Face to Fate 布衣神相: an essayJanuary 8, 2010
*note: i watched this drama in Mandarin with English subtitles.
i was going through the files on my computer and i found this! an essay on <Why I think “Bu Yi Shen Xiang” is a good show>. i remember that my family were really addicted to this show about 2 years back, and my Dad insisted i write this essay to improve my writing skills!
ta-da! here it is!
i’ve edited some parts ‘cos they were incoherent, and since i watched this series in Mandarin with English subtitles, i had to edit the names of the characters so that most people would understand who i’m referring to!
i just realised that this series was NEVER released in Hong Kong! what a pity! and now i realise that this series is based on the novel written by Wen Ruian, the same author of “The Four”!
“Face to Fate” is a brilliant show because it kept me, as a viewer, entertained with its coherent ‘flowing’ structure, and complex plot, which had many unexpected but believable twists and turns. The characters were diverse and the casting was very appropriate.
I think a good show needs to captivate the audience, with a good structure and good plot, and have them craving for the next episode. The audience need to be able to follow the plot and relate to the story and its characters. It has to have twists and turns which piece the story together, and which will leave the viewers shell-shocked, and wanting desperately to know what will happen next. Finally, the casting and acting has to fit the characters, and the ability for an actor or actress to play their role convincingly is also very important.
The structure of the plot is crucial in any story, but especially drama serials, which last for as long as 20 to over 100 episodes. They have to have a strong main plot, which can be developed, manipulated and twisted to keep the audience entertained, and related sub-plots to divert the attention of the audiences when, perhaps, the main characters are going through a ‘dead period’ when nothing much is happening to them, and also to give the audience a different focus to enhance their enjoyment of the story.
“Face to Fate” is an ongoing serial, with 30 episodes of 45 minutes each. In this show, the general plot, sub-plots and ‘flow’ are consistent throughout, and the main plot about the ‘good-versus-evil’ and the ‘Golden Seal Battle’ are sufficient to develop over 30 episodes, without having the feeling that they are deliberately dragging the story longer for the sake of airing 30 episodes.
“Face to Fate”s sub-plots play an obvious part in the main plot, and they are carefully crafted to add dimension to the story. Unexpected twists make it complex, but not too confusing, so the viewers will not lose the flow of the story.
Unlike a movie, which has to capture your attention for over an hour or two, serials have to keep your attention constantly, in this case for 45 minutes over 30 episodes. In “Face to Fate”, almost every episode has a climax, and the episodes are edited to ensure they end on a suspenseful note.
“Face to Fate” has managed to keep the viewers wanting to watch more and more, and continue to watch religiously till the end. As a viewer, I was engaged in the whole story, I felt for the characters and against them, and of course, it was well cast, and well acted.
The main plot revolves around the ‘white sects’ and the ‘black sects’; good verses evil. There is also the issue with ‘black, white and grey’, where characters and issues are not as clear-cut as black and white; evil and good. The ‘Golden Seal Battle’, which is the major battle in this drama, takes place every 5 years, and is about to commence. With good verses evil, the triumphant side gets to rule the entire fraternity.
Black and White
The winners of the ‘Golden Seal Battle’ will get to rule the fraternity for 5 years. With both sides eager for power, the evil side decide to resort to underhanded tactics and kill all the white side’s 5 participants for the battle. This is when the main characters, Frankie Lam (Li Buyi), a fortune-teller, and Raymond Lam (Lai Yao-er), a ‘miracle’ doctor, neutral parties, not belonging to the good or bad sides, come in. Frankie (Li Buyi) feels he needs to help the good side because of his late master, who told him to ‘stop evil from being triumphant’, and Raymond (Lai Yao-er), to retain his family’s reputation, as doctors who heal, never harm. Their task is to find 5 former experts and persuade them to represent the white side in the battle.
But problems arise for both the white and black sides even though the battle hasn’t begun. The white side has a spy; a traitor, and a secret about one of their members shocks everyone, causing trouble everywhere.
Viewed as the ultimate good guy, David Chiang (Shen Xingnan), the leader of the 5 good sects is actually a traitor! He is working with Felix Lok (Geshu Tian), the leader of the evil sects. This revelation shocks the viewers, but the path to exposing him proves difficult, and to protect his secret, he either frames or takes the lives of many good people who get too close to the truth. But to those who trust him explicitly, he gives reasons for his mistakes. It takes many episodes till the truth is finally known to everyone, and subsequently, he goes mad.
Bad guy Derek Kwok (Liu Fenyu)) is an assassin who kills for anyone who pays him. He is recruited by the bad side, as he is a very powerful martial arts expert. But things do not go according to plan, and he meets and falls in love with Nancy Wu (Shen Jianghong)), daughter of David Chiang (Shen Xingnan). Nancy (Shen Jianghong) is viewed as a traitor to the white side, as she insists she will not leave him or reveal his whereabouts, and the bad people go after both their lives, as Derek (Liu Fenyu) is seen as no longer loyal to the bad side. With both the good and evil sects after their lives, they manage to escape death, and leave the fraternity to lead peaceful lives. But in the end, the two lovers, who have humbled themselves, return to stop evil from going out of control, and Derek (Liu Fenyu) fights for the good side in the battle.
