Review: A Fist Within Four Walls (TVB, 2016)

A Fist Within Four Walls (城寨英雄)

Genre: Period Drama/Martial Arts
Length: 28 episodes
Producer: Jazz Boon

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Cast

Ruco Chan as Chor Au Kuen/Chiu Yeung and Chiu Man San
Benjamin Yuen as Duen Ying Fung and Duen Tung Tin
Nancy Wu as Diu Lan
Philip Ng as Lung Sing Fu
Yuen Qiu as Yuk Bo Fung
Grace Wong as Fa Man/ Chiu Ha
Moon Lau as Or Dak Lei aka Audrey
Jazz Lam as But Dak Liu
KK Cheung as Or Man Cheung
Carlos Ng as Fung Chun Mei
Vincent Lam as Fuk Sau Kam
Jimmy Au as Yeung Chuk Luen

and Roxanne Tong, Bella Lam, Zoie Tam, Chloe Nguyen, Caret Cheung, Natalie Tong, Jonathan Cheung, etc.

The Review

A Fist Within Four Walls finally sees the light as one of TVB’s best series of 2016 in terms everything from conception to good casting and strong characterization to consistent execution. Give or take, I was a little skeptical to start this because it’s sets in the premodern era and revolving around martial arts, but stripping that aside, the Walled City story was fresh and it’s historical element of old Hong Kong was different. Although the triad-ridden Hong Kong revolving around the initial gambling, prostitution, and drugs scene was accurate, the series took a turn for something seemingly less realistic when Boss Yeung (Jimmy Au) came into the picture. One by one, the main cast started dying and I had both my fingers and toes crossed that Ruco and Nancy would have the happy ending they deserved.

Historically accurate, I’m sure there were many scenes that were exaggerated, especially in the last final episodes when Boss Yeung was revealed. Instead of being treated as a character who had some sort of strategy to invade the Walled City (wasn’t that his original intention?), his martial arts prowess turned into the main focus of the final 2-3 episodes when all it mattered was pinpointing his weak spot. Jimmy’s martial arts prowess was more similar to a comical action villain than someone with large ambitions to take over the city. Boss Yeung didn’t seem boss to me at all. He had the physical prowess to work as an assassin, but for someone with brains? He’s not at that level yet. The whole thing about him having a fling with KK Cheung’s wife also amounted to nothing and was dropped like a hot potato and the writers’ never ran with the idea.

Jonathan Cheung’s appearance as Nancy’s ex was also too convenient to not feel that he had an ulterior motive and was up to no good.

Still, at many points in the series, especially after KK Cheung’s death, the series shared a similar format to that Line Walker, where there is just more people behind the scheming. Fist was good at creating heroes who defended the city during a high crime and unstable time period, but the series certainly aimed more towards entertainment value like the HK audience wishes than historical depiction (not that I’m an expert on that anyway).

Though narrow and small, TVB’s creation of new sets for the film was somewhat refreshing, but too apparent that they were merely sets. Mod fashion of the 1960’s were also quite on point with Nancy’s high-waisted, slim-fitted outfits, and bright orange red lips as well as the flared midi skirts that Moon danced around in. Let’s also not forget the girls’ printed cropped tops and high-rise shorts with mules; I guess it was always summer during the 1960’s and it never gets cold.

Characterization and Performances

Ruco Chan.

A bit naive but holds a strong sense of uprightness, his courage, determination, and persistence is unmatched in the Walled City. Even during the worse case scenario when the Walled City was about to lose control, he persisted on not touching anything related to drugs. Although his thinking and mindset isn’t as mature and well-rounded as Benjamin’s at times, it’s his persistent mentality than draws a finite line between good and evil.

Ruco’s courage and determination to make a positive difference in the lives of the citizens makes him impulsive, and Benjamin becomes his brains to tame this impulsion while Nancy is his reinforcement when he loses hope and strength. It is so true when Ruco’s third aunt asks him if he’s a man and he says,

“I’m no man, I’m just a boy.”

And only boys have the innocence and idealistic mindset to persist the way Ruco does. Does that type of thinking always translate well in real life? Not always.

Still most of the characters Ruco played in the past had determination, but it’s his naivety and innocence that makes him aww-worthy and gives him entertainment value. Kudos to Ruco who performed even better when he was unable to see.

5/5

Nancy Wu.

Previously a professional trained assassin, Nancy escaped, ran away, and retired from a life she never wanted to live. On the night she planned to runaway with her assassin lover (Jonathan) at the time, he traded in his lifelong loyalty to the organization for her freedom. She escaped to the Walled City where she became a fiesty hair salon owner and landlady. For a runaway refuge, you would expect her to be a little low-key in her temper, no?

