Saturday, March 28, 2015

Forbidden City Exhibition

Since it is #MuseumWeek on Twitter, it is a perfect time to write this post that I've been meaning to do for a long time. Last summer, I visited the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) to see The Forbidden City exhibition. It featured a vast collection of artifacts from the Forbidden City, home to the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasty. Here were some of the interesting things:


This is the ceremonial robe worn by the young Tongzhi Emperor at his coronation. Compare it with the robes worn by Oscar Leung and Pako Au, who both played Tongzhi in The Confidant.

There were different attire for different occasions. On the left is a ceremonial robe worn by the Jiaqing Emperor for the sacrifice ceremony at the autumn equinox. On the right is a ceremonial armour for the Yongzheng Emperor when he performed military inspections.

Here are some styles for imperial women. The left picture shows an Empress's ceremonial summer coat and the right picture shows an informal riding jacket.

This dress was most likely worn by Empress Dowager Cixi, as it is similar to the dress that she was wearing in the portrait on the right.

Even animals got special treatment! On the left is a saddle made for the emperor's horse. On the right is an outfit made for an imperial dog. There were special eunuchs assigned to take care of the royal animals.

Footwear for men versus women in the palace.

Symbols of Authority

This was the setting of the imperial throne in the Inner Court. It was less lavish than the throne in the formal halls of the Outer Court, but still conveyed the Emperor's royal status. It was surrounded by various objects such as fans with elephant stands, crane candle-holders and luduan (a Chinese mythical creature) figures. Compare it to TVB's setting in The Confidant.
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Each emperor inherits the set of imperial seals. Originally, there were 39 seals in the set, each with different titles and purposes. However, the Qianlong Emperor found this to be confusing and reduced the set to 25 seals. The remaining seals were placed in a collection at the old Manchurian palace, including this one, which had the inscription "皇帝的寶" ("Treasure of the Emperor").

The Yongzheng Emperor had this special seal made for himself. It had the phrase "為君難" ("being ruler is difficult") to remind himself to be a diligent ruler.

This is an imperial edict issued during the Yongzheng era, written in both Chinese and Manchu.

This is an example of a "tally" that was used by anyone who wanted to enter or exit the Forbidden City. There were two pieces to a tally - one with the words raised and one with the words carved into it. Anyone who wanted to pass through the gates had to have one piece of the tally, which they would hold up against the guard's piece. If the two pieces fit together, they would be allowed to pass.


This is a rare chicken cup from the Ming Dynasty. Emperor Chenghua's mother was particularly fond of small utensils, thus the Emperor especially ordered for this cup to be made for her. The unique thing about the cup is the way the colours were applied. Using a technique called doucai (鬪彩), the colours were painted both under and over the glaze. Only a few of these original cups survive to this day; one of these cups was sold for $36 million in an auction.

These are plates used in Tongzhi's wedding to Lady Alute (Natalie Tong in The Confidant). Tongzhi was one of only few Qing emperors who married while occupying the throne, thus it was a grand occasion for celebration. In particular, 10,000+ wedding wares were ordered to be made. It took five years to make all the pieces before the wedding. They contained symbols of good fortune, such as children playing (left) and the Chinese character for "happiness" (right).

This food basket could hold everything that the Emperor needed for a picnic. It had a silver wine pot, six wine cups, ten dishes, a large silver plate and ten sets of chopsticks.

Arts and Literature

Portraits of the Yongzheng Emperor. Does Ben Wong look like him in Gilded Chopsticks?

When he was still a prince, Yongzheng commissioned a set of paintings of 12 beautiful women. They featured the ladies engaged in various leisurely activities with scenery from the courtyard in the background. The paintings were mounted on a screen in the prince's favourite study. It is uncertain who exactly these women were; they may have been his concubines. (Could it have been Joey Meng from Gilded Chopsticks?)

This is a compilation book of poems that were written by the Qianlong Emperor. Throughout his lifetime, he composed more than 42,500 poems!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Overview - Romantic Repertoire

Interior designer Moses Chan and wealthy heir Evergreen Mak open a design company together. Looking to start a family with his girlfriend Oceane Zhu, Moses has already bought a home and is just waiting for her to finish her education abroad. However, his sister Angelina Lo rents out the property to Joyce Koi, a well-known opera performer, without his permission. Unable to cancel the rental agreement, Moses looks for ways to drive Joyce away, but her manager, Louise Lee, stands firm. The two sides are at war with each other until Evergreen suddenly decides to pursue Joyce. In order to help Evergreen win her heart, Moses must get to know her better. In the process, they become friends and even develop a subtle bond. Soon after, Joyce is involved in a car accident and reunites with her biological mother, Evergreen cancels the wedding, and Oceane is discovered to have returned to Hong Kong already but with another boyfriend... Plan usually cannot catch up to changes. Is life like a play or does a play reflect reality?

