Wednesday, September 1, 2010

TVB: Maiden’s Vow 鳳凰四重奏 (2006)

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No. of episodes: 30

(To be separated into the four different stories to depict the four generations as the same cast was casted in each story)

First generation:
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Charmaine Sheh - Ngai Yu Fung
Sammul Chan - Wang Yuk Lun (Sap Yee Siu)
Joe Ma - Yu Chi
Kiki Sheung - Tung Dai Hei
Wu Fung - Wang Sin Kei
Irene Wong - Yung Dak Sin
Chun Wong - Eunuch Cho
Lau Dan - Ngai Bing Fan
Maria Chan - Fa Chin Hung
Akina Hong - Wong Ka Cheung
Evergreen Mak - Lien Chong Hien
Lily Leung - Empress Dowager Chi Hei

Second Generation:
Charmaine Sheh - Wang Chi Kwan
Joe Ma - Lee Kat Cheung
Elaine Yiu - Cheung Lei
Eric Li - Dan Lai Chak
Kiki Sheung - Tung Dai Hei
Irene Wong - Yung Dak Sin
Akina Hong - Chuk Ngun Chi
June Chan - To Suk Han
Lily Lee - Koo Siu Mei
Cha Cha Chan - To Lai Gun

Third Generation:
Charmaine Sheh - Pak Wai Chan
Joe Ma - Dai Lap Yan
Joel Chan - Henry Bat Ha Kau
Law Koon Lan - Nanny Ying
Ram Chiang - Mo Yung Chiu
Annabelle Lau - Lui Ying Hung
Devily Leung - Chien Chi Seung
Ben Wong - Gai Yee Kin
Celine Ma - Woon Yuen Yau

Fourth Generation:
Charmaine Sheh - Dai Sze Ka
Joe Ma - Fong Ka On (KO)
Sammul Chan - Sheung Yat Kat
Sherming Yiu - Siu Yuk Jing
Ken Wong - Tang Pang

The story revolves around this Phoenix Chinese Restaurant from its origin and the relating events spanning for four generations in the family who started this business.
The story breaks up into the four different generations of the family; starting from the 1900s, set in the period of the end of the Qing Dynasty for the first generation.

Ngai Yu Fung was the only daughter of the Ngai family and was treated as the pride of the family. Her parents loved and provided for her, hoping that she would marry someone of the same social status of the family; if not better. However, Yu Fung only had eyes for her childhood companion who was also sadly, the servant boy who worked in the kitchen. Her parents disapproved of their blossoming relationship, despite the lovers’ pleas and cries. When they decide to elope, her mother begged her to stay back and agree to the marriage to save her father’s failing business and the whole family from crumbling apart. For the sake of her family, Yu Fung agreed to the marriage, breaking Yu Chi’s heart. He then left to study the arts of culinary skills from a retired eunuch from the palace.
Yu Fung’s marriage was doomed from the start.
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Her husband was not only the only son of the Wang family, but he was also a disobedient and spoilt child due to the fact that he was the only male descendant in the family.
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Everyone tried to please and protect him, and as a result, he was only interested in enjoying life and slowly, he swindled the family’s fortune and caused the death of his own father.
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Yu Fung rose to help the family, and slowly she revived the dying Phoenix Restaurant which was also supposed to be sold to pay her husband’s debts. However, in those last days before the restaurant was sold, she made a fortune and slowly, the Wangs climbed up the social ladder again. Yuk Lun then went back to his old ways, and even when Yu Fung gave birth to a baby daughter, he wanted to sell his daughter to fund his gamblings; causing Yu Fung to lose faith in him.
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Yu Chi came back and was the one who helped her throughout the family crisis, after he mastered his culinary skills but Yu Fung remained loyal to her husband although they have been accused of adultery. When the war broke out, Yu Fung and Yu Chi died in a tragic train accident, with each other still trying to reach out to the other.
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The story then fast forwarded to the 1920s where Wang Chi Kuan, the daughter of Yu Fung and Yuk Lun is now a student who was actively involved in the patriotism movements, much to the disapproval of her grandmother.
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She then did the unthinkable during that period; by falling for her teacher, Lee Kat Cheong and convinced him to reciprocate.
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The couple eloped and tried to make odds meet. When things turn for worse financially, Chi Kuan secretly found a job to serve in a restaurant and eventually agreeing to dance, much to her husband’s anger. Kat Cheong, on the other hand was trying to study to become a doctor and had to endure the hard labor in the mines.
Image Hosted by PicturePush - Photo SharingWhen one of his fellow labor friends died due to the negligence of the mine company, he was persuaded by a friend to join the revolution. He finally agreed after his mother died and he left town while Chi Kuan found her way back to her family and helped to run the family restaurant. The couple was separated for two years and when Chi Kuan ran into Kat Cheong again, he appeared to be working for the Japanese and was branded a traitor to the country. However, the truth was that Kat Cheong was actually a spy agent and he wanted to overturn the Japanese ruling. He was eventually discovered and he had to flee the country; leaving Chi Kuan behind after spending a night with her on the train. After his departure, Chi Kuan was pregnant and she waited for him for the rest of her life.

