Two Steps from Heaven 幕後玩家 TVB Review

Hello everyone,
We hope you have been having a wonderful start to your Christmas and Holiday season. This is Ah Tao, your friendly contributor who really haven't been contributing much. Today we will be bring you our review of Two Steps from Heaven, a 35-episode TVB 49th anniversary drama airing from October 24th to December 9th, 2016. Although Jay dropped this drama, Cee and I continued on and its only fitting we highlight what had been one of the most anticipated dramas of the year.



Plot Overview: This drama is centred on the business and professional rivalries in the public relations (PR) industry. Sheldon Chun (Bosco Wong), Tim Yau (Louis Cheung), and Fung Chik-Yin (Edwin Siu) are a trio working at the PR firm the Rainmakers. They each have a strong friendship to each other and have stayed true to their bromance as they transitioned to new companies and succeeded together. Along with garnering a loyal team under their fold, they have tackled on cases from planning private parties to art exhibitions. Through an ownership struggle, they have become the owners of the Rainmakers and true decision-makers in the industry.
This is only the first stage of conflict in this drama. The real power struggles lie in the Fuk Sang Real Estate corporation, a leading company in the industry headed by the successful tycoon Ku Fuk-Sang (Pat Poon). Ku Shing-Sheung (Priscilla Wong), Chik-Yin’s childhood friend, love interest, and future wife, is Fuk-Sang’s daughter born to a mistress. This means although she desires greater decision-making powers and recognition in the family, she is currently suffering from an inferior status. She also faces opposition in the name of Selina Ku (Alice Chan), her half-sister born to Fuk-Sang’s wife and the actual decision-maker in the corporation. In her quest to rise up, she employs the Rainmakers trio to her advantage as they trained her brother Ted Ku (Luk Wing) from a languishing rebel to an aspiring future heir of the company.
Relationship wise, Chik-Yin is enamoured with his wife, but Tim has ambiguous relationships with Sheldon’s sister Moon Chun (Jacqueline Chong), Emma Yip (Moon Lau), and Maple Ching (Gloria Tang). Thirsty for greater recognition himself, Sheldon sacrifices his marriage with the sweet and soft-spoken Carmen Chan (Katy Kung) in order to engage in a scandalous affair with Emma. Yet, as the power struggle intensifies, Sheldon and Shing-Sheung find more and more commonalities in their belief in the ends more than the means. What else could go wrong if the two of them develop feelings for each other at the expense of a bromance?
What will the results of the struggles be? Will Sheldon and Shing-Sheung achieve results, and how will they do it? What will be the cost of the rivarles? And what opinions do each character hold about what will come out of this struggle?

Cee:
I will just be talking about the cast and their portrayal of the characters and a little bit about the plot as well.

The Cast/Characters:


