The Greed of Man


Reviewed by: AngryBaby

February 27, 2005

Rating: four

"The Greed of Man" is a memorable series which is one of the best series I believe that TVB has produced in the past decade. My recommendation is it is worth watching and if you intend to see it, stop reading at the end of this paragraph. Skip to the analysis unless you are really determined to read the summary.

A quick summary of a very story (the other review is better for story outline):

The serial is set in the 1970s, in the golden period of the Hong Kong economy ("shark fin mixed with rice"). There are two best friends. Fong Chong Sun (Lau Chong Ren) is a guru of the stock market and Ding Hai (Adam Cheng) is a street hooligan. Fong Chong Sun has 3 daughters and a son, whilst Ding Hai has 4 sons. Basically after a series of misunderstandings, including Fong Chong Sun getting together with Ah Ling (Lam Kit Ying) whom Ding Hai believed was his girlfriend, Ding Hai kills his life-long friend in front of his young son, Fong Jin Bok (Lau Ching Wan). Ding Hai flees to Taiwan to escape persecution. The once rich Fong family is reduced to poverty and Ah Ling becomes their surrogate mother and brings them up while working as a minibus driver. Over the years they suffer much hardship. Meanwhile Ding's four sons have prospered with the help of their underworld influence, led by the big brother Ding Hao. They remain fiercely (and murderously) loyal to one another.

When they've all grown up, the two families begin to bump into each other again (because the Ding sons - grandmother used to be the nanny of the Fong family). The second Fong sister (won't bother with names) and Ding Hao (big brother of the Ding clan) fall in love despite the family difficulties. Most of the Fong family hate the Dings with a passion, especially Ah Ling and Bok. Awkwardly, the families manage to get by with the knowledge of each other's existence, until Ding Hai gets out of jail in Taiwan (for a separate offence) and decides to come back to HK despite the fact that he is still a wanted man for Fong Chong Sun's murder.

This sparks a series of heated confrontations between the families as the Fong family wants to report Ding Hai to the HK police, whilst the criminally-inclined Ding sons do everything to stop their father being convicted. Ding Hai still believes that he and Ah Ling should be together and starts harassing her again. Bok finds he is gifted in playing with stocks and learns all the tricks to investment off an old partner of his father's. When the family finds out about the second sister and Ding Hao, she is kicked out of the house. She begins working for a company, whose boss To To (Bowie Lam) likes her. He and Bok become friends after meeting at the stock exchange. Meanwhile Bok is developing his own love lines with Harn Mui ("stingy girl", played by Vivian Chow) and a rich girl (Kwok Oi Ming). He and Harn Mui are well matched except that the rich girl really likes Bok and he is prone to procrastination, so the issue draggs on.

However, the third Ding brother, Ding Yik Hai (Michael Tao) decides to rape the third Fong daughter (who is just finishing high school). At the same time the police have caught Ding Hai and are finally putting him to trial. As the only eyewitness to the murder, Bok is required to appear and give evidence in court against Ding Hai. The second Fong sister breaks up bitterly with Ding Hao, who consequently allows his brothers to take charge and do anything they want to keep their father and Yik Hai out of prison.

Due to pressure during the court hearing and Ding's dirty tactics, the third Fong sister commits suicide in front of her whole family, so Ding Yik Hai gets off scot free. In his own trial, Ding Hai decides to defend himself in court, which basically ends with him admitting his crime. He is sentenced to life. The Fong family decides to leave Hong Kong after their sister?s funeral.

During the preparation the Ding brothers send a group of men to kill all of them. The two sisters are thrown off the top of the apartment building and die. Bok is thrown off as well, but gets caught on a washing rack and is sent to hospital. Ah Ling was parking her minibus at the time and was not hurt, but she saw everything that happened. Thinking they are all dead, she goes crazy and drives around looking for the Ding brothers. She finds them driving on the road and smashes her minibus into their car, but they survive with only scratches. Ah Ling is admitted to a mental asylum. Bok disappears from the hospital knowing there is a bounty on his head and secretly leaves Hong Kong.

