Placebo Cure

Reviewed by: Real Deal

August 21, 2004

Rating: four-point-five

Main Cast:

Sunny Chan - Wallace
Joyce Tang - San
Kevin Cheng - Joe
Cherrie Kong - Carman

Supporting Cast:

Eileen Yeow
Lok Ying Kwan
Kwok Fung
Fiona Yuen
Stephen Au
Gilbert Lam

Theme Song:

By Hacken Lee (the lyrics seamlessly fit in with the theme; melody is nice and catchy; Hacken Lee does an expected great job)


"Placebo Cure" is not a grand production, but it is a very enjoyable serial that gets the job done. It dabbles in various fields of psychology, and deserves some compliments for its audacity in subject matters.

The serial mainly centres on Wallace, San and Joe. Relationship-wise, everything is utterly predictable: Wallace and Joe are best buddies, but their friendship is severely tested when they both fall for San. Wallace and San don't get along in the beginning, but they somehow develop feelings for each other through bickering and fighting, and finally become an item after misunderstandings get out of the way. San has had a crush on Joe for years, but he never reciprocates the love. When he realizes San is the one, it's already too late...

If the whole serial is about this triangular relationship, it will be a pure bore. Fortunately, a lot of air time is devoted to their work instead. Wallace is a psychologist, Joe is a psychiatrist, and San is a feng shui master. One way or another, they work together to help troubled people solve personal problems and get life back on track. As fishy as the premise sounds, the storyline does manage to be reasonable and interesting overall. From the very first patient with kleptomania to the very last patient with schizophrenia, a new case pops up every one or two episodes, and there are basically no dull moments throughout the serial. This is no easy job, if you think about how profession-themed (doctors, lawyers, cops, private detectives etc) TVB stories tend to stop solving problems altogether and purely focus on main characters' relationship issues in the last few episodes.

The cases in "Placebo Cure" touch on a wide range of "taboo subjects", and the patients usually have some kind of behaviour that's deemed "immoral" or "repulsive" by today's standards. For example, a woman has sex with her sister's husband out of jealousy; a man indulges himself in one-night stands trying to prove he's not impotent; a cross-dressing father is caught working as a "mama" in a night club by his daughter; a husband abandons his wife with no explanation and returns as a transsexual woman; a lady does plastic surgery to look like her boyfriend's ex (because he loves the ex too much to accept anyone else), only to find out that "ex" is the boyfriend's deceased mother... Although none of these problems are discussed in great length, I still salute TVB's effort to scratch the (thorny) surface and be as inclusive as possible.

Of course, there's also the always-controversial topic of homosexuality. Unlike other "weird" cases that may come and go in one episode, homosexuality is a major theme here, because Carman, one of the leading characters, is gay.

Carman's sexual orientation isn't revealed until episode 8, and I honestly never saw it coming, although several scenes of Carman and Fung together in the opening theme can be a subtle hint. I find this major twist surprising because Carman seems really into Wallace, and she's responsible for Fung and her husband's divorce. You'd naturally think Carman had an affair with Fung's husband, and to retaliate, Fung is doing everything she can to break up Carman and whichever guy she likes.

When Fung finally utters "You know it! You know the one you really love is me!", everything becomes clear. The previous scenes of Carman coming onto Wallace also make sense now. Carman cannot come to terms with her own sexual orientation, and forces herself to love a guy who is great husband material. I'm sure the audience can relate to the following plot: For fear of mother's disapprovement and possible drinking problems again, Carman pretends to be Joe's girlfriend and secretly sees Fung, until Joe accidentally discovers the truth. Then Carman's mom knows, and the whole world is turned upside down.

I think the script writer does a great job here. Carman's struggle and fears seem very real, and her mom's reaction is truly typical of most parents who have found their children to be gay: "Are you sick? Are you out of your mind? You are only playing, right? You, how can you... Disgusting! Break up with her or never call me mom again!" It's really heartwarming to see how Carman's mom gradually changes her stance from the outright refusal at first to the sincere acceptance in the end. This is a sharp contrast to "Take My Word For It", which was released in 2002. The leading character Pang Sir (played by Bobby Au-Yeung) has a gay brother. He not only flat out refuses to accept homosexuality, he forces his brother to "turn straight". In the end, he gets his wish and the brother really becomes a straight dude. Don't get me started on how ridiculous that is. I'm just saying, what a huge difference two years can make! With "Placebo Cure", things are surely going in the right direction.

Gotta give props to TVB's courage to push the envelope again. Earlier this year in "Net Deception", a lesbian couple had a happy ending for the first time. It was a bold and significant step, but it still wasn't enough, as that relationship had little to do with the main story and could be taken out easily. This time around, not only do Carman and Fung's relationship have a perfect ending, it is also a major part of the storyline and directly fits the theme of the whole serial: open your heart and accept who you really are. As Wallace puts it, "Homosexuality is not sick. It's just different (from heterosexuality)."

