Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review of "When Lanes Merge 情越雙白線"

I recently watched this series in its entirety when it came on TV. Even though I had heard alot of praises for this series from various people, I really did not have high hopes going into it because majority of TVB's productions have been huge disappointments for me this past decade. Plus I had attempted to watch quite a few of TVB's 2010 series already and was only able to get through 2 of them completely -- I gave up on the rest of them after the first few episodes (for various reasons), since I didn't want to waste my time any further. Also, I wasn't too fond of the cast for this series -- the male side was fine, but I didn't like most of the actresses on the female side -- which was sort of the reason why I had put off watching the series in the first place (despite the series being on my "to watch" list for quite some time already plus owning the DVD).

Surprisingly, this series exceeded my expectations -- and that's saying alot for someone like me who has already lost all faith in TVB and its abilities to produce good series. Though I still hold that sentiment about TVB (most of their series nowadays are still crappy), I will admit that this particular series is one of those 'rare gems' that stands out from the rest of the pack. Of course, the series has its flaws and there were certainly some things I didn't like about it, but overall, the positives outweighed the negatives (for me at least).

As with most of my series reviews, I'm not going to talk about every single 'good' or 'bad' thing about the series because frankly, I don't see the need to do so (plus I'm always of the belief that it's best for people to watch the series for themselves to form their own opinion on it, since everyone's tastes are different). So I'm basically just going to highlight a few things that stood out to me in terms of the storyline and characters....

In terms of the storyline, it revolved around something that we do every day -- driving -- as well as the consequences of not following traffic laws and regulations. With this storyline and theme, I'm not really surprised in a sense that many audiences liked the series because the realism of the plot made it easier for audiences to relate. The series is a bit 'heavy' in the sense that it deals with alot of 'drama' and tragedy such as car accidents resulting from drunk driving or reckless driving and people dying or getting seriously injured as a result -- and it is a bit painful to watch how the lives of the families and friends of all involved (the victims of the accidents as well as those who cause the accidents) get turned upside down as a result of one person's actions. But that's life -- and that's where this series is successful -- depicting the tragedies of life and the aftermath. After watching this series, it really made me think twice about being reckless when driving!

With regard to character development and the acting -- well, here is where I need to applaud the writers and the actors for doing a great job, especially the male cast (though I have some reservations about the females -- but more on that later).

Here are some of the highlights:

Kent Cheng (Taxi Gor):  Kent Gor illustrates once again why I enjoy watching veteran actors' performances so much -- his portrayal of 'bad boy' Turbo's (Raymond Wong) father Taxi Gor was close to perfect! He definitely brought out the emotional aspect to the character and did a fine job showing us the complexity of the character -- a father who has immense love for his son, yet at the same time is frustrated with his son's actions and to some extent, feels guilty that he, as the parent, had a hand in his son going down the wrong path (by spoiling him when he was a child). His relationship with his son in this series was very interesting because it was not 'traditional' -- even though he would constantly argue with his rebellious son and yell at him profusely when he does 'reckless' stuff (to the extent of telling his son to his face that he is "a piece of trash"), it's obvious that he still loves him very much -- yelling at his son is a way of acting out his helpless frustration and desperation while at the same time holding out hope that he can still 'reform' his seemingly incorrigible son and bring him back on the right path. And to see all the pain and suffering that Kent's character goes through all because of his son's reckless actions (i.e.: selling his 2 taxi licenses in order to pay compensation to the dead victim's family, enduring the wrath of the other victim who becomes disabled because of the accident, working long hours despite his age and not being in good health just so that his son could have as 'normal' a life as possible once he got out of jail, etc.) -- it definitely made me appreciate the parent / child relationship so much more.

The scene in episode 3 or 4 when both Taxi Gor and Turbo go to the hospital after Turbo's drunk driving accident to apologize to the victim's family and the doctor comes out to tell them that they weren't able to save the victim -- that scene was especially intense, suspenseful, and well-acted....I literally jumped when Kent's character slapped Raymond's character so hard and so many times -- now there's professional acting for you right there!

Raymond Wong (Turbo):  I will admit that I was hugely impressed with Raymond's performance in this series. I never really took notice of Raymond prior to last year because he had just joined TVB not too long ago and none of his roles really stood out before that -- so at first, I assumed that he was just another newbie actor with mediocre skill whom TVB was trying to push in our (the audience's) faces. But, it turns out that I was wrong (about the 'newbie actor' and 'mediocre skill' part at least) -- Raymond is actually not new to the industry, as he started in the late 90s in movies and a few years ago switched to television, so up to last year, he already had 13 years of acting experience. And he definitely does have the acting skills as far as I can tell from the little I've seen of his performances. No wonder he was able to handle his first lead role (in this series) so well!

