The Battle Among the Clans


Reviewed by: sukting

May 16, 2004

Rating: four

Year produced
1985

How long
40 episodes

Foreword
This is one of the last television serials that Chow Yun Fatt starred for TVB. Don’t miss it if you have the chance. I watched it many years ago when it was shown on Malaysian television. I have a feeling that some scenes were cut as they were incomplete.

Story/Introduction on characters

1. Hong Kwan – Kwan Lai Kit
He is a sad man who tries to change his fate without success. His parents died because of Chung Hing (I can’t remember the actual reason, but it is definitely because of gambling). Feeling remorseful, Chung Hing adopts him as his son. To repay him, Kwan does all the unlawful activities to build up Chung Hing’s wealth. All of Chung Hing’s followers call him ‘Kwan Siu’(which means young master Kwan in Cantonese) affectionately because he has no airs. But you will soon see that it is not easy to be ‘Kwan Siu’.

He becomes sworn brothers with Chung Hing, Jou and Quen when they are young. They call themselves the four sillies. Among themselves, they address each other as ‘Saw’ (silly in Cantonese). He ends up being ‘Dai Saw Gor’. But after they grow up, only Quen is still nice to him. Things have changed so much and he feels trapped for having to drift afar from them. He has too many secrets to keep from them.

His love relationship with Mei goes through a lot of ups and downs. He is initially a cold man who doesn’t smile at others. However, she manages to warm him and he feels comfortable with her. Once, he brings her to Macau with the intention of getting away from the underworld. But he is forced to handle a deal later. Mei is so disillusioned in him that she packs all her luggage and returns to the convent.

He rushes to the harbour, only in time to see her on the ferry. She shouts across that he can only visit her when he is finally ready to have a peaceful life.

The battle between him and Yat Tin is really a big lure in this serial. Both cross swords and are always after each other’s throats, causing much bloodshed. Yat Tin is always at the losing end because Kwan manages to outsmart him. Once, Kwan is so unlucky to get pictured by him for killing a betrayer. In the end, he gets imprisoned and Yat Tin finds ways to torture him. He bribes the policemen to give him a hard time. Later, he is even attacked near a cliff to force to jump down from there.

He is a cold person who only thinks of repaying his foster father’s kindness as the top priority. But upon knowing the truth of his parents’ death, he becomes very upset. He doesn’t know whether he should forgive Chung Hing. His knowledge of Chung Hing's liking for Mei really threatens their father-son relationship.

The scene where he is taken away by the policemen when his killing is revealed after Yat Tin backstabs him is a classic scene. He asks Chung Hing whether Chung Hing treats him as a son or a tool. But his eyes shows hope that Chung Hing will acknowledge him as his son. Chung Hing cannot answer him but avoids his glances.

Kwan bravely jumps down a cliff after being pursued by Yat Tin’s killers. He survives after knowing another leader. He manages to pick himself up and returns to his foster father to manage his business. He also manages to get rid of Yat Tin once and for all later.

But he yearns to have a better and peaceful life. However, Mei refuses to forgive him over his killings. One day, he becomes drunk and sleeps with Wan Chi.

Chung Hing forces him to marry Wan Chi when she is pregnant. Kwan is upset but has no choice. When Wan Chi knows his feelings and discovers that she likes Quen, he has the chance to call the wedding off.

In the end, he moves to England alone. After Chung Hing is pursued by Jou and loses his power, Mei comes to look for him to return to Hong Kong. This is contradictory – she wants him to retire and yet now she wishes him to return to the underworld. He knows of Jou’s wrongdoings all along but he decides not to probe further. He pretends to be cold to Mei by reading a book and not looking at her but later he can’t suppress his feelings.

The scene is a classic and memorable one. He walks to her from the back and holds her waist. Then he kisses her tenderly on her forehead, nose and then her lips. Many are totally touched by this scene. I also wondered whether ‘All In’ borrowed the idea from here. But their bed scene was cut because of the conservative Malaysian station and what we saw was how they feel the next day.

Mei sits in front of the mirror and Kwan tenderly places his hands around her shoulders, wanting to touch her hair. The romantic air ends here. Jou’s killers come at this time and they are ambushed. Mei is killed and Kwan is so furious that he pushes a man to get killed by a standing fan! Before dying, Mei begs him not to kill anymore to seek revenge for her. He agrees in tears.

