Hearts of Fencing

Reviewed by: Bridget

December 31, 2003

Rating: two-point-five

Chinese Title: "Dong Sei Yip Cho Pong Seung Gim Jim See" (translates to When the Four Leaves Touch the Points of Swords, generally referred to as simply "Sei Yip Cho")

# of episodes: An excessively but thankfully short 11 episodes (originally 10, an extra episode was added due to high ratings)

Theme Song: "Shining Friends" (Cantonese version by Fiona Fung, Peggy Lee, and Mathilda Chan, English version- the one played in the series- sung by Jade Kwan)

Other background tracks:
"Complicated" - Avril Lavigne
"Just a Pill" - Pink
"Get the Party Started" - Pink
"Uptown Girl" - Westlife
"Swear it Again" - Westlife
"My Pride" - Joey Yung
"The Voice Within"- Christina Aguilera
"Point of the Sword Touches My Heart" - Jade Kwan

Cast: A huge cast for such a short series...
The gals
Race Wong Yuen Ling (from HK girlgroup R2) as Cheng Ka Lam
Natalie Tong Si Wing as Ko Ching
Renee Dai Mong Mong as Chan Miu Yee ("Dai Jek Miu")
Elaine Yiu Zhi Ling as Lam Suet Man ("Man Man")
Kelly Fu Ka Lei as Chui Kam Mui ("13 Mui")
The guys
Lai Lok Yi as Au-Yeung Yat
Don Li Yat Long as Au-Yeung Lok
Eddie Lee Yu Yeung as Chu Moon Tong (Don)
Sam Chan Yu Sum as Kwan Yu Lung
Supporting Cast
Edward Leung Hon Man as Wong Chui Suet ("Kim Sir" - "kim" = sword in Cantonese)
Eileen Yiu Ying Ying as Cheng Sum Mei (Miss Cheng)
Chin Ka Lok as Yu Chi Wai (Principal)
Markus Ng Jin Ho as Fei Cheung
Ko Ho Ching as Lau Hak Fong ("Dai Hak"- big black)
Guest Starring the EEG family...
Boy'z (HK boyband Stephen and Kenny) and Shine (HK boyband #2 Tin Yau and Yau Nam) as The Four Sword Gods
Eason Chan Yik Sun as himself
Nicholas Tse Ting Fung as himself
Alex Fong Lik Sun as a swimming club president
Mini Cookies (Stephy, Kary, Theresa, Miki) as themselves
Edison Chan Koon Hei as Prince Charming (in Lam's Snow White fantasy-dream)
Bobo Chan Man Woon as an Alumni Association president
Rosanne Wong (from HK girlgroup R2, real-life older sister to Race) as a pregnant woman

(some names taken from www.tvseriesfans.com)

Recognize none of the names from the main cast? You're not alone. I only recognized about half of the entire cast, and I don't know them even from TVB, I know them from mainly the HK music industry (hello, Emperor Entertainment Group!)


In a nutshell...a little bit of fluff, a little bit of cheese, a little bit of preaching, a little bit of puppy love, a little bit of everything. And all this is set against the backdrop of the sport of fencing. The series is reminiscent TVB's "Aqua Heroes" that came out earlier this year, a bunch of teenagers, a bunch of new faces, and a bunch of lessons against the backdrop of a sport - swimming. Except the storyline for this series is a lot more predictable and the cast members are even less recognizeable, if that's even possible. Here we go.

Why is the cast so big?
You see, this series sort of gives everyone an equal amount of screen time (the obvious exception being Lai Lok Yi and Race Wong, who can barely be referred to as the "leads" of this series). Why? Because the series revolves around the story of 10 youths currently attending Sung Ngai Academy (a high school in Hong Kong), 5 males and 5 females. This shall prove handy when pairing them up in puppy love relationships.

So exactly who is who?
We've got Lam, the strongheaded and straightforward girl who innocently believes her happiness and luck comes from a four-leaf clover given to her when she was a young child. Lam befriends the other four girls of the series: Ching, the celebrity stalker who spends her days thinking everyone at the school looks like some Hong Kong (HK) celebrity and walks around constantly with a digital camera; Dai Jek Miu, who constantly eats and eats and then eats some more; Man Man, a plain and nerdy but good-hearted girl who's painfully shy, and 13 Mui, the "school flower" who constantly has a flock of guys after her. The five girls make up the editorial/writing team for the high school newspaper.