I like how Raymond's character develops throughout the series -- he is obviously a 'bad boy' in the beginning (no, not the evil villain type by any means) -- he was pretty much a tempermental, rebellious young guy who couldn't hold down a steady job and instead spent most of his time hanging out with his buddies and enjoying the thrills of driving / racing fast cars (hence gaining the name Turbo). Then, after he drives drunk and ends up killing someone (and severely injuring another person) and gets sent to jail, he changes his ways and truly tries hard to be a good person. What I like though is that the ‘transformation’ is not the typical “now I’m going to become the perfect son” type of thing – even after he is released from jail, he still has a fiery temper and a somewhat rebellious streak about him (and still argues with his father), but he has matured in his thinking and knows how much his father suffered because of him (as well as the pain that he caused the victims’ families) and so he thinks more before he acts.

Also, the genuine love and concern that he has towards his father is admirable – even though on the outside, he is always arguing with his father and comes across as though he doesn’t care, on the inside, he is really concerned for his father’s well-being. I especially saw this during the ‘jail visit’ scenes between him and his father – i.e.: the part when he is sitting in the room waiting for his father to come for his scheduled visit and when his father is late, he keeps looking worriedly at the door…when his father finally arrives all out of breath and sweating, he’s worried and tells him to be more careful and take care of himself. Then, when the time is up and he gets up to go back to his cell, he tells his father to wait until he catches his breath before leaving (obviously genuinely concerned for his health). Maybe it’s just me (and my ‘old-school’ way of thinking), but I’ve always been of the mindset that someone who can be that good to their parents (I’m talking genuinely filial here, not faking it) -- no matter what happens -- can’t possibly be THAT BAD of a person at the core.

Also, the 2 scenes where Turbo shows his remorse for the pain he caused both the widow of the guy who died in the accident as well as ruining the life of Kwok Fung’s character – where he gets down on his knees and sincerely begs for forgiveness – I will admit that I got a bit teary-eyed for those few seconds (again, that’s saying a lot). Once again, it goes to show how much of an impact Raymond’s performance in this series had.

Sonjia Kwok (Cheung Hui Mun):  To be honest, I don’t really have much to say about Sonjia’s character – I guess I’m basically neutral towards her character (I neither like her nor hate her). I honestly don’t think that Sonjia’s character stood out that much, at least not to me. She actually plays the typical “ex-girlfriend of the main character who still has feelings for him but he loves someone else” character – nothing really exciting or refreshing about her character. I also didn’t like Sonjia’s ‘look’ in this series – the short hair that she sported made her look way older than she really is and as a result, I don’t feel that she ‘matched’ Raymond’s character (it made her look older than him – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I just couldn’t really see them as a couple).

In a sense, I feel that Sonjia’s character was a somewhat supporting role in the series because she definitely did not have as much screen time as Kate – in fact, there were some episodes where she didn’t appear at all or if she did, she was part of a group scene and had very little dialogue (if any). I’m thinking that her primary purpose in the series was to be a potential love interest for Raymond so that TVB can do their typical ‘love triangle’ thing that they manage to do in most series – if that’s the case, I would rather they have cut her character out completely rather than do a mediocre job of character development.

Kate Tsui (Ko Lai Sum):   I’ve never liked Kate and after watching this series, my opinion of her hasn’t changed. Kate’s character is a traffic enforcement officer who is at odds with Raymond Wong’s character Turbo because of his reckless driving (not surprisingly, since she IS a traffic cop after all). But their relationship becomes even more strained after Turbo causes an accident when driving drunk and she is the first officer on the scene. After Turbo gets out of jail, the 2 become friends and eventually become a couple (of course – typical TVB).

I’m not too fond of Kate in this series because to me, her character comes across as fake – maybe it’s her (bad) acting that caused me to think this way, but I really felt her character was boring and didn’t display the emotion that I would expect her to. She is also definitely not convincing as a traffic cop (in fact, she came across as very awkward in that role). Maybe she should stick to playing those ‘vixen’ roles that she seems to do so well in (perhaps because it’s closer to the image that most audiences have of her?).

Ruco Chan (Kwan Shu Yan):   Ruco’s character is obviously the villain in the series. On the surface, he is the CEO of a big company and tries to pass himself off as a respected business person, however underneath that ‘cool’ and ‘calm’ demeanor is an evil, heartless monster who has no qualms about driving recklessly and even injuring or killing people in car accidents that he causes. He and Turbo are enemies because he once caused Turbo to crash the car that he was driving, which resulted in his dad Taxi Gor to be seriously injured – but the worst part was the fact that Ruco’s character schemed to cover up his involvement in the accident, using all the people around him to his advantage. Of course, as with most of the villains in TVB’s series, his character encounters a tragic, yet predictable end….

