Master of Play (心戰)
Genre: Crime Drama, Thriller
Length: 30 episodes
Producer: Chik Kei Yi
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
The Cast and Their Roles
Adam Cheng as “Kan Siu-Nam” aka “Ah Kan”, the theatrical actor
Moses Chan as “Cheung Sai-Yin” aka Ivan, the magician
Maggie Shiu as Esther, Ivan’s girlfriend
Aimee Chan as “Cheung Sai-Ting” aka Natalie, Ivan’s sister
Rebecca Chan as Angela, Kan’s ex-wife
Matt Yeung as Kong Sing Yu aka “Kong Sir”
Lily Ho as Tansy, Kan’s daughter who only appears in his memory
Kenny Wong as Eric aka personification of Ivan’s evil
Rachel Kan as Michelle aka personification of Ivan’s lust
Glen Lee as Edwin aka personification of Ivan’s pride
Steven Ho as Martin aka personification of Ivan’s wrath
Dia Yiu Ming as Henry aka personification of Ivan’s conscience
and Helen Ma, Yu Yang, etc.
The celebration of the return of renowned actor Adam for another TVB series in collaboration with Moses was a reason to highly anticipate this one. It’s claimed premise of a serial killer with dissociative identity disorder (previously known as multiple personality disorder) for its main character in a thirty-episode continuous psychological battle with a theatrical actor seemed promising enough. One reason for this is that most of TVB’s leading characters are family-friendly with a “good” underlying, or at least redeemable, personality. Very rare do they kill without a conscience.
Knowing Jonathan Chik’s artistic ambitions as showcased in his recent works, it is no surprise that there lies an underlying psychological aspect in human nature in this one too. I, personally, did not enjoy every one of his previous “masterpieces.” Some I enjoyed, but only the second time around (War and Beauty), some I had no idea what he was trying to tell us (Fly With Me), and some I understood and appreciated partially (When Heaven Burns). And this one, I enjoyed the cliffhangers at the end of select episodes, liked the overall story despite its dark undertone (even its filming style speaks heavily on this undertone), but like almost every one of his work, it was a test of my patience for a 30-episode thriller that wasn’t thrilling 100% of the time (not that I should even expect that, but that was really how things were).
Plot, Plot, or a Lack of One
Adam is still obsessed over his daughter’s loss though twenty or some years have passed. Moses is a famous magician whose talent touches a hospitalized Maggie with a broken arm. Aimee is a little (and big) girl who is torn between his brother and Adam. And the series explores some of the psychological struggles these people experience with a final showdown between Adam and Moses in episode 29.
The Main Characters
I know Adam is one of the most sought-after actors in Hong Kong and possibly mainland China, but his acting never grew on me as natural and modern. I may be wrong, but he carries a quite serious and dramatic tone in many of his series which comes across as more theatrical than for the typical modern TVB drama. Yet it is perhaps this reason that I find him very convincing and suitable for the role of theatrical actor in distress here. Being the loving father in denial, he is from the previous generation, his theatrical style of acting is understandable.
I believe his role required him to be more expressive than most of what TVB has churned out for us lately. Adam’s character went through a lot during the span of thirty episodes. He was truly the lead actor here, having to not only act as Kan Siu-Nam, but in mid episodes where he began immersing into the criminals’ minds and eventually into our biggest villain’s unconscious of five personalities! Adam was convincing in his part and he possibly gave one of the most memorable performances this year.
I am a moderate believer in Moses’ acting. Sometimes he delivers, sometimes he’s borderline, and the other times he’s lacking. This time he delivers, surprisingly, in a drama. Oh, yes, drama! I use to also be a believer that drama was his weakest field as he wasn’t able to express his inner emotions with forcing them on us. Moses was lucky to have his inner conflicts (which resulted in his multiple personalities) played by five different actors, which not only broke down the story into elements, but it was logical to see his internal conflicts magnified intricately. It would probably have been hilarious to see him act out Rachel’s lines with her being his lustful unconscious. Overall, I most enjoyed Moses in his scenes where he had to lie to Kan Siu-Lam. He made a good hypocrite on the spot.
I’m sure Maggie gave her usual decent performance too, but I didn’t find anything note-worthy. Unfortunately, I was kept noticing her facial wrinkles and how much older she is compared to her co-star, Moses.
Aimee is improving in her acting skills despite her usual unprofessional, choppy Cantonese. Natalie was most likely the character with the most depth the actress have played to date. It has the ability to exhibit her versatility if she was prepared for this challenge as Natalie went through quite a lot of distress, from living, caring, and looking out for his brother all these years to finding out that he was an unfaithful man in love to a possible serial killer to sacrificing her freedom in claim to be Tansy. Her fate with her brother met a tragic ending, but her friendship with “Ah Kan” gave the little girl hope. If Aimee was as determined to eliminate her Cantonese accent as much as Fala Chen, she would probably have converged with Natalie even more. Overall, still an average performance.
Rebecca never fails and is probably one of the best veterans in TVB. When portraying personalities with depth, she can oh-so effortlessly immerse into character. In the beginning, we were mislead to believe that she was not saddened by her daughter’s loss, only to find out in the end that she may be in greater denial than Siu-Nam.
The biggest surprise in acting was left to Matt who played the ambitious, arrogant, and borderline psychotic Inspector. He was explosive when needed and arrogant when required. Matt launched his acting career at about the same time as Bosco Wong, but did not meet the same fate perhaps due to his case involving drugs with the police. Perhaps with the recent artist drainage at TVB he may have more acting opportunities. Overall, he carried his performance with depth and between Matt and Bosco, I believe Matt is the better actor for a serious drama.
Kenny, Rachel, Glen, Steven, and Dia Yiu-Ming who each played a part of Ivan’s inner conscience, respectively nailed their part pretty well. However, it was weird seeing Dia Yiu-Ming playing Ivan’s conscience since the actor usually plays a “baddie.” Glen who displays his versatility as an actor between here and the honest nerd in Come Home Love would probably have been a more believable choice. Kenny’s mustache was just as distracting as Rachel’s “twin tower” hair and devilish eye makeup. Steven does appear full of wrath just like in every other series he’s in.
How well was the plot? By now, it’s pretty obvious that Jonathan’s productions don’t have a massive plot-line like that of Heart of Greed’s. Instead, he zooms into each character and brings out the human nature of each one.
Characterization? When we talk about characters here, it’s not about our usual debate of personality likability because I don’t know how a sixty year old man with an irrational obsession with his daughter and a serial killer without a distinct, consolidated personality can be likable. Perhaps what I wanted to see was how Moses developed into a serial killer and with all the time in the series, it was only mentioned that he had an equally psychotic murderer as a father.
Other factors such as suspense was present, especially when we learned that it was Maggie who turned out to be the “Wednesday serial killer.” There were also twist and turns when it was revealed that Natalie was not Tansy after all. Seriously, the build up made her seem like she was; yet, it was too ideal for a Jonathan Chik production, haha. And I believe we can’t conclude the series without a special mention to the sand paintings and its corresponding philosophy talk at the finale of each episode.
While it is still draggy to focus on psychological struggles for 30 episodes, I have a better understanding of Master than When Heaven Burns. This one is definitely more watchable.