Time goes by. The Ding brothers manage to concoct a story of their father dying of cancer and in need of constant treatment, so he is allowed to live outside the prison. They start investing stocks and become filthy rich thanks to their very lucky father. To To has not forgotten the murders of the second Fong sister and her family and attempts to go after them on the market. Meanwhile Bok is living on a small fishing island. His two love interests have finally found him, but only Harn Mui stays after he shows he is only focused on making money. They do every little job they can get their hands on to earn money so that Bok can invest in shares. He patiently waits for a chance to return to Hong Kong. All this time Ding Hai constantly visits Ah Ling at the mental hospital. Knowing Bok is still at large Ah Ling humours Ding Hai along, not wanting to provoke him. Bok comes to take her away. Ding Hai finds out and believes Bok has kidnapped her and hunts them down. Just as she is recovering from ?Ding? paranoia and can be left by herself, Ding Hai rocks up. During a fight, where she attempts to kill him, she is shot by the police. Bok reaches the scene too late and his stepmother dies in his arms. Ding Hai finally realised she never liked him and goes away dazed. Bok is now the sole survivor of the Fong family.

Bok returns to Hong Kong and starts an investment company with To To. His time was all spent on how to get back at the Dings that he paid little regard to the two girls following him selflessly. So there was an ongoing love triangle. Eventually the rich girl realises Bok will never like her and actually prefers Harn Mui all along. So she tells him that Harn Mui's hereditary heart problem has worsened over the years but they didn't want to tell him. Bok makes up with Harn Mui.

Finally judgment day come in 1991 on the eve of the Gulf War. There is much uncertainty within the stock exchange regarding the effect on stock prices. The Ding clan starts investing with the money of powerful underworld gangs, believing there will be a war which would mean that the prices would go down. Bok believes this is a rare opportunity and decides to bet that the prices would go up with everything he has. The war does break out, but only for an hour or so. The Dings lose everything and cause several powerful criminals also to lose a lot of money. Bok and his company become super rich.

So Ding Hai takes his sons up to the top of the stock exchange building. Knowing they are as good as dead, one by one they jump off the building. Bok is celebrating in his office when he sees them come down. When Ding Hai jumps, his foot is caught on a wire and comes crashing into Bok's window. He is taken to prison for life and is the only living Ding member.

The series ends with Bok and Harn Mui sitting on a hillside watching the sunset. Harn Mui's heart condition has deteriorated. And as she and Bok are planning of their future together, she drifts off on Bok's shoulder. So no one really knows whether she has died, but I believe so (explained below).

Analysis

On the surface, it is another typical TVB fabrication of all too familiar issues. A family feud as classic as it can get, a clueless young man struggling to reach his potential to meet high expectations, a forbidden love story between the families, a fight to get rich and power and the wait for justice. After so many years of saturation with TVB series, I believed my feelings had become so numb to the stage where I fast-forward long teary scenes and groan each time I realise X and Y are long lost family members. So I was shocked when this early 90s series seemed to resurrect emotions I had thought were long gone. And that is probably why I thought it was a good series, the fact that such a boringly conventional and predictable story could be produced so that it came across so well.

I guess the beginning first caught my attention. It began with the ending (the dramatic stock market hike in 1991). I had no idea what this series was and didn't hold much expectations since it was an ?old? series ? only watched it to pass the school holidays. Being used to Adam Cheng as the good guy all the time, I was surprised to see him collapse in devastation along with his sons (including Michael Tao, who is another Mr Nice Guy) from the stock prices. I was even more surprised to see Lau Ching Wan elated with their misfortune, leaping around in ecstasy in front of them, adding salt to the wound. This was followed by communal suicides off the roof. TVB series always ends with the good victorious, but this was so cruel and extreme I felt I needed to see the rest of the series to justify the finish.

And it did. By the time I was two thirds through and as I watched more and more vulnerable people die, whilst the bad became more and more rich and powerful, the steadily growing resentment inside had me demanding blood. Perhaps having seen the ending and knowing that the bad people would get what they deserved kept me watching. You could feel what the characters felt. I was as exasperated as Ah Ling was she tried to explain to the clueless Ding Hai she didn't actually like him. I was as frustrated as Fong Chong Sun when he tried to make Ding Hai understand why he didn't want to be corrupt and to the end I waited patiently with Bok the chance for revenge. By the time the opening scene happened again I could have jumped around the room like Lau Ching Wan. I was impressed at how skilful the producers were to build up such a distinctly bittersweet climax. By then I thought it was all over but I was wrong?