Upon returning to Chung Hing, Chung Hing asks where Mei is. He replies with watery eyes that she is killed by Jou. Jou asks Kwan out and gets killers to station outside the coffee house. Kwan wants Jou to give up but Jou refuses. Kwan loses his patience and before Jou can take out his gun, Kwan’s gun is already pointing at his head.

He treats Jou as a close brother but what has he done to him? Jou even needs protection upon meeting him. Since he is so bent on killing him, he places the gun into Jou’s hands and wants him to kill him. Jou suddenly loses his guts and begs him not to force him. Kwan warns him not to kill again but Jou doesn’t listen to him. He has no choice but to corner him with Chung Hing. However, both kill Quen by mistake.

Chung Hing is so furious that he kills Jou. Kwan is weary over the ordeal and decides to return to England alone. This is a real tragedy that Kwan doesn’t deserve.

This is a must watch serial for all Lai Kit’s fans. He has not been more handsome-looking in any other serial. I am very impressed by his presentation. Kuan is a very complex role. When he is with his brothers and followers, he shows airs or seniority. When he is quiet, you don’t feel threatened. When he strikes to kill, he is icy and unfeeling. When he is with Mei, he shows warmth and the rare tenderness. The faint smile that he shows can really melt hearts. When he is sad, you feel like giving him a hug. I marvel at the multi facets that he portrays. No wonder he is at par in popularity with Wan Siu Lun in the 80s to the 90s.

2. Lok Chung Hing – Chow Yun Fatt
Chung Hing swims all the way from ShangHai to Hong Kong. Knowing that illegal business will bring success sooner, he sets his head into it. Having an eye for business, he soon accumulates wealth selling arms and smuggling illegal goods. But after he uses the money to trade, he becomes a reputable businessman. However, he never cuts his ties from illegal trade and Kwan does the dirty jobs for him.

His main contender is Wong (Tsang Kong). But with Kwan and Chung Hing’s brawn and brains, they manage to capture the major part of the market. Filled with jealousy, Wong gets his foster son, Yat Tin, to help him out.

Chung Hing is a powerful boss and his position is unshaken. However, he decides to go completely straight to make Chun Wah his lawful successor. However, his death affects him so much that he decides not to change his plans then. What is the point since Chun Wah is dead? He uses all his connections to seek Yat Tin out to kill him. This also affects Kwan’s plan to leave the underworld.

He is angry that Kwan causes Chun Wah’s death indirectly. The relationship between father son strains further when both love Mei. He tries to belittle Kwan as much as possible. He even tries to win her heart when Kwan is ‘dead’. He does some soul searching later after his wife’s scoldings. He also feels remorseful to cause Kwan’s parents’ deaths. He stops his wishful thinking too when he sees how much Mei loves Kwan. But who can blame this man for harbouring hopes again when his daughter is going to marry Kwan and he stands a chance to get Mei again?

However, he gives up completely and feels bad for breaking up the couple when Kwan goes overseas. When he loses his power and Kwan isn’t around to help him, Chung Hing still keeps his cool to find ways to help himself. Mei is trapped by Jou in a convent. You will laugh when Chung Hing disguises as a nun to save her so that she can look for Kwan for him. But for the sake of revenge, he loses a good son-in-law, Quen, and he blames himself for it all his life.

I feel that Chow is too young for this fatherly role. I can’t accept him with white hair and trying so hard to look old and speaking in a low voice. However, he still does the sentimental scenes well.

3. Lok Chun Wah – Poon Wang Bun
Jou and Quen call him ‘Yee Saw Gor’ affectionately. He treats the two well but is hostile to Kwan. He is Lok’s only son and is very impulsive. He doesn’t understand why his father doesn’t give him the power for his business. He doesn’t know that many are unlawful and he doesn’t wish him to come to harm.

Still, he wants to grab power from Kwan. Kwan tolerates all his sharp remarks and tries to protect him from trouble every now and then. He often gets kidnapped by Yat Tin or many times he still doesn’t appreciate his efforts and is always sarcastic towards him, calling him a adopted son that hurts him.