Ruco is another artist who ‘jumped ship’ to TVB from ATV and even though I have not seen too many of his series so far, I can tell that from the few I’ve seen that he his acting skills are quite good. (What’s with all those ATV artists having such good acting skills?). Even though I disliked Ruco’s character in this series, I do have to admit that he did a good job of portraying the “coldheartedness” of the character.

Raymond Cho (Au Yiu Jun):  In most of his previous series, Ray usually plays some type of ‘professional’ character such as a doctor, lawyer, police officer, business man, etc., so it was definitely refreshing to see him play a ‘common man’ type character this time around – a working class taxi driver and family man whose main objective is to give his wife and son the best life he could afford. He’s the typical ‘little man’ character who pretty much lets his wife run the show at home he feels that his wife had to ‘marry down’ because of him (since they only married because she became pregnant), so he wants to do everything he can do to prove his love for her.

I like Ray’s character in this series – even though he doesn’t have too much screen time, I still enjoyed his humorous and straightforward personality in the series. But honestly, why did they pair him up with Elaine? Her character was such a bxxch – he definitely deserved way better than that!

Elaine Yiu (Wai Wai):  As usual, Elaine plays another annoying, pathetic character. She plays Raymond Cho’s wife – a mother who obtains a job at a prestigious, high-paying company and obviously makes more money than her taxi driver husband, which means that she also ‘wears the pants’ in the house because she is the ‘main breadwinner’. And of course, as is typically the case, she has a willful, defiant personality and always insists that she is right, refusing to listen to anyone, not even to her own husband when he tries to warn her against getting too friendly with her boss (played by Ruco Chan). Everyone knows that her boss is a bad person who is responsible for hurting many people in car accidents, then covering up his actions, yet she continues to blindly follow him, naively (and stupidly) insisting that he is not that kind of person and that everyone is prejudiced against him (sound familiar? Yup, the same type of stupid, annoying roles she typically plays). The worst part is how she almost ruins her marriage because she believes Ruco more than she does her own husband Ray, even slapping her husband and yelling at him in her boss’ defense! (Ok, that scene was a bit overboard – I actually wanted to slap Elaine silly after that.)

Kwok Fung (Ngai Chiu Fat):  Veteran actor Kwok Fung plays a working class café owner who makes a living by making tasty beef balls, which is pretty much what he has done his entire life and what he raised his family on. But when he becomes one of the victims of Turbo’s car accident and severely injures his arm, his life gets turned upside down – because his craft depends upon using his hands and he refused to get therapy even after he was injured, his situation grew worse, to the point that he was no longer able to continue with his craft, therefore losing the café that he had worked so many years to maintain. He becomes depressed and takes on drinking and gambling, plus his personality completely changes, becoming angry, aggressive, and violent – by taking out his anger on his family (his wife and teenage daughter), he ends up losing his family as well.

Kwok Fung has been around forever it seems (I pretty much grew up watching his series) – he is one of those seasoned veteran actors who can pull off pretty much any role he is given with ease. That was definitely the case in this series as well – not only did he have to maintain an accent in the series (and make it sound natural rather than forced), he also had to go from ‘ideal husband and father’ to his family’s worse nightmare. I really can’t imagine who else would be able to play this complex character as well as Kwok Fung did!

Kingdom Yuen (Fen Jie):  My first impression of Kingdom’s performance in this series – WOW! I’ve always known that Kingdom can act, as I’ve seen many of the series that she participated in and she is always excellent in her roles as well as extremely convincing. Her role as Kwok Fung’s wife was very well acted – all the emotional scenes that she had were amazingly convincing, especially the scenes where she gets beat up by her husband and subsequently when she stands up to him and fights back.

There were actually quite a few ‘gripping’ scenes that Kingdom was involved in where I couldn’t help but think how underrated she is as an actress as well as how much the younger ones can learn from her. To be honest, out of the entire female cast in this series (lead as well as supporting), Kingdom’s character was the ONLY one I liked – despite how tragic her character is, it was definitely refreshing to see such quality acting!


Concluding thoughts:

Overall, I was disappointed in the female cast of this series (except for Kingdom Yuen) because all of their characters were pretty much “forgettable”. I’m actually not sure if I should blame the writers for the bad character development on the female side or the actresses for their mediocre acting – either way, when the female cast is placed up against the male cast, there is a very obvious difference in terms of the characters as well as the acting.

In terms of whether I recommend this series or not – well, it depends….it’s definitely not an easy series to get through because of the tragic theme and the intense emotional aspect. Also, with the two extremes in acting on the part of the cast (the female cast, except Kingdom, really dragged the series down whereas the male cast pretty much kept it going), it’s easy to get frustrated at some of the draggy scenes involving the female cast. Luckily though, the series is short (only 19 episodes) and for the really boring scenes, there’s always the option of forwarding through them (as I ended up doing a few times myself)! So pretty much – watch at your own risk!

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