Review: Short End of the Stick (TVB, 2016)

Short End of the Stick (公公出宫)

Genre: Period Drama/Comedy
Length: 35 episodes
Producer: Marco Law

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Cast

Wayne Lai as Lee Suk Gung
Power Chan as Dan Tin
Edwin Siu as Chui Jun Sing aka Kam Fai
Raymond Cho as Chan Siu Fung aka Sai Kai
Nancy Wu as Kam Heung
Rosina Lam as Kam Dai Nam
Grace Wong as Kam Dai Dai
John Chiang as Kam Cheong

Yoyo Chen, Jack Wu, Toby Chan, Ram Chiang, Gloria Tang, Suet Nei, Harriet Yeung, Jessie Shum, etc.

The Review

What was meant to be Chinese New Year series began airing right after the Lunar New Year and although it’s only been going for about two months, it seems like a long running sitcom where you’re wondering when it’ll be all over. Well, let’s just say that the next holiday is coming up already and that’s April Fools Day. For a comedy, 35 episodes seems so long. Even TVB’s ancient adventure or historical fiction dramas aren’t this long anymore. But for the large cast ensemble and the four eunuch friends (Wayne, Edwin, Power, and Raymond), they were willing to put in the budget. Well, you can definitely see where their priorities lie.

I’ve already put in my first impressions about the show and while most of what I said still stands true after 30 more episodes, I believe the series does deserve it’s cast, script, and budget. The real landscapes in China were priceless. The series kicked off with the Kam family, or in fact the entire village for a matter, lacking a male heir and later all the females (Nancy, Rosina, and Grace) in the family navigating about an asexual relationship with the eunuchs, Wayne, Raymond, and Power, respectively. Although we know how that would turn out (especially, since the Kams dislike eunuchs due to a long-drawn curse from Li Lianying) and nothing is going to happen biologically (and there are no miracles this time around), all these relationships do play out pleasantly at the end. And it was even quite touching, honestly.

The other heartwarming aspects of the series takes place when we see how the eunuchs adapt to life after the fall of the Qing dynasty. Wayne finds an opportunity in a fake marriage with Nancy, who needs a husband to prove to the village that there is hope for a male heir. Little did they know that they’ll eventually fall for each other. This duo couple is also the most mature, takes on responsibility, and leads the village out of trouble many times. The little silly things they do for each other such as when Nancy accuses him of having an affair with Jessie so he won’t have to take care of her ill self was really cute. How Wayne blindly goes to the train station to wait for Nancy during the two years they are apart in the last episode was almost a tear-jerker. Excuse me while I take a moment to be sentimental.

I’d admit with Wayne and Nancy’s age gap, I didn’t have any expectations for the couple so reality did exceed expectations. You don’t really pay much attention to the gap gap once this couple gets on with business. Wayne always knew when to step back and let Nancy hold the reigns as she tends to have a domineering personality that is required to hold the family together. I was especially fond of how they joke around as “master” and “servant”, a reminisce of how eunuchs serve their masters back in the palace.

Unfortunately, I was very upset with Nancy’s individual storyline as her character didn’t have as much influence as I originally thought. I even wondered if her brain tumor storyline was altered for some kind of convenience to write her off for a while. Anyway, what I want to say is that Nancy fell out of character midway and her intelligence becomes more of a “said” thing than a “shown” thing. Still, you won’t be able to keep your eyes off of her brilliant costumes!

Meanwhile, Power finds his way through the Kam family and village as a physician. Previously, been an imperial physician who specialized in abortions for the concubines, he hopes to spend the rest of his life bringing birth to life instead. Therefore, when Grace was pregnant with her ex’s child, he pretends to abort the child for her, but deliberately fed her medicine to help stabilize her pregnancy.

Perhaps, among the three asexual relationships, I’m most satisfied with how these two turn out at the end. Although Grace was no real college graduate and lied about having an education overseas, she really absorbed their liberal ways of thinking. Her relationship with Power ended on a happy, but ambiguous note where Power becomes the father of her child from another man, but the two aren’t married. They were just friends who cared a great deal for each other, not to mention Power also becomes Grace’s teacher.

