(Warning: Plot Spoilers)
I’m not a modern serial fan - I’m mostly a sword-fighting serial sort of person, who gave this a try because of the actors (I have liked both the male leads) and the intriguing premise of spoofing "Infernal Affairs" (the movies which I liked).
The story is a wacky combination of a spoof of "Infernal Affairs" (and other triad/cop undercover intrigue movies) and the story about the modern "rebirth" of some central characters from the "Water Margin Heroes" story. Sounds bizarre? Well, it is certainly that. However a wonderfully light touch with the characters (most have a hint of the comic about them) alongside some solidly developed relationships and wonderfully self-mocking lines make this a great watch anyway.
Julian Cheng was amusing as the initially overly self-righteous policeman with a prejudice against scantily clad women. Here Julian's comic routine (straight guy) was much aided by veteran actor Gordon Liu who played Wong Sir, the paranoid, squint-eyed police chief with a thing for the "Infernal Affairs" movies.
The first part of the series got many of its laughs from Wong Sir pushing the reluctant Cong Cui (Julian) to act like a hooligan. Most memorably, Wong Sir forcing Cong Cui make a pass at Gigi (Julian’s agonized, pleading looks to Wong Sir were precious!) and Julian's first appearance in a leather jacket, ill-shaven, smoking a cigarette... a 180 turn from his squeaky clean, good-boy dressing from before!
Amusing throughout the series were all the ways Wong Sir made up for him and Cong Cui to meet in secret... at a church (Wong Sir was the 'father' and Cong Cui knelt before him at the confessionary booth), at a temple (Wong Sir was the monk while Cong Cui knelt at the altar and spoke to “the gods” softly about the latest developments in his undercover job), at the top of a building (possibly the same one they used in filming “Infernal Affairs”) where Wong Sir was so cold he was had to bundled up in goofy winter jacket, scarf and hat! (Wong Sir’s fascination with the "Infernal Affairs" movies provides most of the spoofing of/references to slick modern cops-and-triad dramas.)
Cong Cui’s character develops nicely over the course of the serial- and Julian makes the transition very believable: From an inflexibly righteous guy with simplistic ideas about good and bad (cops good, mafia bad) to a guy with a more complex understanding of the world (triad members are human too, and there is such a thing as police violence). Julian does as good job with the squeaky clean early Cong Cui who’s squirmish about sexy women as with the older, in some ways sadder, but also wiser Cong Cui by the end.
Along the way, Cong Cui also discovers that sexy-clad Fung Lin (Gigi Lai) is not the girl-in-search-of-trouble that her clothing may lead you to suspect. Fung Lin is the daughter of a bus-driver mom who hosts a radio show and also has recently opened her own bar. She is very comfortable with her body and dresses as she pleases - though her looks and dressing combine to give most guys the wrong ideas about her. Gigi does a lovely job in her romantic scenes - she can, as she has proven before in "Heaven Sword Dragon Sabre 2000", play the capable and sympathetic heroine with a streak of independence and mischief (maybe even malice) very well. In this case, she's a provocative dresser who is loyal and smart but does not easily forgive.
Man Hei's Sir is a cool cat - at first the wild playboy with a streak of police cruelty and inane humor, he gradually resolves into the straight boy he's always been underneath after discovering his "past life" relationship with Tavia. I confess I liked his first incarnation better- Man Hei has a knack for presenting us an arrogant and wilful, but funny and sincere "Ah-Sir", and his later character as upright and loyal was not as fascinating.
Tavia's Chi Sin is every inch the sweet girl-next-door - which is not a problem as long as there's something to spark your interest and make you feel her as a three-dimensional character. But sadly, neither script nor the acting carry her very far, and the character is mostly a plot-convenience, though I thought Julian and her managed to create some feelings of warmth that left me with a smile.
The sparkle is there between Gigi and Julian - though I would credit as much of the magic to the actors as to the music and filming. Slow shots of Julian's despondent face, interspaced with Gigi's sorrowful one as both wait (initially unaware of the other) at a bus stop in the rain and music washes over the scene make it hard not to want to cheer for our romantic leads as they fall reluctantly in love. The music helps - melodic and wistful, it infuses all those rainy scenes with the right hint of longing. Highlights for me: Gigi’s surprised expression at her own reaction as Julian carries her to the hospital when she sprains her ankle (naturally in the rain); Julian's awkward first try to court Gigi, even if he thought it was fake (it was pretty touching and funny seeing "Well, it's strange, but we haven't quarreled all day" as a pick up line!); Julian notices Gigi taking shelter at the bus-stop in the rain and, after a moment’s pained hesitation, quietly leaves her his umbrella and runs off. For me, the love-hate quality characterized Wu Song's relationship to his sister-in-law wonderfully, but here also make an intriguing base for a modern affair
Ultimately "Shades of Truth" wins because it's capable of taking itself light-heartedly. It is a spoof with a heart, a comedy with three-dimensional (but ultimately tongue-in-cheek) characters. As a serious drama it would fall on its face with its bizarre assumptions, unlikely coincidences and strange twists, but as a quirkly look at twisted plots in police-triad dramas, a comic stereotype-busting TV serial with a generous portion of romance and friendships celebrating it works great. It entertains without needing you to pretend you didn't realize how ridiculous the plot was.