Building on the successful tales of the adventures of Wisely from the pen of renowned Chinese novelist and screenwriter Ni Kuang, this adaptation from TVB did not receive the recognition from the local audiences that it genuinely deserved if the Hong Kong ratings were anything to go by. However, the widespread acceptance in the overseas markets and positive critique of so many aspects of the production has proven that despite the disappointing ratings, the viewers certainly know how to spot a well made production when it is presented to them and for this, Gallen Lo's last full production before leaving TVB for pastures new, is certainly one to remember him by.
Filmed almost entirely on location in Shanghai and Guangxi, the stunning visual effects of the remarkably accurate settings and the attention to detail placed the viewers into 1930's China at a time when the Western influences of adventure, mystery, extravagance and freedom were at their strongest. And yet, the part of the story that took you away from the bustling Shanghai into the Guangxi countryside and the Miao Village showed you the extremes in culture that the country was experiencing. When our intrepid adventurers in the guise of Wisely, Pak Su and their friends left that railway station in Shanghai, you were sure that what you were about to be treated to was another treat in the way of beautiful scenery and a taste of going back in time to another time frame or another dimension. Bring into this mish-mash of backdrops an alien theme and the odd immortal or two and you really do create the variety and endless scope of imagination that is a Wisely adventure. When it comes to setting the scene, this show is certainly in a class of its own.
The stories chosen in this selection covered a very broad range of subjects, ranging from the Indiana Jones-type adventures in "Tomb Raiders" and "Paper Monkey" to a foray into Chinese Immortal beliefs in the stories of "Wood Coal" and "Immortal". A taste of the X-files was brought in with "Morphing Corpse" and the alien presence in the last story and the different types of curses were contrasted, such as the Miao tribe curse in "Poison Puzzle" and the South American witchcraft in "Mixing with Ghosts". The feature presentation of "Dream Seekers" tackled the matter of reincarnation and destiny that left viewers asking themselves: "Is there really a reason behind everything that happens in your lifetime?". Such a diverse range of stories added to the variety in the show that made sure that even if you weren't too keen on one aspect, there was sure to be something in there that gripped you and stirred your imagination, offering even the most realistic and logical person a stroke of doubt as to whether everything in this world can be explained.
The production itself was extremely slick and brilliantly linked up. The stories flowed naturally on from one another keeping you firmly gripped and wanting to know what the characters may or may not find out. The contrast between the logical scientific nature of Pak Su and the wildly open-minded and imaginative world of Wisely was well portrayed by both the actors and the scripting and the overall presentation, look and feel were comfortable and exciting.
One thing that TVB got exactly right in the W Files was the perfection in casting of the characters. Whilst at first Gallen didn't really strike me as Wisely material, I became used to his performance after a while and after a few episodes, I felt that no-one else within TVB would have done a better job. He was charismatic, cheeky, bold and had a total trust in himself and his beliefs and no matter how many people doubted him or rebuked him, the steadfastness and resolve that Gallen managed to bring out from Wisely was exactly how I expected him to be. Yoyo also proved wrong my initial doubts in her ability to carry off such a strong-willed and stubborn character as Pak Su. As for all the other characters, I would not have chosen any other and I must congratulate the casting team for choosing such brilliant actors new and old to play these brilliantly defined, quirky and unique characters to such high standards. There was quite a hefty cast involved in this production yet each was brought to life so vividly and delightfully that each and every one lingers in your thoughts long after watching the show.
I will detail a few of my favourite characters that deserve a mention in the hope that I do not turn this into a character synopsis that will run into far too many pages! However, for fear of repeating myself to emphasise this point, I felt that all the artistes, no matter how small their part made a superb contribution to the show. It may come as a surprise that my personal favourite in the show was Wisely's police officer friend Ti Dan, played by Jimmy Au Shui Wai. A combination of his cool, regulated exterior and position as a police officer and his dry wit, together with his utmost respect and yet total scorn for Wisely makes him an unusual and interesting character to identify with. Au manages to display this internal conflict with such subtlety and still manages to display the type of humour that will bring a little chuckle to those who like to see Wisely's ego beaten once in a while. At one stage in the show I felt he was worthy of his own show - maybe something along the lines of "Investigations of Ti Dan", now there's some food for thought!
Newcomer Matt Yeung makes a good effort in his first heavy role as Wan Bo Yu and partnered by the talented Tavia Yeung who plays Wisely's rather naive cousin Wong Hung Hung, they make a nice diversion from the more complicated world of the other characters and the ongoing storylines. Like the sorbet in a heavy meal to clear the palate, the two young actors offer some clean fresh scenes to lift the atmosphere and provide some light relief from too much thinking. Watching Hung Hung tackle Bo Yu's mother in various hilarious ways and the development of their beautifully innocent and genuine love story was a lovely diversion and well performed by these two stars of the future. The other antagonistic relationship in the show between Fiona Yuen's Choi Mei Sin and Evergreen Mak's Siu Kwok was also a pleasure to watch and even though I am averse to the old cliche of 'falling for the second choice', I felt that their execution of this love affair was so natural and realistic that not once did it seem tiresome or was there a case of 'seen it all before'.
Despite the extensive use of special effects in the show to create the alien spacecraft, the immortal realm and various other fantasy worlds essential to the basis of the storylines, I was so pleased to find that the element of hand to hand combat was left largely untouched throughout the show. The use of guns was kept at a minimum, keeping in line with the authenticity of the timeset of the show and people fought with their hands and feet, or in the case of the Japanese ninjas, with swords. Camera angles were maintained to portray the best of the true martial arts skills and the skilful, but minimal wirework and commitment of the artistes such as Gallen and Michael Tong brought out the great look and feel of the fight scenes, without any fancy CG effects or flying camera shots that do nothing but make you feel seasick. This contributed greatly to the overall attraction of the show that compelled you to keep watching more and more.
The other interesting stream that kept recurring in this show was the depth of some of the philosophy and psychology that was referred to at certain points in the show. For a start, Wisely's motto of "if I cannot see it, it doesn't mean I can't believe in it" and Pak Su's "everything in the world should be explained through science" represent the extremes of the schools of thought similar to those of the creationists and the evolutionists. Certain comments made by the aliens and the immortals reflecting the fickle and small-minded nature of human beings is very thought-provoking and the whole concept of thinking outside of the box in the many guises introduced in the stories in itself opens up countless questions about our beliefs, our existence and the beings and phenomena that are too great or complex for our simplistic human minds to grasp. Seldom does a TVB serial provoke such thought and discussion into these deep issues, although if this is all too much and you simply want to watch the show purely for its entertainment value, then it will provide you with this.
Perfection is unattainable - however, I racked my brains for a long time to try and pick out a flaw or a negative side of this show without being overly critical or nitpicky. Ultimately, my conclusion is that the show could, given more resources and airtime, have been developed into something more in depth, more detailed and pushed it over into the realms of being a true classic. Although the show was great, it's true potential was barely scratched and I certainly feel that if this series could have been given the full works, it would have been as near to perfection as any series could be.
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The New Adventure Of Chor Lau Heung (DVD, English subs)starring Miu Kiu Wai, Barbara Yung