Bosco Wong as Sheldon Chun - This was a drama I personally wanted to see for the three male leads. I have been liking Bosco ever since his role as Bi-Co in Lives of Omission and he was my choice for My Favourite Character that year. I knew he wouldn’t get it though with the competition from Kevin (Ghetto Justice), Michael(Laughing) and more. Lately he hasn’t had that many memorable characters at TVB even though he still plays his roles well. Obviously, The Ultimate Addiction was a big flop and K9 Cops was a drama that everyone forgot about. This time as Sheldon, Bosco has proved that his acting has matured greatly from his younger days in the early 2000’s. In the beginning, he was very natural in his part as a successful PR Manager and husband (balancing another woman outside). He was very charismatic and it allowed the audience to celebrate with him when they won clients over and held successful events. Although he was a cheating husband, as he says it to Tim (Louis), girls like a bad boy so I thought it he was smooth as he pulled off this character and justified his actions. This is not something I would support but for the character, it was fitting. Something I do not understand however is why Sheldon would have an affair with Emma in the first place if he was already set on something bigger. Emma was such a small potato that he could have left her after one night and there was no need to bring her back to the office and cause all that drama. Although I enjoyed watching their relationship unfold in front of everyone’s eyes, I thought it was nothing but a plot stimulator to later show how despicable he was. As the story progressed, I thought it got increasingly difficult to comprehend the actions behind his character. Sure, one has ambition and wants to climb to the top. But for someone who began so friendly and charming to suddenly start wanting to kill people for status, it seems far-fetched. In the beginning his words sorta matched his actions by being smart in the office and taking initiative to get what he wanted but at the end if was all running on action. There were no words for us to understand his motives anymore. Was it the scriptwriter’s intent to leave the audience confused and therefore more horrified at his actions later on? Another issue: I also never understood if he loved his mother or was ignorant towards her because at the funeral when Emma showed up he was REALLY angry and basically vowed to take revenge on her. But all his actions afterwards show that he never cared for her and not a word she said stayed with him so why did he take revenge on Emma? As for his relationship with Priscilla… it was very non-existent. Maybe because by the end his character was so incapable of love and care that there didn’t need to be anything there for them but I remember at the beginning it made sense for them to be together because they had the same thoughts about wanting to climb up the ladder. He could also read her mind very well and there was a scene after the Egyptian party where they drove out together and had a connection that I thought was stronger than her’s with Chik Yin. It’s a shame that they didn’t progress further romantically right there. OK, to end this rant off about Sheldon, TVB has made the same mistake again. Hastily killing off the main leads. It just ruined the whole build up of the evil character and all his intentions went to waste. The bad guys don’t need karma this bad TVB! Overall I really enjoyed Bosco’s performance and I hope he has a great character for Heart and Greed coming up despite the plot holes in the story itself.


Louis Cheung as Tim Yau - I have always enjoyed Louis’s acting because he’s humorous yet emotional when the scene calls for it. I especially noticed him as the main lead of A Momentary Lapse of Reason where he proved his acting skills. This time as Tim Siu, he was able to pull off another wonderful performance with some good laughs and also some tears (alongside Katy Kung). In the beginning I really enjoyed their brotherhood and especially the all white party scene with the rowdy rich kids and how Celine Ma showed up being all touchy with Louis. I thought it was hilarious and showed how tight they were as friends and coworkers. There really was no suspicion in their harmony and although I knew about the plot beforehand, the three of them bonded very well on screen and it wasn’t until the plot unfolded that their friendship broke. There was absolute trust and even in Sheldon, I did not suspect much. For the funny brotherhood scenes, I also enjoyed the days when they bashed Phillip their boss right in front of him. Tim Siu the character really took one for the team in a lot of the scenes from the funny ones (Celine Ma scenes), to more serious ones like hiding the fact that Sheldon was cheating on the woman he tried to get for so long. Personally I commend Tim Siu for doing this because I would be disgusted by my friend’s actions and also at how I fell for someone who would commit themselves into this type of relationship. Some people really hide it well and I guess that’s what this drama is about. The balance between morality and success (status and fortune). Tim doesn’t solely see these two things on his scale. He also weighs friendship and loyalty heavily, so even if it goes against his conscience, he will protect his friend. He may lose face and still try his best to help out a friend, in this case Maple (Gloria Tang) in auditioning for a movie role.


*Side rant about plot*
At the end of the day, everyone has different decisions and these decisions lead you to a certain path. Along the way you will lose some and also gain some but is what you lose worth it? I think this is what the scriptwriters intended to get across at the beginning but I think it got lost with all the subplots. TVB also never manages to get a strong theme across in recent dramas besides Law Disorder. Even A Fist Within Four Walls was just a BAM BAM BAM fighting scene drama but what was the theme? The moral? The take-home message? Take revenge when someone killed your family? Some dramas had no theme or substance at all (ahem, Inspector Gourmet). That part irks me the most about TVB dramas. I would really like to see them work towards sending out a key message and having symbols and motifs for that message. It would be a lot more meaningful and I always feel so much more whole after I see something like that (for ex: The Blind Side). I guess TVB thinks the average audience won’t be too into deep and meaningful shows so they just churn out some old, used plot devices like the whole 殺父仇人 or fighting for the rich dad’s money with all the illegitimate sons. SOMETIMES they think they’re being GENIUS and combine the two FOR AN EPIC DRAMA.
*end of rant*
In the end, Louis finally gave up the brotherhood with Sheldon because at that point his conscience got to him. I thought this was very real and it wasn’t just blindly following one character trait of being loyal and I thought he was one of the better written characters in this aspect. I also thought Louis’s portrayal of Tim Siu was great.


