This particular series recently came on TV and it so happened that I had never seen this series before, so I figured I’d give it a try. The premise of the story wasn’t bad and actually, the first half of the series was quite interesting, but near the second half, there was too much focus on parts that weren’t really necessary to the plot and were very obviously fillers. If the second half of the series was less draggy, I think I probably would have liked it more.
This series from the mid-90s is a modern series starring Nnadia Chan (陳松伶), Timmy Ho (何寶生), Wayne Lai (黎耀祥), Joyce Chan (陳彥行), Angie Cheong (張慧儀) and veteran artists So Hang Suen (蘇杏璇) and Wong Ching (王青). When I watched the opening theme video and also the first few episodes, I thought that this was perhaps another one of those typical ‘love story’ type series that TVB is famous for doing. Turns out that the series goes beyond that, as the message it tries to convey is not just about love conquering all, but also about perseverance, never giving up, and overcoming adversity in life. To be honest, there were definitely a lot of ‘predictable’ elements to the plot and I could see that the storyline does follow the ‘mold’ of the typical ‘tale of encouragement’ type series – so it definitely wasn’t unique and in fact some segments were too predictable to the point of being a bit boring -- if it weren’t for the cast (especially Nnadia and Wayne), I don’t think the series would have endured.
For the purposes of this review, I’m going to focus mostly on the characters, as I personally feel that this is the type of series where character development is important and it’s really the characters as well as the acting (rather than the storyline) that drives the series forward.
Main Cast / Characters
Nnadia Chan (Chu Yan Ping) – Nnadia’s character (nicknamed Ah Bien) is a poor village girl who lost her mother at a young age and so growing up, she had to take care of her 2 younger brothers while her father worked at a local restaurant. As the only female in the house, she was already cooking and cleaning and taking care of the household even before she reached her teens – though life was difficult, she still maintained a positive and optimistic attitude, as she believed that as long as one was willing to persevere and work hard, things would eventually get better. In the village, she didn’t have too many friends, but she was very close with the two best friends that she had grown up with (played by Timmy Ho and Wayne Lai). When she grows up, she eventually marries one of the ‘best friends’ (Timmy), but of course things happen in her life that test her marriage as well as her relationship with her family – at the same time, she needs to take care of her family and so makes a career out of what she knows best: making dumplings. Basically, the entire story revolves around Ah Bien’s trials and tribulations in life and how she eventually went from being a poor village girl to a well-known ‘queen of dumplings’.
Nnadia is definitely one of my favorite actresses. I love how her acting is so natural and convincing, to the point that no matter what roles she takes on, it never seems as though she is acting – rather, it always feels like she IS the character. Even with a lot of the difficult scenes such as crying or arguing, she does it so naturally (unlike other actresses where you can usually tell when they are faking it). I always enjoy watching Nnadia’s performances, even if I don’t like the series or the character that she may be portraying.
Once again, Nnadia did an excellent job with her performance in this series. If you think about it, the character is actually quite tragic and has to endure through a lot of difficult situations, yet throughout that time, remain positive and optimistic. She was perfect for the role and I honestly feel that no other actress would have been able to do as good a job as her in this series. Even though Nnadia’s character wasn’t my favorite in this series, I couldn’t help but admire and respect her. Interestingly, I think that part of the reason why Nnadia was so good in this series (aside from her natural born acting skills) is because in terms of personality and attitude, the character of Chu Yan Ping is very similar to how Nnadia is in real life. (After reading Nnadia’s interview with Mingpao that I translated back in August, this fact was made even more clear – looking back at that interview, I felt as though the woman being described was in fact Chu Yan Ping!).
It’s really too bad that Nnadia is no longer active in the HK TV industry – she is one of the few naturally talented actresses out there and it’s definitely the industry’s loss.
Timmy Ho (Yu Chi Fung) – Timmy’s character is a ‘young master’ of sorts from a well-to-do family in the village. His family owns the restaurant where Ah Bien’s dad works and for years, the family has run the establishment with an iron first. Timmy’s character in the series is actually quite stereotypical, as he is extremely smart and talented, highly educated (college grad who studied abroad overseas), and excels at pretty much everything he does – however he has a very compassionate personality and despite his status, he is very down to earth. He’s very independent and doesn’t let societal norms govern his life – also, he has no problems speaking out against injustice and rebelling against his overbearing, bossy, unreasonable mother (played by So Hang Suen) whenever her actions would get out of hand. For example, he ends up falling in love with Nnadia’s character Ah Bien and marries her against his mother’s wishes; then when his mother is mean to Ah Bien and her family, he is fiercely protective of her and even moves out with her to prevent her from being treated badly by his mother. With that said though, no matter how much he disapproves of his mother’s actions, he is ultimately still a filial son -- this will be an important fact later on, as it is precisely because of this filialness that he ends up going to jail for 2 years, which changes his life completely and also strains his marriage as well as his relationship with his family later on in the series.
