Review: Between Love and Desire (TVB, 2016)

Between Love and Desire (完美叛侶)

Genre: Modern Drama
Length: 20 episodes
Producer: Au Yiu Hing

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Cast

Moses Chan as Ngo Pak Yin aka Hugo
Maggie Shiu as Tsang Po Lam aka Rebecca
Ben Wong as Liu Wing Hang aka Patrick
Roxanne Tong as Haley
Rachel Kan as Rowena

and Joey Law, Brian Chu, Candy Chang, Patrick Dunn, Wong Yee Kam, Eileen Yeow, etc.

The Review

Due to the fast pacing of the first few episodes, I immediately jumped on watching this one over House of Spirits, the other series airing at the same time as part of TVB’s amazing lineup. Amazing, it’s not quite, but it’s not often where the writers’ focus so much on developing one male lead and doing a decent job at it — despite the ending being too ideal. The case by case by plot drove the main storyline about a character named Hugo, a brilliant and ruthless lawyer who has forgotten his initial motivations and reasons for going into this field. Over time, the business, industry, and field has taken over his mindset: where doing (almost) whatever it takes to win a case was in his book of principles.

The reflective nature of the series is certainly something that we can all take away from as we go through similar phases of learning, realizations, and moments of epiphanies in life in order to grow and hone in on a lifestyle that works for us.

 

That said, the content of the plot, dialogue, characterization is nothing novel and creative. In fact, the only character that has quite some substantial development in the 20 episodes is only Moses. Maybe Maggie. And while Ben was so persistent and opportunistic in pursuing Maggie even before their divorce mellowed and retreated to the sidelines much more after the couple signed papers and his both apprentice and sister-in-law appeared in the scene with more screen time. The writers’ attempt to give previously teen actor, Brian Chu a chance at a real, supporting role (instead of a guest role within a procedural case) was lackluster and although we were able to see what kind of big brother Moses became, I could’ve totally done without the storyline with his bandmates, which was messy and uninspiring.

Upon knowing it’s reflective nature that drives the plot, the story became predictable from then on. I saw a happy ending coming, but not such an ideal one where Moses wakes up (almost overnight?) and realizes his priorities are Maggie and his family, Ben lets go without a doubt or fight and got together with Roxanne (again within one scene?), and even Rachel got to be the firm’s managing partner without having to be the top lawyer (again it just happened overnight?). The morale of the story? Miracles really happen everywhere everyday.

Also a bit unadventurous is the couple Moses and Maggie who have co-stared too many times and while having decent chemistry, it would be nice to see Moses’ chemistry with another actress. Initially, I looked forward to his scenes with Rachel more than his scenes with Maggie even though Rachel is also on the same side as Moses among TVB’s political-fractioned producers. Ben and Roxanne were a bit try-hard as a couple not only because of the age gap, but because it seemed like Ben was so adamant in pursuing Maggie only to drop it once she and Moses got back together. Then immediately, he realized that Roxanne had the hots for him and got together with her. Also, it must feel a little weird to be involved with his wife’s sister.

Moses was a good bet for this role. Professionally, his stature and height really commands presence, “And by the way, isn’t Hong Kong’s top lawyer sitting in front of you? That would be me.” Although I thought Moses’ and Maggie’s outer appearance and style was drastically different and incompatible at first, he appeared very gentlemen and attractive for the type A personality he had to be. I never considered Moses’ an actor who expressed his emotions and feelings very well, but this role didn’t really call for that as his rationality took precedence over his emotions.

While I appreciated Maggie’s character and her sacrifice for her family, she was quite a snore as well as a static character. I liked the times she stood up to Moses and even called for the divorce, but the mellow and simplicity of her character was almost boring. I agree with her that a healthy and long-living relationship would require two people to spend time together and make small sacrifices here and there, but for the most part I couldn’t relate to Rebecca simply because I’m not married yet. Rebecca was almost too much of a goody-two shoes who lacked any entertainment value.

Ben’s pursuit of Maggie was a bit ambiguous. While his tenacity was great in the beginning even though it’s never a good idea to pursue a married woman and let others have the opportunity to judge you for breaking apart a family, the situation becomes more ambiguous when she isn’t happy in her marriage. My other concern and perhaps it’s just a plot loophole is that why they never got together when they already knew each other for many years in Indonesia? Was it not romantic love? Was he too shy to pursue her? If so, what’s up with the sudden personality change?

