A Step into the Past

Reviewed by: spcnet

October 12, 2003

Rating: two-point-five

Warning! Some Spoilers!

"A Step into the Past" is TVB's latest release of a period drama based on a novel by Huang Yi. First set in modern day Hong Kong, police agent, Hung Siu Lung (Louis Koo), is transported back into the past, three years before the ascension of the Chun King, who is often erroneously credited with building all of the Great Wall of China. Before I make my comments on this series, I must say that I am a sucker for time travel stories. It always fascinates me to read about or watch stories where the hero travels to a different time period and is landed in an environment or culture that is so unfamiliar to his/her own. I also never read the novel by Huang Yi so I don't have any comparisons to make between the original characters or story to the adaptation. If I had, I would probably critique this unmercifully like a Jin Yong adaptation because I've heard from several sources that it doesn't do much justice to Huang Yi's novel.

With that in mind, a bit on the plot. Hung Siu Lung is part of the Hong Kong G4 Special Police force and is invited to take a trip back in time to witness and take some pictures of the ascension of Chun Chi Wong. In return for participation in this ludicrous-sounding mission, he will be able to use the time portal to return to the time before his girlfriend (Sonjia Kwok Sin Lei) married someone else and have a second chance with her. Hung agrees but something goes wrong during the process and he is instead, transported back to 3 years before the day of the ascension. Trapped in the past, Hung tries to find ways to travel to Hom Yueng, where Ying Jing, the future Chun King, is supposed to be crowned. His first acquaitance is Sin Yau (Joyce Tang Lai Ming), a seemingly cold-hearted assassin. Next up the line, characters like Wu Ting Fong (Jessica Hsuan), Lin Chun (Kong Wah), Siu Sin (Michelle Saram), Chiu Poon (Lam Fung), Chiu Nga (Shuet Lei), and Chiu Mok (Lei Chi Hung) are brought into the picture. Wu Ting Fong verbally spars with Hung Siu Lung every time they see each other and eventually falls in love with him, leaving the cold swordsman, Lin Chun, jealous and hating Hung. Siu Sin is the Chiu State's princess who also falls for Siu Lung. She is forced to marry for politics but is promised by Siu Lung that he would take her away. Chiu Nga is the royal sister of the Chiu King and is a widow bringing up her son, Chiu Poon. She is a pawn for Chiu Mok, a villainous minister, who uses her to seduce men and is known by all as a promiscuous woman.

The appearance of Hung Siu Lung basically changes all their lives as Hung helps Chiu Nga rediscover her dignity and teaches Chiu Poon how to be a good person along with martial arts. Wu Ting Fong is upset that Hung doesn't return her love and leaves to wander around. She is later raped by a left-handed swordsman, Lou Oi, after rejecting Lin Chun. Lin Chun loses to Hung in battle, wits, and love. Yet he is determined to have his revenge and to achieve power. He kills Lou Oi after learning his sword techniques and takes Lou's name as his own.

Meanwhile, Hung hears news that Ying Jing is trapped in the Chiu State as a hostage with his mother, Chu Gei (Yu Ying Ying). Rescuing them, he discovers from Chu Gei that the imprisoned Ying Jing is a fake, a decoy. However, when Hung goes to search for the real Ying Jing, he finds that Ying Jing has already died. Hung remembers being warned that if history is altered, his existence would also cease, besides from not being able to go back to the present. In desperation, he claims that Chiu Poon is Ying Jing and starts to tell one big lie. Hung also meets another woman, Kam Ching (also Sonjia Kwok), who looks exactly like his girlfriend in the present, and falls in love with her. The rest of the series is about how Hung must help Chiu Poon/Ying Jing become crowned prince, then emperor, and finally how to rid of their rivals, Liu Bat Wai (Kong Fung), and Lou Oi.

