The Gem Of Life

Reviewed by: Pink_Ink

February 20, 2009

Rating: four

Chinese Title: 珠光寶氣
Number of Episodes: 82

Hong Family:
Maggie Shiu – Sylvia Hong Nga Yin
Gigi Lai – Constance Hong Nga Tung
Ada Choi – Jessica Hong Nga Sze
John Chiang – Hong Ching Yeung
Louise Lee – Hong Bak Siu Yau

Ho Family:
Elliot Yue (Ngok Wah) – Martin Ho Fung
Moses Chan – Terrence Ho Jit Lam

Shek Family:
Wong He – Shek Tai Wo
Bosco Wong – Will Shek Tai Chuen

Sung Family:
Chan Hung Lit – Philip Sung Sai Man
Helen Ma – Margaret Sung Kwok Yuen Yee
Linda Chung – Elise Sung Chi Ling
Queenie Chu – Mandy Man Wai
Queena Chan Dan Dan – Charlie Cheuk Yi

Bowie Lam – Calvin Ko Cheung Sing
Kenny Wong – Sunny Yau Yat Tung
Eddie Kwan – Derek Chan Kai Fat
Rebecca Chan – Melissa Yan Wai Ting
Florence Kwok – Catherine Shum Ji Tang
Lau Dan – Suen Wai Tak

Summary (spoilers):
A series with a phenomenal cast (both in size and quality), the story goes through just about everything in its 82-episode run. The story revolves around the three Hong sisters Sylvia (Maggie Shiu), Constance (Gigi Lai) and Jessica (Ada Choi), as well as those who are connected to them through family, work or romance. Their father (John Chiang) works in the diamond industry for boss Suen Wai Tak (Lau Dan), and their mother (Louise Lee) is a housewife.

All three sisters start the series as married women – Sylvia is married to pilot Tim, Constance is married to artist Frankie, and Jessica is married to rich businessman Patrick. All three end up separated and living at home within the first few episodes. Tim has another family, Frankie is cheating on Constance with their close friend and Patrick fakes his death to avoid debts. Jessica ends up shouldering the debts, declares bankruptcy, and the rest of the family rally around her.

Sylvia begins to work for Calvin (Bowie Lam), and eventually they strike up a relationship. His business starts to fail, so Sylvia marries Sunny (Kenny Wong) so that Calvin will then forget about their relationship and be free to marry Catherine (Florence Kwok), who has a big company that is capable of saving Calvin’s comparatively small company.

Constance initially doesn’t get along with Terrence (Moses Chan), but they soon become friends. She rejects his advances because he is a renowned player, and she begins to date Derek instead, who is a lying bitter man, but undoubtedly quite in love and obsessed with her. Derek has a misunderstanding with Suen Wai Tak and tries to sue him, with the financial assistance of Calvin, who hopes to benefit from the payout. Derek is eventually jailed for vandalising property and Constance later marries Terrence.

Jessica begins to work for a PR company owned by Melissa (Rebecca Chan). She schemes to meet and strike up a relationship with Melissa’s good friend Martin (Elliot Yue), who is Terrence’s father and extremely rich. She eventually marries Martin and lives the life of a rich wife once again. Shek Tai Wo (Wong He) has known the three sisters since he was young, and he has always been in love with Jessica. He is happy to help anybody and doesn’t feel the need to be very rich or successful. His brother Will (Bosco Wong), on the other hand, is highly ambitious and ruthless in achieving his goal. He ends up working for Melissa and eventually inherits the PR firm from the widowed and childless Melissa when she dies.

Sung Sai Man (Chan Hung Lit) is a rich businessman with several wives. He always takes advantage of his friend Martin, much to the disgust of Melissa and Terrence. He loses his company to Martin after it turns out Martin has been patiently plotting many years to gain his trust so that he can bring down Sung Sai Man in such a way that he has no chance of reviving his losses. Martin takes advantage of Sung Sai Man’s weakness for women and bribes Charlie (Queena Chan Dan Dan) to seduce Sung Sai Man to help his cause. Everyone deserts Sung Sai Man with the exception of his first wife Margaret (Helen Ma) and his granddaughter Elise (Linda Chung), who is a bratty rich girl.

Later in the series, Jessica takes control of the company and goes head to head with Terrence, who thinks that Jessica is brainwashing his father Martin. Will has his own company, Calvin has his company, and the remainder of the series revolves around business wars and love triangles. That’s just the glossing-over summary of the series, but with 82 episodes, it’s difficult to go into too much detail.