The ending was open but the way I understood it, Harn Mui died and here is why. Revenge always comes with a price and Bok learnt this. He became rich beyond his wildest dreams, but realised the stock boom had not only brought the demise of the Dings but also dragged thousands of other people into bankruptcy and driven families to suicide. Bok was not guiltless. Being blinded by hatred for most of his life he had focused his efforts on those he hated and neglected the two girls. It was through them that he paid the price.

Firstly the rich girl; on Bok's advice Kwok Oi Ming (real life Mrs Lau) convinced her ill father to bet all his wealth for a fall in stock prices (to give the Dings more rope to hang themselves). Bok had planned to reimburse her father his losses once it was over, but her father did not know and had a fatal heart attack when he thought he had lost everything.

Bok was also guilty of making Harn Mui wait for him for so long. She had been with him through thick and thin and had gone to great lengths to save his life at desperate moments. In return, Bok had never shown gratitude or revealed his real feelings even as her heart condition worsened. So when Bok finally got the revenge he craved at the expense of so many innocent people, it was only right he paid by losing what he had failed to appreciate all along. Harn Mui had to die to show absolute justice. It was the final touch needed to complete such a sorry tale.

On the actors and acting: In response to Adam Cheng as Ding Hai, they became inseparable after the series, I mean think of the phrase the "Ding Hai Effect" used on real life stock markets - need I say more? The Ding brothers were convincingly evil. Michael Tao became so hateful it amazes me how I could see him as Mr Good Guy in his other series again.

On the Fong side: Lau Chong Ren was the father figure turned mentally disabled turned corpse. If Adam Cheng was a great maniac, then Lau Chong Ren was his ideal opposite. Lau Ching Wan had much to carry in his role. I was glad they didn't cast a good looking guy as Bok, who is just a far from perfect average man (unlike the unrealistic flawless and multi-talented leading male roles in most of TVB's series). Ah Ling and the daughters were commendable, although not outstanding. Vivian Chow as Harn Mui was well suited. I think she has a naturally innocent and gentle demeanour that doesn't require much effort to bring out. Kwok Oi Ming was a good contrasting actress and character, but her voice did get really annoying after her whinges and crying hysterically countless times through the series.

BUT there were some serious flaws.

- The lack of law and order is ridiculous. Not only that, it is as though the world only contains the Ding and Fong families. The Dings can do whatever they want and the Fongs are forced to face them alone. The series has such a narrow scope, making it clear that it is lacking variety in plot development.

- Heavy dependence on "fate" (Tian Yi) and "luck", which makes it quite unrealistic. How can a bunch of hoodlums (Dings) who don't know the first thing about investing become filthy rich in a Hong Kong full of business intellectuals?

- There are several parts which dragged painfully and became overkill. Such as the one episode which was just about the mentally disabled Fong Chong Sun learning to eat and fold newspapers. Oi Ming's endless screaming matches with her dad and spontaneous crying were really hard on my sanity. The trial of Ding Hai was a circus, quite an insult to the real thing. As if a judge would allow someone to give an emotionally-charged obituary speech in the witness box for a dead sister who is irrelevant to the case. And the most ridiculous of all was when Adam Cheng ?caught? his foot in a magically-appearing wire, plummeted down the stock exchange building and crashed through the window, which happened to be where his nemesis was sitting - and survived.

- And there were other parts that were under presented, such as a shortage of happy and light-hearted scenes, which were sorely needed to show the bond within the Fong family. Even the morbid love story between Ding Hao and Fong Ting lacked a closeness which would have made their separation more tragic. And there were virtually no after effects when she died, which made it seem like it never happened and was so hollow. The ending was not satisfying. The last confrontation where psycho Ding Hai had a crazy argument with Bok along the lines of "I told you so" and "ha ha, got you back" didn't end the blood feud. I felt it needed closure. It was like the viewers went through hell and back, but neither learnt nor gained anything. Either kill off Ding Hai or resolve the senseless hatred in a definite way.

Final Word

Despite its flaws and Oi Ming's piercing screeches it is certainly a good series. Watch it if you can bear heavy storylines and are a fan of big productions like Cold Blood Warm Heart and Threshold of an Era. don't watch it if you like watching good-looking series for good-looking people, happy family dramas (like the pathetic "Handful of Love") light entertainment, puppy love stories and if you are an Adam Cheng fan (you?ll hate him by the end of the series).


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