Edwin Siu as Sean Fung - Edwin seems to have lost his touch lately, but I was hoping to see him bring it back with this cast. This role seems typical of him to play, the hot-headed, morally obliged guy. Overall I thought his performance in this drama was adequate given the character inconsistencies and plot holes. In the beginning, it was heavily focused on his relationship with Priscilla and how they were old lovers and he still hasn’t let go of their relationship. It was always a mystery to me as to how they met since they are from two different worlds, they had said they met at school but somehow I don’t quite buy this. A daughter of a multi-billionaire or whatever he was going to school with the son of a noodle shop owner? Either they supported him to go to some prestigious school and owed people money and had crazy connections or she just got put in some random school in Sham Shui Po. Either way, the main storyline with Chik Yin is to do with his relationship with Shing Sheung. As a part of rainmakers, Chik Yin was a great worker and added to the trio which I really liked. When he took over Rainmakers, everything seemed the same and the also the PR cases were completely dropped and everything was focused on helping Ted into making his big mark in Fuk Sang. The interesting PR events were completely gone AGAIN. The focus was not even on PR anymore and I am finding that TVB keeps using different backgrounds (PR, noodle shops, fast food chains, abalone shops, bakeries, rice factories, soy sauce factories, you name it). This was a letdown for me again plotwise and a waste of the beginning which actually had to do with what I THOUGHT WAS THE THEME. I would have enjoyed more scenes with his father though because they did show how he was a filial son but didn’t build on that afterwards. Instead they chose to build on him being filial to his father-in-law during the time of his stroke and recovery. Character wise, I know Ah Tao will mention how he was so morally uptight and then loses it all for Shing Sheung to cover up for her! I thought that this was sloppy in following the character traits and the old Chik Yin would not give up his morals for someone who’s heart has changed and has become a complete stranger. There was not enough time to develop his character and show how he really loved Shing Sheung, I mean, all he did was say that he could not let her go. Edwin lacked the deep connection and emotion of lasting love for his character’s partner, Shing Sheung. Next time, I would love for Edwin to act with his eyes as well as through his words.


Priscilla Wong as Koo Shing Sheung - As for Priscilla, I was very skeptical of her leading this grand production at first because she usually plays more simpler roles in filler dramas. With Alice Chan in the cast, I was wondering why Priscilla would be the main female lead. However, I was excited to see her acting improve as she took on a different role. I know I have taken a while talking about the three main guys so I will try and keep this one shorter. I had a lot of problems with the character itself and of course there were inconsistencies in her acting. I do however admire Priscilla’s humble answers to the reporters saying that her acting was still very beginner and she has a long way to go. When she first appeared looking hipster and sad, I thought to myself, its another one of her usual characters with long baggy clothes! I want to see her with a different image, different costumes. Glad to see that she took on the OL style later on. At the beginning, I thought her suffocating scenes were quite unnatural and it seemed to me like she was a girl with something to hide. Her relationship with the artist seemed like a quick getaway to run away from her problems. More on this later but I really did not like how they discontinued her illness after like two scenes. Instead, scheming and all that just amped up her health? So we find out later on that she actually left the scene of the car crash and let her ex bf to die. What was her issue with her ex bf the artist? She thought he was a failure and that’s it? She mentioned how disgusted she was at the thought of traveling together but what was so gross about that time? Again they should have spent more time developing that side of the story or just not have it at all. In fact, what was the point of that scene anyways? To show that she was an evil woman? Alice Chan’s Shing Fun said that she’s always been a manipulative woman and from childhood she has always been fighting for herself. But where were the examples? I would rather see scheming little Shing Sheung ripping off Shing Fun’s Barbie doll’s head rather than some fleeting romance with a weird artist that had no connection to the main plot! I said earlier that I liked her chemistry with Bosco but it was a shame that they did not develop it further. Also did she really love Chik Yin until the end or was this man a bygone memory? Why did SHE propose to HIM at the beginning? Was it really because he was easy to manipulate? I mean how would he help with her plans? He wouldn’t even go with them anyways! She cried from her heart when she divorced Chik Yin which has me very confused. I think given this character, Priscilla did her best and she was especially cold during the scene with Bosco in the end when she said she had been poisoning him for half a year. It ended bad with her death scene which I found unnecessary. It would have been refreshing to see a female villain win for one. This character can be described with one adjective: 矛盾!


