Beyond the Realm of Conscience


Reviewed by: Bridget

March 22, 2010

Rating: two-point-five

Chinese Title: “Gung Sam Gai” (roughly translates to schemes in
the palace
)
No. of episodes: 33

Theme songs: “Gung Sam Gai” (Schemes) by Susanna Kwan
(opening); “Fung Che” (Windmill) by Charmaine Sheh (closing)

Cast
Moses Chan
Tavia Yeung
Charmaine Sheh
Kevin Cheng
Michelle Yim
Susanna Kwan
Supporting Cast
Lee Kwok Lun
Selina Li
Lui San
Yoyo Chen
Cheong Chi Kwong
Lau Dan
Crystal Tin
Mandy Cho
Tracy Yip

Foreword
I had high hopes for this series. They were dashed.

Review
Great name, not-so-great series. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it
again. When you recycle material, you better bring something new to
the game. Otherwise, you’re just wasting money and (my) time. The
question that kept reappearing for me while I watched this series was:
Doesn’t TVB know anyone else?!

TVB’s answer to Korea’s Jewel in the Palace, Beyond the
Realm of Conscience
was supposed to be the Moonlight
Resonance
of 2009. They cast 5 of the MR actors in key roles.
Hell, I half-expected Ha Yu to stroll out at some point as the Emperor.
Let’s remember that the 2009 awards ceremony was pushed back into
December just so Beyond could be included. And yet, the
only award it picked up was Most Favourite Female Character, and
that was mostly due to Tavia’s popularity. You gotta love the irony.

After casting 5 of the MR actors, TVB then decided to go with two of
their usual suspects: a pair of highly promoted, overused,
questionably talented actors for the other important characters:
Charmaine Sheh and Kevin Cheng. This pair has got to be the most
uninspiring casting decision ever. I am so bored with these two.
Neither is a gifted actor, and the amount of improvement they’ve
shown despite the amount of opportunities they’ve gotten is just,
well, not enough. I guess it’s one of life’s cruel jokes that the reason
they are so compatible onscreen is that they have both become
astonishingly uninteresting.

It’s not just the uninspiring casting. The script tries to reinvent the
success of War & Beauty and The Dance of Passion
and fails epically. W&B was addictive, cleverly written and had an
unconventional ending. DOP was tense, compelling and boasted
terrific performances and refreshing casting. Beyond is
characterized by bad continuity, poor writing, and choppy editing. For
instance:

1) Siu Yong, a palace maid, hangs herself early on in the series. Two
episodes later, Yuen says that she’ll “ask Siu Yong to bring some
water”. A few episodes later, Sam Ho says she’ll get Siu Yong to do
something else. Writers: please remember when you kill people off so
that you don’t bring them back later.

2) St. Sam Ho helps Yuen and Chung reconcile, but a few episodes
later they’re bickering again and giving each other a hard time. This
happens on several occasions and half the time, the arguments
weren’t really provoked and it seemed like the reconciliations never
happened.

3) People enter and exit the palace way too easily. It seemed more
like a shelter house rather than a palace. Sam Ho and Hin Yeung,
especially, come and go as they please and the fact that Sam Ho was
able to leave the palace even after she became a concubine was just
laughably ridiculous. This is topped off by the fact that most
characters have a few-episode stint, which means the audience
doesn’t get time to get to know them or care about them.

4) Hin Yeung appears as a swordsman (more on this later), so I think
“OK, he’ll probably become the Emperor’s guard” (predictable). And
then the next scene switched to the fact that he’s a master at chess.
After that, this skill in chess was never mentioned again.

5) Things are revealed, too little too late as lame plot attempts at
killing people off. This happens in the case of the original Head of
House, eunuch Zhong and Lui San’s character.

6) There is no way in hell that the Emperor would survive in the
ruthless palace with only two loyal subordinates, both who left the
palace at the end.

7) Kam Ling’s fate was so anti-climactic. She deserved some kind of
glorious, dramatic end and the writers didn’t give it to her.

8) The writers suggest that Kam Ling had fallen in love with the
Emperor early on in the series, but this wasn’t mentioned or alluded
to anytime after that and only focused on her thirst for power.

Other problems:

1) The makeup is borderline terrifying. I never believed in dark eye
shadow for men and if it takes makeup to make you look evil, then all
I can say is that maybe even TVB had their reservations about their
actors’ ability to act ruthless.

2) Can’t they just shut up about the beans (seeds?) already? Every
time they mentioned them, I pressed the fast-forward button.

One of the few qualities of this series is that you do get to see some
faces who are in ancient dress for the first time, such as Tracy Yip and
Mandy Cho. Too bad they look better than they act.

Another gem in this series is the highly promoted character of Kam
Ling. She is easily the most well-written character, multi-layered and
morally ambiguous. Very late into the series, she tells Sam Ho “You
and I are different. You treat everyone very well, but I treat only you
well”. This line explains much about Kam Ling. Throughout their
childhood and into their early adulthood, Kam Ling is protective only
of Sam Ho and in a way, her friendship with Sam Ho kept her in check
about her less-than-noble intentions. This also brings me to one of
the other missing pieces of the series. What if Kam Ling was forced to
choose between Sam Ho and her power? After all, she risks her life a
few times to save Sam Ho’s. Buh. Clearly I am being way too
analytical over this series.

Evaluation of Cast & Characters

Kevin Cheng
I will confess right here that I laughed when Kevin first appeared. He
just does not work in an ancient series. That is one of his (many)
problems in Beyond. First of all, he is all wrong for this
character:

1) Hin Yeung is supposed to be DASHING. Ok?! Dashing. Kevin is
good-looking, yes. Tall enough, yes. But dashing?! He is not
dashing. In fact, he has this problem where he looks like a cross
between boredom / arrogance unless he tries very hard to look
interested.

