"The Greed of Man" is a classic modern series that TVB had made in the early 90s. Casting Adam Cheng Siu Chow in a rare antagonistic--yet acclaimed--role as the big and stupid Ding Hai, "Greed" tells a tale of stocks, vengeance, greed, and tragedy. It also featured a great many rising and established talents of TVB, including Damian Lau Chung Yun, Lau Ching Wan, Tsang Kong, Yammie Lam Kit Ying, Loletta Lee Lai Zhen, Vivian Chow Wai Man, Amy Kwok Oi Ming, Bowie Lam Bo Yee, David Siu Chung Hing, and Michael Tao Dai Yu to name a few.
The story spends the first few episodes in 1970s Hong Kong when the Hang Seng Stock Exchange was first established. Fong Jun Sun (Damian Lau Chung Yun) is one of the directors at the Hang Seng board and also one of the few who did not join in the corrupted stock schemes. Fong is close friends with Ding Hai (Adam Cheng Siu Chow), a bull-headed, self-righteous man who could not be reasoned (or reckoned) with. Ding Hai's mother was Fong's nanny and now also the nanny of his own 4 children so Fong and Ding Hai grew up together and Ding considers Fong as his best friend. A side note: Fong is a widower since his wife passed away while Ding's wife ran away. Both have four children each, Fong has 1 son and 3 daughters while Ding has 4 sons.
Enters Ah Ling (Yammie Lam Kit Ying), a high school student who Ding Hai considers to be his girlfriend--without her consent--after only a couple of innocent "dates". She's terrified of Ding Hai, and has every right to be, because Ding would beat up anyone to a bloody pulp who would even dare to hide Ah Ling or mention breakup. Fong Jun Sun sees her miserable predicament and takes her away, freeing her from her nightmare so that she is very grateful and even starts to admire and love Fong Jun Sun. Yet this also leads to a series of misunderstandings between Ding Hai and Fong, mounted on top of other misunderstandings that Ding Hai righteously believed where he was wronged.
Disgusted with the illegal stock inflation at the stock exchange, Fong vies to become chairman so that he could clean up the place and kick out Chan Man Yin (Kwong Ngai), the corrupted chairman. He starts a stock war against Chan and gambles with luck. Basically, Chan wants to push the price of a stock down by driving up supply and then buy back at the very low price while Fong wants to push the price up. At this time, Ah Ling confesses her feelings for Fong by buying a wedding ring and asking him to give it to her. Fong is touched and asks her to wait for him.
Fong starts to win the price war at the end but unwilling to be defeated, Chan spills out to the press that a lot of the traded stocks are fraudulent so stock buyers' confidence dropped along with the price. Losing though, Fong can still take down Chan by releasing evidence of illegal stock transactions. However, at this moment, Fong goes to a mad Ding Hai who starts beating up Fong upon seeing the ring dropped by Fong. Brunting heavy injuries, Fong is put in a coma and when he finally wakes up, his brain was injured so badly that he was became partially retarded. Ah Ling continues to take care of him and his four children and just when Fong was building his life back together, Ding Hai comes back. He accidentally kills Fong--Ding never realizes the strength of his fists--and flees to Taiwan. However, once there, Ding Hai beats up a man hired to kill him to paralysis and is sentenced to 14 years in jail.
Years later, Ah Ling has brought up Fong's four children under economic hardships, Fong Jin Bok (Lau Ching Wan), Fong Fong (Ng Wing Hung), Fong Ting (Loletta Lee Lai Zhen), and Fong Man (Carol Yeung Ling). Ding Hai's four sons are Ding Hao Hai (David Siu) now a triad leader, Ding Yik Hai (Michael To Dai Yu) a shady business man, Ding Wong Hai (Ng Kai Ming), a lawyer and Ding Lei Hai (Kwok Jing Hung), a doctor. Yet the old rivalries between the two families still exist and the Fong family hates all the Dings. The second son, Ding Yik Hai, is also a total creep who tries to woo Fong Ting unsuccessfully and then tries to rape her. Luckily, Ding Hao saves her and she eventually falls in love with him despite the disapproval of her family.