Let me guess, Joyce's long-lost mother will be... Mary Hon?

Romantic Repertoire Promo Clips

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

FILMART 2015 - Series Briefs

View FILMART trailers here

Brother's Keeper II - Edwin Siu and Kristal Tin worked hard to establish the "Law Shun Kei" brand in Hong Kong and Macau. However, it has attracted the displeasure of real estate developer Hugo Ng, who uses underhand tactics to suppress them. Edwin is betrayed by his trusted aide, Matt Yeung. Feeling that the world is too chaotic, he travels to Japan in search of a peaceful space. There, he falls in love with a secretive girl, Grace Chan, and gets embroiled in a murder case from twenty years ago! Meanwhile, Kristal's husband, Louis Yuen, suffers a brain injury and now treats her as a stranger. In addition, there is the return of Ruco Chan, who is looking for his "golden biscuit". Faced with all these sudden problems, how will Edwin and Kristal handle it?

Anticipation Level: 2.5/5. Boy, am I so excited for an extended Koi Kei Bakery commercial.

Blue Veins - Five hundred years ago, Kevin Cheng was a ferocious bandit. During a battle against vampires, he was struck by lightning and from then on, the group of bandits all became immortals. Nowadays, Kevin hides his identity and operates a late-night restaurant to help him pass his sleepless nights. He also runs a martial arts studio, where he teaches his two students, Wong Yau-Nam and Luk Wing-Kuen, martial arts in order to stand up for the poor.

At the onset of the story, Kevin meets a kind-hearted forensic pathologist, Kay Tse. Her memories and powers have been frozen, so she does not know that she is a vampire. The only power that she retains is the ability to revive a corpse for one minute. Kevin stays by her side and helps her to slowly regain her memory and powers. But ultimately, their naturally opposing identities turn their romance into a catastrophe, with dangers coming from everywhere. Kevin is willing to sacrifice himself to save Kay. At the edge between life and death, they discover that the origins of vampires and immortals actually comes from the future...

Anticipation Level: 2/5. Not a fan of vampire series, but Grace's sexy scenes in the trailer has upped my interest.

Captain of Destiny - While chasing a thief, police officer Grace Chan is accidentally caught up in a waterspout and brought back to the Qing Dynasty, where she meets Tony Hung, the pirate that dominated the Hong Kong waters at that time. The two of them start off as rivals, but fall deeply in love after going through life and death situations together. The 11th prince (Ruco Chan) leads the navy in a bloody battle against Tony. Grace is captured by Ruco while trying to save Tony. The proud and arrogant prince is charmed by her modern intelligence and ultimately abandons his ambitions to succeed the throne for her. Grace finally has a chance to return to modern Hong Kong, yet finds it hard to let go of the two men that have fallen for her. At a moment between life and death, Grace travels through time again and returns to modern Hong Kong. However, she has lost her memories. She can only search for the lost fate from a previous life in the modern world.

Anticipation Level: 4/5. Everything seems great except the CGI.

Lord of Shanghai - Anthony Wong came from humble beginnings. At a time when criminal forces ran rampant, Anthony got along well with the gangster leader, Wayne Lai. With Wayne as the brave fighter and Anthony as the strategist, they build their success together. As Anthony strives to climb upwards, he sacrifices a romance with Myolie Wu, a Peking opera student. This becomes his greatest regret in life. Later on, Anthony gains the favour of casino boss Alice Chan and serves under the tutelage of Shanghai tycoon Kent Tong. He rises rapidly and soon, he, along with Wayne and Kent, become prominent figures in Shanghai.

However, Kent and Wayne's contentions grow deeper by the day, leading to bloody battles on the streets of Shanghai. Anthony uses his ways to suppress both of them and establish himself as the only tycoon in Shanghai, with control over the legal and illegal forces. But behind the seeming peacefulness are hidden dangers. Foreign forces each have control over portions of Shanghai, while the Japanese are planning an invasion of China. Anthony and his disciplines contribute money and energy to the resistance effort. Myolie, by now a famous star, encounters Anthony again. His patriotic actions change her opinion of him and she stays by his side during the war. The Japanese officially begin their invasion. As Shanghai enters into a "Solitary Island" period, Anthony sets aside his personal interests to resist against the Japanese and the puppet government. On the other hand, Wayne chooses to become a Chinese traitor for his own gain. The sworn brothers reach a breaking point. For the sake of national interests, Anthony has no choice but to sacrifice brotherhood and allow blood to splatter in Shanghai...

