In the desperate attempt to win the ratings war with TVB, ATV has to go to extreme length like buying series produced by other companies or hiring directors, actors/actresses outside the company. However, no matter what it tries, TVB always manages to emerge triumphal. Yet in some cases, the series is entertaining but probably the viewers already hold a dislike for ATV series. And this series is one of those that are subjected to unfair judgement as it did not gain a high rating when it was aired in Hong Kong. I myself, for instance, never really liked watching ATV series, even popular series like "Flaming Brothers" or "My date with a Vampire" which I found very ridiculous. So to avoid ruining the ending for those who hate spoilers, I just want to say that this series is worth a try. The plot and the cast are superior to some recently released TVB series such as "Reaching Out" or "Healing Hands 2".
THE PLOT: (Spoilers)
The series revolves around the lives of four girls who enter the beauty contest and how fame and fortune, or more correctly, misfortune affected their lives. These girls are Rita (played by Monica Chan), Michelle (Loletta Lee), Pauline (Alice Chan Wai) and Ada (Tin Yui Lee). Rita was working as a secretary in a big company owned by Chris (Simon Yam). Her mother worked in a nightclub or a massage place, I cannot seem to recall. Rita had been separated from her sister and father since she was little. She admired Chris since he was intelligent and very caring. Pauline worked in the same company with Rita, however, Paulines mother was a problem gambler who always got herself into big debt. Rita and Pauline then entered the beauty contest. In here, Rita is reunited with her sister, Michelle, who has grown up to be a very independent and strong-willed woman. Michelle and Rita did not get on really well with each other. Michelle had a boyfriend who was a playboy who even flirted with Rita. In the beauty contest, they met fierce competition from Ada, a very experienced, scheming girl. Anyway, Michelle was in favour to win the title of Ms. Hong Kong, yet due to problems with her boyfriend, Michelle was late for the final night so Rita won the title. Little did Michelle know that Rita had convinced the judges to let Michelle participate even though she was late. After the competition finished, Michelle tried her luck at acting while Rita found herself falling helplessly in love with Chris. However, Chris wife, who was mentally unstable, constantly used their son as a mean to prevent him from leaving her. Being a gentle girl, Rita could not bear the thought of destroying Chris family so they separated. Meanwhile, Pauline was in a mess due to her mothers gambling debt so she tried her luck in acting in Category III films which she did gain some fame. Yet fortune did not stay long with her for she later became a mistress of a Taiwanese rich man.
Michelle, with her independent and strong-willed nature, did not last long in the entertainment circle. There were scandals which caused her to leave Hong Kong. Ada, always a scheming girl, managed to be married to Tim's (Ben Wong Chi Yin) brother who was just as cunning and scheming as she was. Tim, on the other hand, was a very honest, caring guy who always suffered ridicule and scowls from his parents for they thought that he was not very bright. Yet, Rita fell in love with Tim because of his personality. Tims dad (Kenneth Tsang Kong) was a fierce competitor with Chris. Rita gave birth to a little girl but her life in Tims family was hell since she could not erase the gossips about her relationship with Chris, even Tim did not trust her.
Tim, after being subjected to too much unfairness and ridicule from his parents, decided that he could not stand it anymore and would do anything to be famous and make a name for himself. He would go to any length to be rich and powerful, including killing his mother and his brother.
Adas marriage to Tims brother was not as smooth as they did not love each other and both did not care about the other person. They then separated.
Chris son died and Chris found himself a free man. He fell in love with Michelle, who had returned to Hong Kong and became famous through a few movies. They got married, however, she was diagnosed with HIV and later died of the disease.
Tim was arrested for all of his crimes.
Pauline, being cast aside by the rich man, became addicted to heroine. She was later arrested because she stabbed Tim after he scolded her.
Monica Chan aka Rita: She played a very likeable role in the beginning of the series. However, towards the end of the series, Monica Chans character became what I would call a "mixture of all the silly and naïve female characters in Chinese series". Her characters silliness caused me more frustration than characters of Kenix or Flora Chan in "At The Threshold of an Era". It was nice to see her so honest, gentle and caring in the beginning of the series. However, her character later suffered unnecessary misfortune that she caused upon herself. I did not understand how she could not stand Chris wife but could stand the pervert behaviour of Tims brother and father and all the ridicule and scoldings from her mother-in-law and even the old maid in the family had no respect for her. I know that the scriptwriter probably wanted to show the audience marriage into a rich family might not be at all pleasant but there is no one on earth who could go through all these abuses. By the way, the old maid in the family was a really annoying character. Who did she think she was? She even scolds Tim. However, it is really hilarious how Tim threatened to buy milk as a repayment for her care when he was young. There was one moment in the series when Rita convinced Tim to let her go to jail for him. What sort of man was Tim? Letting his wife, and she was PREGNANT, to go to jail for him. I dont know whether it was something wrong with my tape but after the scene Rita convinced Tim, it then showed her in jail. I did not recover from a shock for 15 minutes since I thought that Rita was dreaming of it. And what sort of legal system is it anyway? This is not ancient period when you just turn up, say that you commit a crime then people put you in jail without investigation. Even Justice Bao would not do that. He would go to extensive length to behead whoever deserves it. Anyway, back to the series. At the end, after being stabbed by Pauline, Tim was in need of a kidney so Rita donated her kidney to him. So did Rita love Tim more than Chris? She probably really cares for him and because he is the father of her child. I guess the writer just added this information to show us that Tim was the one who did the wrong in the relationship and Rita is later free to reunite with Chris.
