Face to Fate


Reviewed by: koolkat

January 17, 2009

Rating: three-point-five

The Plot

The struggle for supremacy between the Black and White Sects is decided every five years with a Golden Seal Battle, with both sides sending five representatives. Before the latest battle takes place, the candidates from the White Sect are ambushed and killed. Enter Li Po-yee (Frankie Lam), a fortune teller, who's determined to stop the Black Sect from gaining the upper hand. With the consent of the leader of the White Sect, Shum Shing-nam (David Chiang), he promises to look for five other highly skilled martial artists to take the place of the fallen five. He has the help of a doctor, Lai Yeuk-yee (Raymond Lam), a monk known as Death Wish, and the adopted daughter of Shum, Yip Mung-sik (Tavia Yeung). The Black Sect, consisting of a motley crew of strangely dressed characters, led by Ko Shu-tin (Felix Lok), is out to thwart them every step of the way.

The quest to find the five replacements proceeds in a relatively straightforward manner but the story gets more complicated as lots of secrets are revealed, including the relationships between Yip and Ko, Ko and Shum, Li and Ko. There are betrayals and counter plots as the story proceeds.

Incidentally, the characters are drawn from the novels of Wen Ruian, who may be better known for the Four Constables.

Review

There are many interesting plot twists and turns that keep the story going. The story also raises many thought provoking themes on fate and the nature of evil, whether the end justifies the means.

However, that is also one of its weaknesses as the series tries to cram too much into it -- too many subplots and twisting relationships. That makes for erratic pacing as the story swings between different characters and their individual stories.

Face to Fate starts out excitingly enough as the five White Sect contestants are killed in a mysterious manner. But as Li Po-yee starts his quest for the five replacements, the pace flags and the story sometimes descends into the ludicrous, especially with one of the candidates, who kidnaps brides because he was traumatised by a former lover.

The proliferation of subplots makes the story a bit tedious after a while, including Li Po-yee's attachment to Shum's young wife, played by Anne Heung, the mistaken identity of Yip Mung-sik's father, the secret background of Yin Yeh-loi, who's the doctor's love interest, etc.

The attempt to tackle more meaningful themes is also not fully fleshed out. And the show is let down by the ridiculous costumes that make the bad guys look rather farcical. Ko Shu-tin and one of his deputies, the bat guy, have to wear such restrictive headgear they can't speak properly and made me laugh instead.

There is also the liberal use of some rather dubious special effects, including a tunnel vision blackening of the screen, which was annoying after repeated usage.

The actors/actresses

Frankie Lam as Li Po-yee won't set your screen on fire, but he has good looks, a quiet charm and a steadiness that suit the role well. Unfortunately he seems rather remote in his relationships and doesn't quite gel with either Anne Heung or Tavia Yeung.

Raymond Lam actually gets the juicier role as Lai Yeuk-yee. He gets to display his versatility as he goes from cynical, cocky young man to loyal brother and devoted lover willing to do anything to save Yin Yeh-loi, even cross over to the dark side. His acting may be a bit affected and his costumes rather awful, but he has presence and on some occasions overwhelms Frankie. Selena Li is competent in her role as Yin, but they don't have much chemistry.

David Chiang, as Shum Shing-nam, looks rather pained for most of the show, maybe due to his rather stiff garments or the tight belt. He becomes a bit more lively towards the later part of the show. He is seriously mismatched with Anne Heung, I doubt if she was even born when he started acting. Anne is also rather boring.

Felix Lok specialises in playing over-the-top villains and his Ko Shu-tin is no exception. Excellent as the evil Ko who eventually displays a soft spot for his long-lost daughter. His bunch of evildoers was amusing, right down to the garish costumes, certainly more honest than the quarrelsome representatives of the supposedly good sect.

Tavia Yeung is also a competent and likable actress but she doesn't have enough of a presence. Her acting was forced, lacking a spark. Tavia also acts in a lot of shows, it gets confusing seeing her after a while.

If there was one person I disliked thoroughly in the show, it was Shum's daughter Kon-hung. She was petulant, spoilt and self-absorbed. Nancy Wu has a frowning, disgruntled face well-suited to playing the role. Even marriage didn't help.

Recommendation

I may have sounded less than enthusiastic about the show, but it's actually watchable entertainment, especially for Frankie Lam or Raymond Lam fans. Just don't take too seriously the bad costumes, the mumbo jumbo spouted, and the dubious special effects. The payoff comes after exercising some patience over the more boring middle bits to reach the more exciting episodes towards the end.


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