Then we have the boys. Au-Yeung Yat, the lazy and always barely-passing older brother to Au-Yeung Lok, the good-natured overachiever; Don, the arrogant rich boy (think of a non-violent Dao Ming Si from Meteor Garden); Lung, Don's faithful and lower-class sidekick who feeds off his quick brain and tricks, and Fei Cheung, a bespectacled cake-baker. After a couple of petty rivalries, the four become good friends and also make up the Sung Ngai fencing team, headed and coached by Kim Sir, who happens to have a thing for Miss Cheng, who in turn happens to be Lam's aunt.

What is the plot REALLY about?
Teenage puppy romance, my friends. Lam and Yat butt heads, but eventually grow feelings for each other. Unfortunately, Lok also falls in love with Lam, attempts to pursue her but is rejected. Rich boy Don also experiences love at first sight with Lam, but the girl can't stand his arrogant ways and how he buys everyone and everything off with money. Ching, however, happens to like Don but keeps her feelings secret after realizing he loves Lam. Nerdy Man Man attracts the attention of Lung during a traditional school event where a girl and a guy are drawn to share a date. But Man Man's return to her nerdy attire confuses Lung about his feelings, since his good looks have always attracted pretty girls. This temporarily ticks Man Man off until Lung apologizes and they get together under a coconut tree. Dai Jek Miu spends her days baking cakes with Fei Cheung, a clueless but honest guy. And 13 Mui runs around single, manipulating guys to cater to her every whim.

Then the plot moves completely away from all the fluff and cheese of teenage romance and does a 180 when.........dramatic music please...Lok dies. How does he die? Long story short: Lam has a thing for four-leaf clovers, believing that they're akin to a guardian angel for her. One day she and Lok are at a dessert shop and she sees a four-leaf clover necklace that she loves. Unfortunately, the only way to get the necklace is to eat 10 jugs of ice cream. Lok gets sick after 6, but Yat eats the 10 and gives the necklace to Lok to give to Lam. Lam rejects the gift, and Lok plans to try and give it to her again for her birthday. The day of the party, Lok accidentally drops the necklace in the middle of the road. He bends down to pick it up, and is then struck by a high-speed truck.

In my opinion, this where the fencing stuff really starts to come in. You see, the four guys make up the new Shung Ngai fencing team (coached by a slightly dull Kim Sir), but their focus isn't on the sport, but rather, on petty vendettas and your usual high-school rivalries over girls (Lok and Don challenge each other to see who will win the "right" to pursue Lam Lam). When Lok dies, however, the team realizes that Lok actually really loved the sport and wanted to help their school retrieve the sports title. Yat, in particular, does a 180 and disappears for a couple days. Everyone frantically searches for him, worrying that he's going to do something stupid out of his grief, but he emerges, appearing totally unaffected by his younger brother's death. His teachers and his friends try to convince him to take some time to mourn, but Yat acts as if nothing has happened.

However, that night on the beach Don (the new captain of the team) tells Yat that he cannot compete in the upcoming fencing competion. Furious, Yat and Don start to throw punches at each other as Lam Lam desperately watches on. They stop fighting as Lam Lam, in tears, yells at Yat, telling him that she knows what he's trying to do and that he will never succeed because of the reasons behind his actions: "Winning this competition is not your dream...it is your brother's! You will never succeed, because this ambition does not belong to Au-Yeung Yat, it belongs to Au-Yeung Lok! Only Lok can achieve this ambition...no one can do it for him". Yat then breaks down in tears and crumbles to the ground, finally releasing all the collected grief he's been concealing for days: "We delivered take-out food together, we went to school together, we got hit by Dad together...I miss you you much, younger brother!" A heartbroken Lam Lam then flings her arms around Yat and tells him that Lok would not want to see him this way, and that many people still care about him, including her. Don, watching the scene unfold, then realizes the meaning behind Lam's words and realizes she has feelings for Yat. He quietly walks away and ends up running into...

Yup, Ching. And out of nowhere Don says that he'll try "something new" and they start going out, much to the ecstasy of Ching. So back to the fencing. The four train and train and train, because the rival school has got some hotshot 4-year-champ nicknamed Dai Hak (big black in Cantonese). They finally "solve" the secret behind Dai Hak's killer trick, and are supported by their girlfriends at the competition. I think they either tie or win at the end. I don't remember, and it doesn't really matter, since fencing isn't the true focus of this series anyway. This is cheese. It may be good cheese for some, but it's nonetheless cheese.