Hong Family:

Sylvia Hong Nga Yin – Maggie Shiu:
Sylvia is headstrong and business-like. She is a total workaholic and she likes things to be right and just, which is why she constantly goes head to head with her mother who is happy to bend the rules if it is advantageous to her and her family. Sylvia was my favourite character at the start, but she became very weak and even a little irrational towards the end. She got slightly ‘evil’ even; her love for Calvin drove all her decisions and she seemed to lose herself, which was disappointing because she started out so strong. Maggie was great, can’t think of much to fault in her acting. There were some questionable clothing choices, but on the whole, she was very glamorous and classy.

Constance Hong Ngai Tung – Gigi Lai
An upright moral character who sometimes took her morals too far. She was nice and sweet, and she stayed that way until the end, but she didn’t really know how to look at the big picture most of the time. She was the classic ‘nice’ character, but I found her to be teetering on boring. She whinged a little too much and was too holier-than-thou. Gigi was very pretty in the series, and there was nothing wrong with her portrayal of Constance at all; I just didn’t like the character very much.

Jessica Hong Nga Sze – Ada Choi
Probably the character with the most storylines and screen-time. Jessica wasn’t necessarily a bad person, but she was very selfish and ambitious. She couldn’t live without money and she did everything she could to attain it. She didn’t hesitate to use others, but sometimes you could see that she did feel bad afterwards. With a character like that, Ada had so much to work with. She captured every facet of Jessica nicely and really carried the series along, especially around the middle to end parts when it was heavily focused on her.

Hong Ching Yeung – John Chiang
Ching Yeung was an honest working man who loved his family dearly. He did everything his wife or daughters requested of him, and he rarely took charge because his wife was the one who did that. At the end when his wife was suffering from dementia, he took hold of the situation and gave his daughters a bit of a dressing down that was sorely needed. Not much for John Chiang to do, but he carried the character naturally and without trouble.

Hong Bak Siu Yau – Louise Lee
An extremely clever woman who knew what she wanted and would happily scheme to make it happen. She did what she thought was best for her daughters, and while her methods were questionable, her motives were usually on the right track. A brilliant character; the daughter who most resembled her personality would have been Jessica, but Siu Yau was always calmer and thought things through even better. Louise Lee was awesome! She had such a character change from the smart scheming woman at the beginning to the dementia-riddled woman at the end, and she did all of it perfectly. The character was so much more fascinating than the characters she won praise for in Heart of Greed as well as Moonlight Resonance.

Ho Family:
Martin Ho Fung – Elliot Yue (Ngok Wah)
At first he seemed like a nice businessman who was willing to be taken advantage of on a business-level in order to avoid trouble. Then you realise that he had been scheming for decades to rid himself of his rival Sung Sai Man. He was more ruthless than Sung Sai Man ever was. He was later kidnapped, which turned him into a paranoid hermit. He gave instructions to Jessica on how to run the company, and he later died of a heart attack. Elliot Yue, faultless.

Terrence Ho Jit Lam – Moses Chan
Rich son of Martin, he ran his own smaller company. A credible businessman, Calvin always despised him for being born into wealth without having to earn it. He, like his wife Constance, had big problems looking at the big picture and did everything he wanted to do without restraint. He was ridiculously unreasonable at times. He would do something wrong, and he would deny it. Then, when it was obvious that he had to have done it, he loudly declared “OK, so I did it. So what??”. And then he would start blaming other people. Like when he slept with Elise, it was apparently entirely her fault. And he didn’t understand why Constance was not supportive of his decision to completely destroy her sister! And the character became unredeemable to me when he neglected to save Derek from the burning car because he saw him as a competitor for Constance. I thought he was a terrible character who was probably supposed to be good but turned out annoyingly bad. In terms of acting, Moses is also probably the only main lead I wasn’t happy with. Nothing to do with my dislike of the character, either. I’ve always found Moses to be hit and miss. I really like the guy, and I like his series. He’s great at screwball comedy, but I think he comes up lacking in dramatic situations. Sometimes he still has a way of speaking unnaturally, which really breaks up romantic and ‘everyday life’ scenes.

Shek Family:
Shek Tai Wo – Wong He
The perennial nice guy. Helpful to all and very likeable, although sometimes a little nagging. His love for Jessica was touching, if not a little blind and stupid as well. You had to feel for the guy who was just so incredibly nice and didn’t get anything in return. Wong He is so good at being pedantic characters, and his crying scenes were top notch.

