Triumph in the Skies


Reviewed by: Bridget

March 16, 2004

Rating: five

Chinese Title: "Chung Seung Wun Siu" (roughly translates to Take Off Into the Clouds) ... One of my favourite series titles by the way, it conveys a feeling of such inspiration and optimism.
Year: 2003
# of episodes: 40
Theme Songs: Eason Chan "Sui Yuet Yu Gor" (opening theme: roughly translates to The Age is Like Song), Flora Chan "Ngor But Ngoi Lei" (closing theme: directly translates to I Don't Love You)

Cast:
Francis Ng Jun Yu as Samuel Tong Yik Sum (Sam)
Joe Ma Tak Jung as Vincent Ling Wun Chi (Vincent)
Flora Chan Wai San as Isabelle Lok Yi San (Belle)
Myolie Wu Hang Yee as Zoe So Yee (Zoe)
Ron Ng Cheuk Hei as Isaac Tong Yik Fung (Isaac, younger brother to Sam)
Sammul Chan Kin Fung as Donald Man Ho Chung (Donald, "Chung Siu")
Bosco Wong Jung Jak as Chris Tse Ho Yeen (Chris)
Michelle Yip Suen as Zita Tung Hei Yan (Zita)
Supporting Cast:
Louisa So Yuk Wah as Ruby (friend to Belle)
Lam Hiu Fung as Paul Mok Sin Bor (cousin to Zoe)
Shek Sau as Phillip (father to Sam and Isaac)
Margaret Chung Lai Kei as Vicky
Lok Ying Kwan as Taylor (Uncle Kum Chak)
Eileen Yeow Ying Ying as Mimi
With guest appearances by Twins, Eason Chan, Patrick Tang, and Cerina de Graca (Ka Bik Yee).

Foreword

Fate is a funny thing. Whether you believe in it or not, it’s always been an underlying force in many, if not all, TVB plots. In this series, it is the driving force, encompassed in the character of Belle who is probably the most far-fetched idealistic dreamer in recent TVB, and in its setting: an airport, a place where hellos and goodbyes are said, a place where fate meets and departs. And in recent TVB, this has got to be one of the defining series despite minor inconsistencies, successfully weaving aspects of different genres to produce a series that will likely win your heart. So, believe it or not, "Triumph in the Skies" lives up to the hype. Not to mention the series’ title makes up the most hilarious acronym ever. Yup. A definite must-watch. Here's why.

Plotline

The romantic storyline of this series can be generally divided into three parts. But first we need to rewind one year before the gist comes together.

Flashback: Sam & Belle
Fantasizing romantic "I believe in fate" Belle has decided that her other half will be the man who brings her a Triangel doll. This doll is the gift that cemented her parents' love, so she believes that whoever finds this particular doll will be her soulmate. Belle works at the same airport as Sam, a Solar Airways pilot who just happens to find the right doll on a trip to Rome. Alas, right before meeting each other Sam loses the doll (to Zoe, who picks it up after he accidentally drops it) so the two don't meet. Until yet another trip to Rome, that is. Belle loses her bracelet numerous times and every time Sam is the one who returns it. So the two decide this is fate and, thinking they know each other's names, share a passionate day together in the Italian capital. Unfortunately, trouble is in paradise. Sam mistakes Belle's name to be Donna, and through a misunderstanding he believes her to be a woman who plays men. Likewise, Sam is in Rome to help his best friend Vincent dump his millionth girlfriend Mimi, and Belle similarly mistakes Sam to be ladies' man Vincent. So the two part ways, never knowing the truth behind their ill-fated love affair. Flash forward one year.

