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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Strike at Heart review

Note: Please don't re-post my review elsewhere as I have yet to send it to http://spcnet.tv This review belong to here only



Cast:

Joe Ma as Zhuge / Chu Kot Zheng Ngo
Charmaine Sheh as Siu Keng
Stephen Au as Yuan Sap Sam Han / Thirteen
Sunny Chan as Hui Siew Yat / Tin Yee Gui See (TYGS)
Annie Man as Jik Nui
Nnadia Chan as Mong Dip
Shek Sau as Choi Ging
Derek Kwok as Wu Zhong Shu
Mok Ka Yiu as Lang Huet
Yan Chi Keung as Zhui Ming

Episodes: 20

Warning: Major spoilers ahead!


Story:

This series was adapted from a same title novel written by the renowned wuxia novelist Wen Rui-An. Strike at Heart tells the tale of friendship, loyalty, love and revenge about Marquis Chu Kot and his friends in their younger days. Marquis Chu Kot was the master of The Four Constables – there were plenty series adaptation on the four constables by ATV, Taiwan and Mainland China. Therefore, Strike At Heart can be considered as a prequel.

TYGS (Sunny Chan), Chu Kot (Joe Ma) and Thirteen (Stephen Au) studied under the same martial arts clique Zhi Joi Mun since childhood. Three of them forged a strong bond and each has a special skill of their own.

TYGS was intelligent but physically weak therefore he turned to studying yin yang and the five material agents. Chu Kot and Thirteen are talented in martial arts and learned “Amazing Spear” and “Heartbroken Arrow’ respectively from their master. After being separated for more than 10 years, the brothers finally reunited but end up at daggers drawn.

After leaving the clique Chu Kot served the imperial government and was one of the emperor favorite officials. His mission was to protect the country from the Gum invasion and corrupt minister Choi Ging (Shek Sau) and his assistant Zhong Shu (Derek Kwok). Thirteen resent the fact that he was unable to beat Chu Kot before leaving the clique and spent 10 years practicing martial arts in hope of defeating him one day. TYGS enjoyed a carefree life at Bak Soh Yuen, immersing himself in chess, qin and his pet tortoise Gum Chai.

Thirteen returned and demanded a duel with Chu Kot. Chu Kot was unwilling to fight him but has no choice due to Choi Ging constant meddling and manipulating the naïve Thirteen. Their conflicts are aggravated when both of them fall in love with the gentle and cheerful Siu Keng (Charmaine Sheh). Meanwhile, the impulsive Jik Nui (Annie Man) from Divine Needle Sect met TYGS after a misunderstanding. Fallen for his gentlemanly ways, Jik Nui forces TYGS to marry her…

To salvage their friendship, Chu Kot decided to back away from the love triangle and pushes Siu Keng away with the help of Mong Dip (Nnadia Chan), a famous singer-prostitute. On the night of her wedding to Thirteen, Siu Keng found out the truth and hated Chu Kot for giving her away like a toy. She vowed revenge and destroy everything he stand for – his friendship, loyalty and honor.

TYGS was accustomed living alone and constantly neglected Jik Nui because he regard her as a nuisance. Jik Nui tries to change her behavior to please TYGS but he rather pay attention to his pet tortoise Gum Chai.

Under Siu Keng manipulation, Thirteen began to go against Chu Kot and goes berserk after attempting to master an internal martial arts manual “San Tze Ging”. Chu Kot was also learning the same manual as he wants to cure Mong Dip of poison. Mong Dip was actually sent to spy on Chu Kot by her lover and master Choi Ging. Mong Dip was saddened and disappointed when she realized Choi Ging killed her baby and tried to commit suicide with him. She failed and died in Chu Kot arms.

Siu Keng was saddened to hear Chu Kot death and regrets her actions. She went to his grave to confess that she still loved him. Thirteen overheard this and was hurt that Siu Keng married him for revenge. He went into berserk again and injures himself. Feeling guilty, Siu Keng went to look for a cure from Taoist Sam Bin and was saved by Chu Kot from his lecherous hands. Siu Keng begged Chu Kot to elope with her but he refused because he has too much responsibilities.