Will Shek Tai Chuen – Bosco Wong
Very ambitious guy. Overly ambitious. Needs money and power, although he does care for his brother who brought him up and put him through higher education. That care and concern stop there, however, and don’t extend to the Hong family who he has actually known since he was quite young and should be quite close family friends with. I’m undecided if he was a protagonist or an antagonist, because he wasn’t *that* bad, but he wasn’t good either. Very cocky and holds grudges. In a cast full of veterans, they had to choose someone young and I’m glad it was Bosco. Of the younger generation in TVB, I think quite highly of him and he didn’t disappoint.

Sung Family:
Sung Sai Man – Chan Hung Lit
Initially the most evil of them all, he loses everything and he becomes someone who only always had a big mouth. He comes back for revenge, however, but then he never does succeed. He’s a character you’re supposed to hate, but then he has his good moments where he’s with Elise. He really seems to hate his son though. Chan Hung Lit can do comedy (not that there is any for him to do here, but he was hilarious in Best Selling Secrets), and he can do drama. His accent still baffles me sometimes, but I do like how they sometimes had some of the characters (Sung Sai Man, Elliot Yue and Helen Ma) speaking in Shanghainese (I think?) – it just kind of gives you the feeling that these people have known each other forever and ever, which makes everything that happens a little more meaningful.

Elise Sung Chi Ling – Linda Chung
Elise starts out as a bratty selfish rich girl who only knows how to suck up to her grandfather. She’s just so despicable in the series that you want to slap her. When her grandfather loses everything, she goes back to studying and becomes quiet and submissive, which is a role that I’m more used to seeing Linda Chung doing! All credit to her for handling the character during the change though – I had my doubts whether she could pull off the bratty and cocky character without coming off as annoying and snobbish, but for the most part, she’s done pretty well. She’s improving consistently, and working with so many veterans has probably helped her a lot as well.

Calvin Ko Cheung Sing – Bowie Lam
An awesome character! He’s bad, but he’s so good at it. He gets under everybody’s skin and you can’t help but laugh at how he does it. He had a rough upbringing where his mother worked as a prostitute to support the both of them, so he vowed to be rich and successful. Despite all the bad things he does, he cares deeply for his mother. And he clearly stated that he would do anything, no matter how low it is, if it will be good for him. However, he won’t go around hurting people if it is of no advantage to himself. That’s a selfish person talking, but I like that he won’t feel the need to destroy other people out of petty revenge – like Terrence always wanted to do. Bowie never lets me down.

Sunny Yau Yat Tung – Kenny Wong
Like Wong He’s character, Sunny was just a good guy. I was incredibly surprised when he came out as a homosexual though because I really didn’t see it coming and I was so annoyed that they got the most muscular and ‘man’ of the cast to be the gay character! Very caring and friendly, and like Sylvia, willing to do anything for Calvin. I’ve always liked Kenny, even back in the 90s when he had some truly terrible hairdos. His acting hasn’t really improved, but it’s always been passable.

Derek Chan Kai Fat – Eddie Kwan
An irritating character at the beginning who was greedy and malicious. He turned into a bitter character who wasn’t greedy anymore, and finally to a really nice guy. The turn was so dramatic that it didn’t even seem like the same guy anymore. It’s been ages since I’ve seen Eddie in a series, it was good to see him on screen again.

Melissa Yan Wai Ting – Rebecca Chan
A successful career woman who seemed to be in love with Martin. She didn’t re-marry after her first husband died. She is very smart, so she has high expectations of those around her. I felt bad for her when Martin betrayed her and she found out that he looked upon their long friendship so lightly. The character wasn’t overly developed so I don’t think Rebecca had to do much aside from looking serious most of the time. I’ve never really seen her give a bad performance, so this one really wasn’t any different.

Catherine Shum Ji Tang – Florence Kwok
A rich woman who was forced to take charge of her brother's company when he passed away. She was a weak, pathetic woman who had little confidence in herself. She was there to come between Calvin and Sylvia to create the relationship square that they had with Sunny. I think her storyline really was just one of those things that made the series stretch to 82 episodes – it wasn’t entirely necessary. It’s odd seeing Florence play a weak character, she’s always been playing those strong successful types. She did all right considering the character was a little useless.


Hong Family – None of them look anything alike, but they make for a pretty good-looking family. Sylvia’s relationship with her parents was a little underdeveloped, but the relationship between the sisters was done very nicely. The end where the mother got dementia was very touching, and the effect that it had on the rest of the family was also sad to see. The servant, Ah Ying, was also a nice addition – she always had words to add to a conversation even if they were not the nicest of things. My favourite couple in the series would probably be the parents!