He is unhappy that he isn’t recognized and is determined to do as well as Kwan. However, little does he know that Kwan and Chung Hing have planned to make certain businesses lawful for him to take over. But he is too stupid to confront Yat Tin on his own to get killed. Kwan is remorseful for not being able to save him in time.

Poon is good as the reckless man. I wonder why he doesn’t become famous as he has the looks. Life can be so unfair. I heard now he is working in Tak Wah’s company now behind the scenes.

4. Shu Mei – Kong Chi Yan
She is an orphan and is brought up in a convent. She works as a nurse in the hospital and stays in the convent. The first time she meets Kwan is in a church when she is doing her prayers. You can never believe this. Kwan kills a man here and drags the body away quietly to let her continue her confession!

Later, she gets to know Kwan and Chung Hing when both come to make a donation to the hospital. The young couple gets to know each other. On another occasion, Mei is indirectly hurt in a killing. Kwan feels remorseful and responsible, so he often visits her in hospital. Love blossoms between them. Recalling Kwan’s killing, she asks Chung Hing to find out what he does and tries to dissuade Kwan from working for him. Her love for Kwan is a big mistake. She gets hysterical whenever he is on a mission.

There is once it is Kwan’s birthday. Yet he is ambushed by Yat Tin’s killers. He sprains his ankle after the killing and his escape. When he is in hospital to let the nurses wrap his wound, he discovers that his watch has stopped because a gunshot hits it. He rushes and staggers to meet her in the coffeeshop, knowing that he is late for their date. Mei is disturbed to see his injury although he jokes that the birthday watch she has given comes right on time.

There is another occasion when he manages to apply for a day off to be with Mei to go to Cheung Jau. He pretends to go missing. Mei looks everywhere for him anxiously and ends up falling off a cliff to break her leg. Kwan blames himself and hurries to carry her back to the harbour to send her back to hospital. But alas, his henchman is there to remind their beloved ‘Kwan Siu’ that he has another mission. Still, he insists on getting her there first before getting back to work.

After so many mishaps, Mei starts to have nightmares of Kwan being killed. This happens when Yat Tin ‘kills’ him. She gets so upset that she cries daily at the cliff. Upon his return, she is overjoyed but is dismayed when he still works for Chung Hing. She decides to break up with him. That makes him create the biggest mistake that he regrets his whole life by sleeping with Wan Chi unintentionally.

Although she is grieved, she still persuades him to accept Wan Chi as his future wife. Kwan nearly tears his hair when she decides to give him up. After the marriage plans fold up, he is still upset that she doesn’t accept him so he goes overseas. When Jou starts to create trouble for Chung Hing, she decides to ask Kwan to help out. But she doesn’t know that Jou’s men are tailing her and she ends up losing her life.

Chi Yan gives a stunning performance too. She is an actress who only has the looks but also the acting calibre. You will know why she was given so many chances to be the lead despite being a newcomer then. This ill-fated character can also be stubborn in nature and has a positive outlook towards life. She does well in all the scenes although she may seem stressed to work with Yun Fatt because he is already well-known.

5. Lok Wan Chi – Chan On Ying
She wears thick rimmed glasses and often feels inferior about her looks. All along, she loves ‘Dai Saw Gor’ in secret. Kwan knows but he treats her like a younger sister. She doesn’t give up hope although she knows that he loves Mei. Unlike her parents who blame Kwan for Chun Wah’s death, she knows that Kwan has tried his best and doesn’t blame him.

One night, she sees him drunk over Mei and tries to console him. She gets raped instead but doesn’t blame him. She tries to keep from him by going to have an abortion. Kwan discovers it and stops her in time. So she prepares for their wedding happily. After her mother’s death, she discovers that Kwan misses Mei. She is glad that Quen still accepts her and marries him. But their happiness is shortlived when he is killed.

6. Mrs Lok – Ko Miu See
This is a pathetic woman. When she is young, she is worried for her husband. When she grows old, she worries for her children. Although Kwan isn’t her child, the love that she gives him is no less than the love she gives to her other children.

She is very involved in missionary voluntary work. She becomes close friends with Mei. She urges Chung Hing to make a donation to the hospital but is enraged when he sets eyes on Mei. She is very worked up – how can he do this to their adopted son, Kwan and Mei is only old enough to be his daughter?