Anticipation Level: 4/5. A war-time epic that hopefully does not include a sickly girl who writes a diary...

Limelight Years - Liza Wang is the pop queen of her generation, with 40 years of stage experience and tens of thousands of fans. She has many friends, but even more enemies. At the same time, she is a woman who has experienced two failed marriages and has three children who are like strangers. In her later years, she may escape death, but she cannot avoid loneliness. Reflecting back on her life, she realizes that she has sung for her career, but never once sung for her loved ones! She decides to hold what could be her last concert and invites every single person that she has loved or has loved her. In the process, she encounters a photographer who is destined to be in a supporting role, a young man who is determined not to be an extra, and an over-aged girl who does not know what role she wants to play yet. It results in an off-tuned symphony that brings out laughter and tears! Life is like a stage. Whether it is the main or supporting character, as long as they make a gorgeous turnaround after falling down and continue to sing wholeheartedly, their loved ones will certainly applaud for them.

Anticipation Level: 3/5. Judging from the trailer, Linda just might redeem herself with this series.

With or Without You - Bobby Au-Yeung, an eminent writer from the Northern Song Dynasty, is unable to forget about his late wife and thus, ignores Joey Meng's love for him. However, the food lover in him is eventually moved by Joey's braised pork dish and they get married. Bobby thought life would be great after his marriage, but a slew of family problems is making his head spin! On one hand, he has to worry if his sister, Jacqueline Wong, is being tricked by the flirty scholar, Vincent Wong. On the other hand, he is concerned that his other sister, Harriet Yeung, is still hung up on Tyson Chak, who is now the husband of a "lioness" wife, Alice Chan. He is driven to exhaustion from having to save his upright brother from political opponents. In addition, he needs to make his son accept Joey as his new step-mother, as well as deal with his own martial issues...

Aside from his family problems, Bobby also faces conflict in the imperial court. He has to cope with an unreasonable princess, engage in a verbal war with the opposing minister Pal Sinn, and think of creative ways to make the Emperor accept his proposals. Bobby uses a painting to cause Pal to lose his minister position, but then, he is unwittingly drawn into a plot by a Liao spy (Sire Ma) that will endanger the Song empire. The most unexpected thing is that one of Sire's subordinates is actually one of his family members who is purposely trying to ruin the relationship between him and Joey! Although Bobby finally succeeds in exposing the conspiracy and preserve the Song Dynasty, the Emperor is increasingly distrusting of him. The Emperor accuses him of writing a treasonous poem and seems intent on putting him to death...

Anticipation Level: 3.5/5. Bobby is lovely, but all the family drama makes my head spin too!

Rogue Emperor - In the late-1970s, graffiti with the words "Rogue Emperor" appeared on the streets of Hong Kong. At first, it seemed like just the silly work of a homeless man, but when a social worker (Tracy Chu) is sent to help him, she realizes that he is a legendary character that has been ignored. Kenneth Ma was initially a poor farmer. In order to marry his childhood lover, Niki Chow, he experienced many unimaginable things, from being banished from his village to becoming deputy commander, from escaped prisoner to Shanghai tycoon and even the last emperor of China! Kenneth faced all these ups and downs calmly, but there is one thing that he can never let go – the repeated separation and reunion from Niki. It seems that they cannot break the curse of being able to go through difficult times together, but not prosperity.

Anticipation Level: 3/5. It should be fun to see all the experiences that Kenneth goes through.

Wudang Rules - This series talks about a group of young people, who, for different reasons, chose to leave the bustling city and go to the Wudang Mountains to learn martial arts from two masters. Together they lead a peaceful and quiet lifestyle and study the wisdom in Taoist philosophy. After several months, the group has learnt profound martial arts, established deep friendships and have a better understanding of human nature. It helps them get rid of the burdens that they had before going up to the mountains and regain their confidence so that they can continue to face the life ahead of them. But at this time, a secret that was between them is revealed, causing their friendship and beliefs to be seriously tested.

Anticipation Level: 1.5/5. Sounds so preachy, though I'm interested in the secret between the group.

Under the Veil - In Buddhism, all outer appearances are false, reality is seen in the heart. Although people can have similar appearances, their minds will still lead them to do different actions. Through the folktales "Hairpin Exchange", "Chasing Fish" and "Judge Luk", it will show the love, hate, greed, anger and lust of mankind. There are people who are selfish and others that are altruistic; some have unsatisfied greed, others do not care about fame. Everything in the world is a mere shadow and only those with a good heart can understand the true meaning of life. Double Fantasies was a TVB classic. Twenty years later, with advanced filming and CGI technologies, the audience can view it from a brand new perspective.