Fast forward several months and our teens have graduated. They return to Shung Ngai Academy to visit, and the pairs are their old selves, bickering with each other. The girls drool over the new fencing team, much to the irritation of the guys. As they leave the school gates, they watch as a group of teenagers enter the school. The teenagers are replicas of themselves (don't ask, I haven't figured it out either). Then they head to the church, for the long-awaited wedding of Kim Sir and Miss Cheng. Woohoo. Happy happy ending.

So what are the EEG popstars doing in here?

Shine and Boy'z are probably the most "important". They play the Four Sword Gods and were the pride of Shung Ngai Academy until they mysteriously disappeared the day before the big tournament. Why did they disappear? Because they lacked team spirit and realized that the competition among themselves was destroying their friendship. The New Four finally tracked them down near the end for some pointers. As for Eason Chan, he guest-starred in an episode where he gave a concert to help raise money for the school newspaper headed by the girls. The other singers appear for less than 5 minutes each, so I won't bother explaining each of their minor roles. If anything, Emperor Entertainment Group was probably in some big bribery scam where this series was a mini-showcase for their teen idols.

Onto the Performances Already

The series is typical teenybopper, but the acting here is even worse than "Aqua Heroes". This is most likely because virtually all of the main cast are unknown, even if they crossed over from singing careers, if you can even call them that. In "Aqua Heroes", at least Edwin Siu and Bobo Chan have been around the entertainment industry for a year or two, but the main cast in here have only been around for a couple of months (others came from nowhere, to my knowledge). So I think we should all keep that in mind when evaluating the acting in this series. Even though I evaluate actors as actors and not singers as actors, it's really your own fault for renting/watching this series and then complain about the terrible acting if you come in with overblown expectations. At the end of the day, however, I can somewhat tolerate bad acting but not huge gaps in plot. As predictable and cheesy as this plot is, at least it's coherent (which is way more than "Good Against Evil", which I just finished watching and can't wait to bash in my next review).

The Girls
Renee Dai is rather redundant, there's nothing much about her character that can showcase ANY kind of acting skills whatsoever and she's just a girl playing a girl. She's also, to be a bit mean, the least pretty of the girls so I don't know what she's doing in this series at all. She is one of the actors who came out of "somewhere", sort of...she was the winner (I think, or at least a finalist) in HK's annual New Talent Singing Contest. Kelly Fu is actually the prettiest (the others are pretty too, but in a bland kind of way; Kelly is pretty with an "aura" if you know what I mean), but she's the most wooden of the girls...very bad performance, the worst out of the girls. No idea where she comes from. Elaine Yiu fared much better, but she confused me. When she was in her nerdy attire she sometimes had this whiny voice that was really irritating but the shyness that she accurately portrayed in Man Man was likeable. But then, when she was all pretty and done up she was totally normal and very likeable as the quiet and demure Man Man. Problem is, I couldn't even recognize her after she lost the glasses and brown nerdy dresses. It seems that she changed personalities whenever she changed her looks. She looks pretty cute with Sam Chan, though, and their chemistry was okay. Elaine is one of the occasional hosts for K-100 I think. Natalie Wong gave an okay performance as Ching, but she's just so dull to look at. I mean, she's pretty and photogenic, but it's so obvious she has like zero personality. This is where Renee Dai and Elaine Yiu are better, at least they have some "oomph". Natalie Wong had a bit more to do with her character but she was just so boring. She's yet another of the cast who came out of nowhere. I'm guessing she came out from a modelling job, and before this series her only entertainment news was being tied romantically to EEG boy Shawn Yu. And finally we get to...