In the 1960s, Chi Kuan was seen talking to a young little girl who eventually grew up to be Pak Wai Chan, Chi Kuan’s granddaughter. She was looking for a job on one fateful day when she bumped into Dai Lap Yan who saved her from the chaos on the streets and as fate would have it, she married the man.
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She became a housewife after their marriage as her husband was a male chauvinist who would not hear of his wife having to work to lighten the financial burden of the family.
Wai Chan became bored eventually and with the help of her nanny (Law Koon Lan), she found a job in an advertising company where she attracted the attention of the young entrepreneur of the company, Henry. When Lap Yan found out, he was furious, and this led to a rift in their relationship.
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Things turned worse when Lap Yan had to report to his wife with the merging of the company and the husband and wife then made a pact. Since Wai Chan was rising in her career, they would switch roles whereby Wai Chan would go back to her husband if he is willing to stay at home as a house husband while she goes to work.
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In truth, Wai Chan wanted to teach her husband a lesson to learn about her role as a housewife and to lose his pride and chauvinism. The couple then learnt to accept each other’s indifferences and they had a daughter. They migrated to San Francisco and died in a earthquake.

In the present, 2003, Dai Sze Ka, the daughter of Pak Wai Chan and Dai Lap Yan, is nothing successful like her previous ancestors.
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However, she was a very hard working, and independent young woman, albeit still struggling to make ends meet as a beverage waitress. She experienced a few failed relationships and no longer had faith in marriage.
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Fong Ka On, a prominent accountant/investment banker was stood up by his fiancée at the altar and when he bumped into Sze Ka, the two ended up in a one night stand. They slowly fell for each other, and moved in together. However, they were unable to tolerate their differences and had a few heated arguments where they broke up again. Sze Ka found out she was pregnant after their break up and although she wanted to tell Ka On, she was disappointed that he accused her of cheating on him with her ex-boyfriend, Sheung Yat Kat who was actually a homosexual. She gave birth to a baby boy, whom Ka On misunderstood as Kat’s son when he bumped into them at the launching of her new cookbook at her newly renovated family restaurant; the Phoenix restaurant. Ka On eventually found out the truth and tried to win her back again, in marriage.
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Review/My General Opinion
It was a very interesting twist in bringing the four different background stories together and intertwining them to maintain the continuity. The storyline centered on the difference of views and roles of women in different stages and how time changes the importance of the aspects of independence.

Character Analysis
First Generation

Ngai Yu Fung by Charmaine Sheh
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She was the gem of the family, where everything was for the best of her. However, for a woman living in that era, she was a strong-willed and determined woman who was willing to bend the traditions. Sadly, she did not have a choice when her family was put to the test and filial piety took over her choices in life. Although she was not happy in her marriage, she still fulfilled her duties as a wife and remained faithful despite being neglected in her marriage. She helped her in-laws in maintaining the family business despite her philandering husband and was true to the old traditions as a perfect wife.
I felt that she portrayed a true picture of mentally abused women and the concept of inferiority towards the weaker sex back then, but she also depicted the contrary whereby perception may not necessarily be the truth in physical.

Yu Chi by Joe Ma
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He was a loyal and poor servant boy who crossed the boundaries when he fell for his young mistress. Although he knew it was unacceptable and he would not be successful, he still tried to fight for his own love and future. He had to accept defeat when the one he loved chose to give up. Even though he could not comprehend her decision, he accepted it with a big heart and chose to leave. He eventually came back and stood by her side faithfully, protecting her from the vicious lies and drama in her marriage. He never lost his love for her, and maintained faithful till the end.
This is one excellent example of a perfect man for a husband! How many guys could remain faithful to you after all the years, or even after you are married?
It may sound silly, but this is a great portrayal of the power of love, and how pure it is and undying. It makes you want that kind of love which will never fail or break your heart!

Wang Yuk Lun by Sammul Chan
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This is one scumbag I would want to kick out of the scene from the start. He had no interest in his own life and his own family; in fact, he had no matters, nothing at all. Perhaps it was not his fault to start with as well, as the family seemed to spoil him since young and then pushed him against what they brought him up in. It must rather confusing to be allowed to do whatever you want then be told that you need to be serious. He was trying to grow up but he was still stuck as a playful and young boy. To a certain extent, he was rather pitiful as well.

