Chinese Title: "Jak Sing Zhi Lui" (roughly translates to journey to a star)
# of episodes: 30
Opening - "Sor Wai Lei Seung" (A So-Called Dream) by Raymond Lam
Closing – "Ngor Moon Han Ho" (We're Doing Very Well) by Raymond Lam
Zhao Zi Qi
Better than The Drive of Life, but only because it's half the length.
Growing Through Life has all the hallmarks of a TVB corporate drama: An inheritance battle, a villain, someone is paralyzed, terminal illness, a patriarch death, and an opening theme that starts with thundering operatic chords. It has a Chinese title that is more poetic than your usual brand of TVB titles, and a cast list with a few big names.
So what's wrong? Well, a lot.
One of the key reasons is pacing and a lot of predictability in the story. This is one of those series where the ending is written from the beginning. The audience knows that, but usually series like these make the journey to the end a worthwhile, or at least entertaining, one. At the beginning, GTL is promising. The flashback and explanation of why each character is at the stage that they are at were well-developed and the performances are good and consistent. The series starts wavering, oddly enough, when things just start to get interesting (Damian finds out Ray is his son, Bosco starts to turn evil, Ray's mom dies, etc.). This is partly because the explanations of why characters become the way they are is not very well-done. Bosco, for example, doesn't really have the acting chops to demonstrate how he moves from buddy-buddy with Hanson to full-on murder to achieve his goals. A lot happens throughout the series but somehow the whole thing fails to connect on an emotional level, so you can watch this whole thing, know and/or guess what's going on, without really paying attention or needing to pay attention.
The series also fails to affect due to filming technique, which is surprising considering that this looks like a big budget series. The general set designs are always dark. Business meetings were held in the dark, dinners were eaten in the dark, even the hospital is always dark. The company looks glamorous, but also strangely cold and lonely. So do the houses – there are no framed photos, not a lot of furniture, and it's always dark. There's also a blatant absence of extras and supporting actors – so blatant that the whole series just seems cold and almost inhuman, like a large gorgeous vase that's untouchable. Strike two.
The acting is a question mark. On one hand, we've got anchors such as Damian Lau, Cecilia Yip, and the now-overexposed Raymond Lam, who lead the pack in terms of acting skill. Damian Lau is iconic as the patriarch, his one single best moment being when Hanson called him "dad". Cecilia Yip hovers dangerously close to overacting in most scenes, but she does portray a convincing nut job. Ray does his usual Ray thing, which means a solid performance with no chemistry with his female co-stars. Maybe he should take on a gay character next time. No joke.
Btw, his English name sucks. Oh Ray, will TVB ever give you a decent English name? I hope he's getting paid extra for his character's names because they are getting worse by the year (mmm bop, bop bop bop, doo-wop, do it all!). How about actually using all the names as his middle name? Now, he can be known as Raymond Alfred Kingsley Hanson Lam, otherwise known as Raymond A.K.H. Lam. Nice ring to it, no? And while we're on the topic of terrible English names...Linus?! What kind of name is that? I thought it was a disease.
There are some lights in this big tunnel. Dominic Lam, for example, was surprisingly effective as Linus' dad. I've never liked him much as an actor (or a host) but in this series he delivers one of his strongest performances. The actress who played Raymond's mom was fantastic. She looks really familiar but I can't place her.
But even with half the cast performing above-average, they can't save this series from failure in the acting department. Yep, the rest are just that bad…especially since they're in pivotal roles. Bosco Wong, for example, who is given the villain role for the first time in his career. Unfortunately, it is simply too early in Bosco's career to take on this character and his performance is highly flawed – something Bosco realized as it was reported he became depressed after watching his performance in the series. Toby Leung is less annoying now and demonstrates some acting potential as the angelic daughter, although I would argue that she doesn't have the X factor. And then after all that, you've got the "who the hell are these people" Mainlanders who are – or should be – dubbed, such as Zhao Zi Qi and Vionn Song. Zhao Zi Qi is irritating and a bad actress to boot, something that is compounded by the fact that she is dubbed. She's got nil chemistry with Ray, too, which doesn't help her case. Vionn Song fares much better as the bitchy Yiu Kwun, and she has decent chemistry with Bosco.
I think if they had gone with some decent actors for these characters and also warmed up the filming technique a bit, this series would be a hit. Not surprisingly, though, GTL got a much colder audience reception than initially anticipated. For once, I'd have to agree with the audience on this one.
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