Those who followed TVB’s series in the 90s will probably be familiar with Timmy Ho, as he was in quite a few series in the mid-90s (he was most active at TVB from 1995 to 1998 – in those 4 years alone, he participated in close to 15 series, with important roles in majority of those series). Timmy is actually from a very well-to-do family in real life, as his father is a rich bank tycoon with a net worth in the millions. His father was a skilled businessman who passed on his keen business acumen to his son – therefore, when Timmy returned to HK after studying abroad in Canada, he started his own business (in a completely unrelated field) and without any help from his father, was able to become extremely successful. He actually entered the entertainment industry by chance, as he was out singing with some friends and because he had good singing skills, he was ‘discovered’ and signed by a record company. When he joined TVB in the early 90s, he actually wasn’t part of the drama department – he had hosting talent, so he was chosen to host various variety shows as well as entertainment news show such as 娛樂新聞眼 (yes, the same entertainment news show that Leo Ku started in as well). It wasn’t until a few years later that he was chosen to participate in drama series and eventually in movies as well – it sounded like TVB had high hopes for him, as he was very heavily promoted in the mid-90s, with involvement in all three disciplines of music, television, and movies. I’ve actually never heard Timmy sing, so I can’t pass judgement on that piece, but I have seen quite a few of his series and must admit that he definitely had a lot of potential in terms of acting – plus he also had the advantage of being tall and relatively good-looking, so I think that if he had stayed in the industry, he probably would have been able to have a decent career.
So where is Timmy Ho now? Well, some time in the late 90s, he started studying Buddhism and became fascinated with the religion. I had read that prior to Timmy finding the religion, he was actually a bit of a spoiled rich kid (though not as extreme as some others in his same position) with a very bad habit – gambling; but after he started studying Buddhism, his personality changed completely, becoming more low-key and foregoing a lot of the excesses that were once a part of his world (for example, he moved out of the luxury hilltop mansion he had lived in for years and instead moved into a small rented apartment in the city). Timmy once said in an interview that he really felt a great affinity with Buddhism and really wanted to pursue it more in-depth – based on this, I guess it was really not a surprise then that he chose to enter the monastery and become a monk in 2005. Interestingly, he was very low-key about it – to the point that a lot of people (including the Media) did not know that he became a monk until 2 or 3 years ago.
Wayne Lai (Teng Nai Keung) – Wayne’s character Ah Nai is the other childhood friend that Nnadia’s character Ah Bien grows up with – in their childhood, he and Ah Bien along with Chi Fung were very close and had a ‘Three Musketeers’-like friendship. Ah Nai is actually a very interesting character: his father and grandfather were both the head of the village when they were alive, so naturally, he inherited the position after his father died (he was only in his twenties, yet he was already in such a highly respected position overseeing the entire village) – however he was not the typical village head, as he was neither stern nor strict nor did he put on airs or act self-important. Instead, he had a very ‘happy-go-lucky’ personality and was pretty much a kid at heart – he always took an optimistic and cheerful approach to things, no matter how difficult or tragic the situation was. He loved to hang out with the local kids and play video games, or hang out with his friends or help the villagers solve problems / disputes (the scenes where he went around looking for problems to resolve because he was so bored out of his wits – to the point that he had to resort to talking to the floor in his living room and imitating a sitting Buddha statue – were SO HILARIOUS, I was practically on the floor laughing!). Even with his playful personality though, he understood his responsibilities as village head and always made sure things that needed to get done were done. Despite having a crush on Ah Bien since childhood, he was genuinely happy for her when she married Chi Fung, as he knew that Chi Fung was better than him in many ways (talent, education, smarts, etc.) and was a better match for Ah Bien than himself. And throughout the entire series, no matter what situations occurred or what challenges arose, the 3 of them remained very close – their friendship never got affected. Later on, Ah Nai ends up falling in love with Chi Fung’s sister Ah Huo (played by Joyce Chan) and they eventually get married.