Knowing that Chu Kot faked dead, Choi Ging set up a trap and accused him of betraying the country with the Gum people. TYGS and Jik Nui became fugitives trying to help Chu Kot. On the other hand, Siu Keng decides to stick with Thirteen but he was narrow-minded and constantly accuses her of having affair with Chu Kot. Desperate to please Thirteen, Siu Keng agreed to retrieve the full copy of San Tze Ging from Taoist Sam Bin – only to be raped in exchange for the top half of the manual. Chu Kot found out about this and killed the Taoist when Siu Keng return to get the remaining manual. Ashamed, she tried to commit suicide…

Thirteen flew into rage thinking Chu Kot was after his wife and tried to kill him. Siu Keng ran out and broke his arrow to save Chu Kot. Embittered, Thirteen finally understand the true meaning of “Heartbroken Arrow”. Chu Kot narrowly escaped with the wounded Siu Keng. Jik Nui sticks through thick and thin with TYGS and he realizes he has fallen for her. However, TYGS has to divorce her because he doesn’t want her to get involved with Chu Kot’s problem.

Humiliated and filled with hatred, Thirteen vowed to kill Chu Kot and anyone who dared to stand in his way. Choi Ging seizes this opportunity to manipulate Thirteen to assist him in abducting the emperor. Jik Nui attempt to lure Thirteen and assassinate him with the help of Divine Needle Sect but she was defeated and thrown down the cliff. TYGS arrived too late and regretted not appreciating Jik Nui when he still has the chance.

Fully mastered the San Tze Ging, Thirteen was invincible. Chu Kot study the secret of “Amazing Spear” in order to defeat Thirteen “Heartbroken Arrow”. Touched by Siu Keng undying devotion, Chu Kot promised to live in recluse with her after he settles his problems with Choi Ging and Thirteen. Siu Keng was overjoyed that they can finally be together…

Even though knowing he can’t defeat Thirteen, Chu Kot has no choice but to walk into Choi Ging trap as he want to save the emperor. Thirteen cannot bring himself to kill Siu Keng when she begged him not to hurt Chu Kot as he still loved her. Siu Keng kill herself with the arrow after telling Thirteen she was raped to get him the manual – Thirteen was remorseful but it was already too late. Siu Keng died peacefully in Chu Kot arms knowing that Thirteen has forgiven them. Chu Kot and Thirteen were extremely grieved.

Choi Ging martial arts were destroyed because he was injured by Thirteen arrow, rendering him useless. The emperor exiled him to barbarous land to make him suffer for his past wrongdoings. Since they both have no more burdens, Thirteen and Chu Kot have their final duel in front of Siu Keng altar (how ironic – she died to stop them from fighting, and what are they doing now?). Chu Kot breakthrough his “Amazing Spear” final skill and beat Thirteen. Unable to live with defeat, Thirteen commit suicide.

Jik Nui survived her fall and reunited with TYGS. They became a loving couple and soon Jik Nui was pregnant. Chu Kot continues to serve the emperor but feels empty without Siu Keng…


Characters:


Joe Ma as Chu Kot

“Disregarding family for the country, disregarding death for the Emperor”

Chu Kot has a dual personality; on the external he put up a flirtatious, humorous front. This works to his advantage working as a government official and gaining the favor of the emperor. The other side of him was serious and thoughtful, as he need to solve the problems against Choi Ging and protecting the martial arts world.

Nothing is more important to him than his friendship with TYGS and Thirteen. Chu Kot certainly cared about his two brothers especially Thirteen because he believed Thirteen is naïve just like a younger brother and felt compelled to protect him. Chu Kot always yields to Thirteen; Thirteen wanted to defeat him, so he feigns losing. Thirteen loved Siu Keng, so Chu Kot gave her to him. Ultimately he destroyed Thirteen, Siu Keng and his own happiness; therefore Chu Kot deserved to live a lonely existence.

Chu Kot was indecisive in love matters – he keep giving Siu Keng false hope and later rejects her over and over again. His biggest mistake was to assume that his ‘sacrifices’ was the best solution for Thirteen and Siu Keng. The results: he fulfilled his heroic duties but his heart is forever empty. Joe certainly looks the humorous and flirtatious part of Chu Kot. He did very well in romantic scenes – his gaze is very sincere and charming. Joe acting skill has improved but he still need to brush up on his emotional scenes. His crying scenes are just not convincing enough.

Extra: Chu Kot always disliked his name “Zheng Ngo”. He thinks it was too boring and thus renamed himself Chu Kot Siu Fa (Little Flower Chu Kot). Both he and Thirteen entered government service the same time, but Chu Kot was more successful due to his colorful and playful personality.