Katy Kung as Carmen Chun: Having Katy Kung instead of Elaine Yiu was not an issue for me (Elaine dropped out as she sustained an injury) because in this role, I thought Katy could be show as a smaller character in the shadow of Bosco’s. HOWEVER, this was not Best Supporting Actress worthy. All I can say from this performance was she can act and has proved herself and should graduate from being nominated in the most improved actress category. Her crying scenes were very real and way better than some other first lead’s who can’t even get a tear out of their eyes.


Moon Lau as Emma: Moon Lau has been my favourite new actress of the new batch as she is a stable actress and can play a variety of roles. This new character proved to be daring from the first few episodes. I enjoyed watching her story with Sheldon but the ending for her was again sloppily written. I really do not think that she loved Sheldon that much to stab someone for him. She seemed like a carefree girl who knew where her place was until she lost her baby. Even until that point, I thought it was logical for her to feel that she needed to do something because this time it wasn’t her choice to abort the baby and the baby just died as an accident. As she has had two previous abortions, being with or without Sheldon didn’t seem like a big deal. She even got her hands on this other rich guy in the end so why have her run desperately back to him? I thought that was overdone and she could’ve had a happy ending with her new husband. The stabbing scene was just dumb.


Luk Wing as Ted Fuk: The real lead for the middle 10-15 episodes! Here we go! These days FAMA has been doing a lot at TVB with Do Jeh bringing them in and creating some new sparks hosting things together. Ted was hastily thrown in and out of the drama. I did want to see more of the trio together leading the drama but I thought that this was a new part of the drama and things were shifting to the Fuk Sang Enterprises now. I liked the ShareTown idea and I thought that this could have really developed and AGAIN he died needlessly… Maybe there needed to be something to make Sheldon more immoral but there were many other opportunities for that. Although he was a bad boy in the beginning, I did enjoy seeing him change into a better, more motivated person. It was a waste of all this growing and building to just die because he thought he had AIDS. Honestly, THIS WAS DUMB because he should have definitely CHECKED if he really had it before he decided to jump off the building. Anyone would do that! Why would you believe someone that knows nothing about what happened that night? I would question their source of information a lot. Ted was smart and witty but died a stupid death.


As for the rest, they all did well and they added to the atmosphere of the drama, especially Alice Chan (never fails to deliver a solid performance), Gloria Tang (improved lots), Kandy Wong (refreshing watch), and Yoyo Chen (hope to see her more).

All in all this drama was a waste of 35 episodes in building up to be the playmaker of everything. Everyone who was close to this position just died and brought everyone else down with them as stabbers or whatever else they became. It was entertaining but could have had potential to be so much more. I rate this a 7/10.


