her down with her broken English, but then when Leon leaves the room, Jacqueline puts the teacher to shame by giving a bio of herself in fluent English? Absolutely hilarious and one of many funny scenes in the series!)
It’s such a shame that Jacqueline’s career was cut short after that bad diving accident (not to mention the damage it did to her physically) – that’s why I was glad to see her come back in 2006 to film LFD, even though her role was not hugely significant in that series.
I also felt that Leon and Jacqueline were a cute pairing, despite the whole ‘cousin’ thing. To be honest though, I was already used to their pairing because they also collaborated on “A Friend in Need” a couple years prior (in 1988). Definitely much better as a couple in this series though!
MONICA CHAN – not a whole lot to say about her, because quite honestly, I’m not really a fan of her acting. She’s okay though (WAY better than a lot of the MHKs today) and if you use today’s standards (with the lame MHK / pageant winner turned actresses currently saturating all the series in TVB currently), then I guess you could say she was REALLY good! (LOL!!!) Anyway, I think this was Monica’s first series (if I remember correctly, as I think she was MHK 1989?) and for a first series, she wasn’t all that bad.
FRANKIE LAM – hahaha…I’ve always felt that Sunny and Chilam and Frankie looked alike (that’s probably way all 3 of them are also on my ‘favorites’ list). Needless to say, he was awesome in this series – absolutely convincing as ‘the bad son’ yet not cheesy at all. He definitely played the villain role well (as a sidenote, after ‘falling in love’ with Frankie’s character in “Forensic Heroes”, I almost forgot that he was another one who always used to play villain roles – and excelled at them).
WAYNE LAI – saving the best for last, of course! Wayne absolutely overshadowed Leon in this series (and rightfully so, given the awesome actor that Wayne is – even back then, when he was a virtual unknown). This was actually the first series I watched where Wayne actually had a ‘meaty’ role (all his previous roles prior to this were so minor to the point that they were mostly forgettable) and he of course pulled it off well (no surprise there). Even back then, I thoroughly enjoyed Wayne’s performance (as I still do now) – so much so that I was bummed out at his character’s fate at the end of the series (and for awhile there, it made me hate Frankie)….And I have to stick this in here -- to this day, I’m still pissed at TVB for overlooking Wayne’s talents and waiting more than 20 years later to start recognizing him! (Damn TVB!!!)
ANDY DAI – just had to make a quick comment about Andy’s performance. He played one of his typical villain roles and to be honest, he played the part well! He was downright evil in this series – to the point that I applauded when his character died (demonstrates how well he played the part). I personally feel that Andy is one of the most underrated supporting actors – his acting is always right on par and usually very convincing.
.—Yes, I thought the ending was pretty lame as well….the church scene was so cheesy (though it’s funny that the scene where Leon pushes open the doors to the church was parodied later on in a couple other series – which is why I laugh now whenever I watch that part).
.—I totally felt that TVB didn’t do justice to Fong Gong in this series (he played Leon’s father) – he’s a pretty accomplished veteran actor and famous for playing villains (that’s probably why he has that ‘evil’ look…lol)...the first few episodes he was in was well done and brought out the ‘scariness’ of the character, but then, when he returned later on in the series, it’s almost like he lost all his ‘fire’ and wasn’t the evil / scary person that he was supposed to be. And yes, the way he died was ABSOLUTELY LAME!!!
.—Haha…glad to see that I wasn’t the only one who thought Monica looked weird in that fake-looking long-haired wig! What was the point? They should have just kept her hair short like it usually is – totally ruined it for me at the end!