Charmaine Sheh as Siu Keng

“What a woman despised most was not her lover’s betrayal; but a man who loved her yet gave her away to honor his own self righteous belief”

Sweet, kind and gentle, there’s no doubt why Chu Kot and Thirteen both fall in love with her. You can say she’s the perfect wife material. Siu Keng was stuck in dilemma between Chu Kot and her father as they want to kill each other. Siu Keng was heartbroken to be rejected by Chu Kot and find consolation in Thirteen, who always stood by her side. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” - is what best describe her after marrying Thirteen out of spite. Her judgment was briefly clouded by resentment for Chu Kot and schemed to ruin him by manipulating Thirteen. She regretted her action after Chu Kot ‘died’ and Thirteen went berserk knowing she never loved him. Feeling guilty, she tried her best to fulfill Thirteen wishes – including risking being raped again by Taoist Sam Bin in order to retrieve the last part of the manual. In the end, she commit suicide to solve their disputes.

Charmaine went through three stages as Siu Keng. The initial Siu Keng was sweet and innocent, but she can turn selfish for love. She threatened to hate her own father if he harmed Chu Kot; disregarding the fact that Chu Kot was doing the same. Later, she was bitter because Chu Kot gave her away to Thirteen like an unwanted toy. Siu Keng sealed her own doom by plotting revenge against Chu Kot – she could have moved on with her life but she chose the destructive path, ruining Thirteen as well. Eventually she was remorseful but it was already too late. I prefer the Charmaine as the vengeful Siu Keng who delighted upon Chu Kot suffering. He deserved it anyway.

Extra: Siu Keng was killed by Thirteen in the novel. They had a son name Yuan Ci Long. She got to know Chu Kot and Thirteen when she seeks their help to save TYGS and Jik Nui.



Stephen Au as Thirteen

“For you, losing means nothing. For me, losing is the end of everything…”

Thirteen personality was a stark contrast compared to his two martial arts brother. He was hot-tempered, impulsive and either love or hate anything to the extreme. He doesn’t care about the country or the martial arts world, he just want to prove himself to be better than Chu Kot. Because Thirteen feel he was always seen as below Chu Kot, he became very sensitive when other people compared them together. To him, victory represents survival therefore he cannot accept losing to Chu Kot; be it in martial arts or love interest.

Most of the unfortunate events happen on Thirteen. Thirteen hoped for TYGS approval, but the latter always stood by Chu Kot side (for a good reason). His face was scarred by Siu Keng when he killed her father by mistake. Thinking he married his dream goddess, he discovered she never loved him at all. I feel extremely sad when he begged Siu Keng to shed a single tear for him – to show at least a little love to him. He killed himself after losing to Chu Kot. He sees no reason for him to continue his pathetic life, a failure – Chu Kot has Siu Keng love while he has nothing at all. Hence he did something Chu Kot couldn’t – end his own life to be with Siu Keng in death. Stephen portrayal as Thirteen is very faithful to the novel version. I love to watch Stephen acting here; a good range of joy, affection, jealousy, anger and remorse.

Extra: His original name was Yuan Han. Because he mastered 13 kinds of extraordinary skills, they added Sap Sam (13) in his name. Thirteen in the novel was extremely handsome, yes more than Chu Kot if you’re curious. Again, I must applaud TVB and Stephen; apart from the ‘Adonis’ aspect, this character was written and portrayed to perfection. This is basically the same Yuen Sap Sam Han in the novel.



Sunny Chan as TYGS

“Chu Kot is my brother. It is my duty to help him”

TYGS is the eldest martial brother and always act as mediator between Chu Kot and Thirteen. He disliked Jik Nui unreasonable and spoilt behavior but still marry her because he felt sorry for her. Although TYGS support Chu Kot for a good reason, he was also undeniably partial to Chu Kot; the ‘better’ brother. TYGS and Chu Kot always assume that their way is the best solution for everyone. He divorced Jik Nui to prevent her from harm.

While he is usually mature, sometimes, TYGS has a childish streak in him when it came to Jik Nui. His face looks cute when he pouts and sulks at Jik Nui. – the first time when he plan to go in hiding to avoid marrying her; the second time when he make a false oath to divorce her. Sunny performance was consistent, but he looked tired from time to time. And I hate his awful costumes.

Extra: TYGS was actually the second brother, followed by Chu Kot and Thirteen. Thirteen died (or rather suicide) in his disciple Wong Siu Sek hands. TYGS was killed by Thirteen because he broke his promise to recluse in Bak Soh Yuen.