I was very happy at first that TVB finally came out with an ancient costume series, with real fighting, a new story line, real scenery, and not to mention, real horses. I must say that the scenery is beautiful in "Step", with shots taken from settings in China. War scenes are also done surprisingly well, though few, and shots of palaces and arenas with many servants and guards are also impressive. Fight scenes are also done well, with real hand and weapon combat and no special computer effects. For a while, I was wondering if TVB producers were delirious, making such a grand production, because it must've cost them a bundle. It was refreshing to see TVB come out of remaking Jin Yong adaptations and I think I must've been deprived of a good martial arts series for a long time, because I felt like a kid given a lollipop when I first started watching this series.

"Step" is funny at the beginning where Hung Siu Lung cracks jokes and is still trying to cope to the past's language and way of life. I am not a Louis Koo Tin Lok fan, but he was admittingly funny at times in "Step" with the humor. Puns and references made to toilet paper, chopsticks, and even Jin Yong were humorous.

I thought Lam Fung and Louis Koo were unnaturally dark in this series. They looked like each other to some degree (same tanning salon?) and their tans did not suit them well at certain angles in the camera. I never thought that Louis Koo is a good actor and is too concerned about his look-cool image (I can already sense the cat-claws out right now from fans). However, I was surprised that he did a decent job in "Step" and as mentioned, he was funny. So all in all, I think he improved but still needs improvement. An extra bit of information, Louis Koo won one of the Favorite Character Portrayal and the Favorite Actor awards during TVB's anniversary for his role as Hung Siu Lung this year. Rumors were also abound that he and Sonjia Kwok are dating in real life after this series.

Lam Fung was not bad as Chiu Poon/Ying Jing. I preferred him as the matured Ying Jing who became corrupted by power later on. He reminded me a bit of how Andy Lau was able to portray the playful side of Hong Hei in "Duke of Mt. Deer 84" and then revert to a supreme ruler--though definitely not as well as Andy was able to do it. There are times, however, that I thought Lam Fung was over-exaggerating his menace and ruthlessness as king. He seemed to be glaring with a bit too much effort. I like actors who can subtly give off an impression as the series progresses and not have to do it in a in-your-face kind of way but I think Lam Fung has potential.

Kong Wah as Lin Chun/Lou Oi was also average. I expected more from him since so many people praised his role in ATV's "Secret Battle of the Majesties". Though I never saw "Secret", I've seen his earlier works and had always thought he was a good actor. In "Step", I thought Kong Wah was trying too hard to be cool and cold. Kong Wah looked bored the whole time in "Step" and going about his role in a perfunctory fashion. I think Kong Wah is one actor misused by TVB and would've had more meaningful roles if he stayed in ATV or tried his luck in Taiwan.

Kong Fung played Liu Bat Wai, the minister who was rumored to have had an affair with Chu Gei and that Ying Jing is really his son. Kong Fung is one of the best actors in "Step" and was able to do the villainous role at ease. Some tidbit, non-related knowledge, Kong Fung is Au Yueng Piu San's husband in real life.

Jessica Hsuan as Wu Ting Fong was pretty good. Her chemistry with Louis Koo was already established in Detective Investigative Files IV. However, fans will be disappointed that her screen time is very sparse at the middle of the series and only until the latter episodes will she come back out. Wu Ting Fong's character is interesting to watch until she gets raped and then she just hides in her shell the rest of the series towards the ending. Jessica's costume looked the nicest out of all the female characters when she was in the braids and colorful clothes but very drab in the middle to end.

Sonjia Kwok as Kam Ching gave an average performance. Her headress bothered me at first but after a while, I kind of liked it, especially compared to her later attires. Don't have much to say about her, except that she was just ok.

For once, Joyce Tang Lai Ming in a period drama did not irk me. As Sin Yau, the assassin, she didn't do a spectacular job, but decent enough and the character did not make me want to throw something at the tv.

Michelle Saram as the Chiu princess was in a word, horrible. She can not act. Her mouth and voice coordination is terrible and the way she delivers her lines is monotonous and flat and dead. She was like a piece of wood in this series, a piece of wood that can smile at times. It was painful listening to her painfully deliver her lines word by word. Her character is also cliche, the typical nice princess who feels like a caged bird and yearns to be free.