Ah Tao:
Pros - This had been one of the most dramas of the year because of a few factors. Bosco had been successful with his mainland dramas recently so he hasn't had much going for TVB, so a lot of people was anticipating his return. This role is eerily similar to his role as Damon in the Ultimate Addiction, in which he really excelled at executing a character in the ‘grey zone’ of life and pursued his ambitions through ethically questionable methods. Like in that drama, I would say he did an excellent job with this character as Sheldon, a charismatic and polished leader who masks his extreme ambitions for decision-making power well. He was able to really pull off that polished appearance and assertiveness, and his portrayal was cool and collected for the most part without appearing desperate. He was an intellectual for the most part and knew the often dark rules of this word in terms of exchanging benefits and acquiring more staus. If Bosco wasn’t going to leave TVB soon, I would certainly support him getting Best Actor in this year’s awards. His acting has certainly matured to the point where I feel comfortable when he plays the central character.

I also really like the fact that the central trio of Edwin, Louis, and Bosco are helming this drama. TSFH has a very solid and experienced cast for the resources TVB has nowadays without outside help. I am glad that they are not being overshadowed by anyone else in a major production because this has been the norm nowadays. And I think they have delivered well in their performances and that the production team have written another classic pairing. A morally-principled and righteous role seems natural for Edwin, and same with a caring ladies’ man for Louis. All three of the trio have roles that they are comfortable in, which add to the strength of the drama. One of the biggest strengths of TVB scriptwriters is that they are awesome at writing memorable friendships and bromances, and I couldn’t agree more here. The scenes at the house Louis rented from Edwin were hilarious because the friendship was really realistic and if this had been a sitcom, it would be good.

It also helps that TVB is traditionally strong at producing dramas based on a professional career track because they are able to hash out a lot of the interesting characteristics of the industry. The PR cases in the drama were interesting because they were so diverse, going from private parties to art expos to damage control when a major corporation communicates with the public. Bosco especially really embodies the PR ideal that appearance must be prioritized and polished. For the most part, the subordinates played by artistes like Kandy Wong, William Chak, Gloria Tang, and Claire Yiu also got a chance to shine and play some memorable characters. The workplace scenes were very enjoyable to watch no matter if it was a lively and productive mood or whether it was more sombre.

Cons - But once again, this drama revealed a preference for style over substance. This has been a problem in quite a few TVB grand productions and you could really see it in the pace of the plot.
The first half of the drama was spent on highlighting the friendships and romances within our character dynamic. We had the sweet and hilarious proposal from Edwin to Priscilla where he mocked various movie characters in a video compilation. We spent a lot of time wondering where Tim’s heart will lie as he cared about and protected three of our female characters. We saw Katy Kung wonderfully play a sweet and unconditionally supportive wife. We also saw Moon steal the spotlight among the female characters as a seductive mistress. We saw lots of the Rainmaker trio bromance. There was a bit of drama as the Rainmakers trio seized the control of their firm, but most of the first half was sweet and slow, and we really didn’t see much in terms of the Ku family. Little did we really know at this point how important their company was to the drama. The pace slowed down especially by episode 15 as we were wondering why the conflicts would intensify and when we would see some intelligent moves to compete and succeed. Every human conflict needs some of those to be realistic. This was a natural point to drop the drama really if you cared about the drama delivering to its plot description.

One of the biggest issues with the drama is the random filler material that had no relevance to anything plot developments in the TSFH. One example is with how one of the Rainmakers team members played by Snow Suen shined by executing an Egyptian-themed party and showed Edwin how she couldn’t sleep without wrapping herself like a mummy. This part was funny but I really don’t get what we would have lost if we cut this part out. Also, William Chak’s character Dick stalked Claire Yiu’s character Carrie because he saw her as an idol when she was a model in her younger days. He offered to protect her against her potentially abusive husband in one scene and explained why he was so stalker-ish. The problem is, this subplot also had nothing to do with the main arc of the drama. Having too many subplots really detracted from the main business struggle in this drama, and this reminded me of how the Hippocratic Crush II lost focus on the main Kenneth-Tavia pairing just so they could squeeze as many newbies as possible. This can be a really serious problem in grand productions as the production team spends more time thinking about how to promote them rather than trying to make an extensive script.