Black, White and Grey
There are issues about the good and the bad, and how the good are actually bad, traitors, and the bad turn good. There’s also this whole division of this show which deals with the black, white and grey aspects of looking at people.
Many misunderstandings arise due to the disturbing fact of a traitor in the good side. This causes internal unrest, and soon, everyone is suspicious of each other. In order to catch the so-called traitors, the good sect leaders resort to underhanded and un-humane methods. People could not be branded as good or bad only on where they stood in the battle. They had to be viewed as how their principles and actions told. This is the grey factor which the show puts across.
The so-called good sect leaders are short-sighted, and are blinded by what others tell them. Completely putting their trust in David Chiang (Shen Xingnan), who frames Frankie (Li Buyi) and Raymond (Lai Yao-er), and even kills his wife Anne Heung to protect his secret, those sect leaders do everything they can to capture Frankie (Li Buyi) and Raymond (Lai Yao-er), or people close to them. After all they’d done for the good side, the good people still condemned them as the spies without thinking twice.
The final straw came when so-called good sect leader Zhong resorted to evil tactics to expose the whereabouts of the ‘spies’ Frankie (Li Buyi) and Raymond (Lai Yao-er). He tortured Raymond (Lai Yao-er)’s woman, Selena Li (Yan Yelai) by cutting her limb’s tendons, leaving her half alive. This is part of the reason why Raymond (Lai Yao-er) went to the evil side.
Raymond (Lai Yao-er) goes to the evil side, for after all he’d done for the good people, they accused him as the spy and would stop at nothing to kill him for being a traitor. They did not even let the people close to him off, and only the evil people appreciated his talent.
It is later revealed that one of David Chiang (Shen Xingnan)’s highly skilled disciples Tavia Yeung (Ye Mengse) is the biological daughter of Felix Lok (Geshu Tian), the leader of the evil sects. With a kind heart, Tavia refuses to believe that Felix Lok (Geshu Tian) is her father. However, she agrees to live with her father in his palace, but she does so only to protect all the good people, as the evil people were making all their lives difficult. Although she was seen as a member of the evil side, she continued to believe in goodness, and did her best to try and stop evil from triumphing.
The ultimate evil person in this show is, of course, the ruthless leader of the evil sects, Felix Lok (Geshu Tian). He could kill anyone without blinking an eyelid, and is fond of torturing people to get information out of them. But a weak side of him is revealed when he realises that he has a daughter. For a heartless and ruthless man, he gave in to everything his daughter requested, and for her sake, would change his governing style. His role as Tavia’s father showed that he had a heart, and revealed a good side of him; the side who was pure in his love for his daughter.
The Bat King, Felix Lok (Geshu Tian)’s right-hand man is loyal, and this is a virtue. Throughout, he shows traces of compassion and kindness, and is punished for it. However, he still stays loyal to his lord. Another example of evil people with virtues is the Phantom Physician, who, although concocts poisons to harm people, is very filial, and would stop at nothing to get his mother cured and out of her coma, even when it would cost him his life, as it did in the end.
Golden Seal Battle
The battle to reveal who will rule the entire fraternity for 5 years was not only a battle of the good versus evil, but also a personal battle for the protagonists.
The battle of overcoming the odds was fought by Frankie (Li Buyi), Raymond (Lai Yao-er), and Tavia (Ye Mengse). They won their own battles to come to the end of the show.
Frankie (Li Buyi) had a ‘down-period’ when he was moping and had no hope anymore, as he was labelled a traitor, after all he had done for the white side. Both the white and black sects were after his life at this point. The evil leader, Felix Lok (Geshu Tian), was Frankie (Li Buyi)’s former senior – the were under the same master, and Frankie (Li Buyi)’s master knew that Felix Lok (Geshu Tian) had turned bad and chained him to a cave. Frankie (Li Buyi), who was very young at that time, helped him escape. This caused his entire sect to be annihilated, with Frankie (Li Buyi) the only survivor. Before he died, Frankie (Li Buyi)’s master told him to stop evil from triumphing. Frankie (Li Buyi) decided to pull himself together for the sake of his own conscience, the good side, and to fulfil his master’s dying wish.
On the other hand, Raymond (Lai Yao-er) had his own tough period when his brother was seriously ill, and later died. His nemesis is Savio Tsang (the Phantom Physician), who works for the evil side. For centuries, their two families have been competing, as the Raymond’s family cures people, which the Savio’s family harms people, all using herbs and medicine. The curing of Savio’s mother had caused Raymond’s brother’s death. Later, Raymond tried to improve his life, and Selena’s life, and decided to accept the hospitality of the evil side.
