In this After Post, I’ll rant and rave about what I liked (characters) and what I didn’t like (characters!) — because I’ve been itching to dissect them for a long time! *evil cackle* I’ll re-post a selection of screen shots since they sum up the fine points of this drama quite well. Finally, by reader Lisa’s request, I’ll talk about my expectation of the Black & White movie to wrap up this post. (God, I sound like a snotty critic writing this! And, it’s about to get worse… Bear with me.)
Frankly, I don’t care for any of the main characters, (that’d be Chen Zai Tian, Chen Lin, and Wu YingXiong/Hero). Not really.
But before you drop your jaw in disbelief and accuse me of being a lunatic and a moron, hear me out:
Chen Zai Tian
Okay, he’s your pale skinned pinup guy and he can act(!) but that doesn’t mean his character was given a full “facelift” (if you will) by the very end. One just doesn’t get the feeling of growing up, of coming of age — he did change but it didn’t feel enough.
Zai Zai is extraordinary, no doubt, when it comes to highly emotionally charged scenes. Cases in point: the turmoil following the explosion of the burger restaurant as well as the alienation by the San Lian Hui director. But that’s not enough. His pre-transformation persona did left somewhat of a callow womanizer image (save for the one outburst upon spotting Xiao Mei). But in my mind, if he were more unctuous, more narcissistic in his portrayal, the contrast would have made his personal growth more apparent.
Although Zai Zai lacks a more refined touch of subtlety in his acting, I think the main problem has to do with the pacing of this drama. It’s simply too compacted to allow room for development. As I have said many times, if the love triangle were to be removed all together, the relationships could’ve been dealt with in a more complex way as more attention would’ve then been focused on the theme of camaraderie, which we ought to feel but didn’t quite feel. Someone raised the point that a lack of romance would’ve made a police drama less appealing to the female audience, I beg to differ. I think as long as the relationships were handled properly and thoroughly, romance or not, we can still emote as the plot unfolded. There has actually been an abundance of romance lurking on the sideline: Zai Tian and Xiao Mei’s innocent, almost family-like affection, Hero and Lei Mu Sha’s love-hate relationship, and even Xiao Ma’s one-sided feeling towards Chen Lin. Besides these, there’s also the heartfelt father-daughter relationship, the tension and forgiveness between age-old love rivals (San Lian Hui director and the president), and Cheng Nuo’s absolute devotion to his sister. Any one of these in finer detail could have ended up more meaningful and certainly less abrupt than the love triangle we were tossed with.
Hero and Chen Lin
Although both Hero and Chen Lin have different sides to them, they are like two open books. Hero is a straight arrow, he’s just, but often impetuous and jumps to conclusions readily. Chen Lin can be mischievous but she is often quick to anger and spoiled (and a serious monogamist might I add). I think both actors played their parts well to forecast these characteristics from the beginning, but not well enough to make them walk out of the book and speak to the audience. They are essentially fixed and rarely surprise us with their actions (not even the one-night stand).
Throughout the drama, Hero underwent three major crisis: the betrayal from Lei Mu Sha, a new identity, and the bending of his principle to set the San Lian Hui director free. Sure, he wallowed and moped each time but he was changed to a lesser degree than Chen Zai Tian was, if at all. He seemed flat and that’s not good consider he’s one of the main characters! The same goes with Chen Lin.
Since we’re on the subject of Hero, allow me to digress, *cough* vent a little. WTF was Hero doing swinging between Chen Lin and Lei Mu Sha like a wishy-washy pendulum?! So out of character wasn’t he? On the one hand he’s sworn loyalty to Chen Lin saying things like “all I wanted to do was to embrace you, hold your hand to sleep” and “I like you so much I don’t why I didn’t tell you that before”; on the other hand, he’s stared Lei Mu Sha down, barking and demanding to know if she’s ever felt the same attraction toward him as he had definitely felt for her. Of course, he’s a man and she’s attractive, it’s only natural to give in to lust. But when she died, the way he held her and mourned for her may very well mislead one into thinking he has lost the love of his life! So did the writer suddenly get whacked on the head and forgot she had planted an abrupt and all too forced love triangle for the three leads? Or was she too keen to create drama for Hero?