Chu Gei played by Yu Ying Ying is the other awful casting in "Step". She might be on par with Michelle Saram on how badly each can utter their lines. Chu Gei was supposedly a beautiful woman who men go ga-ga over yet Yu looked very tired and old in this series. She could not portray the coldness or charm of Chu Gei and only seemed to whine. The development of her character was also unbelievable on how she was so in love with Liu Bat Wai at one moment and then fall madly in love with Lou Oi. I think I must've missed some scenes because I thought she also loved her son, Ying Jing, but once Lou Oi came into the picture, she seemed to have forgotten her motherly love and not give a whim about Ying Jing. The character of Chu Gei is also very dumb to believe all the lame lies that Lou Oi was feeding her about how he only wants power so that he can protect her. The way Lou Oi lied or came up with excuses were so unbelievable. How dumb a woman can she be, especially after learning how Liu Bat Wai used her? I suppose love is blind. Yu Ying Ying also had about zero chemistry with Kong Wah so I was emotionally detached when watching their finale.

Several other things in "Step" nagged me. Hung Siu Lung is a character from the present, and he's a cop too. One would think that his sense of justice and crime and punishment would be consistent with the modern period. However, Hung seemed to kill quite easily and was also able to watch others kill without too much of a flinch. He is also always obsessed with the whole history-can't-be-altered-else-my-existence-would-not-be-possible dilemna, yet Hung killed several times in "Step". I would've thought that is changing history big time because he could've killed someone significant. If he truly believed that altering history would screw it up, he should've made absolutely no contact with anyone in the past because who knows what course fate would take if he happens to just kick a rock (that rolls down a cliff, hits someone on the head, etc.)?

His idea of love is also ridiculous and here's the spoiler: Hung marries both Wu Ting Fong and Kam Ching and claims to love them both. I say, blah! One instance, or more like the whole series, Hung is madly in love with Kam Ching because she looked like his girlfriend in the present and then when Wu Ting Fong comes back out, he claims that he also has feelings for her. Hung even uses sign language to tell Wu the 3 significant words, "I LOVE YOU". Speaking of which, I was getting goosebumps when Louis uttered those words in poor english. I think all along Hung loved Kam Ching because he was willing to stay in the past forever because of her. He had the chance to go back to the present but gave it up because of her. Yet with Wu Ting Fong, all he wanted to do was evade her because he still harbored thoughts of going back to the present at that time. Then out of guilt perhaps, Hung wanted to take care of her. It also seemed like guilt and gratefulness that he was with Siu Sin too, which makes Hung Siu Lung seem like another Cheung Mo Kei in love affairs. He can't seem to reject the girls just because they are nice to him--which really hurts them all in the end.

As the series progressed, "Step" was like an inflated balloon losing its air and credibility. I did not like the transition of how Ying Jing suddenly became all ruthless and heartless, nor his sudden mistrust of Hung Siu Lung at the end. Lou Oi is also able to find someone who looks exactly like Ying Jing at the end and try to take over the empire which takes some convincing because it was so undeveloped. I expected to see the fueding six states have at least one big battle or something but I guess the trailers are only real teasers. I think "Step" would've benefited if we had more war scenes and strategy at how Chun Chi Wong united or battled the other warring states.

All in all, "Step" is far from perfect but watchable and enjoyable at some instances. It's not your typical martial arts series with the hero trying to attain the highest form of martial arts and then defeating the villain. "Step" is more about politics and love relationships and Hung Siu Lung using modern day knowledge to defeat his foes. I think I was just glad TVB could still make a passable martial arts series. Nice try by TVB, but try harder TVB!

A bit of an explanation on the Chun King miscredited with building the whole Great Wall of China. The walls that are standing today in China and which are known as "The Great Wall of China" were mostly built during the Ming Dynasty with their excellent skills and brick laying technology while the walls that were built by Chun Chi Wong paled in comparison. To read more on the Great Wall, check out the article at Discovery.com.

For Huang Yi's novel online in Chinese: Chum Chun Gei

For TVB's site on "A Step into the Past": Official Site
Screenshots (TVB Copyrighted).

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