Annie Man as Jik Nui

“I can’t even compete with a tortoise for his affections”

Jik Nui and TYGS are different like day and night. While TYGS was calm and considerate, Jik Nui was reckless and unreasonable. TYGS disapprove her using violence to solve problems so Jik Nui tries hard to change her manners to please him. She was disappointed because TYGS doesn’t appreciate her efforts – she even have to compete with a tortoise for his attention!

This version of Jik Nui was similar with the novel version except that she’s too fixated on TYGS. Annie did a convincing job as a spoilt and feisty girl here; her zest saved the chemistry between TYGS and Jik Nui. Annie provides the much needed comic relief in tense moments. Look out for those scenes where she acts coy with Sunny, very cute and funny.

Extra: TYGS and Jik Nui were supposed to have a tragic ending in the novel. They both perished in Thirteen hands. There was no such thing as General Fu Yuen and lost daughter. Jik Nui was the one who introduced Siu Keng to TYGS.



Nnadia Chan as Mong Dip

“You were right; it’s painful to kill the person you love with your own hands”

Mong Dip was a beautiful singer prostitute trained by Choi Ging to assist him in various ‘assignment’ – including seducing and assassinating his rivals in secret. Mong Dip was disappointed that Choi Ging question her faithfulness to him and even killed their baby because he was suspicious of her relationship with Chu Kot. She did many stuff to harm Chu Kot behind his back but he still trusted her till the end. I pity this character, when she lie dying in Chu Kot arms; she wished if only Choi Ging can truly love her like Chu Kot love Siu Keng.

This was my first time seeing Nnadia in evil role. Despite she tried to redeem herself in the end, I couldn’t forget the scheming Mong Dip early in the series. Even though she did it under Choi Ging’s instruction, most of the evil plot were devised by her. Nnadia did a good job but this role wasn’t that memorable to me at all – the only scene that made an impact on me was when she cheated Choi Ging to give her one last kiss; the Mong Dip that loved and died in vain.

Extra: TVB created this character. This character doesn’t exist in the novel.



Shek Sau as Choi Ging

What is a series without a villain? Choi Ging is the super villain in Strike at Heart. He betrayed the Song Dynasty because the Gum people promised to make him rich and ruler of Song Dynasty. Doesn’t make sense to me as Choi Ging was more intelligent than merely be another puppet king of dying dynasty (the current emperor was the last emperor of Northern Song) with the Gum country as the facto de ruler. This man was incapable of loving anyone but himself; he loved Mong Dip in a sense that she was his ‘possession’. Anyway, I’m not impressed with Shek Sau overacting and his voice irritates me instead of giving the intimidating feel. Don’t get me wrong, I have always enjoyed villains but his portrayal turn me off.


Favorite characters:


1. Thirteen (Reckless, stubborn, immature – but he was also most sincere and truthful, most of all he loved Siu Keng wholeheartedly)
2. Siu Keng (The vengeful Siu Keng was pretty scary, I was relieved to see her return to her sweet self in the end)
3. Jik Nui (Provide the most comic relief, her chemistry with Sunny was funny)


Least favorite characters:


1. Taoist Sam Bin (The fat lecherous creep that molested Jik Nui and raped Siu Keng)
2. Choi Ging (What a stupid villain, the joke was on him; he kill his own baby and the woman who love him more than anything else in the world)
3. Chu Kot (I hate him for ruining Siu Keng, Thirteen and ultimately his own life. He deserved to live a lonely existence. Eat your heart out, Chu Kot)


Favorite couple:


Beginning: Sunny and Annie
Middle: Stephen and Charmaine
End: Joe and Charmaine


Memorable scenes:

1.Chu Kot bring Siu Keng to see the lantern festival. The street lit with lanterns were beautiful.
2.TYGS and Jik Nui at the hot spring. TYGS ran away like a frightened rabbit – he later confessed to Jik Nui by shyly showing his new shoes. Very funny!
3.Chu Kot and Thirteen duel in front of the emperor. The choreography and special effect is very good and exciting.
4.Siu Keng ‘blinds’ TYGS. Another hilarious scene.
5.Thirteen carries Siu Keng back to Bak Soh Yuen. Thirteen blushed when Siu Keng asked him if she was too heavy – he realize he has fallen in love with her.
6.Chu Kot bring Siu Keng to watch stars – he was as sweet and charming as possible; he leans on to kiss her but get interrupted by a shooting star. His reaction was so cute.
7.Jik Nui forces TYGS to eat needle filled cakes after she found out he was faking his blindness.
8.Jik Nui crying to Granny Sun Jum that TYGS mistreated her. TYGS walked in a get slapped. Twice.
9.Thirteen tell Siu Keng that he’s not trying to redeem his sins, he just want her to be happy. Siu Keng lifted his veil and look into his eyes warmly. My favorite scene as it was so touching.
10.Chu Kot reaction after Siu Keng decides to marry Thirteen. When she took the proposal letter from Thirteen, he turned pale. I can almost hear his heart sank with a loud thud.
11.TYGS holding Jik Nui hand in sleep – TYGS tell the sleeping Jik Nui that sometimes she can be very adorable.
12.Mong Dip attempt to suicide with Choi Ging – Nnadia look heartbreakingly beautiful in here.
13.Siu Keng reunites with Chu Kot – She knew he was still alive and called out to him; he came out and they embraced.
14.Jik Nui and TYGS in prison – Jik Nui pinches her own cheek to make sure it wasn’t a dream; TYGS tell her to pinch his face instead.
15.Chu Kot and Siu Keng officially together. Siu Keng falls asleep in Chu Kot arms.
16.Thirteen cried bitterly when Siu Keng told him she was raped to get him the manual. A mixture of shock, disbelief, hurt and remorse.
17.Siu Keng tragic suicide.
18.TYGS say he was willing to woo Jik Nui again and chased after her. Very sweet expression on Jik Nui face.
19.Chu Kot seeing Siu Keng spirit in the fireflies. Poor Chu Kot standing there alone watching the fireflies flew away.


Props, background and costumes:

Weapons: Joe’s spear was well crafted and very beautiful. I love the fact that it can be shortened and hidden behind his clothes. Stephen “Heartbroken Arrow “was also innovative. It was cool seeing him pull out the string from chest – turning it onto a stylish bow for the arrows. Later, the arrow tip turn bright red after his tears fell on it. Charmaine mirror and Shek Sau metal claw looked a bit cheesy for me.

Special effect: The special effect was very good. Apart from the first fighting scene between Ko Hung and Joe, the rest are wonderfully done. I like the fire effect from the spear and also the energy wave from Stephen’s martial art moves.


Cool camera angle and breathtaking effect for the fighting sequence

Background: Some scenery were obviously fake – Bak Soh Yuen and the Taoist cave. Don’t tell me TVB put all the money into creating special effects and put none into the props – the cave background cheapen this series. However, I think the fight scenes with the blue sky in the background is extremely fascinating and fresh. Thumbs up to that! The autumn and winter scenes are good, too.

Costumes: I disliked Charmaine earlier costumes – the colors clashed. Her costume after getting married was wonderful and well designed, making her look really elegant. So does Annie costumes. All of Joe’s costume was very nicely made. Stephen has his share of good and bad costumes, he look extremely macho in the red and black ones. Sunny costume, on the other hand was pretty crappy. Nnadia costume was of course lovely.


Final Comments:

As the saying goes, “One man's meat is another man's poison”. I enjoyed this series and regard it as one of the best wuxia series TVB produced in recent years, though there are people who think differently. You either love or hate this series. Some people might hate it because Joe is leading over Sunny and Nnadia, some dislike it because it’s not hype as Twins of Brother, while some simply dislike the serious tone of the story. In my opinion, this is a quality series from a wuxia fan point of view, mainly because of it’s faithfulness to the novel (70%) and the choreographed fights. Inevitably I will compare it with TOB – and the latter was horrible in these two factors. Strike at Heart doesn’t entirely rely on special effect, and certainly didn’t butcher the plot like TOB did (to me it was sinful!).

Acting wise, the cast was very consistent in their performance and illustrated the personality in the novel around 90% accurate. I have to applaud the script for not butchering the main characters.

Watch this series if you are a wuxia fan and doesn’t mind tragic tale. Try setting aside your personal presumption of the cast while watching and you will enjoy the series. One warning though, this series wasn’t always climatic – it rather has a more steady flow throughout the storyline.



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1 comment:

David said...

Quite an analytical review and expressed in a very systematic manner.

I probably will only get to watch this series in 2006, but certainly look forward to it!

Joe Ma seems to be the hot leading actor now, but I like Stephen Au too.
For the actresses, Chermaine is a personal favourite, and I used to like Nnadia very much in the past, but we don't get to see her very much these days.

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