Vincent & Belle
After meeting Belle, Vincent lampoons his previous lady-killer ways and begins a long, settled relationship with her. However, Vincent doesn't know about Belle's past with Sam, and Belle doesn't know that she mistook Sam for Vincent that one year ago in Rome. When Vincent finally introduces Sam to Belle, the two pretend they don't know each other, although some of the old feelings seem to surface. Vincent proposes to Belle, who accepts. Before the wedding though, the truth behind their misunderstanding is revealed (by Mimi, with some help from Zoe)...not only to Belle and Sam, but also to Vincent. After realizing that the past is the past, Belle and Vincent get married, and Sam calmly walks away. However, during the course of the marriage Sam constantly appears as an obstacle, and after she helps an injured woman during a car accident, Belle is worried that she has contracted AIDS. She informs Sam, and after finding out, Vincent becomes disappointed and asks Belle whether she still has feelings for Sam. Not knowing how to answer him, Vincent proposes a separation. On a trip to Rome, Vincent decides that he has thought everything through and that he and Belle belong together, but unfortunately dies in an accident when he blocks a little girl from being struck by a car. Shocked and melancholic, Belle realizes that Vincent was her one true love and begins to succumb to post-traumatic stress and mental illness, even attempting suicide. After a talk with the optimistic but ill Zoe, Belle thinks things through and goes on with her life once again.

Sam & Zoe
Bubbly, optimistic, and energetic Zoe falls in love with serious, cordial, and quiet Sam, and outwardly pursues him, Opposites attract? Yes, but there's just one catch. Sam happens to be 15 years her senior and isn't too crazy about the idea of dating a "little sister". Zoe is relentless in her pursuit, and after realizing he's grown feelings for her, Sam and Zoe begin the unconventional "craddle-robber" relationship. There are some uphills along the way, including the two realizing that their interests are a bit generation-differentiated, but Sam and Zoe are the epitome of love transcending all borders, be it age or race. The happy-go-lucky Zoe suffers from a heart disease, and when she finds out she tries to leave Sam. When it is revealed that Zoe will die very soon unless a heart comes in for a transplant, Sam and her decide to cherish every day they have together. One day, her illness takes a horrifying downturn, but luckily a heart comes in time and Zoe recovers. On the day she leaves the hospital, Sam proposes to Zoe (at the airport, surprise surprise) and in one of the most romantic scenes ever in TVB Zoe agrees (after a half-silly condition that on the count of 3 an airplane would fly over them) and they get married...in the airport. Duh.

Donald-Zita-Isaac
Rich boy Donald falls in love with Zita at first sight and makes his feelings clear, although Zita also makes it clear that she sees him only as a friend. Although she bickers endlessly with Isaac, Zita begins to grow feelings for him. Isaac has also begun to realize he's fallen in love with Zita, but because of brotherly loyalty decides to keep his feelings secret. After becoming touched by Donald's devotion, Zita finally agrees to a relationship during one of their pilot training sessions in Adelaide, New Zealand. However, Donald soon finds out that Zita first grew feelings for Isaac and that his good friend "gave her up" to him. When Donald's father succumbs to a stroke, he leaves Solar Airways to take over the family business and also breaks up with Zita in the process. Being this close to beginning a relationship, Isaac and Zita (and the rest of S4) find out the truth behind why Donald dumped Zita, the 5 become friends again and Zita ends up choosing neither Isaac or Donald. At the end of the series, Isaac, Zita, Roy, and Chris become SOs (Senior Officers).

Evaluation of the Cast and Characters

Francis Ng as Sam

The best performance of this series and I never expected any less from Francis Ng. His work in "Triumph" is iconic. The last time I saw him in a TVB series was in "Old Time Buddy" and he was fantastic in there. He's fantastic in here too, giving an absolutely commanding performance as the super-intelligent but honest-to-goodness Sam. His eyes brimmed with joy, spilled in tears, wavered in confusion, and watched in earnest. When put up against anyone else in this series, you realize just how good of an actor Francis Ng is. Whenever he's on the screen, he owns it. You forget entirely that Sam is being played by an actor...Francis Ng IS Sam in this series. Remember the very last episode when he successfully proposed to Zoe? I clapped during that scene because I was so moved by Francis Ng's portrayal of Sam's joy. There's just one minor wrinkle. There's bad English, there's worse English, and then there's Francis Ng's English. Trust me, it doesn't get any worse. That isn't very fair though, since the other actors' English is just as bad as his. But Francis had this grossly exaggerated voice when he was speaking English that I was literally on the floor from laughing so hard! Another thing that had me laughing my head off? His hairstyle in this show that was greatly reminiscent of Elvis. Rumours have it that he designed it himself. But, with Francis Ng's terrific performance I found him to be good-looking. Not in a "Oh my, he's so dreamy and hot" way but in an ordinary, too honest, good man kind of way.