Race Wong as Lam Lam
The most to do for the most well-known (if you can call it that) member of the female main cast. When she first came onscreen I was like "oh no, this is going to be terrible because she speaks Cantonese with an accent!". Yes, I am not very fond of people who don't speak the language "correctly" (I'm slightly annoyed by Flora Chan's accent too). The reason Race speaks Cantonese with an accent is because she is from Singapore. In any case, Race Wong gave only a mediocre performance as Lam Lam. She was actually quite cute in some scenes although in most of them she overacts. What Race Wong lacks is insight into her character. The character of Lam is modelled after the character of Shan Chai from the Taiwanese series Meteor Garden. Barbie Hsu was able to grasp the stubbornness and headstrong character of Shan Chai and Race Wong fails to do this with Lam Lam. Half the time, Lam Lam, through Race's acting, just seems like an unreasonable schoolgirl who's stomping her feet because she's dropped her ice cream cone. In reality, Lam Lam is supposed to be someone who asserts her beliefs, has a major spine, and is outspoken, although naive in terms of love. Race also doesn't look good with any of the male characters she was romantically tied to in the series. She is cute half the time, but is most likely a miscast to play the role of Lam Lam.

However, she did do a good job in the scene where she confronts Yat about his grief on the beach. That was a well-done scene from the two new actors. Also, Race Wong is just too painfully skinny to look at. She's worse than Twins, than Bobo Chan, than Barbie Hsu. Her legs and arms are literally sticks. In my recent reviews I've constantly complained about the stickgirls running around TVB and HK movies but apparently my complaints have fallen on deaf ears. In any case, if I were to evaluate Race Wong's performance there is only one thing to say, and that is that it was mediocre. She doesn't have what it takes to be an actress and I don't really see any potential in her (but who knows, word has it they're going to film a sequel - Lord save us all).

The Guys
Don Li looks the same everywhere, he's like the male version of Natalie Wong. He had some more to do with his character Lok but somehow he still managed to give a hollow performance. Just so utterly boring, dull dull dull and yawn yawn yawn! His character is boring although likeable but the acting was pretty bad and hollow. His acting was so dull that I totally forgot about his character after he died. Don Li, to my knowledge, is one of the newest singers cooked by the HK music industry. Sam Chan (the real-life son of well-known actor Shek Sau, btw, who also guest-starred in this series as Don's father) fares slightly better as the pretty playboy but he always talks as if he's out of breath. And in every scene he looks worried (remember Alec Su's Yong Qi from HZGG?). Average performance but I do see some acting future ahead if he works really really hard. Eddie Lee by far gave the absolute worst performance of all. Terrible. There's no other way to put it. He has the charisma of a brick and manages to look more wooden than a log. His voice is also really irritating. I have no idea where he comes from. Like Race Wong, he lacks insight into his character. Don is modelled after the character of Dao MingSi from "Meteor Garden", and again, Jerry Yan was able to give a much more credible performance, even though it was his first acting job. Really bad performance from Eddie Lee and I see no potential in him whatsoever, the worst out of all the younger actors (who are all more or less mediocre). And then...

Lai Lok Yi as Yat
By miles and miles away, the best performance of the series. Not just from the younger cast, but out of EVERYONE in this series. And there's a reason for that. Lai Lok Yi is one of the most recent graduates from Hong Kong's Acting Academy, and it shows in his acting here. In the scenes with the other actors, Lai Lok Yi is able to bring two extreme effects. Either he makes the others look really, really bad or he's able to bring something out of them (especially in his scenes with Race Wong). He stands out in every scene he's in and truly becomes his character. THAT, is acting. Lai Lok Yi is still pretty far from new TVB talents such as Myolie Wu and Raymond Lam, but I see potential in him. He's pretty good-looking too, and his looks and his height adds to his charisma on the screen. A terrific performance in the beach scene when Lam confronts him, definitely the best part of the series. I've only seen this actor in one other series, and ironically, it's in "Aqua Heroes" (as Theresa's boyfriend Joe). He definitely showcases a lot more skills in this series with the meatiest role and is the actor who manages to engage the audience the most. I actually cared about what happened to this character, and this was not the case for any of the other actors.

In general, the acting is a disappointment. The actors, with the exception of maybe Lai Lok Yi, Race Wong, Sam Chan, and Elaine Yiu, seem to have acted "on the spot", as in the series seems like the first time they've seen the script. There's zero depth, the characters and the plot are pretty much 2-dimensional and the performances further reinforce that fact. But remember, this is a teenybopper series directed at 15-year-olds. The puppy love and petty rivalries are very reminiscent of high school times, and the targeted audience will be quite satisfied with this series and fall in love with all the pretty people. As for me, the series accomplishes its mission and despite the terrible acting, its cheesiness and youth can bring back some fond memories of friendships and such. In terms of teenybopper movies and series, I've seen worse. Edward Leung is really dull as Kim Sir (I've never liked him much as an actor), although Eileen Chow is slightly more likeable as Miss Cheng. Chin Ka Lok plays an unbelievably silly principal, quite a cartoonish portrayal that takes away from the already-lacking credibility of this series.