Ah Nai was definitely my favorite character in this series. He provided a lot of comic relief in an otherwise tragic story – in my opinion, his character really kept the series lighthearted and uplifting and actually really complemented the theme of the series quite well. For example, even when Ah Nai is diagnosed with a terminal illness (brain tumor) and knows that he doesn’t have long to live, he still remains true to his personality by remaining upbeat and spending whatever days he had left living life to the fullest. I love how the character was able to balance the comedic and tragic so perfectly, to the point that all of the scenes with him in it were thoroughly enjoyable. This was true even up until the end, when Ah Nai eventually dies from his illness – this part of the story was handled extremely well, as it wasn’t overly tragic yet still effectively got the point across.
To be honest, I don’t know who I should give credit to for the great job with the character of Ah Nai – I’m sure some of the credit goes to the writers for the well-written character, but in my opinion, a lot of the credit should also go to Wayne for his brilliant portrayal of the character (and I’m not just saying this because Wayne is one of my favorite actors). Just like with Nnadia’s character, no one else could have portrayed Wayne’s character better than him….which of course brings me back to the point that even back then, Wayne’s great acting skills were apparent and I really feel that once again, he ‘stole the show’ (that seems to be a pattern with many of the series where he is in the supporting role – even with series where I like the main leads, I still thoroughly enjoy Wayne’s role way more). Wayne is definitely ‘the best of the best’ when it comes to acting and so far, with all the series that I’ve seen of his (there are still some out there I have yet to watch), I have never been disappointed by his performance! (And once again, shame on TVB for taking more than 20 years to recognize him for his brilliant acting skills!).
So Hang Suen (Chi Fung’s mother Mrs. Yu) – So Han Suen’s character Mrs. Yu is one of those characters that we as audiences love to hate. For the first half of the series, she is pretty much the typical overbearing mother – bossy, unreasonable, constantly yelling at people for no good reason and never lets them get a word in edgewise, doesn’t trust anyone, etc. – pretty much, her attitude is that everything has to go her way no matter what. I would have to say that her character was downright annoying. Of course, in the second half of the series, after her family loses everything (their restaurant business and all their money), her son goes to jail because of her, and her older daughter betrays her, she becomes humbled and changes her tyrannical ways. She moves in with her daughter-in-law Ah Bien (Nnadia’s character) and after awhile, she realizes how wrongly she had treated Ah Bien in the past. Even though Mrs. Yu still has somewhat of a fiesty personality in the second half of the series, she actually becomes more likable due to her transformation from an overbearing tyrant to a reasonable mother who finally realizes how much her family means to her.
So Hang Suen is one of my favorite veteran female actresses. I pretty much grew up watching her series and to me, her acting always comes across so natural. Throughout her career, she has played numerous ‘mother’ characters – from the ‘benevolent’ type to the ‘overbearing’ type – and each time, her portrayal is very convincing. I mean, who can forget So Hang Suen’s many ‘classic’ mother characters: Kwok Jing’s (Felix Wong) mother Lee Ping in 1983’s “Legend of the Condor Heroes”, Cheung Wah Kit’s (Tony Leung) mother in all 3 installments of “Police Cadet”, Ding Yau Kin’s (Felix Wong) and Ding Yau Hong’s (Deric Wan) adoptive mother Auntie Wan in 1989’s “Looking Back in Anger”, etc. (just to name a few). If I were asked to give a list of actresses who do the best ‘mother’ roles, So Hang Suen would definitely be number one on my list!
So Hang Suen is retired from the industry now, but she does participate in the occasional series or two when she feels like it (primarily ATV series though). The latest I read was that last year, she and a group of fellow veteran ‘green leaf’ artists opened up an Acting School and she currently teaches there.
Joyce Chan (Ah Huo) – Joyce’s character Ah Huo is the younger sister of Yu Chi Fung. As the youngest daughter in the family, it was expected that she would be the most loved or spoiled, but actually, things were quite opposite for her – even though her dad and brother were good to her and treated her well, her mother always seem to be annoyed with her and yelled at her no matter what she did. She later finds out the reason why her mother treats her this way is because she is actually not her biological daughter – her father had an affair many years ago and she was the ‘result’ of that affair. When she finds out, she becomes depressed and runs away from home – not surprisingly, Ah Nai (Wayne) talks to her and eventually helps her get back on track, which is how they end up becoming a couple.
To me, Joyce’s role in the series wasn’t tremendously important, as it seemed that her function was mainly as a love interest for Wayne’s character. This could be why the writers didn’t spend a whole lot of time developing the storyline involving her.