Anticipation Level: 2.5/5. Should be interesting to see most of the cast portray two roles. 

Friday, March 20, 2015


Some trailers have been released ahead of FILMART 2015. Read the series briefs here.

Blue Veins (aka "Vampire")

Brother's Keeper 2

Limelight Years

Lord of Shanghai

Captain of Destiny

Under the Veil

With or Without You

Rogue Emperor

Wudang Rules

Romantic Repertoire Promo Clips

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TVB Europe Promo

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Overview - Smooth Talker

Besides inheriting his father's social club, Joe Ma is also a mediator who often uses unusual methods to resolve conflicts between people. In one particular divorce case, he meets Kate Tsui. After her divorce, Kate and her sister Tracy Chu, who has social anxiety, temporarily moves in with their cousin Elena Kong. She soon discovers that her ex-husband's mistress lives in the same building. Because Joe frequently visits the building, she mistakenly believes that he colluded with the mistress to take over her and her ex-husband's apartment. In order to get revenge, she goes to work at a law firm where Joe's childhood friend Johnson Lee also works. As a result, she has more opportunities to interact with Joe and slowly begins to realize the tireless work that he has done to resolve her divorce case. They settle their rivalry and start to develop mutual trust. Kate is even influenced by Joe to take a mediation course, where she learns how to be considerate towards others. Just as their relationship is improving, Kate's ex-husband suddenly reappears. At the same time, Johnson accidentally finds new evidence that allows the murderer of Joe's father to be released. Everyone's lives, beliefs and relationships are suddenly dealt a big blow...

Smooth Talker Promo Clips

Monday, March 16, 2015

Raising the Bar Review

Producer: Joe Chan
Genre: Legal
Cast: Ben Wong, Grace Chan, Jeannie Chan, Stephanie Ho, Moon Lau, Louis Cheung, Elaine Yiu, Timothy Cheng, Natalie Tong

Raising The Bar takes a fresh angle on the oft-seen TVB legal drama. Instead of the typical case-by-case structure, this series focuses on the daily routines of a lawyer. The depiction of a lawyer's job is fairly realistic and shows the less glamorous side of the profession. There are also little tidbits, like the call to the bar or scheduling hearings, that are rarely seen in other legal dramas. The cases cover a variety of matters before the court and do not shy away from sensitive topics. For once, legal procedures and reasoning are mostly followed. It is also shocking to know that there is actually more than one judge in Hong Kong.

I was worried about the overwhelming number of characters at the beginning, but the series quickly deals with that by regulating some characters to the background. That is not to say, however, that the focus went to the best stories. The second half of the series put an overemphasis on romantic lines that no one cared about (ie. Elaine's affair). Further, it throws logic out the door with the sexual harassment case, which any competent lawyer should have gotten rid of a long time ago.

The four girls were surprisingly capable of carrying the series. They clearly had a lot of fun filming together, which shows in their on-screen interactions. Grace Chan shows why she is perhaps deserving of her rapid climb to lead status as she looked comfortable and natural in her role. Jeannie Chan suited the role of the snobby rich girl and smoothly managed her character's transition into a more humble person. Stephanie Ho is cute and provided comedic relief. Moon Lau fared well for her first series; though she was not particularly impressive, she was certainly not bad either.

Ben Wong hits the nail with his professionalism as an experienced barrister, especially with those reading glasses. Elaine Yiu needs to stop being given these discontent wife roles. Natalie Tong has been doing a great job with her subtle performances. Louis Cheung is a really versatile actor, but his character's odd obsession with aliens was something that I don't get. Timothy Cheng is funny in his interactions with Stephanie and Natalie. King Lam does a good job with his clueless lawyer, while Hugo Wong is great eye candy despite limited screen-time.

So does Raising the Bar actually raise the bar for TVB productions? Maybe slightly, but it is not without its faults. What does the jury think?

Rating: 4/5

Raising the Bar Alternative Ending

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Raising the Bar Alternate Ending

This is Casual TVB's 400th post!

Netizens have discovered that there was actually an alternate ending to Raising the Bar, shown in the overseas version. In the alternate version, the characters participate in a silent protest in defence of Hong Kong's judicial independence.

The alternate ending is in reference to the protest staged by Hong Kong's legal professionals in June 2014. Around 1800 lawyers, legal scholars and law students dressed in black and marched from the High Court to the Court of Final Appeal. They then stood in silence for three minutes in front of the Court of Final Appeal. It was a protest against a "white paper" issued by the Chinese government which regarded the judiciary as part of the government and stated that "loving the country" is a requirement for judges. In a statement by the Hong Kong Bar Association, they felt that having these political requirements for judges would threaten the idea of judiciary independence.