Chun Wah’s death gives her a hard blow. The scene is very tragic. She prays very hard for his safety with her rosary beads outside the ER when he is shot. Yet the doctors give her the bad news. She is so shocked that she drops all the beads. Later, she becomes very sickly. Wan Chi’s pregnancy lifts her spirits and she insists on helping with the marriage preparations.

Kwan initially wants to tell her that he doesn’t wish to marry Wan Chi, but upon seeing her so happy, he stops. However, she dies peacefully in her sleep when she is sewing an outfit for their unborn baby. This makes everyone upset. Ko acts very well and is elegant as a rich mother. No wonder she is given meaty roles in her younger days.

7. Lam Jou – Lau Ching Wan
He is ‘Sam Sor’ and is an underdog when young. He has hard times being a rickshaw puller. So he doesn’t wish to be one when he grows up. Jou becomes scheming and ambitious. Despite that fact that he likes the wife that his mother arranges for him, he marries a rich underworld leader to enjoy power. Too blinded by his hunger for power, he betrays his sworn brothers but still he treats Quen well.

Ching Wan is very raw in his younger days. But still, it is a pleasure to see how he rises to become a versatile actor now. You will also understand why he was given mature roles although he was only in his early twenties.

8. Wong Tai Quen- Lui Fong
He is the youngest as ‘Sei Saw’ among the brothers. He is on good ties with all his sworn brothers and is sandwiched between them when they have conflicts. He doesn’t mind being a rickshaw puller all his life. He likes Wan Chi and consoles her when tragedies strike her family. She begins to appreciate “Sei Saw Gor’ and marries him. He doesn’t mind becoming the father of her and Kwan’s child.

Upon knowing that Kwan and Chung Hing are going to kill Jou, he rushes to the harbour to stop them. Both sides are hesitant to pull the trigger upon seeing him. But when Jou’s men strike first, Kwan’s men retaliate and Quen gets killed while protecting Jou. Jou is sad but has to flee and Kwan hugs Quen in tears.

Although he is plain looking, he is a good actor. We know why he manages to shine despite getting more supporting roles because he sings as well as he acts.

9. Ng Yat Tin – Doi Chi Wai
He is vicious. He doesn’t like the underworld to be monopolized by Chung Hing. So he wants to build up his own reputation. First, he seduces Senator Dik’s daughter, Simone, to help him out. Then he tries to frame Kwan to be jailed so that he can deal with Chung Hing alone. However, Kwan manages to make a comeback and turn the tables on Yat Tin. As a last resort, he wants to ambush him during an illegal deal.

He never expects Chun Wah to come in Kwan’s place and he kills him unexpectedly. Chung Hing and Kwan are so furious that they are hot on his heels. When he can’t escape, he requests Kwan to let his child off. Kwan agrees and he kills himself with his gun, not wanting to admit his failure.

We will realize why Chi Wai always gets the evil roles even till now. He makes almost every single role memorable. Especially this one. He is splendid here to let us know why he gives the rest hell. With a crooked smile, he looks so devilish. Every single move by him is so unexpected.

10. Ah Tai – Wong Hoi Yan
She is a smart and capable underworld boss but she is blinded by her love for Jou. She deserves pity actually even though she is his lawful wife. She marries Jou despite knowing that he doesn’t love her and pretends not to know it when he often visits his other wife. She gives him whatever power he needs. When she knows that Jou is in danger, she brings her men to save him. Chung Hing and Kwan are so angry when their weapons are taken away from them when they are about to seek revenge for Quen. Although Jou wants her to kill them to revenge Quen’s death, she tells him to leave with her.

When both are on the boat to return to Macau, she reveals that Chung Hing and Kwan aren’t that influential after all. Jou is so determined to get what he deserves so he makes a detour. She tries to stop him and he kicks her off the boat, leaving her to swim in the water! He even tells her to swim all the way back to Macau! Kwan and Chung Hing appear at the harbour – just in time to throw explosives onto the boat to kill him. Ah Tai can only watch the ruins in tears.

Wong may not have the looks but she is also a credible actress. She manages to leave a deep impression in me although she only appears in the last 10 episodes.

11. Simone – Si Ma Yin
She is a simple-minded woman who truly loves Yat Tin. She loves to have fun and likes all the romantic ways that he uses to woo her. Later, she is frightened when she is pregnant but is relieved that Yat Tin agrees to marry her. However, he is killed after only seeing their son for once. Later, she marries a Caucasian and forgets all her sorrows.