On the other side, Fong Jin Bok has gone from lazy bum to inspired youth when an old crazed friend of his dad's starts to teach him how to buy stocks. Bok also develops feelings for Yuen Mui (Vivian Chow), an extremely stingy apartment floor neighbor. He also meets Lung Gei Man (Amy Kwok), a Taiwanese girl who falls in love with Bok too.
The action starts to pick up when Ding Hai is released from jail and returns to Hong Kong, even though he's still a convicted felon for the murder of Fong Jun Sun. Fong Ting breaks up with Ding Hao when Ding Hai returns even though Ding Hao begs her to leave for Canada with him. He becomes completely ruthless and cold-hearted after her rejection. When Ding Hai is finally arrested and awaiting trial, the Ding brothers use many dirty means to harass and threaten the Fong family since they are the primary witnesses for the trial. It is soon revealed that Ding Yik Hai has threatened and sexually abused Fong Man, the youngest daughter, many times in the past. She breaks down emotionally a few times and the last straw was when the Dings had flyers posted of her everywhere in their apartment building. She commits suicide by jumping off the 12th floor.
Ding Hai loses the case and is sentenced to jail for life. His 4 sons immediately plan revenge and send their hooligans to throw the Fong family off the roof of a building. Fong Ting and Fong Fong are killed while Fong Jin Bok luckily caught onto a fire escape while falling. Ah Ling becomes hysterical after this and runs a bus into a car with the 4 Ding sons but they lived through it. She's then charged with attempted murder and sent to an mental asylum for 14 months. The Ding brothers issue a death-warrant in the triad world to kill Fong Jin Bok, who disappeared from Hong Kong. They also come up with a plan to legally get Ding Hai released from prison and succeed. So after all the tragedy, Ding Hai is back out and luckier than ever.
The latter part of the series is about how Fong Jin Bok finally figures out a way to defeat the Dings in the stock markets.
This was one of TVB's best modern dramas in the 90s, and I don't believe any better came after it, with a solid crew of actors, well-defined characters, and a developed story. The performances given by the veteran actors, main and supporting, were all A+. Damien Lau played the impatient, intelligent, and noble Fong Jun Sun at the beginning easily. It is when he had to portray the mentally disabled part where the full range of his acting abilities are clearly seen. Having to re-learn how to tie shoelaces, use chopsticks, remembering the way home, and even just walk and talk were all challenges for Fong after he came out of the coma. Damien Lau played this second part of his role quite well and was very believable, giving a respectable portrayal.
However, I think it is Adam Cheng's role here that really stood out. Adam Cheng has really absorbed this role that it became hard to associate Ding Hai any longer as the real Adam during "Greed". Adam usually plays a dai-hup type hero in series, so it was a definite statement of talent and another breakthrough for him to play a character like Ding Hai but yet make him so real to us. Aside from "Greed", I think the only other villainous role he played was as Yip Goo Shing in the 1976 version of "Lok Siu Fung" where he apparently also received good reviews from many viewers.
In analyzing the character, Ding Hai is so frusteratingly stupid that the scenes with him are not frightening, but comical. It is most ironic and funny that Ding keeps speaking of righteousness, honor, and loyalty, yet in the other peoples' eyes, he is the very devil. As the anti-hero of the story, one could not label Ding Hai as a villain. If anything, I think his 4 sons are the true villains. If a word had to be used to describe Ding Hai, it has to be oblivious. This man was oblivious to everyone else's motivations and feelings--and it was not even because Ding was a bad man at heart. Ding Hai just doesn't get it. It was as if he lived in his own world where he could only see one side of a story while the rest of the world saw a different version. Ding Hai truly believed he acted with honor to all the people he valued--his mother, Fong Jun Sun, and Ah Ling. He never once even realized that his version of love was hurting and destroying them. For instance, with Ah Ling, he really thought that she reciprocated the same feelings back and never even suspected that she was terrified of him and despised him.
