Shades of Truth


Reviewed by: purpleprose

December 21, 2006

Rating: three-point-five

Cast:
Julian Cheung as Ha Sung Yum/Mo Sung
Gigi Lai as Nichole Man/Poon Kum Lin
Wong Hei as Lam Tsi Chung/Lam Chung
Tavia Yeung as Hong Tsi Sin
Yun Wa as Song Po
Derek Kwok as Yik Guan

Warning:
Due to the unbelievable complication of the plot, in addition to character dynamics, every part of this review is a spoiler. Read at your own discretion.

Synopsis:
Ha Sung Yum, nicknamed Dong Chung Cho, is a capable and conscientious cop sent to be an undercover agent within the triad group led by Song Po. Dong Chung Cho gains the trust of the notorious leader by saving the latter’s life multiple times. Dong Chung Cho’s success within the triad, however, leads him to become a designated target for cop Lam Tsi Chung. Even though he takes pride in his progress, Dong Chung Cho is often disheartened by the misunderstandings of his female friend doctor Hong Tsi Sin and by the resentment from Lam, with whom Dong Chung Cho had been blood brothers with in their past lives (as Chinese heroes Mo Sung and Lam Chung). In order to gain more trust from Song Po, Dong Chung Cho unwillingly makes moves to court the former’s long-lost daughter Nicole. When voluntary participation from Lam causes a premature disclosure of Dong Chung Cho’s undercover identity, Dong Chung Cho is restored to a good name, but the usually strong Nicole is heartbroken.

Now re-identified as a cop, Dong Chung Cho tries to develop a relationship with Hong Tsi Sin, though the two conclude their stint with friendship. Nicole, on the other hand, romances Lam out of a desire for a relationship and anger over Dong Chung Cho’s apparent disloyalty. As the story continues, Lam is pointed out as a spy for Song Po’s group, and disharmony erupts between the two sworn brothers. Things further complicate when Nicole breaks up with Lam after acknowledging the deep feelings she still had for Dong Chung Cho, who had repeatedly rejected her after associating her with the ancient adulteress Poon Kum Lin. A new villain arises when Song Po is usurped by his disciple Yik Guan. Dong Chung Cho and the police force vow to arrest the crafty Yik Guan, even by employing Song Po’s help. After Yik Guan walks into a police ambush and receives his punishment, the whole second chapter of the series is revealed to have been a set-up. The “brothers” stand united, Dong Chung Cho overcomes his psychological barrier to accept Nicole, and Hong Tsi Sin ends up with Lam, whom she had always admired.

Script:

As a namesake of an ancient Chinese novel and the movie “Infernal Affairs,” this series lives up to both genres by putting wuxia characters in the infernal affairs’ setting. This combination provides many light-hearted moments that make this series more audience-friendly than Andy Lau and Tony Leung’s movie. The comical twist is not consistent, however, and the funny moments continually lessen in number until an unprecedented overflow in the last episode. Yet in relation to the movie, this series manages to better elaborate the friendships that do develop between undercover policemen and the criminals around them.

The plot itself is extremely complicated. The rivalries within the triads, the craftiness of the villains, and the classic war between good and evil come together with amazing characters in strong, multi-layered developments. The story is so incredibly layered and complicated, in fact, that the entire last episode is spent in plainly ridiculous flashbacks. Yet as superb as the police-triad drama may be written, the romantic twists of the story are relatively too simple and elementary. The whole story was obviously written by men.

The ending itself deserves special mention. Except for the astounding action sequence at the climax, the last thirty minutes of the final episode spell absurdity. To make things worse, propaganda has to be inserted, giving the ending a “moral of the story” tone rather than a conclusive statement. Nicole and Dong Chung Cho’s reunion is also unbelievably dragged. The ending is far from satisfactory for anyone expecting a thought-provoking conclusion similar to what the movie offers, but most serial viewers might settle with the happy ending.

Character Analysis:

Ha Song Yum, or Dong Chung Cho, is portrayed as a full reincarnate of the legendary executor of justice Mo Song. He is dutiful, diligent, brave, and sacrificial. His character is unrealistic, but neither are any wuxia or police-triad movie characters. His disdain for scantily-clad women (due to Mo Song’s reputation as an adulterer-slayer) highlights the irony of his relationship with Nicole. His subconscious feelings for Nicole tug at heartstrings, but the way he refuses her for so long only to suddenly want her in the last episode is wholly senseless.

Nicole Man is the most interesting character of the story. The script does a good job in creating a convincing reincarnate of China’s most famous adulteress while still drawing a bottom line that keeps her from being a totally immoral woman. Audiences have applauded Nicole for her confidence, beauty, career success, and all-around representation of a feminist’s dream. Unfortunately for the script-writers, they have actually failed to present the image of a truly strong woman, as Nicole serves only as a tool or a reason for discord all throughout the series. Not a single problem is solved by her, and she is the cause for more than one. While I may admire her strength and capabilities, I find Nicole to be rather too forward and shameless for my taste. Women should not go after men like that. The fact that Nicole had to confess her unfairness to Lam, accept fate, and await Dong Chung Cho’s response in the end, however, adds a 3-dimensional quality to her supposed “perfect” character.