Sam was also my favourite character of the show. He puts others' needs before his own, is compassionate, considerate, observant, and bright, but what I found interesting about his character in the beginning was his flaw. So determined he was to not have others feel he was in any way being lenient on his cadet younger brother Isaac, he actually became stricter with him than with the other cadets, even though he didn't realize it. His portrayal of the strict flight instructor in the first half was also fittingly serious, his catchphrase, "mm ho sung haai" (translating to don't loosen up) cracked me up every time because S4 always finished the sentence for him. Francis Ng is perhaps also the only actor who could have made the unconventional relationship between Zoe and Sam not only believable, but also touching, because his portrayal of Sam's love for Zoe was absolutely flawless. The proposal scene and the 3-second scene where he kisses her on the forehead while looking at a rainbow (shown in the opening credits) were some of the most tender and delightfully romantic scenes ever done in TVB. He and Myolie Wu didn't have electrifying chemistry necessarily, but you forget about that once you watch Francis act. Zero complaints. A phenomenal performance.

Flora Chan as Belle

If Francis Ng gave the best performance, then Flora Chan definitely gave the worst. Why? Because the role of Belle requires Flora Chan to cry frequently, and Flora Chan has always been the least convincing crier in the history of TVB. It's not that she overacts. The problem is, when Flora Chan cries, her face scrunches up, in a ball...it makes her crying scenes appear extremely forced and painful to watch. The worst thing is, during half of the scenes where she was SUPPOSED to cry, no tears came out! It was quite frustrating to watch Flora Chan here, because in her scenes opposite Francis Ng, you realize just how unengaged her performance was. Plus, during her scenes with Francis I wanted to throw something at the TV because her voice became really whiny. Also, I've never been very fond of Flora Chan's voice because of her accent. I've mentioned before that I wish she would take on a role besides the strong-career-woman but now I've decided she should stick to those. At least she's convincing in those ones...they're entirely uninteresting to watch but at least I don't get annoyed. Flora also didn't make a convincing nut case towards the end at all...I sort of got the feeling that she was "there" but not really "there" at the same time. Now that I'm done with the negatives of her performance, I must also say that Flora Chan made a very believable couple with Joe Ma (but not half as good as Francis and Myolie of course), which I was surprised at at first because I never really imagined them as a pair, but thumbs-up to them and to the casting directors for this decision.

Now, on the character...hmm, how should I put this lightly/nicely? Belle drove me up the wall! Many found Zoe to be annoying but frankly I wanted to kick Belle in every episode after the 3rd or so. She finds out about the misunderstanding before the marriage and runs to Sam, then she ultimately decides to marry Vincent anyway. But then she keeps on rocking back and forth between her feelings for Sam and her being touched by Vincent's devotion. Quite honestly, I felt she treated Vincent like crap...I didn't believe for one second she didn't want another chance with Sam and yet she still ran into Vincent's arms and then started regretting after Sam was dating Zoe. Make up your mind, you stupid woman! And then when Belle couldn't answer Vincent about who had a higher position in her heart, she couldn't take it when Vincent proposed a separation? Give me a break! Did she actually expect him to stand there and wait for god knows how long just so she could make up her mind? And then after he dies does Belle realize that Vincent was her one true love. Um, kind of late now don't you think? Dumbest and most annoying character of the show, Belle was. I didn't feel sorry for her when she started having hallucinations of Vincent's ghost because that was at the same time Zoe was in the hospital and Sam was forced to go back and forth to make sure both were okay. I was glad she ended up with no one. Nonetheless, it's amazing how much I ended up loathing this character. She wasn't a villain, but for how unappreciative she was of Vincent, she's really an unlikeable person.