"Placebo Cure" is Sunny Chan's first serial after his return to TVB, and he certainly lives up to the expectations. His portrayal of Wallace is practically flawless. Of course, part of the success is due to the character itself. Wallace is warm-hearted, thoughtful, courteous, sometimes adorably timid, and sometimes playfully mischievous. He's always willing to listen, always there for family and friends, and he always keeps his integrity. How can you not like this character? With the nice-guy image and that sunny (pun intended) smile, Chan is cut out for Wallace, and no wonder he delivers. Granted, Sunny is quite versatile, and he often wows me in seemingly-not-his-type roles (try "At the Threshold of An Era", "Hold You Tight" and "Cheap Killers" if you will), but he's clearly more at ease when he plays Wallace. Almost an effortless performance, I'd say.

Joyce Tang gives her usual, solid performance here. She has proven her acting abilities time and time again, but it's a shame she never really got a leading role before 2004, and when she finally did in "Summer Heat", the bad script and the unoriginal story completely ruined her chance to shine. I'm so very glad "Placebo Cure" came to the rescue and she had a second shot at a female lead. Her acting definitely hits the bull's eye. The most memorable scene for me is in episdoe 14. When the birthday cake falls to the ground and Joe sees two big hearts around his name, he knows everything. "I'm sorry, San." He says. "No need to say sorry. It's past midnight. Not your birthday anymore." San turns around and replies, trying not to let Joe see her emotions. She then runs away, and tears start to flow uncontrollably. Kudos to Joyce for this brilliantly-acted intense scene! Hands down my favourite in all 20 episodes.

Compared to Sunny Chan and Joyce Tang, Kevin Cheng's performance is certainly lacklustre. If I have to rate, he gets a passing grade at most. One of my criteria judging a performance is to see if I feel for that character. If an actor really does a fine job, I will feel for him even if he's the villain. Unfortunately, I never feel for Joe. When he finds out he's been used to cover Carman's relationship with Fung, I don't feel his anger. When he starts to fall in love with San, I don't feel his passion. When he loses to Wallace for San's love, I don't feel his pain. In short, I'm nonchalant about Joe, and never find myself rooting for him. I've also seen Kevin Cheng in "Burning Flame II" and "Not Just A Pretty Face". Same problem there. He has yet to impress me in a breakout performance.

Cherrie Kong is a newcomer and seems to be heavily promoted by TVB right now. She is pleasant to watch for the most part, and I'd pick her over Sonija Kwok or Charmaine Sheh any day, but she's not yet in the same league as Joyce Tang. Cherrie simply can't cry. Her bawling scenes are always too forced and they drive me up the wall. She also tends to speak incomprehensibly when she delivers her lines in tears. I have to pay extra attention just to get what she's saying. In short, I cringe every time Cherrie is in a crying scene. Other than that, no major complaints. It certainly doesn't hurt that she is pretty and has a lovely smile.

The supporting cast is quite impressive. Kwok Fung plays Dr. Koo, Wallace's mentor and friend. His interactions with Sunny Chan will surely make you smile. Lok Ying Kwan plays San's dad, and apparently has great chemistry with Joyce Tang. Eileen Yeow plays Fung, and she makes a lovely couple with Cherrie Kong. I don't have comments on Fiona Yuen, Stephen Au and Gilbert Lam, as their roles are rather minor and they barely have more time than those who have cameo appearances in this serial. (There are tons of cameos, by the way.)

I'm very satisfied with "Placebo Cure" for the most part, but the final twist of the story is too stupid, and the script writer apparently does not know how to close things out. In the last episode alone, Wallace is suddenly misunderstood as being unfaithful to San; San suddenly has split personality; Joe suddenly turns against his best friend and starts to date the mentally-ill San. To top things off, Joe suddenly proposes to San in Salsa Club and everybody starts to chant "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Come on, how in the world can so many things SUDDENLY happen? It's just too obvious that San and Joe are faking the whole thing. Even if no one ever watched the opening theme (in which the proposal scene is spoiled), the audience will know. The final episode only has so much time, and a part has to be spent on Wallace dealing with his last patient. If the above-mentioned SUDDEN things are not staged, where's the time to solve all the problems?

Furthermore, Fiona Yuen and Stephen Au's characters aren't really involved in the final twist, but they suddenly (yes, I know, suddenly again) show up in Salsa Club after Wallace gets there in time to stop Joe and San. If they are part of the staged proposal, they should arrive before Wallace. If they are not, why do they even show up? Does Wallace ask them to go to the club? How can he be bothered to call them when he's running out of time? My guess is, TVB just throws Fiona and Stephen in there because they are part of the cast, and should show up for the happy ending. Boo.

Although not perfect, "Placebo Cure" on the whole is a solid production. It's my favourite TVB serial thus far in 2004, and it certainly deserves notice and appreciation. Definitely give it a try!

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