“As I always say, do not always think for others. Spare a little thought and moment just for yourself.”
No Regrets aka 巾帼枭雄之義海豪情 is not a series for the faintest of hearts. It’s of grit, pain and of turmoil. It grips your heart, makes you cry, and overflows you with incessant reminders of torture and torment. It thrust you into fear, into zeal for survival. It makes you WISH, HOPE and YEARN for liberation. Liberation that would eventually come for all in the end, but with great sacrifice and endurance.
In the late 1930s and 1940s of Canton, Guang Zhou, Republic of China during the turbulent times of World War II, opium trading and addiction was rampant. The triads riled and ruled. Abuse of police power was overwhelmingly rife. Everyone lived under the pretense and charade that peace was reachable if one just minded his/her own business and allowed the gangsters to command. Order was carried out but seemingly controlled by the prevalent and profound command of the triads. Nothing was easy. One had to close one eye and shut the other to survive.
Amidst the chaotic period, 2 people crossed paths and came to know each other. 2 very drastically opposite and different personalities. Zheng Gau Mui (played by the charismatic Sheren Tang), daughter of opium drug-lord and gang king-pin Zheng Long Kuan (played by Ngok Wah), who commanded power unscrupulously over the business on behalf of her father. A seemingly vicious and unabashedly vocal personality. The epitome of female command which was practically almost non-existent in a period when women were still considered to be submissive and compliant creatures.
The other, Lau Sing (played by the underrated but newly famed Wayne Lai), leader and best sharp-shooter of the Criminal Investigation Team in the police force. A man who pursued justice whenever he thought appropriate. A man who commanded respect amongst comrades in spite of his overly temperamental nature. A man who would do anything to ensure the safety and welfare of his ill-burdened sister Qing Qing (played by the much improved Fala Chen). A man of his own right.
Both Gau Mui and Lau Sing shared a platonic friendship. A friendship bonded and forged in spite of the divergence of their personal beliefs. Initially disgusted by Gau Mui’s vicious ways of handling her father’s business, a cautious and suspicious Lau Sing gradually found himself veering closer and closer towards the madamme. Slowly both souls discovered a common ground and shared everything with each other. The process was a long and some-what slow process but nevertheless painted with touches of melancholic warmth. 30 episodes of a not so clear-cut friendship which gradually evolved to become something more.
No Regrets, a spin-off series which came right after the epic success of Rosy Business starring the same leads and helmed by the same production team, had sought to bring back the same whirlpool impact that its predecessor had garnered in 2009. I never got around to experiencing the so called greatness and quality of Rosy Business despite hearing off its numerous appraisals and accolades. A good thing perhaps, as I didn’t have to worry about comparisons and the spin-off not being able to live up to its former. Expectations however,were high-up for me. You don’t expect to have no expectations at all when you hear Wayne Lai and Sheren Tang put together, no?
As expected, the series started with a BAM. The intensity and magnitude of emotions was always high when both Lau Sing and Gau Mui appeared. Both actors showed acting so passionate and dedicated, that you could even tell that they were too involved and engrossed in wanting to get the message through Whenever there was a crisis, a problem, a deadlock situation, all those emotions came pouring down like rain. Every single glare, every single tear.. you could almost feel the grip in the actors’ hearts. The outpour of emotions were just explosive and voluminous.
Perhaps the period and setting had a great influence in how drama was executed, and more so especially in how the actors had been influenced to portray their characters to the viewers. A period when opium addiction was hurling its wrath in every single nook and corner. Coupled with the invasion of the Japanese, life was a deathly escape every single day. It was all gloom and doom. Unleashing and unraveling of emotions was a commonplace scene. Everyone wanted out. But the question was, HOW?
It certainly helped made the series an easier watch with family warmth being a partial focus of the plot-line. Lau Sing and his sister Qing Qing stayed in a rented place together with a bunch of people, each with different strokes personalities. As hackneyed as the plot-line can be, you cannot help but feel surges of warmth when those people come together to one resolve. When they converge to defend and protect one another. When Qing Qing fell sick, everyone worried anxiously. When the Japanese came to wreak havoc, all of them stood up for one another. During a particular scene, when everyone fell out due to insufficient tickets given for them to leave Canton, the complicated emotions that every single character felt were enough to make one’s heart ache. Everyone wanted to leave the horrible place but yet everyone had to make that one choice. To leave the place regardless of how guilty one felt of having to leave others behind. Or to be gracious enough to let others leave first. It’s a test and struggle between one’s own virtues and longing for survival. Very heartbreaking.
