Review: With or Without You (TVB, 2015)

With or Without You (東坡家事)

Genre: Costume Drama/Comedy
Length: 30 episodes
Producer: Wong Wai Sing

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Cast

Bobby Au-yeung – So Tung-po
Joey Meng – Wong Yun-zhi
Vincent Wong – Chun Siu Yau
Jacqueline Wong – So Siu-mui
Alice Chan – Lau Yuet-O
Tyson Chak – Chun Kwai Sheung
Harriet Yeung – So Dai-mui
Jonathan Cheung – Emperor Shenzong
Pal Sinn – Wong On-Shek
Sire Ma – Kam Cho
Leanne Li – Princess Sau-on

and Jimmy Au, Akina Hong, Wong Yee Kam, Mary Hon, Becky Lee, etc.

The Review

If you are wondering what series this is, it’s the one that we all wonder how it made it to be an anniversary production. Besides Bobby and Joey being headline names, nothing about this series screams big production. Perhaps not all anniversary series need to be grand productions since many big productions aren’t anniversary series. Therefore, there’s really no correlation between being a big production and being an anniversary series. We can get that fact straight and move onto complaining about a nearly non-existent and slow-placed plot.

Bobby plays a well-known Song Dynasty poet with brilliant taste buds who also happens to be good friends with the incompetent, playful, and naive Emperor. Did I mention that Bobby is a picky eater with his sharp taste buds? He marries Joey, who happens to be cousins with his deceased wife (who he hasn’t gotten over with yet). The two goes through many trials and tribulations, mainly where Joey believes she doesn’t command enough respect  in their marriage. Of course, they end up happily ever after at the end.

Vincent plays an educated, but not afraid to get his hands dirty kind of scholar with dreams of making it big when he arrives at the capital city. He runs into the bratty, cute, but not very intelligent Jacqueline where they bicker and misunderstands each other on too many occasions until she shouts out, “I kinda like you.” You won’t believe it but, Vincent also replies, “Many girls like me. But I think I kinda like you too.” From there, they date, get married, have Vincent’s ex come in and ruin their marriage temporarily, but they still end up happily ever… and with a child at the end.

Alice plays the sassy and selfish wife of Tyson. Friends with the Emperor’s sister, she has some influence in town and is notorious for her bossy ways. She enjoys giving Tyson’s ex, Harriet, a hard time and embarrasses her on many occasions for pleasure. Harriet, being the peacemaker she is, doesn’t retaliate until she sleeps with Tyson. With no option, Alice is forced to let her husband marry Harriet as well. Alice continues to distrust Harriet until she becomes pregnant with Tyson’s child. However, upon knowing that the pregnancy was a misunderstanding, she felt her kindness being betrayed. In an emotional lash out, she forced both her husband and Harriet out of the household, eventually leading to her divorce with Tyson. Harriet and Tyson lives happily ever after while Alice finds peace and a new life in a monastery.

Saving the best for last and perhaps the most dynamic of the storylines, Jonathan plays the useless Emperor who becomes interested in a variety of things (including getting abs to impress his dream girl) except taking care of his country. He is good friends with Bobby for most of the series and until he channels his anger on Bobby for having seduced the love of his life. Jonathan slowly falls for Sire, who works as a spy for the neighboring Liao Dynasty and whose job is to seduce the Emperor. Meanwhile, she has feelings for Bobby whom she admires, but her kiss to Bobby before her death also ruined his relationship with the Emperor. I guess being the Emperor doesn’t always mean you get what you want.

As you can probably tell already, it’s a highly love story-driven and moderately paced drama with little action. The pace definitely suits a ancient romance-driven drama, but not exactly the type that fascinates most viewers, which explains how little talk this series has generated despite it’s overall good acting.

Everyone passed their performances critique for the most part. While I can understand why some netizens say Bobby is using his same recycled acting, it’s really the roles that they write for him. His characters usually contain the same elements of being laid-back, happy-go-lucky, well-educated or smart, but with no kung-fu skills. After being in these roles for more than a decade, TVB writers and producers are really the one at fault for the typecasted roles.

And of course, TVB will repeat the same mistake with Joey out of convenience, whose character I happen to dislike here for she always has the lower-hand in every marital struggle with Bobby. However, I must admit it’s easy to fall for her pouty faces which she employs in every TVB drama, it seems.

Alice is the queen of playing sassy housewife roles as she has shown her ability to do that in a number of ancient TVB dramas since her return. While I have no idea who Tyson is, he did well as the small-minded and paranoid husband. Harriet’s character was one of those that annoyed me to know end by being so indecisive and unassertive about her life.

Vincent and Jacqueline demonstrates that they have a comedic side and were an adorable and affectionate couple. Jacqueline was ultra-cute every time she used her fingers to comb her bangs as a sign of sassiness. Becky who played Vincent’s ex-wife was a complete miscast; not only was she obviously older than him, but they had no chemistry. He was right to divorce her (that was a joke in case you didn’t catch it).

It was very different to see Jonathan who normally plays the lowest of all humble servants suddenly play a useless Emperor. The guy definitely has some acting chops and hopefully he won’t be typecasted to useless roles. Sire is absolutely beautiful here; she also proves that she can speak Cantonese more naturally and fluently and without being so deliberate as she use to be. Still there is room for improvement in her more intimate scenes with Bobby. If Joey didn’t explicitly say, I wouldn’t have noticed she had feelings for Bobby. Leanne’s ancient hairdo was the only thing more disturbing than her half-assed Cantonese. The Emperor finally made the right decision to ship her off to the temple at the end (that was a joke too btw).

Overall Evaluation

I won’t say that this series didn’t have a storyline at all, but not what people will typically expect of for an anniversary production. It’s very romance-driven that focuses on four main couples. Keep your expectations low and if you like the artists, it’ll be an enjoyable watch over dinner.