Lam Tsi Chung starts off his character as a harsh boss by day and a womanizer by night. He pushes at every chance to gain a promotion, to the point of disregarding others’ needs. Yet after Lam realizes his identity as Lam Chung’s reincarnate self, he suddenly shifts personality. He begins to sacrificially look after Dong Chung Cho and almost gets fired for the latter’s sake. Even though Lam does not end up with Nicole, he receives his reward in the form of the loving Hong Tsi Sin.

Hong Tsi Sin, as rich as her character background may be, is actually quite a pointless role. Her sweetness and family-oriented spirit make her a foil for Nicole. The character basically does nothing throughout the series except to be a constant admirer of Lam and guardian to her brother Happy, a member of Song Po’s triad. Even her romance with Lam at the end is forced into the script.

Song Po is quite an intriguing character. His position as a triad leader nearing retirement molds a classic role. Even though his priorities sometimes seem strange for a succesful triad leader, Song Po is basically a well-written character. His longing for a family after years of bloodshed, his heartache over rebellious followers, and his disappointment over Dong Chung Cho’s true identity form many scenes of strong emotion in the series.

Yik Guan is your everyday ultimate villain—crafty, smart, strong, selfish, calm, and greedy. To make it top-of-the-line cliché, his brains always sustain him, but only until the climax when the heroes have to win. The fact that he betrays his own discipler successfully darkens the character further. As a note, all the rest of the triad characters are surprisingly rich and considerably not stereotyped.

Cast Analysis:

Julian Cheung delivers an expected good performance as the hero Dong Chung Cho. Since the story is told from his character’s perspective, Julian has an easier job of making audiences like him. He shines better in the first half as an undercover cop. He convincingly portrays the struggles of working against criminals who had slowly become like friends to him. His chemistry with Gigi, although limited, exists.

Gigi Lai has been generally praised for her portrayal of Nicole. Her physique does suit the role, and she manages to carry herself in the role of an accomplished woman. Her smile is very attractive, but her complaints and fights are not any less real. Ultimately though, Gigi still lacks depth. In scenes including ironic emotions, she will either just choose one emotion to act or make a teary-eyed, blank face.

Wong Hei does not particularly excel as Lam Zi Chung, although he lives up to the job. He does not hit succinct expressions but merely reaches the minimum requirement. His subtle acting does not connect with the rest of the cast, and his walk is not suave enough for his womanizer role. His camaraderie with Julian is entertaining, his interactions with Gigi are on the line, and his dynamics with Tavia are poor. He does not convince in the second part of the story, small to blame him. The script is so horrifically complicated that Wong Hei and Julian probably had utterly no idea which scene goes where during the shooting.

Tavia Yeung seems rather abused in Hong Tsi Sin’s role. As aforementioned, the character is static and generally pointless, giving Tavia little to work with. Moreover, her lack of chemistry with Wong Hei keeps audiences from identifying with her feelings for him. This performance is not bad, but Tavia could do better than this. She is very pretty as Hong Tsi Sin though.

Yun Wa offers a poor performance as Song Po. The character is very, very rich, but Yun Wa’s acting makes him almost comical. Yun Wa also fails to give dignity to his leadership position in the triad; one finds it hard to believe that he earned all that fame and money himself.

Derek Kwok deserves strong commendation for this performance. As cliché as Yik Guan’s character may be, Derek adds a personal twist to the role. His maniacal expressions, though rather overacted, make Yik Guan seem a more dangerous villain. Derek Kwok has talent, so I’m not surprised. Still, he really deserved this role.

Direction:

The general chemistry of the cast is limited, but this has always been the case with works in the police-triad genre. The action scenes reflect very careful practice and choreography, but the emotional moments are not as gripping. The greatest direction flaw, however, lies in the overly “real” interactions between Dong Song Cho and Lam Zi Chung even when they had been supposed to be putting on an act.

Extra Good Points:
1) The action sequences, fairly numerous in the first half, are absolutely impeccable as they combine wuxia techniques, infernal affairs gunshots, and excellent camera work.
2) The make-up and costume are great; everyone looks his or her best.
3) The number of outdoor shots is substantial.
4) The series portrays creative action without heavy violence.
5) The relationship of Dong Chung Cho and Nicole imparts the lesson that fate puts people together, but it is one’s choice what to do with the situation fate bestows.
6) The supporting cast gives very strong, well, support.

Extra Bad Points:
1) The last episode.
2) The emotional subplots are extremely dragged while the crime-fighting stories develop at lighting speed, causing a strong imbalance.
3) Wong Hei isn’t a good singer.
4) The definition of love only as a feeling is very superficial. Self-sacrifice, loyalty, commitment, understanding, trust, and concern seem to not be part of true love.

Conclusion:

While the namesake title may initially ward off some cautious viewers, this series will captivate from the start. The main story carries through despite of shifts in style. The amazing production adds a whole half-star to the rating. This is solid entertainment. Its flawed script and direction keep it from becoming classic art, but the enjoyment is worth it. If you want to have fun, watch this. If you want to cry and involve your emotions, watch Korean drama. Men, watch this; after all, you wrote it.


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