The series painted a bigger picture about the agony of having to live under suppression and dictation by the Japanese. True or not, realistic or not. That didn’t matter. What mattered was that war did nobody good. Everyone suffered, but tried to find a way to live. The series often transitioned from warm and happy scenes to scenes with brutal torture scenes or vice versa and it’s like a roller coaster ride having to experience the ups and downs with the characters. We’re lucky people.
I enjoyed No Regrets despite having numerous gripes with its writing and execution. The beginning was wonderfully crafted out, with viewers being constantly kept in the dark regarding Gau Mui’s real intentions and motives. Her ruthless and rash attitude kept viewers at their edges of seats and the rush of adrenaline was so high whenever she came to a dead-end but was able to magically maneuver herself out in the end every single time. There were occasional flickers of concern in her eyes but that was it. She continued to rule, rile and command like no other. The biggest drawback however, came when the writing started to make her out to be a big ol’ softy in guise of a ruthless exterior. The story got less exciting and engaging and the intensity went from 10 to 5 right away.
Gau Mui’s confrontations with Lau Sing became milder as she slowly revealed her true self and nature to him. The irony here is that whilst I didn’t really buy all the sudden revelations of her real motives to Lau Sing, them opening up to each other was really heartwarming to see. The story became less exciting but the character interactions became more and more engaging. Their heart to heart talks and them slowly becoming confidantes to each other slowly became an integral part of each episode. Only they knew what was really going through inside each others’ hearts.
I like stories like these. Main character A pretending to be B for a bigger cause, someone like Sydney in Alias. But here, the writing somehow slacked and became redundant and unrealistic towards the middle when we viewers already knew who Gau Mui was inside. How was she able to continue on with her facade and escape death right before the sharp eyes of her family members every single time? Arch nemesis # 1, Hei Jie (played by Susan Tse) almost always managed to play her out. But the ending was almost always about Gau Mui winning. It got a bit tiresome that she always won (albeit dangerously). Arguable you can say that this is drama. And drama is purely for entertainment. But would some logic be of any harm?
This series was hyped up to be the anniversary series of 2010. And as expected, the production won lots of awards including Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor…etc in the year end awards. The norm in TVB presentation awards has always been the golden thumb rule – epic anniversary series = 99% assured win even if the series sucked. No Regrets missed out on Best Series to Can’t Buy Me Love (which I seriously could not stand after 2 episodes, so you know the threshold now) last year and to me it was really WTF?!
By my standards, I wouldn’t call No Regrets epic at all. The only epic series I had come across in my so many years of watching TVB series was IMO Secret of The Heart and that was downright classic from start to end. No Regrets tried to be epic but failed, mostly due to the irregular writing and episiodic concept which stirred viewers away from the bigger picture at times. Whilst I appreciated the family warmth injected into certain scenes, one can argue that those scenes brought nothing new to the plate. If the writing had focused more on characterization and depth, those scenes could have been done without and viewers would have been treated to better quality writing and viewing.
Fortunately, the different characters and their interactions in the series managed to get the whole story moving. That’s what I appreciate most about TVB series in spite of its dwindling quality in recent years. No sole focus on the main leads, but some time given to other characters for development as well.
It’s easy to say that Wayne Lai and Sheren Teng led the drama from the beginning till the end. Both Lau Sing and Gau Mui were not easy characters to portray given the enormous amount of intensity required to bring out the flooding emotions. I wouldn’t commend their acting as brilliant or stunning as I’d seen better (e.g. Jang Hyuk in Chuno :P), but definitely a rare feat seen in HK entertainment. Wayne Lai’s character Lau Sing was more one-dimensional than I’d expected and I reckon if they’d written more depth into him, it’d be a heck of a performance. Wayne was just good but not great in here. Gau Mui was more complex in that she had to balance between being the baddie and the softy at the same time. A character which would have been a great character from beginning to the end if the writer had made her a lil more grey-er and confused than usual. Sheren Tang owned the character but wasn’t at her best. Her best was in War and Beauty and it was one tour de force performance. The big but is that if everyone else was MEH in others, than her being good in No Regrets was enough to earn her a big nod for the awards.