2) He is supposed to be a swordsman. There is not a single ounce of
“warrior” in Kevin’s being. I was laughing my ass off when he
appeared flashing the sword around in his first scene.

Horrid casting aside, Kevin is – dare I say – boring in here! He tries
hard in this series but let’s just say he attempts more than he delivers.
For one thing, he isn’t very scholarly – weird because he thoroughly
convinces as a beta academic in modern series. His performance here
is flat throughout but it was his dad’s death scene that really killed it
for me. I kept asking myself: “Where are the tears”? I guess this
proves that good looks can only take you so far. A mediocre
performance.

Charmaine Sheh
She looks tired and I am also tired of her. Charm is too old for this
role and I can name 4 or 5 series off the top of my head where she
played the same character. Sure, she looks very compatible with
Kevin, but what do you get when you add boring to boring? That’s
right, double boring. The scenes with Hin Yeung belong in a music
video and both are too old for the cheesy “love at first sight” scene.
While Charm conveys the femininity of Sam Ho and to a certain extent
her quiet strength, she also comes off as extremely pretentious. While
this is partly the script’s fault for ramming it in our brains that Sam
Ho is a good person and somewhat of a know-it-all, Charm’s acting
does not help it. She did excel in the moments where she tearfully
looked at Kam Ling, wondering why she has become the person she
has become.

A better actress could have done more to flesh out what is basically an
unrelatable character on paper, and Charm offers nothing new here.
A largely unsatisfying performance.

Tavia Yeung
I’m not a diehard Tavia fan but I respect the fact that she chose the
real way to stardom by going to acting school instead of short-cutting
her way through beauty pageants. And I will be the first to agree that
she can act the pants off most of the pageant queens currently being
promoted by TVB (Charm included). I’ve always felt that she tends to
do better in ancient series or secondary characters in modern ones
(the one exception being The Building Blocks of Life, my most
favourite performance of hers) and in Beyond, she takes on
the role of the villain for the first time. To a certain extent, Tavia
rises to the challenge and delivers what is the most consistent
performance of the series. Her acting was best during the earlier
parts when she hadn’t yet crossed over to the dark side, when her
character starts to consider doing bad things but is still held back by
her friendship with Sam Ho. When she becomes evil, I thought Tavia
was good, but very much helped by her Cat Woman makeup. I would
have preferred to see how ruthless she could be without help from her
makeup. Overall, definitely one of the better performances of the
series.

Moses Chan
My favourite character of the series and an adequate performance by
Moses. He offers nothing earth-shattering here but (I can’t believe
I’m saying this) he does convey the gentlemanly, loser-in-love side of
the Emperor well.

The Headmistresses & Four Heads of House

Yes, I’m a Harry Potter fan. Anyway, I have never seen Susan
Tse but based on this performance alone, I think she belongs more in
stage theatre rather than television. She has this rhythmically odd
speech and is not nearly despicable enough as the Dowager Empress.
Though she looks good in ancient dress and exudes royal elegance,
she is not “daggers-in-smile” enough for this role. Nor does she
breathe the authority that the role warrants. Mary Hon doesn’t quite
exude royal elegance either but her acting is still very good in this
series.

Michelle Yim and Susanna Kwan were exceptional. Their characters
go through the most illogical crap in the series, yet both actresses
managed to give them very intriguing interpretations. Michelle came
off as girly and almost whiny despite her age, Susanna’s Yuen was
straightforward, unafraid to voice her opinion and sometimes even
brash. The actresses who portrayed the Head of the four houses and
her niece were excellent.

Lee Kwok Lun was fantastic as the evil Ma and the actor who played
upright general Man Kin Fung was also very good.

The Young Guns

Edwin Siu has never been a good actor (or singer, which is his official
profession) and his performance here proves it again. The good thing
about him is that he does not have an ounce of charisma or royal
aura, which is exactly what his Emperor is supposed to be – useless. It
also helps that he lasts a total of probably 5 episodes. Selina Li
usually does better in ancient series than modern ones, and she
doesn’t disappoint in this series, the best scene being her death
scene. Yoyo Chen was surprisingly good, although her voice is a bit
grating on the ears. If she can get her offscreen act together and dial
back some of the overacting, she may be a talent to be reckoned with
in the future. Her rumoured boyfriend Vin Choi impressed me in his
minor role as eunuch Siu Sun.

So back to the question that begs to be answered: Can TVB recruit
some more actors or bring back some good ones?! It’s the same
incestuous party over and over again! For instance, how interesting
would Beyond be if it was made up of the following cast?

• Replace Kevin and Moses with Steven Ma and Bosco Wong! I’m not a
Bosco fan but for some reason he comes off as very gentlemanly in
ancient series, which is bizarre because he has somewhat of a playful
/ goofball image out of camera. Steven Ma always does well in ancient
series and has a very scholarly, gentlemanly demeanor.
• Replace Michelle Yim and Susanna Kwan with Akina Hong and
Florence Kwok. They’re beautiful, look great in ancient costume, are
convincing for the roles age-wise, and fantastic actresses. Or what
about Louisa So?
• Replace Charmaine with Nancy Wu, who is also a competent actress
and looks great in ancient series.

To Watch or Not To Watch, That is the Question
I don’t think many people will care about what I said in this review.
By the sheer fan base of some of the stars, and the hype that this
series has gotten, people will watch this anyway. Just be prepared to
be bewildered and/or disappointed. Beyond the Realm of
Conscience
is what happens when you get lazy.


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