Joe Ma as Vincent

A surprisingly credible performance from an actor I've always felt rather indifferent to. Normally he neither impresses me nor annoys me. But here he's decent as the totally devoted husband to the undeserving Belle. Joe Ma looks a little too tan here (so do Francis and Ron Ng) but I feel that this is this series is the one where Joe Ma gave his best performance. There are times when he seems a little stiff, but in general I think he gave an honest and wholehearted performance. I felt sorry for his character. No matter how much Vincent took care of Belle or how well he treated her, Sam always seemed to assume the number one position in her heart. And then when he finally thought it through and decided the two of them were the fated lovers he dies a hero. Poor Vincent. In any case, I also enjoyed Francis' and Joe's portrayal of their long-time friendship. There were scenes of heartfelt discussion but also humour from these two actors.

Myolie Wu as Zoe

I'm on the fence about Myolie's performance in here. It isn't really up to par with her acting in other series, mainly because Zoe's character was a little bit ridiculous at the beginning of the series. She wasn't a character that was difficult to play, except for the fact that Zoe spouts metaphoric dialogue like no tomorrow. So she's Sam's secret admirer but then when she finds out about Belle she flies to Rome to try to work out their misunderstanding? A little far-fetched don't you think? Myolie did a good job as the bubbly and energetic Zoe, she is quite cute and smiley and warm in most scenes but I can't help thinking that in some she overacted, which I found surprising because I had always thought of Myolie as one of the most natural actresses ever. In that sense the writers waste Myolie's talent because of her character... there's not much opportunity for the audience to see Zoe's weakness or vulnerability (aside from her physical illness). She's so unbelievably wholesome that it's laughable. Despite the fact that this wasn't Myolie's best performance, I still feel that her potential as an actress is great and not yet realized. And mark my words, Myolie Wu has what it takes to make it big in TVB, if not only for her versatility so early on in her career, but also because of her absolutely unforgettable performance as the mentally challenged Yan Yan in "Golden Faith". She's charming in "Triumph", but this was not a breakthrough performance for her. But at least TVB finally found a hairstyle that suits her!

S4 and The Girl

Since the debut of this series, Ron Ng, Sammul Chan, Kenneth Ma and Bosco Wong have come to be known as S4, which I'm guessing means Solar 4. The Girl here refers to Michelle Yip. Anyhow, Ron Ng has now become my favourite newcomer. He gave the most charismatic performance as the determined but impulsive Isaac who secretly idolized his older brother. The scenes between him and Francis Ng are first-rate...from their brotherly relationship being somewhat frosty and competitive to one comprised of mutual understanding with some minor bickering. Of the younger actors, I feel that Ron gave the best performance...he lacks what often afflicts newcomers, such as overacting and stiffness, and has what newcomers lack, mainly a defined presence on the screen and a commitment to not being afraid to show emotions. He's one of the rare new actors that has the "it" factor...the "it" you can't learn, the "it" you can't teach. My opinion of his acting has nothing to do with the fact that I think that he's totally hot. Seriously. But really, any guy who can look totally masculine and drop-dead gorgeous in a pink T-shirt is worth some praise! I do hope that he makes better use of his big eyes to act in the future though. Sammul Chan gave an okay performance as rich spoiled girl-crazy Donald, but I've never really liked Sammul as an actor, he's way too skinny to look at and I think he doesn't have what it takes to be a great actor. He was given an interesting role to play in "Survivor's Law" as the scheming Vincent, but didn't really excel in there either. In this series, he plays the mandatory rich brat, and although he's believable enough, there's nothing remarkable about his performance.

As for Bosco Wong, I liked him when I first saw him in Aqua Heroes, and in Triumph he does a credible job as the witty and intelligent Chris. Kenneth Ma didn't have much to work with as the silly Roy, and we don't really see him enough in here to give him a fair evaluation, so all I can say is that I'm rather indifferent to his performance. Of the S4 guys, I think Ron Ng and Bosco Wong will be the ones to look out for, and apparently TVB thinks so too, now promoting these two in many of their recent series. Michelle Yip has always aggravated me. She's boring to me most of the time (sorry to Michelle fans) and doesn't really measure up to the characters she plays. She always plays the "brotherly" character and here in "Triumph" I felt she could have done a lot more to portray the fiery character of Zita who was supposed to be ultra-feminist, tomboyish, and independent. In my eyes Zita was supposed to be a spirited girl determined to prove to the world that women could excel in the profession of flight, but Michelle's acting is inadequate here and doesn't really do the character justice. Her eyes constantly look rather vacant and confused and her performance is at times lifeless (minus those scenes opposite Ron Ng and Lok Ying Kwan). She doesn't really seem to love acting at all. Redeeming things is Michelle's decent English and nice hair. But in terms of acting, yet again Michelle disappoints me. She's dull and her acting is unresponsive. Plus, she has really freaky lips.