*ENDING SPOILER ALERT BEGINS HERE*
On the other hand, the second half of the drama intensified to the point where plot holes started occurring more often, which becomes catastrophic in the ending. As the power struggle really comes into play, the relations characters have with one another starts shifting, often to the worse. But at the same time, some of the changes don’t make that much sense. For example, Bosco’s character Sheldon is ambitious and scheming, and has a very precisely defined goal to gain more in this society. He is not only skilled at masking his inner side, but also knows ways to smear other people’s public image without getting his hands dirty. That means he is intelligent enough to know how to stay independent of other people’s control and should be able to ward off threats coming at him. But if we look at the ending, he ends up getting poisoned by Priscilla and pretty much goes from a strong-willed figure to being wasted away in about half an hour’s worth of drama material. This seem a bit illogical because how could he have not detected a slow poison for nearly 9 months without noticing his deteriorating health? He pretty much goes from an all-knowing character to a feeble failure in the ending and that is simply not realistic. His dying moments weren’t memorable or logical enough for us to understand what the point was other than to end because they ran out of episodes.

It gets even worse with Priscilla and Edwin. Priscilla, as we realize late, is someone who truly believes the end justifies the means. She is just as scheming as Bosco, going to even more extreme lengths as to poison him so she is free of his influence. Edwin gets told this from Bosco and could not believe it and is questioned to convict suspects for this crime. Throughout the drama, he is a morally righteous and principled person, valuing ethics and honesty over any achievements. He nearly became enemies with Bosco over his offensive tactics despite the strong bond they’ve shared over the years, going as far as to calling him degenerate. If he is able to sacrifice a bromance just like that, you would expect from conventional wisdom he could tell the police the truth because he genuinely believes that will benefit Priscilla and that is the right action to do. But instead, he chooses to lie even as the police notices he is hiding something just for the sake that she actually loves him - this despite choosing to divorce him so she is free of interference in a power pursuit. This seems a little inconsistent and hypocritical - and seems to me like a character fail. It was as if he was a well-written character until he falls apart in the last moments of the drama. This really tarnished the substance in the plot and I found it to be a big weakness.

The same could be found in Priscilla’s fate. Instead of conveying a solid message as she is persecuted through legal means, she is stabbed to death by Moon’s character over jealousy. LIke Bosco, she lived an intelligent and all-knowing life, but she died a very pointless death. The scriptwriter chose the easy way out for such a grand production. She exerted herself as a villain in the drama for nothing, which makes sense because fate is fate. But at the same time, this ending really ignored how complicated human nature is and it made the power ploy earlier irrelevant. I can see why they chose this ending, but what’s the point of watching a grand production like this with an intelligent and intricate plot if you’re going to end it in the most abrupt way possible?
*ENDING SPOILER ALERT ENDS HERE*

TL;DR - I’m going to give this drama only a 7.5/10. The main characters were relatively well-written and the performances were confident and gave me faith in ‘younger’ (they’re really still older than who was up-and-rising even five years ago) artistes like Edwin, Bosco, and Louis. TVB capitalized on its strengths in memorable friendships and shelling out interesting elements of the careers and industries it chooses to feature. However, it suffered again from being draggy earlier on and so fast things didn’t make sense later on. To use a Chinese term, the drama was 雷聲大雨點小. What it implies in English is TVB hyped up a great deal in this drama for nothing. A flashy drama was relatively empty on the substance, like some other TVB grand productions in recent years. The Hippocratic Crush III really comes to mind once again here.

We hope you've enjoyed our critical analysis and review of TSFH. Cee and Ah Tao would just like to apologize for their rambles, but hope you got something out of it. Ah Tao really hopes TVB can focus on script quality for the 50th anniversary dramas because he knows they can and have done well with good casts. Cee also hopes that TVB can stick with a theme and carry it on through the drama with well written characters.

- Cee and Ah Tao

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Dead Wrong 致命復活 TVB Review

Burning Hands 乘勝狙擊 TVB Review

Over Run Over EU超時任務 TVB Review