For Tavia (Ye Mengse), a member of the good side, who finds out that her father is the evil Felix Lok (Geshu Tian), leader of evil side, she has to overcome many obstacles internally. She later becomes the leader of the evil side, and all the fraternity. With her strong-will and kind heart, she manages to mediate between the good and evil sides and come to a compromise.
On the journey to find the 5 experts to replace the deceased, the show lets us see the diversity of characters involved. All the 5 experts have different problems, personalities, and Frankie (Li Buyi) and Raymond (Lai Yao-er) help them solve the issues related to their past. The issues with their past were the main reasons why they left the fraternity, and lived in reclusion.
From the beginning, the evil side had the upper hand, as they know all the white side’s fighters, and hence managed to kill all of them before the battle. But nothing is known to the white side about the evil side’s fighters.
When it is time for the battle, the evil side played cheat by using zombies as their fighters. Those are not real people and have had spells done on them, to make them almost indestructible.
The big showdown had to be between Frankie (Li Buyi) and Raymond (Lai Yao-er), former good friends who had chosen different paths. The former was fighting for the good side, and the latter, who had turned cold and heartless, was fighting for the bad side.
Although it seemed as though Raymond (Lai Yao-er) had heartlessly killed his former best friend, it is revealed in the end that Frankie (Li Buyi) did not die. Raymond (Lai Yao-er) had finally come to his senses and had Frankie (Li Buyi)’s accu-points sealed to make it seem like he had died. That way, Raymond (Lai Yao-er) could claim that he had fulfilled the conditions the bad side set for him to learn a new martial arts skill and save Selena, who was in a coma, and would make it possible for Frankie (Li Buyi) to plan an attack on the bad side, who claimed that the ‘Golden Seal Battle’ would cease to exist in 5 years.
The actors who were cast to play the roles all looked like they were supposed to be good, evil, stupid or scheming. It is hard to imagine this brilliant cast replaced by any other actors.
Frankie Lam played the main character, Li Bo-yee 李布衣 (Li Buyi). His character was a very calm person, and was always deep in thought. He did things discreetly, but planned very carefully. Frankie Lam managed to bring this across to the audience very well.
Lai Yeuk-yee 賴藥兒 (Lai Yao-er) was played by Raymond Lam. He was the temperamental physician who was loyal to his friends, and later turned heartless and a member of the evil side, then realised his mistakes and prevented evil from triumphing. His role was probably the best in the show, in which he changed his personality and life goals so many times because of loyalty and love.
Tavia Yeung played Yip Mung-sik 葉夢色 (Ye Mengse), who was a strong-willed martial arts disciple, who disliked the strong trampling on the weak, and evil ruling the fraternity. She was quite rash because of her beliefs and because of her rashness she always made the situations worse in the beginning of the show. As the show went on, her character matured, much to my delight. She came across as rather irritating in some episodes in the beginning, but she was always a character who you knew would never waver from the good side.
Yin Ye-loi 嫣夜來 (Yan Yelai), the owner of an inn, played by Selena Li, looked rather miserable in all the episodes. She spent a good deal of the show in a coma, but she was still a very important character, as her predicament drove Raymond (Lai Yao-er) to do all the things he did. She managed to portray a character who was strong on the outside and soft on the inside.
Other than Raymond Lam, the two other best roles go to Derek Kwok, who played Lau Fan-yue 柳焚餘 (Liu Fenyu), and David Chiang, who was the traitor Shum Shing-nam 沈星南 (Shen Xingnan).
Derek Kwok managed to convey Lau Fan-yue 柳焚餘 (Liu Fenyu)’s evilness and coldness when he killed, and also his loneliness and despair when all by himself. We later find out he turned to ruthlessly killing because some people massacred his entire family, who were very kind people, leaving him all alone.
David Chiang, on the other hand, managed to appear as a good-hearted man who did everything in the name of the good sects, but hid a deep, dark secret. In a matter of moments, he could be talking to the good people and you would never expect him to be evil, and the next moment, he would be throwing evil looks and looking like he would be out to kill.
The great thing about this show is that everyone is connected to each other in ways unthinkable, but believable and would make you go ‘wow’. The people are not who they seem to be, and there are so many twists and turns, making the plot complex. Even in the white and black sides, there are so many different personalities with differing views on certain problems, and this gives the show dimension. The acting was convincing, and managed to portray the differing characters and feelings to the audience. The scenery was captivating, and there weren’t many inconsistencies which were obvious and make the audience irritated.
Overall, I really enjoyed this show, and wouldn’t mind watching it a few more times! I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of the plot, and its characters and the brilliant portrayals. This has to be one of the best period wuxia shows I’ve seen ever!
unlike my other reviews, this is really one-of-a-kind! i don’t think i’ll be writing an essay in this format, or any essay based on TVB dramas anymore… i’ve not added any pictures, ‘cos it’ll take too long for this post to be published.
i hope you all enjoy it! :)