On the Supporting Cast

Shek Sau and the lady who played Mrs. Tong gave hilarious performances as Sam and Isaac's parents and I was pleasantly surprised at veteran Shek Sau being able to play a comic character. His gestures and voice were appropriately silly, and I loved it when Sam referred to him as Phillip rather than as Dad. Lam Hiu Fung was predictably funny as Paul, and Louisa So shines as the blunt and reluctant Ruby. Long one of TVB's most underrated actresses, she's funny and likeable as the often harsh but actually good-hearted Ruby.

The Metal Birds

What adds to Triumph's success is not only its untraditional romantic plot, but its equal commitment to present a well-researched view into a profession, in here, the profession of flight. It's probably one of the most interesting ones done in a series, there are already too many series out there on the doctor profession, police careers, or lawyer profession, etc. You can actually learn a lot about planes, flying, or the journey to becoming a pilot from this series. At the end of each episode, one of the cast members even comes out to give some common knowledge about flying and planes. Although having actors speak directly to the camera/audience is traditionally a little cheesy, it was nonetheless educational. The flight training sessions with S4 and Zita were very fun to watch, and the best part was watching their emotions of accomplishment when they finally took off into the clouds on their first flights. Another good part was watching them study, especially Isaac who finally found a study method that worked for him (taping all of his notes on his walls and bouncing a ball to hit each of them) ... you realize the effort these young people put into their ambition and when they finally realize their dream you can't help but be happy and even proud for them.

Things That Make You Go "Huh"?

1) Zoe flying to Rome...a little too far-fetched.
2) Chris and Coco's abruptly ended relationship after Vincent's death.
3) Sam's award being presented at the airport...the award had nothing really to do with his career.
4) Unnecessary cameos... please, the Twins?! Eason Chan's cameo was a great one, but the Twins?! Agh!
5) Zita accepting Donald after seeing the rock heart...who else thought she did it out of vulnerability/anger at Isaac for denying his feelings?
6) Donald and Chris acting out a skit to make Zita dump Donald. So Donald had to leave Solar Airways...it didn't mean he had to break up with Zita. This part made no sense to me.
7) The lack of acknowledgement of the time difference between Hong Kong and Rome...and wasn't that Florence in some scenes? They called it Rome but I could have sworn it was Florence.

Fate's Journey

Many people didn't like that Sam and Belle didn't end up together but personally I found it fitting. Yes, fate probably pulled some strings that one year ago in Rome, but as Vincent said later on in the series, if Sam picked up Belle's bracelet three times and she STILL wasn't able to keep it on her wrist, then Sam and Belle were never meant to be in the first place. Some of you may say that Vincent showed up as an obstacle, or that Zoe picked up that godforsaken Triangel doll and so the timing was not right for Sam and Belle to be together. But if the timing wasn't right then being together was never their destiny!

In that respect, I admire the character of Zoe. Although her pursuit of Sam seemed desperate and even pathetic at the beginning, she was someone who "took fate into her own hands", so to speak. Having miraculously survived her illness for so long, Zoe took her own happiness into her own hands and sought her one love. It's not like Zoe was scheming to yank Sam away from Belle. When she discovered their affair back in Rome, she tried everything to work out the misunderstandings and give the pair another chance. Belle, on the other hand, stuck with Vincent but then started to regret it and based her life on fate when constantly questioning her feelings for Sam. You can't live your life totally on fate and luck. If someone is so faithful to the idea of everything being predetermined, then why stay on this earth? I mean, we all must feel we can make a difference, or we would have thrown ourselves out a window a long time ago.