Ding Hai is definitely not an evil man because he does have compassion. The best example is in the court murder trial against himself, where he dumbly (and hilariously) believed he could self-defend himself and refused to let top lawyers handle the case. His lawyers made up a list of long questions for him to ask about the sexual abuse on Fong Man yet Ding Hai was disgusted and refused to ask further after a couple of questions.
Because Ding Hai is a judo champion, every time he fought, or someone was trying to beat him up, it was like a mere tap on his body. Ding would just stand there and let others hit him while he mused over something and tried to rationalize in his own logic. Then when he'd finally get angry and strike back, it'd only take 2-3 punches and the other person is down. Given this, Ding Hai didn't know his own strength was so fatal since he probably reasons: if I can take so much abuse on my own body then other people must be able to take as much abuse.
If one looked at things from his point of view, using his justifications, this man really is hard to fault from his logic even though they are clearly misplaced. Exemplary scene:
Fong Jun Sun: "Fine, I want to hear today once and for all how I wronged you."
Ding Hai: "I didn't want to say it at first but alright. On New Year's day, I woke my four sons up and early, dressed in their best, to greet you a happy new year. Yet you weren't home and we waited outside of your door for 4 hours!"
Fong: "You didn't say you were coming. How would I know you would visit me that morning?!"
Ding: "It's New Year's! You're my best friend! How could you not be the first person I visit on New Years! And then to see my mother give me a box of candies like I was a begging dog. It was the same box of candies that I gave you last year for New Year's and to see it crawling with worms tore my heart. Did you know that my sons begged me to buy those candies for them but I was stone hearted and gave it your children to eat. Yet you think it's cheap candies and wouldn't even let your children eat it!"
Fong (exasperated): "I finally understand why you think I wronged you."
Lau Ching Wan also put up a fine performance in his role as Fong Jin Bok. He fitted perfectly as the lazy bum at the beginning and as the wacko who is always trying to convince Vivian Chow's Yuen Mui to lend him her money. It is funny how Vivian and Amy Kwok are always yelling and beating him up in the series.
Vivian Chow was sweet and cute in "Greed" as the next-door neighbor whose whole family had died from a genetic heart disease. She also suffers from the same disease so she is so very frugal, afraid that she'd have no money when her heart does fail. Vivian Chow can obviously cry well too, in scenes where she breaks down in frusteration and sorrow, it was pretty geniune. Amy Kwok in her first role after winning Miss Hong Kong in 1991 was also not bad, although she had too many screeching, screaming, and hysterical crying scenes that one has to pity Amy for having to burst out so much. Ironically, Vivian and Lau Ching Wan pair up in the series but in real life, he marries Amy Kwok.
Of all the ladies, Yammie Lam Kit Ying put up the best show. She was convincing as the innocent, frightened high school student, then determined young woman, then stern mother figure, and finally as the mentally unstable person. Many of the scenes with her are the most tear-jerking, especially her ending scene where Ah Ling is shot and crawls on the floor looking for the ring, the same scenes are shown when Fong Jun Sun was beaten by Ding Hai and crawls to look for the same ring. As the love interest of two veteran actors--Adam Cheng and Lau Chung Yun--Yammie did not lose any ground, displaying her own quiet versatility.
Ding Hai's four sons all put up decent dislikable performances too. Michael Tao especially, in his days before leading roles, played the creep Ding Yik Hai so well, being nasty and foul-mouthed. Ng Kai Ming, who happens to be Lawrence Ng Kai Wah's brother, and Kwok Jing Hong had shorter roles, but both were convincing. The 4 brothers were closely-knit, a sort of one-for-all and all-for-one bonding. They had a fierce loyalty and love towards each other and their father that would be admirable if they weren't such scums.