Simon Yam aka Chris: the character of Chris is built as an ideal man. He is intelligent, caring towards the one he loves, but ruthless to his enemies. He loves every other woman except his wife. Though she trapped him into the marriage, but it was still his son, and if he really loved his son like he meant to, he should learn to live with her. It was his fault that she became mentally unstable and evil. Chris loved Rita initially and then switched to Michelle and then turned back to Rita. However, his switching back and forth is not that unreasonable. The series justifies his feelings by showing how strong his love for each sister is. Yet, the fact that Michelle got HIV but Chris did not contract the disease left me speechless. If his character just paid a little more attention to his son and could see how the little boy trembles every time he sees his own mother, he would have realised the problem from the beginning. However, if he had done that, he would become an ideal man that probably no woman on earth could resist throwing herself at him. Simon Yam proved himself to be an experienced actor and managed to bring out the charisma of the character. I also like the actress who played Chris wife. She portrayed the desperation and jealousy of her character very well.
Loletta Lee aka Michelle: This character was probably written for Loletta since she played the role with so much ease. It was such an enjoyable experience to watch her playing an independent and headstrong girl. She looks very young and pretty. Her character has so much depth and in opposite to Monica Chans character, Michelle is a woman who dares to love and to live. While Rita is so weak and submissive, Michelle fights for the one she loves.
Ben Wong Chi Yin aka Tim: Ben Wong has surely surprised me in this series. This is such an extraordinary improvement from his days as Ah Hoi in "A Kindred Spirit". Ben managed the transformation of his character from an honest, dumbfounded guy into a scheming, vengeful man very well. Yet, in my true opinion, as an honest dumbfounded guy, Ben is not as good as Kwok Chun On. As a scheming, vengeful guy, Ben is not as convincing as Sunny Chan in "At the Threshold of an Era". Anyway, his acting has surely improved. By the way, what is wrong with his hair?
Alice Chan Wai aka Pauline: It was a difficult task for Alice to portray a girls descending path into a despicable, shameless woman. Alice failed to grasp the complexities of her character and so failed to catch the viewers attention. She became a very annoying character in the series and every time she called that rich Taiwanese man "daddy", she gave me this really "ewwww" feeling. The existence of her character probably was to show how kind-hearted or what I would call "silly and naïve" Rita was. She tricked and trapped Rita into many unthinkable situations and Rita still helped her every time she was down.
Tin Yui Lee aka Ada: Tin Yui Lee is beautiful, young, and talented. Ada is a very different type of woman from the other three. Her personality and her lives were not affected by the beauty contest except that it gave her the chance to marry into a rich family. Her goal in life is always clear, she knows what she wants and how to get it. The basics of her character are consistent throughout the series. So out of four female characters, I find Ada and Michelle very appealing and realistic.
The most annoying character would have to be the father of Rita and Michelle. All he did was yak on and on without any action. He always threatened someone but never really carry out the act.
THE ENDING: Tim escaped from jail and took his daughter out for a day. He was then shot by the police. However, before dying, he had a chance to mend things with Rita. Though Chris was relentless in his pursuit of Rita, a few years passed before Rita agreed to give him another chance.
THE IRONY: Tim was never the favourite son in the family. His father hated him for his hesitance, his inability to be ruthless and calculating in the business world. He was disliked because he did not take after his fathers personality. However, the irony was that Tim was the real son while his brother was the result of his mothers adultery act.
OVERALL: the series was very entertaining in the beginning, dragging a little bit toward the end. The pace of the series might be too slow for some viewers. Overall, the series is very depressing with not a single light moment. It appears as though anyone who enters the beauty contest would be doomed to a life of misery. Why did they have to kill off Michelles character? Just so Rita and Chris can be together again? It might be realistic to expose the truth behind beauty contests but cant they just have one successful story? Not everyone has to die or end up in jail. It does convey a very negative image about beauty contests, though I see it as an event where people use beauty to seek fame and fortune.
The rest of the cast was quite good. The dialogues were not long-winded. I do not see that many ATV series since I often have a hard time understanding what the characters were trying to say. For instance, I was totally put off by the series "My date with a vampire 2" since the dialogues were really pretentious and gave shallow interpretation to life or very crappy "so-called" philosophy. But that is another story. However, this series is different. I find the development of characters, the dialogues and the plot engaging. It might not appeal to some viewers since the plot is quite depressing and the love stories are repetitive (two sisters in love with the same guy, poor girl married into rich family, etc...). If you are looking for a series that is full of action or is light-hearted, you should keep away from this series. However, if you are into series like "Flaming Brothers", "Cold Blood Warm Heart' or "Secret of the Hearts", this is the series for you.