The supporting characters were equally eye-catching in here. Fala Chen was surprisingly decent in her role of Qing Qing albeit a bit stiff at times (because I used to dislike her oopps). But her role was not easy to portray and I give her 3 thumbs up for what she did to make Qing Qing lovable. Raymond Wong gave an endearing performance and made me root for him and Qing Qing from the beginning to the end. But like others, I thought Evergreen Mak and Pierre Ngo gave the best performances out of the supporting cast. Evergreen played Fei Fan Gor with so much ease that it was easy to hate him. When a character warrants that much hate and abhorrence, you know that actor did a great job. But too bad his ending came off rushed and a bit out of the blue. With a better closure, it’d have been perfect. Pierre Ngo was a sadder case I thought. The series began with him, and I thought he’d be given more material to play with. But sadly in spite of his convincing performance as Pai Guat, his character screen-time lacked a whole in comparison to Evergreen and Raymond’s characters and slowly he diminished and strayed away from the limelight. Quite a shame since I heard he was brilliant in Rosy Business.
The one character which I thought could have shined more and made a greater impact was Nancy Wu’s character, Lai Wah. The rebellious and stubborn daughter of Gau Mui’s ji mui who died of opium addiction. It is quite a pity that the producers failed to milk what was worth of her character value. She had spunk and a mind of her own. And she wanted to be free. Albeit very irritating and condescending most of the time, she had what a lot of girls and women lacked at the time of the period. Too bad TVB had cut a lot of her scenes to make up for the scarcity of time given to finish up the ending. Hers was totally open-ended. Deprived of an opportunity for redemption.
I’m a hopeless romantic. When a series/movie or whatever you call it sells itself with a man and a woman on a poster, I expect to see romance. A love story. No Regrets had both Wayne Lai and Sheren Tang’s pictures full blown on each poster, even in the opening credits. Them alone. If you want to see romance done publicly or openly, No Regrets is certainly not the series for you. Like I said earlier, Lau Sing and Gau Mui shared a pretty muddy-defined relationship in here. The series spent 30 episodes narrating how both of them came to understand each other. They used terms like buddies, good friends but never put to the audience that they loved each other. The magical thing was that altho Wayne and Sheren had amazing chemistry, I never once felt that they were meant for each other because of the passionate love that they didn’t know or didn’t want to admit that they shared together. The other OTP Yeung Yeung and Qing Qing had that moment. That moment when they verbally confessed to each other their undying love. A love so deep that even death could not set them apart. For Lau Sing and Gau Mui, it was very different. Their friendship was mostly platonic throughout the series. And there was no cheesy or sugary confession or anything close. It’s merely that understanding and mutual connection that they had with each other which brought them back together after so many years. It worked for them because they were so aware of how important they both meant to each other. They were soul mates in and out, from tip to toe.
The cast ensemble, on other hand, cannot be ignored. In particular, the actors who played Lau Sing’s neighbors. The bunch of people who added different strokes of colors to the general life facet of Canton. The doctor, the barber, and the police.. they lived together under the same roof but shared one common goal, which was to strive to be free and to live peacefully. Their camaraderie was beautiful, warm and moving.
Overall, No Regrets was an enjoyable ride for me. It wasn’t the best I’ve seen from TVB, but it’s certainly of greater quality than a lot of other TVB series out there. The writing and execution may not have been epic, but the excellent production value and fantastic score made up for what lacked. It may have failed to be epic, but your viewing experience will definitely be worthwhile.
If you need a series to quench your thirst, trigger your adrenaline, or even give you an edge of suspense, No Regrets would certainly do one of that for you. If you want to experience how dreadful it is to live amidst war, this is the series for you. If you want to see acting done right, watch this. If you want quality, do not miss this. You will have NO REGRETS.
Last but not least, my rating for the series: 7/10