Second Generation
Wang Chi Kuan by Charmaine Sheh
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She was determined like her mother, and was even more stubborn. She went against the tradition and she was more courageous when she eloped with her teacher and turned her back on all the conservative rules. She slowly matured into a more steady and understanding person after marriage and she remained devoted and trusting towards her husband even when the whole world accused him of being a traitor to the country. She was one classic example of the growing stage of a student towards a woman and I liked her courage in everything she does; her ability to speak up and believing in your own rights!

Lee Kat Cheong by Joe Ma
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It was so sad that for a male protagonist, he seemed so weak and helpless and just a cowardly. I hated how he could not admit that he had fallen in love too, and that he had to be forced by a young girl to confess his own feelings. This is a rigid character who held on to his own beliefs and rules; yes, he was overly bounded by the rules in his life that he never stopped to realize that there are choices. He was extremely stubborn as well, but he also slowly learnt to accept the differences and his transformation was imminent when he joined the revolution and fought for his country. I do despise him though, for leaving behind his wife and child when they needed him. He is really fortunate to have a wife who loved him so much to stand by him and waited for him.

Third Generation
Pak Wai Chan by Charmaine Sheh
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Sweet and lovely, she was so perfect as the caring and devoted wife who stayed at home and made sure her husband's needs were taken care of. It was interesting to see how intelligent she was as she breezed through all those classes her husband made her take. She was brave as well, when she decided to go against the odds to go to work without her husband's knowledge. I laughed when she did so much better than her chauvinistic husband and even had him reporting to her. She finally had it when he constantly discriminated her and she made them switch roles to teach him a lesson.
I loved the transformation from a doting and obedient wife to a powerful and independent career woman who spoke her own mind.

Dai Lap Yan by Joe Ma
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MALE CHAUVINISTIC pig! He was just so full of himself and expected his wife to just stay at home. He was in constant denial, well, perhaps that was understandable for men at that time when he realized that he was not capable enough to be considered for a promotion and worse still, his wife (the woman in the house) was doing so much better. However, I do admit his courage to bow down to his wife when he agreed to switch roles and that was where he transformed to become a more understanding husband.

Fourth Generation
Dai Sze Ka by Charmaine Sheh
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She may seemed a little eccentric (it was probably the hairstyle) but I felt she was a very independent and strong woman who did not want to rely on anyone to support her through her life. She shunned marriages and was not a crybaby when she realized that she was pregnant and that she had lost her man. She never even begged to go back to him or give in when they had arguments, because she believed that she had herself to fall back on. I truly loved this character who fought for her aspirations and achieving what she believed in.

Fong Ka On by Joe Ma
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He was rather successful, but yet he cannot have the best of both worlds when he lost his fiance to his wedding photographer. He tried to deal with it and ended up sleeping with another woman. While he tried to figure it out, I thought he was rather a coward compared to the woman he just slept with as she just shrugged it off. He displayed an OCD streak but it was impressive how he dealt with it for the sake of the woman he loved. This is a rather confusing character; and a selfish one no less, but he slowly overcame his own obstacles and listened to his heart!

What I Liked about the series was the focus on feminism issues; and the evolution of women’s role from one age to another. It was like a transition from conservative minds to the eventual declaration of independence which was truly inspiring. It also portrayed women as stronger than what was generally depicted and the importance of their roles in the family and society.

What I Disliked about the series was the recycling of the main actor and actress! LOL, although to a certain extent, I can understand that they were trying to do that to maintain a visual connection to link them back to the original storyline, but I think that would serve the purpose for Charmaine only, and Joe, does it make sense that Charmaine meets the same guy every generation? It seemed a little ridiculous and distorted the meaning of the show to some star-crossed lovers who were trying to rekindle a lost romance through reincarnation which was totally not the focus of the show!
It also seemed more like the cost-effective approach could really rip the meaning of the drama apart.

What could improve
I think the skipping of Pak Wai Chan’s origin was not really in tune with the storyline, as suddenly she just appeared and was said to be Chi Kuan’s granddaughter. I felt that if there was at least a little flashback into Chi Kuan’s daughter (even if she died early), it would be more coherent with the flow and continuity of the story.
Yes, and the varying of the cast, especially for the male character played by Joe Ma would certainly spice things up even more.

Special Credits
Bravo to Charmaine Sheh and Joe Ma for their excellent portrayals of all four characters, it was not easy to play four different people with distinct characteristics and behavior in one single drama and the transformation was just flawless.
Perfectly done, and I am truly impressed with their stamina to keep up with something which seemed like running four different dramas all at once!

My Conclusion/Verdict
It was a great watch, as it was different from all the other typical TVB dramas although I can’t say the same for each story within the whole drama. It felt like watching four different dramas with one same title; isn’t that effective?
It is also educational to learn about the roles of women and the differences in the perception and treatment towards women back then and now.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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