The love triangle between Loletta Lee's Fong Ting, David Siu's Ding Hao Hai, and Bowie Lam's Chan Tao Tao was the secondary romantic plot that was captivating for viewers. There were many smooching scenes between Loletta and David and their relationship poses a romantic what-if-bad-guy-turns-to-good-guy because of love. Ding Hao was willing to leave everything behind for Fong Ting but she could not leave her family or forget how her father died under his father's hands. The only thing that left something to wonder is that "Greed" didn't really treat their relationship in much depth after their breakup. Did Fong Ting still love Ding Hao Hai? She seemed really determined to break up with him and wasn't even moved by his proposal to leave everything behind together. It is pretty certain that Ding Hao still loved her though he allowed his subordinates to throw her off a building--he did shed tears that day. After that incidence Ding Hao's character was a complete jerk. Cocky and a complete bully, he was really dispicable and one does think Fong Ting was right to leave him. Loletta and David's acting are average, too overshadowed by other actors here.
Bowie Lam's Chan Tao Tao, with a one-sided affection for Fong Ting was under-developed. He even wanted to avenge her by going against the Dings at the stock market but it was sort of hard to realize that the depth of his feelings for her ran that deep. Bowie's early potential is seen in the scene where Chan Tao Tao is bankrupt and continues to tell bitter jokes.
My favorites parts of the series were some of the stock games that tied in from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story. For instance, they related Chan Man Yin to Cao Cao who used the tactic of chained ships in battle and compared the attack that Chan Tao Tao used against the Dings to how Zhuge Liang "borrowed" arrows from Cao Cao under orders from Zhou Yu to make 100,000 arrows in 3 days. Creative indeed, though the way they played stocks is unrealistic in most senses.
The interpretable ending is also one of the talks of the day back when the series came out. Did or did not Vivian Chow's Yuen Mui die at the ending scene? My take on this is that yes, she certainly did. Since it's a tv series, there are always symbolic meanings and foreshadowings in dialogues, images, and music--unless it's a tv series that TVB makes nowadays where they make it so obvious. First clue is when Yuen Mui says to Fong Jin Bok about how her whole family had died peacefully in their sleep near the ending. Second clue is the flying away of the red scarf at the end. The scarf is symbolic because Yuen Mui says this was the scarf she so wanted to wear as a young girl when she's out on a date with her lover but it flies off in the wind. Third clue, the ending theme song was the couple's love theme with flashbacks of only their memories together. "Greed" is not a series just about their relationship--it's not even a major theme of the series, so the only relevance for a director to do that is to hint at an ending for them.
Great epic modern dramas and martial arts series need balanced polarities between the hero and the villain--speaking in the broad sense. I believe that any great series can not only have a developed protagonist, it must have an equally defined anti-hero. The actors of old also seemed to have more integrity, playing out their roles with a sense of seriousness, wholesomeness that is lacking in most leading actors and actresses these days. Pity that TVB script writers also tend to go for light comedies these days, forgetting to give the series heart. What I think script writers don't understand is that although entertainment can be about making people have some laughs to relax, a good film that will evoke other kinds of emotions from the viewer is also as entertaining. "Greed" is the type of series that is well-rounded enough to be called a classic.
"Greed" does have flaws though. The part of the story where the triads under the Ding brothers are so outrageous and that no one--not even the police--did much to stop them were a bit unbelievable. Also, how Ding Hai got released from lifetime imprisonment is stretching it. And, what if the Dings never entered the stock markets, how would Fong Jin Bok plan his revenge then? Betting that they would be greedy enough to eventually want to play stocks could turn out be a wasted waiting game. However, the overall story-telling is creditable so that these scattered flaws are forgivable.
Some comments about the VCDs sets. Like almost all other TVB released VCDs, the series has been cut down, from 40 episodes to 26 discs. The most obvious cut is the latter part of the series, where the ending flashbacks are gone. While the transition of the story still seemed to flow, the series seemed to lack enough scenes towards the ending about what happened to Ding Hai after Ah Ling's death. The themesong sequence at disc 1 is also changed and Adam Cheng's subsong has been made the themesong. TVB most likely changed the themesong sequence so that viewers would not notice any missing scenes. If you watch the related media clip here, there are some scenes that are not in the VCDs, such as the part where Lung Kei Man kisses Fong Jin Bok on the cheeks. The old themesong was good, but it's probably another issue with TVB deals, since Adam Cheng is one of the main characters, it might've been part of the deal to have his song be the themesong.