Raymond had it quite easy as he was seen as the special guest in the Kam family. His relationship with Rosina was exemplary of how opposites attract. When I previously mentioned in my first impressions note that I don’t have patience for the eunuchs’ slow motions and words, I mostly meant Raymond’s actions and tone, specifically. As you’ll see, this couple has switched gender roles. For most of the show, Rosina is dressed in men’s clothes, talks in a loud voice and rude tone, and walks and moves in a way that resembles a man who gambled and smoked back then. Also, because of this, Dai-nam is the most memorable character of Rosina’s to date — for me at least. Meanwhile, Raymond dresses in pastel colors like pink, peach, and lavender. He has also a tendency to wear cheong-sam while Rosina wore pants and a cap. Because of this, you’ll also really treasure the one or two episodes where Raymond tries to train Rosina to be a lady. It was hilarious to watch.

I loved Raymond’s acting as much as disliked his character because I wouldn’t have the patience for a guy who has no hopes or dreams. Like Nancy put it, “I’m not afraid of men who are annoying, but I am afraid of those who cry.” He was too soft-spoken and you’ll wonder how a man with deeper vocal cords do it, but you’ll also wonder if he’ll be the next one leaving this year’s TVB Awards Ceremony with the Best Supporting Actor award. Amongst the four leading men, it was Raymond who had a role that was much different from anything else he ever played.

Although Edwin isn’t an eunuch here (you’ll be glad why later on as it solves all the problems) and maybe because of that, I also feel like his relationship with Natalie is also the weakest. Edwin has the tendency to blush when he sees pretty girls and it was love at first sight for him and Natalie. Edwin’s background story is the most ground-breaking surprise, but I’ll just leave it at that. Natalie is also more than a spy for Lee Sing Cheung, servant for the Kam family, and lover for Edwin, but it’s part of the mystery plot. My favorite scene was probably when Edwin came back for revenge as a general and it was only when he carried Natalie’s daughter (which was really his) did she stop crying and even started smiling at him. But he wouldn’t admit it when his subordinates teased him. Aww!

Jack seems to be one of those actors who appears every now and then, but thankfully always consistently delivers in a supporting role. He also seems to not age at all within the last ten years and I wonder why. He plays the second son-in-law to John’s daughter, Toby, and while initially, he appears quite useless, yielding, and lacking a backbone, he eventually becomes a spy for the Qing dynasty, to much of Power’s fascination. I enjoyed his scenes with Toby when she had selective amnesia; they got to replay how they first met when Jack was still her teacher. Dai-tse is probably also the role where Toby has the most of amount of screen time since her debut in 2011.

Other notable characters like Yoyo Chen were only a guest star up to about episode 10 before it was revealed that her son was actually a replacement she bought from the city when she lost her baby in an accident. While she was mean, she also loved her son very much, though her character lacked depth and the turnaround was too ideal and quick. But for a comedy, oh wells.

Despite the age gap, John and Rachel had believable and intimate chemistry. Again and again, I’ve said, but Rachel is such a unique and reliable supporting actress, but already getting mother roles at 37 — even though she is only the stepmother here.

Overall Evaluation

For a series that claims to be a comedy, it’s too subtle. I really couldn’t see how this was a comedy in it’s earlier episodes. While the series gets more comedic as the series progresses, it’s still quite subtle and silly. That said, if I was looking for a comedy, I definitely wouldn’t remind this.

I find this series to be quite well-rounded in terms of being family and friendship-oriented and lighthearted in tone but with mystery subplots that pops up throughout the 35 episodes. Notable mystery subplots included finding out that Yoyo’s son was a fake, discovering Nancy’s long-lost brother, and cracking the code for who might be the Qing spy.

The Verdict

It’s not something I will re-watch again, but it does have a coherent and logical storyline for the most part. If you are looking for something to watch over dinner, this is a good option. There are draggy parts that I don’t care for, but very solid acting from everyone, and this includes any newbies. I think 30 episodes would have sufficed if you cut off the fat.