As far as Joyce’s acting is concerned – well, I pretty much don’t have an opinion either way. I’ve always been neutral towards Joyce, as I don’t watch enough of her series to really be able to formulate an opinion. If you were to ask me what her ‘representative work’ is, I would have to say “Virtues of Harmony”, but that’s only because that series was on for close to 4 years, so it’s hard not to remember that series somewhat. I had read that at one point in the 90s, TVB was planning on heavily promoting her – but I’m actually not sure if they did or not because most of the series that I’ve seen of hers, she only had minor or supporting roles….even when she left TVB (to go to ATV), I really don’t feel she had any type of breakthrough role (maybe that’s why TVB gave up on her?).
Angie Cheong (Cheng Si Nga) – Angie’s role is a supporting one, as she plays Timmy Ho’s ex-girlfriend (coincidentally also named Angie) who breaks up with him, but then regrets it later because she still has feelings for him – but it’s too late because he had already married Nnadia. Even though on the surface, she appears to have gotten over it and even becomes good friends with the couple, she is actually deeply jealous of them on the inside and ‘predictably’ spends most of the series trying to sabotage the couple. (Ok, to put it bluntly, she is once again the ‘bxxch’ in this series). Needless to say, she doesn’t succeed in the end, since Timmy and Nnadia remain together.
Honestly, I really didn’t see the point in having Angie’s character there. Sure, they tried to make the storyline more interesting by putting in the ‘third wheel’ element to the relationship and such, but I feel they could have still gotten the same effect without her character – or perhaps still keep her character, but reduce her screentime (not that she had a lot of screentime to begin with). Some of the draggy scenes in the series were actually between her and Timmy and honestly, they really weren’t necessary to further the plot – I mean, how many scenes do we need to tell us that she still has feelings for Timmy and wants to get back with him, despite him no longer loving her? Not a whole lot, to be honest – they should have just cut out a lot of those ‘filler’ scenes instead of boring the audiences with them.
Those of you who watched “A Kindred Spirit” (which ran from 1995 to 1999) should be VERY familiar with Angie. In fact, for me, that was the first series of hers that I saw – prior to that, I had no clue who she was. Not surprisingly, she came out of a beauty pageant (Miss Asia International?) and actually did not participate in a whole lot of series if you really think about it. I’m actually neutral towards Angie because I honestly can’t tell whether she has acting potential or not – yes, she did well in “A Kindred Spirit”, but in that series as well as almost every other series she did, she had pretty much been typecasted as a ‘sex symbol’ actress (probably because of her good looks and figure) who is always ‘second fiddle’ to the main female leads…all her roles are actually pretty similar.
.—Veteran actress Lai Suen (actress Gigi Lai’s aunt) played the role of Wayne’s grandmother in the series. Not surprisingly, her portrayal was excellent, but what I loved most though was actually her chemistry with Wayne – the two of them portrayed the grandmother / grandson relationship so well that if you were to tell me they were really related, I would probably believe it (of course, we know they aren’t related in real life though). I must say that whoever did the casting for the 2 characters did a great job!
.—Veteran actor Wong Ching played the role of Nnadia’s dad. His character was loud and obnoxious at times and had a big temper, but at the end of the day, he truly did love his children – it’s just that he wasn’t good at expressing it (or, more likely, he didn’t have time to, since he pretty much worked nonstop day and night in order to put food on the table). I enjoyed Wong Ching’s portrayal of the dad – he was funny at times (though he didn’t mean to be funny) but still did all the serious scenes quite well.
.—A very young Ruco Chan was also in this series (I’ve started to notice him in a lot of the older series that I’ve been watching lately). He played one of Nnadia’s younger brothers in the series. I will tell you that I definitely didn’t recognize him at first, as he looked so tremendously different back then. His role was actually a minor one and he didn’t have a whole lot of screen time – but I felt that he still did a good job nonetheless.
Overall, this series wasn’t bad in my opinion…BUT because of the genre and the message that it tries to get across, this series may not necessarily suit the tastes of all audiences. This is definitely one of those series where there is a big focus on ‘inner emotion acting’ (內心戲), which means that the series is a bit slower pace than most audiences would like (especially the second half, which was very draggy). I would still recommend this series (Nnadia and Wayne’s performances alone are absolutely worth watching) to those interested in the genre – BUT just make sure that you have plenty of patience to sit through the second half.