Things That Make You Go "Huh"?

1. Where are everyone's parents in this series? We only get to see Lok and Yat's parents and only like 2 minutes of Don's parents (his father, as mentioned, is played by Sam Chan's real-life father Sek Sau). We know Lam Lam is from overseas (I guess her parents are still there) and that she lives in HK with her aunt, who happens to be Miss Cheng at Shung Ngai Academy. Are the rest orphans? But then again, this series is only 11 episodes long. Guess they can't fit that much detail in.

2. Why do Kim Sir and Wong Sir outwardly pursue Miss Cheng at the school? I mean, Kim Sir proposes to Miss Cheng in front of the trophy case for gosh sakes! Don't they have any sense of professionalism at all? But then again, with a principal like Chin Ka Lok, Shung Ngai probably doesn't put that much emphasis on being professional anyway.

3. Remember the flashback scene with child Yat giving child Lam Lam the four leaf clover? What's with those people in suits walking around with red umbrellas? That was the most thoroughly bizarre scene I've ever seen done by TVB.

4. Don agreeing to try out a relationship with Ching right after he sees Lam Lam half-reveal her feelings for Yat. I know teenagers change fast, but that was a bit too fast, don't you think?

5. Man Man who, half an episode later, already has feelings for Lung, and immediately asks him about his feelings. I don't understand how feelings and stuff can come so fast?

6. When Lung almost falls off a cliff during the sportsmanship competition and Don holds onto him and tells him he's never thought of him as a "dog" and has always thought of him as a brother. Oh please. That's so fake, Don always saw Lung as a dog and a slave- during the draw at the beginning Lung had to take over Don's place because Don didn't want to date Man Man, and then everything else too.

7. Don't students wear uniforms in HK schools? What kind of school is this?

8. Why don't we see the parents' reactions at all after Lok's death?

9. Speaking of Lok's death, why put such a dramatic plot turn in such a teenybopper, undeveloped, and short series? This was a very bad move on the writers' part...they didn't have enough time to "foreshadow" it and the surprise was a surprise all right, but the bad kind of surprise. The series is so short that it didn't allow enough time for the characters to deal with such a tragic event. An unjustified plot turn. Especially since Don Li's acting is so boring that the dead character was forgotten almost immediately afterwards.

On the Fencing

The sport is a ke-le-fe...in that it is truly a backdrop, even more of one than swimming was in Aqua Heroes. It doesn't really come into play until Lok dies, and the actors do manage to look fairly decent doing the sport. By the way, fencing originates in France. So the three words you hear the "referee" saying to begin the match are as follows: "En garde" (on guard), "Pres" (ready), "Allez" (go).

For more information on the sport, visit this website: http://www.fencing.net/

Extra, Extra, Read All About It
This series was played as a "special production" in Hong Kong, airing only once a week. Word has it that they will be filming a sequel...hopefully the acting improves by then and maybe even (god forbid) lengthen the number of episodes so that we get to see a more well-rounded plot and characters. "Hearts of Fencing" (HoF) is also loosely based on the hypnotically popular Taiwanese series "Meteor Garden" (MG). The two leads, as mentioned, are modelled after Shan Chai and DaoMingSi from MG, and the opening credits are extremely reminiscent of the MG2 opening credits- a bunch of pretty young people in blinding white clothes running on the beach smiling as if their faces will crack, to a cheesy-but-touching theme song. But of course, "Meteor Garden" is a lot better than this series.

Final Consensus
If you thought "Aqua Heroes" was bad, definitely stay away. If you're looking for a well-written, well-produced, or well-acted seres, stay away also. Keep in mind this is not a "normal" TVB series. No professionals, no veteran actors...even the older actors in this series are like C-rate. This series is only worth a glance if you're into the "new n' fresh", or if you're part of the (very narrow) target audience. Go in with zero expectations and you may find something you like. But don't expect too much. My opinion is, if you got through "Good Against Evil", you'll be able to find something likeable in this series. Sure, the plot is predictable and fluffy and the acting is generally terrible, but for some reason I kind of liked it. It's cheese, but sometimes it's good cheese.


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