12. Senator Dik – Kwan Hoi San
He is Simone’s father and is also Chung Hing’s good friend. He is a wise old man who has never approved of Yat Tin as his future son-in-law, but has to give in because Simone loves him so much. When Chung Hing loses power, he doesn’t look down on him and lets him stay in his home. Jou has no guts to confront him as he is very influential in Hong Kong.

Favourite character
Who else but Kwan? He is perfect and sets his priorities right to give all people the different treatments they deserve. That is why Chung Hing trusts him so much as he has never made a wrong choice. Unfortunately, he is torn between filial piety and love, so he has a very unhappy life.

Most hated character
Yat Tin, he is rotten to the core to come up with evil plots to ruin Kwan. Not just to make sure that he is imprisoned but also to die without himself lifting a finger!

Song
It is sung by actor Kong Wah’s wife, Mak Kit Mun. The title of the song is ‘Searching for love’. It is worth listening because it is written by Mr Koo Kar Fai and Mr Wong Jiem. The lyrics ties well with the music, showing the bitterness and agony that Kwan has to go through. The subtheme song is ‘Declare your love’ which is equally touching. We don’t get to listen to such good songs these days so these two songs are certainly rare treasures.

Interesting scenes

The war and struggles between the men for power. They are really highlights. In fact, they are better than those in "Shanghai Beach"!

The scenes that focus the brotherhood among the 4 brothers. When they are little children, they can steal wine to drink together and bear the blame together as Chung Hing punishes them. When they are grown up, their ties are completely worn out as jealousy and different perspectives of life come in. This depicts true life well. How many of us are still close to other child hood friends now?

All the scenes between Kwan and Mei. Unfortunately, due to my failing memory, I can’t remember that much. But I can recall one funny scene. Kwan goes to the fair where Mei’s hospital is raising funds. A child is supposed to hit a pail beside Mei so that the seat that she sits on will cause her to fall into water underneath. But the child likes Mei so much that she keeps on throwing the ball to Mei. Kwan sees this and smiles. He takes the ball playfully and hits the pail, causing her to get wet. She isn’t angry but splashes the water at him! How sweet both can be!

However, Malaysian viewers still think that Lai Kit isn’t manly enough and there are too few scenes between him and Chi Yan to develop their romance. But to me, Lai Kit and Chi Yan have marvellous chemistry. They look compatible and also act well together.

Interesting facts

This is Chow Yun Fatt’s last serial with TVB. It was said that he was not so enthusiastic to get a father role because he finds the challenge too great. But after consideration, he decided to take up the challenge.

This was the first time that Kwan Lai Kit and Kung Chi Yan worked together as a couple. Many adored their partnership. They found them matching in looks and height. So they requested for more. However, it was not until the 90s when we got to see them again in ‘The Zu Mountain Warriors’.

The producer didn’t skimp on money to make the artistes look presentable. In fact, they wear all the new clothes. The dresses that Chi Yan wore in here were seen on Lai Mei Han and Tang Shui Mun in other dramas.

Knowing that many had a deep impression of his sissy role in ‘Police Academy’, he tries hard to change to a manly person here. He goes to the gym to train up for a more muscular physique as he is quite lanky. He has managed to deliver a splendid performance.

Conclusion

If you think that the actors look stylish in ‘Once upon a time in Shanghai’, you should watch this one to make another fair comparison. The clothing unit gives the actors a huge wardrobe that brings out their style and charm. They can totally take your breath away. I also think that their looks fit into the period well. I can be biased...

The story is well written which fits the title – which means Big Hong Kong in Chinese. All the different clans do consider the underworld a big piece of cake and want to get the major (or even the whole part) of it. Men are greedy, aren’t they? However, it also shows the sacrifices they have to make – love, family, lives, fortune and also reputation.

I doubt we can get to watch sentimental scenes as these now. The script is very well written. Some may complain that the actresses are not given enough exposure. That doesn’t bother me as my main purpose is really to watch out for the actors. They don’t disappoint me. If not, how can I still remember them after so many years? I am waiting this serial eagerly to be out on vcds.

Sukting’s ratings :

On acting : **** (Scale of 5)

On story : ****(Scale of 5)


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