The Loot Bag

There's a lot to like in the pleasant interplay of the Tong family members. The family dynamic was amusing to watch and their scenes were written with such wit and heart. Add Francis Ng, Ron Ng, Shek Sau, and the lady who plays Mrs. Tong's performances and you've got yourself a great mini family sitcom. The part where Mr. Tong was worrying that he was impotent was totally hilarious, especially when Sam and Isaac found out at the hospital and tried so hard not to laugh! The S4 friendship was also a surprisingly gratifying experience, the relationship between the four young guys and occasional nitbits of them making total fools of themselves provides an honourable badge of TVB's long-run success of portraying loyal and believable friendships. This was especially the case with the scenes at the "Fei Ying Jai" (their own private "clubhouse" type thing). Another goody are the scenes filmed abroad...those in Europe, Hokkaido, and New Zealand were gorgeous and a refreshing break to the normal skyscraper city backdrop of other series.

Another goody...the theme song. Catchy as ever and the lyrics are very appropriate. I will never get sick of the song...LOL. Originally, though, the song was Eason Chan's "Brother and Sister" whose lyrics were in Mandarin. But then Cantonese lyrics were written...and you've got yourself "Age is Like Song". Or something like that.

Based on a seldom-run but challenging premise, this series manages to handle the shaky theme of fate very well. To set this series in an airport was an ingenious idea, given the setting's inevitable link to the theme. Real emotions that arose from this confusing force are portrayed in a strikingly sincere manner even if at times a little flaky. When paired with a strong cast and strong characters, this series becomes one very engaging one to watch.

"Triumph in the Skies" also gives us one of the most satisfying, if not the most satisfying, endings in TVB. Poetic justice is rendered in terms of Vincent and Belle, Sam and Zoe live happily ever after, and Zita chooses neither Isaac or Donald The characters' personalities or emotions are never betrayed, and when the end comes it comes fittingly and closes on a wonderfully warm note. In particular, the proposal scene between Sam and Zoe will stay engraved in my mind, and unlike others, I'm personally glad that Zita ended up with neither Isaac or Donald, since she never really loved Donald in the first place and because my dear Ron Ng is too good for Michelle Yip.

The Barf Bag

1) The impossibly positive and perky Zoe. She's so totally chipper that it's irritating at times.
2) Flora Chan's crying scenes. It was torture to watch her try to squeeze out some tears.
3) The actors' English. Most of the time I could only figure out what they were saying by reading the subtitles! If TVB had so much money to finance the airplane scenes and abroad scenes, couldn't they have sent their actors to some English lessons?
4) Coco (Vincent's younger sister). Not the actress, but the character. Spoiled little brat who needs a beating or two.
5) Belle, for the reasons named above.
6) The "love-pair" items in Vincent and Belle's apartment. Pink bowl, blue bowl. Pink towel, blue towel. Pink apron, blue apron. Pink cup, blue cup. You get the idea. A little too cheesy for my taste.
7) The overexposure of the Triangel doll.
8) Please give us a villain!! A villain, TVB, a villain! This is one thing that this series is clearly missing.

From the Grapevine

Word has it that TVB's planning to film a "bonus" of this series...and surprise surprise, in this one Vincent's not going to die! Now that will be interesting. Practically all of the actors in this series said that they were very nervous about working with Film Emperor Francis Ng, and Ron Ng, Myolie Wu, and Flora Chan were actually quite anxious and felt pressure right when they started filming (as they said in interviews). Rumours flew right after this series that Myolie and Michelle were at war, which in my opinion is nothing but that -- rumours. Ron Ng was discovered by Louis Koo; he was originally a dancer (like actor Michael Tse) until Louis Koo suggested he join some of TVB's acting lessons. And the guys of S4 became very good friends after filming this series and have gone on to work on other series together.

To Watch or Not To Watch, that is the Question

Without a single doubt in my mind, WATCH THIS SERIES. I cannot stress this enough. "Triumph in the Skies" is my favourite modern TVB series of all time (that I've seen anyway). It combines distinct themes (career, family, friendship, romance, the challenge of fate) with stunning success. Not only does everything happen for a reason, but everything happens for a good reason. The minor inconsistencies and sometimes bad acting is overshadowed by Triumph's compelling narrative and phenomenal performances. You will not want to miss this one, believe me. I went into this series with overblown expectations and those were exceeded. And for all my gushing, I'm giving this series a 5/5. I wouldn't change a thing if I could.


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