Regardless of the reason, Patrick is certainly one of Ben’s weaker roles both in conception and in execution as the guy serves more as a comforting pillow every time Maggie needs emotional or legal assistance. Or as comic relief. Even with his apprentice and sister-in-law, Roxanne, who is much younger than him, he lets her walk all over him — in a harmless way, of course.

This brings us to talk about Roxanne and despite not having a lot of scenes in the first eight or so episodes, she brings forth a more youthful and fun energy amongst all the chaos in the second half of the series. I genuinely enjoyed her presence and bickering moments with Ben all throughout and she shows that not all lawyers have to be serious, pretentious and works in a cutthroat firm to be in the profession. She displays that an uninhibited and “do as I feel” nature and talking back to my boss attitude is totally acceptable for the working world. But wait, have we even seen her practicing law, negotiating better deals for clients, or bringing unresolved cases to court at all? Nah, she was too good for that.

Roxanne really has that natural sweetness in her acting that comes out coerced from Grace Chan and a more pinpointed method of expressing emotions that Sisley Choi lacks. Roxanne was sweet and memorable in her debut in Come Home Love, but I definitely relate more to her spunky attitude here. This is especially displayed when Maggie asks her why she lies to Ben about dating a married man and that she shouldn’t because he really worries about her, in which she replies, “He always says he promised my sister to take care of me. So I’m going to do some mischievous things here and there so he has the opportunity to do what he promised my sister.”

While her humor is out of tone with the rest of series and you can probably tell she was just another character that the writers’ decided to plug-in last minute, you’ll still love her.

As for rest of the pool of younger supporting stars, Brian really didn’t make the cut for a good supporting star, not only because his character was lost and unfocused throughout the series, but more because his method of expressing emotions made me want to frown. His co-star and the actress who plays Edith (Anyone know the actress’s real name? I gave up looking.) was much more loose and uninhibited in her acting, but her punk-inspired hair and clothing is a bit too extreme.

Joey Law and Candy Chang who plays Moses and Rachel’s apprentices, respectively, spent most of their time hating their jobs and bosses (LOL, sounds a lot like reality doesn’t it?) alike and feeling suppressed into thinking how harsh the legal field and working world is. Candy is seemingly more mature and more attractive that I almost didn’t even recognize her. Perhaps that comes with a more almond-shaped face as opposed to her older rounder face. Loss of baby fat or plastic surgery at its finest?

Finally, Rachel, whose professional aspirations are as blown-out as her hair, but not quite as high as her intellectual capability is always a solid supporting star. She didn’t have a meaty role here, but more of a pretentious one where her final win seemed more like a consolation prize than an earned promotion.

The Verdict

This is really a Moses-centered series, but it’s also worth watching for Roxanne fans. In fact, I would even tip her for Most Improved Actress for this year, but it seems like that’ll be going to Sisley who already has three series under her belt within a six months period.

I can’t really relate to the married-couple type of storylines, but do appreciate the reflective format of the series. It’s not a romance series, but one that supports the general, commonly-accepted notion that love can be about the simplest things and sacrifices made for each other.

  • KY

    “The reflective nature of the series is certainly something that
    we can all take away from as we go through similar phases of learning,
    realizations, and moments of epiphanies in life in order to grow and
    hone in on a lifestyle that works for us.”
    Well said, and very accurately sums up the story. I really like this series because each episode and word spoken has meaning and allows the audience to reflect and take something away from the conversation. For example, when Maggie was talking to her best friend’s husband, after his son was hurt from falling in the park earlier that day, she realized that everyone makes mistakes here and there. She made one when she didn’t pick up the phone when one of her clients called her, right before she committed suicide. And she thought, if we all make mistakes, and Moses’ only mistake is that he is so caught up in his work, that he unintentionally neglected his family, shouldn’t he deserve forgiveness? Which is very true, because even though it felt like he was a bad husband in the beginning of the series, he actually never cheated or treated her poorly, like some men do their wives. He respected her, provided for her, and did everything he thought a husband should do.

    Thanks for reviewing the series. I usually like to read about series I like after watching it. It provides closure and helps me figure out if I took away whatever concepts it is that the director and screenwriter wanted to deliver. I look forward to reading more of the articles on this blog.