Lan Xi Ying
Now, that’s a wonderful surprise! Lan Xi Ying originally appeared bland to me. She’s level-headed and professional but too perfect to arouse any real interest. (Perfection be damned, it’s BORING!) But the three times she’s been in danger, she’s exhibited such bravery and such raw emotion of terror, I’m beginning to think Director Tsai has a wrong set of main characters in mind. Joke aside, Janine Chang did do a fantastic job as the intellectual Lan Xi Ying and the plot undoubtedly helped her create this success. Each time Xi Ying was in danger, she always managed to find a way out of adversity On. Her. Own. Most memorably, in the last episode, she, a frail woman, ended up saving herself and her wounded protector Cheng Nuo. It’s satisfying to see the one unostentatious female character hailed as the heroine in an understated and modest way.
Lei Mu Sha
I was initially on the fence about Sonia Sui’s acting. I don’t think she’s quite as dangerous as she ought to be but as a darker and female version of Hero, she’s let out way more complexity in the short time she was on screen.
She and Hero are similar in that they both abide by the rules they were taught and saw no alternative. Unfortunately for Lei Mu Sha, her rules were the duties and missions of Heaven while Hero’s is justice. They were meant to be on opposite ends of the chess board, singing love songs at each other while contemplating how best to check mate. But while Hero looked frustratingly inflexible, Lei Mu Sha appeared contained and sophisticated.
I liked the difference and the variant feeling they each gave off, I just wish it was the other way around.
He came in as a character who’s already developed. Yet it’s this “ripeness” that made him one of the most interesting characters. He’s like a tree full of fruits (not the most poetic analogy), and each fruit contained a little story. There’s so much mystery about him that makes one want to pluck the fruits and delve into his past. (Er, “pluck the fruits” is not meant to be a sexual innuendo.)
There really is a wealth of characters, interesting ones too. Sadly none is fully developed. I wish the story had offered more about Xiao Ma’s past, which I’m sure would’ve been captivating.
I was completely fascinated by Cheng Nuo in the last episode. He was violent killing the attacker at the subway, he was earnest in his offer to help Xi Ying, and he was cool cocking his head and refusing to explain himself. When he saw Xi Ying waiting for him at the top of the stairs after his trial, he was complacent and almost tender towards her. If we rewind a little and consider him as he reemerged, viciously vowing to avenge his sister, there really was a menacing vibe about him. The hollow eyes, the piercing gazes, and the threatening presence, all made him into a fear factor. If we rewind even further and remember him when he first appeared, he was smartly dressed, slick and dangerously manipulative.
I admit there has always been a certain appeal for me to see the un-reformable reformed in the end, but the actor also deserved credit for demonstrating a wide array of emotions before us. It is this multi-dimensionality that made Cheng Nuo a vivid and fascinating character.
To sum up this exhaustive character analysis, I felt there is a disjunction between the main leads and the supporting characters (due to a lack of proper development, owing to the fact that the plot was too tightly weaved). Here we have some terribly fascinating minor characters and we also have two (Chen Lin & Hero) rather dull main characters. In juxtaposition, the more interesting albeit less important characters swiftly stole the spotlight from the less interesting but more important ones.
While I was taking screenshots for recaps, I’ve noticed a constant switch between dimness (black) and vibrancy (white) in the drama. I always dismissed this darkness to the interior scenes as bad lighting (or bad video source, or both). Now come to think of it, it might have contained elements of intention. For instance, any San Lian Hui related scenes remained dark while our conception of the organization stayed at the general understanding of the evil-doing mob. However, it changed to resort-level scenery once we learned that San Lian Hui was actually on “our” side.
Black & White
Compare and contrast for yourself:
The Kodak Moments
The nice scenery is one of the hallmarks of this drama. I would be remiss to omit it. Here’s just a few of them, indulge your eyes:
Since I’m at it, might as well:
Now, I haven’t really thought of the movie until now. I don’t expect it to be breathtakingly gripping but I do expect it to be breathtakingly beautiful. It’s definitely going to be visually appealing but given the time (according to the director, the movie will “hopefully” begin filming by Christmas) and the standard set by the drama (which is high in TW but only above average in other areas), it might be difficult to live up to the expectation. Especially when the idea to create a movie spurred from B&W’s commercial success instead of the director’s long term planning — it all seemed very hasty. It’ll definitely be very watchable and even enjoyable but I don’t think it’ll “sweep me off my feet”.
On a more optimistic note, Xi Ying’s long lost brother might just appear in the movie and lead us to the discovery of some of Xi Ying’s family secrets. And family secrets are always fun!