Nancy’s career has a been somewhat rocky, but this role was really able to see the light and probably even more memorable than Ghost of Relativity where she was similarly bossy and uptight about certain things. In terms of production quality, hype, characterization, co-star partnership, and memorability, Tiu Lan was the star of the show. She might not win Best Actress again, but it’s at least deserving of My Favorite Female Character. She has undeniable chemistry with Ruco in the last few episodes to the point where you’ll totally forget she even had the hots for Benjamin initially. Her partnership with Ruco is cute and playful at times, but equally strong with a willingness to sacrifice when the situation calls for it.

5/5

Benjamin Yuen.

Like his Baijiquan style, his personality mimics it: quiet, collective, and mature. For someone who wants the best for the Walled City, you’d wonder why he turned over to trust Boss Yeung so quickly and blindly while leaving behind his friends. Sure, the death of his entire family was fast and furious, but Benjamin’s stoical acting and personality left a big loophole that couldn’t really be understood.

Also for someone who was also consistently and quietly there for who eventually became his wife-to-be, Grace, her death didn’t seem to impact him all that much. After walking away, he regained his balance again the next time he appeared. While I agree that Grace’s death was created more for impact than necessity, Benjamin’s life remain unchanged after everyone who was close to him passed away.

3/5

Grace Wong.

After witnessing his parents being beaten to death, she only lived for revenge. Fifteen years later, she sides with Carlos and schemes to take down all the triad leaders who were involved with her father’s death years ago. Not wanting to dirty his brother’s hands who is a perceived hero in the city, she eventually murders everyone who was involved in her father’s death.

It was unexpected that Grace will play such a big part in the murder and at most times, she was seen as more vicious and hard-hearted than her brother who grew up with at least some family love. Her expressions were certainly intimidating and I was almost afraid that she’ll send her brother’s lover to death for having played a part in her father’s death. Phew!

I’m not sure if all this lead the writers to think she deserved to die at the end too. For someone who schemed and murdered both Vincent and Carlos, she was unable to escape Jonathan and his subordinates’ attack? That’s a bit skeptical. She lost her life in one stab while Nancy was poisoned, loss her heart beat multiple times, dived down from a rooftop, hospitalized, woke up, and was still able to suit up and fight the next morning. It’s either luck, miracles, or writers’ favoritism that makes Nancy survive and Grace die.

Grace’s state of vengeance and stubbornness made her very stressful to watch, but you’ll appreciate the nights she loosens up with Benjamin who becomes her soybean soup supplier. Like most roles Grace is casted in, there is that seductive element here as well — and she uses it to her advantage. *flips hair

3.5/5

Philip Ng.

Philip’s lack of emotion really hindered with his performance early on. As someone who only follows KK Cheung and Moon in and out, other than his martial arts flexibility that put Ruco and Benjamin’s to shame at times, he didn’t have much character. Although his scenes with his mother were unconventionally warm, it’s hard to shine when you’re always only carrying out orders from your boss.

It was only after KK Cheung’s death that he really started to show some emotion and love for his “Siu Jeh” (Moon), but even then he doesn’t know the art of pursuing and proposing to a lady. He ended up bringing her to a “dai pai dong” and ordered nine dishes for lunch hoping to obtain good luck rather than be romantic. He simply drops the ring on the table and says, “I hope you will really take this” in the most coarse tone ever. And it only gets better when he asks for a second chance but only to end up pouring a bucket of water all over Moon, who attended the date in a perfectly ironed dress. (insert *jaws drop emoji)

Still, I felt that his death, just like Grace’s, was created more for impact than necessity. He died for love which was very touching, but really, he’s the top martial arts in the Walled City!

3.5/5

Moon Lau.

“What I value is the light among all this darkness and you are this light.”

Whether it’s her character, performance, or the character’s nickname (“Peeing” which is a play on her last name, “Or”), Audrey is certainly Moon’s most memorable role to date. This begins with giving credit to the writer and despite not knowing any martial arts, she had the courage and spunkiness that made her character really shine here. Although she grew up in well-off family, she becomes a teacher to the low-income students in the Walled City to much of her father’s disapproval. She becomes good friends with Ruco and upon learning her father’s crimes, she rebels by making him choose between her or his dirty money.

Although Philip’s death was created more for impact, unlike Benjamin, at least Moon grieved properly at his funeral. Moon gave it her all here and for someone who had a pretty meaty role, there are definitely room for improvement in her crying scenes, which came off very amateur — similar to when one is caught short of breath. The only thing that seems to hold back her career is her height perhaps as most TVB/Asian males in general simply just isn’t as tall.

3.5/5

Overall Evaluation

Despite the many dramatic aspects like Nancy being able to survive and live on after losing her heartbeat multiple times, Grace and Philip’s beaten to death for dramatic flair, and the writers putting us at the edge of our seats as to whether or not Ruco and Nancy will have a happy ending, the series has entertainment value and seems to really suit the HK audience’s desire. Characterization really drove the plot here, which I always like. There is a lot of skepticism to some plot loopholes, but they are not as baffling as something like “the undead” in Presumed Accidents.

The Verdict

Yes, totally worth a try for the acting and characters while the plot is too idealistic at times.