Bowie/Maggie/Kenny/Florence – Nice friendship between the four characters. It was great until it turned awkward with Sylvia marrying Sunny. Calvin and Sylvia started their relationship in a brilliant way – the one-liners were so good, and the courtship was so sassy. It just all went downhill with the unnecessary love-square, and then Sylvia became a little needy. The very end was nice though, with the promise that Sylvia would wait for Calvin after he serves his jail-term. Maggie and Bowie have loads of chemistry, but Kenny and Maggie look so good together.

Elliot Yue/Ada – Despite the obvious age gap, I think they were pretty good together. The characters shared the same ideas and they cared a lot for each other. They even had chemistry and it was altogether believable. Throughout the middle, when Jessica went on a power trip, there were doubts whether she truly loved him, but at the very end you knew that she did. Ada was really cute and girly when she was with him.

Moses/Gigi/Eddie – Moses and Gigi have cooperated before so they look pretty natural together. At the start of the series, I hated all three characters, so it’s fair to say that the triangle didn’t interest me in the slightest. At the end, when I liked Eddie’s character, I was hoping that he would end up falling in love with someone else because he could do better than Constance. Plus, there wasn’t much chemistry between Eddie and Gigi.

Wong He/Linda Chung/Bosco Wong – A really odd triangle, although it wasn’t much of a triangle since none of them got past ‘liking’. There’s a bit of an age gap here with Linda and Wong He as well, but like Ada and Elliot Yue, I didn’t mind it at all. Wong He and Bosco were good as brothers, Bosco’s character was at his most decent when he was with his brother.

Chan Hung Lit and the wives – Chan Hung Lit and Helen Ma were fine together, believable as a long-time married couple. Chan Hung Lit and Queenie Chu were also bearable, but Chan Hung Lit and Queena Chan just didn’t work at all. Queena Chan needs acting lessons and she really needs to learn how to speak naturally.

Overall –
I wanted to make this review short and to the point, but I failed. With the huge amount of cast and 82 episodes, it just feels impossible to cut it down. I did like the series overall, but it was way too long. It’s so difficult to maintain that amount of focus for four months. The only other type of show that goes on this long is usually a soap opera, or TVB’s situation comedies, and they’re usually slower-paced or much lighter in theme. Gem Of Life was just go-go-go the whole way through, and it’s so easy to find your interest waning. I think had it been written as 40 episodes, it would have done better. The ratings weren’t so fantastic, although apparently it is partly due to High Definition ratings not being included. The last Chik Kei Yi series that was this long was At the Threshold of an Era, which also didn’t do well at the time but had many watchers during the reruns a few years later. I wonder if Gem of Life will have that kind of hype in a few years' time.

The storyline had too much about business. It was confusing to follow the various take-overs and contracts that they were all negotiating and fighting for. The story and the anti-climactic ending spoilt the series, but the acting redeemed it. Disregarding the storyline, it was a stellar cast of veterans who I can’t sing enough praises about, even though I’m sounding like a broken record. There was so little that was wrong with it from the acting standpoint, which is so rare in today’s TVB series.

The inspiration for the Hong sisters was the famous Soong sisters from the early 20th century. It was said that "one loved money, one loved power and one loved China". I’m supposing Jessica loved money, Sylvia, being the workaholic, loved power and Constance would be the one who loved family (since it’s not a political series)?

The ending... I’m unsure whether to call it a happy one or not. The very ending scene was a happy shot of the Hong family. Throughout the series though, the majority of the main characters did something ‘bad’ and the only one who gets any kind of retribution is Calvin, who would be heading to jail. The actual good guys, Shek Tai Wo and Sunny, end up going blind and in a coma respectively. Then all the fighting stops because everyone suddenly claims that they’re tired. It was all a little rushed and unexplained.

The theme song was sung by Shirley Kwan, and it was so very suitable. It sounded rich and grand, just like the grand setting of the series. The opening credits, however, were terrible. It looked messy and cheaply done.

The series was filmed at several overseas locations, and the scenery at some of the places was breathtaking. It’s obvious that quite a lot of money and effort were put into the series, as well as promotional events – did they over-hype it? The filming took over a year, the promoting began around the same time as the filming – I think there was way too much expectation to live up to.

And finally, one of the best things is the jewelery and diamond theme. Having worked in the jewelery business, I have a real fascination with the stuff and they had some really nice pieces in the show. Which you couldn’t forget was sponsored by MaBelle, since the word came up every ten minutes, which is OK, since I like MaBelle. But the glamour didn’t end with the jewelery; the clothes, cars and yachts were very high society. If nothing else, the series was really good to look at.

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