Now that I have finally watched this through to the end, I can say with a clear conscience that this is a terrible series in nearly every regard. I should have guessed that this would be the turnout since my first impression upon watching the theme song clip — shown at the beginning of each episode — is that everything about it reminds me of The Drive of Life 歲月風雲 including the tone, to the music and the way that it’s presented…. The similarities don’t just end there. In fact, half the cast here is from TDoL (Damian Lau, Raymond Lam, Toby Leung, Power Chan, Felix Lok…); both series are about “multinational” companies based in Mainland China; and they both fail miserably at depicting life of the “rich and powerful”.
While I gave up watching TDoL after about 7 or 8 episodes, Growing Through Life had me hooked in believing that things will get more interesting. Did I get what I hoped for, you ask? Somewhat — it took over 2 weeks to really get into the meat of the story, and even then it was mediocre at best. With clichés flying from every direction, it’s hard to watch this without rolling my eyes at every single episode. The characters are just too predictable!! I usually watch TVB series with an open-mind but I could see where the storyline is going from miles away.
Come to think of it, that’s pretty much how my family and I kept ourselves entertained throughout this entire snorefest: we pointed at the screen and made fun of the “acting”, mocked and laughed at the characters who cried or died (we just couldn’t take any of them seriously except for Cecilia Yip — she’s plays such a convincing crazy/suspicious/jealous/vengeful woman), picked out flaws of the lighting and cinematography, criticized the sets, and made wild guesses at what would happen next (we were right every single time).
The Actors in Character
To be fair, I sympathized with Raymond Lam and Bosco Wong‘s character but there was just something about their acting that was horribly posed and unnatural. They just didn’t have any feeling or emotional connection to their roles; they were simply actors reciting lines from a script. As for their female counterparts, they weren’t any better. In fact, they were worst — Toby Leung is sleep-walking (with a blank, dead stare in her eyes) and spewing out her lines one word at a time, all the while sounding mousy, whiny and out of breath as though she can’t get enough oxygen in her lungs (no, it was never mentioned that she’s asthmatic so I’m attributing this all to her “acting”); Zhao Ziqi does an admirable job (it’s her voice actor who really shines, I found out later that it’s Mimi Lo) but her character is too much of a preacher to be truly likeable; Vionn Song is another reciter but while Toby just seems lazy, Vionn seems too be playing it too safe with minimal reactions and gestures even when she’s on her crazy vengeance mode, and yes… she too is a whiner (the huffy-spoiled-rich-teen kind, not Toby’s wailing-like-a-cry-baby kind).
The best (or rather worst) part is, none of the couples actually seem like a couple. Yes, there are an abundance of cute/sweet couple-y scenes for Raymond and Ziqi but I never got the impression that they’re actually in love. Ziqi/Mimi did a fantastic job at acting in love when her character was admiring Raymond from afar but when she actually got together with Raymond, it just fell flat. Actually, I noticed that happening a lot with Raymond’s acting… I don’t know if he’s in a rut but he can’t seem to depict the romantic aspect of any series convincingly (the chemistry just isn’t there) but he’s brilliant at playing a son in any type of family situation.
As for Bosco, he also lacks chemistry with Tobey but his character only married her for money and power so his detached attitude is forgivable. He hated Vionn because of her snobbery; he did have a crush on Ziqi but she only had eyes for Raymond… As for his breakdown, he didn’t take the psycho, angry, self-conflicted, paranoid murderer aspect as far as he could have; he played it so safe that it was boring.
The Pacing, the Lighting, the Sound and the Ambiance
My biggest complaint throughout this show though is the pacing and the sets. I can’t remember who it involved but there was a scene where two of the characters were eating at a restaurant and it unraveled as such: A is speaking to B; A pauses to put food in his mouth, chews pensively with his eyes lowered and face etched into a permanent frown as though chewing is the most difficult thing to do in the world, swallows, drinks a sip of water, looks up and continues talking to B, and the entire process repeats again. My goodness…. this scene went on for the longest time. It was completely absurd!! The entire series is filled with pointless pauses and moments like this; 30 episodes is way too long, it could have easily been condensed to 20 eps (and even then I’m being generous).
The lighting was also horribly done. I don’t know if it’s an attempt to conserve energy but these people do not like to turn on the lights at night; they prefer to do everything in the dark (read/type/brood/sulk/eat/watch TV/talk…). If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought that this series is a horror movie or something. In addition, there were also so many scenes where the light-source was all wrong, such as the one where Raymond was speaking to Damien on the balcony. The sun was setting in the background but both actors’ face were brightly lit, making it evident that there is a spotlight on them while the scene is being shot.
The lack of noise is also unnerving. In any office environment, we should be hearing the murmuring of conversations, the whirring of fax machines and photocopiers, the ringing of telephones, the rustling of papers, the clicking of mouses and the clacking of keyboards being used. But alas… this was not the case in here. Everything was just… silent.
And lastly, I find it highly amusing that the restaurants that the main characters go to for lunch and dinner were always completely empty. The characters were always the only customers there, and the waiters/staff were practically non-existent. The same thing applies for when they were walking on a street or taking a stroll in the park.
As for the sets, it was implied throughout the entire series that Raymond and Damien’s family is extremely wealthy but it never came across as believable.
Damien’s Office — While it is true that Damien’s office is huge (the size of 2-3 rooms at least), it was also really empty. There were no shelves or drawers, the walls are bare, and most of all, there were no furniture except for the his desk and a conference table all the way across the room. (Did I mention the exterior shot of the office headquarters is actually Sheraton Hotel? The flag is a dead giveaway.)
Damien’s House – His house is so huge (supposedly) that he has an elevator. The problem is that it doesn’t look very lived-in. I’ve seen IKEA showrooms that look more lived-in than this set. Everything in his house looks placed and impersonal. Yes, there are a few photographs here and there but like his office, his house is just bare. I also find it hard to believe that they would live in such a house when there’s only a grand total of 3 people in his family, including himself.
Raymond’s House – Again, also a huge house but everything in it is so impersonal. His house is as dead as a tomb since he became the sole occupant after his mother passed away.
Overall, Growing Through Life is a complete waste of time, especially since its only message is that parents are willing to sacrifice everything for the well-being of their children. I actually got chills when Damien proclaimed “There is no dad in this world who would give up on their own son,” but they really did not need 30 episodes to get that message across. They had to explicitly spell it out for the viewers because there was so much pointless drama in the way. In fact, they even created a short animation clip in the last few minutes of the finally to tell a story about a man and his son — the gist of it is that they are walking along a beach, and the son looks behind him notices that whenever he encounters any type of hardship, there is only one set of footprints in the sand; the father then replies that the reason behind this is that he is carrying the boy in times of turmoil.
This is all fine and dandy, but if the boy is looking at the footprints he left behind then how could he not know that is father was carrying him? Did he fall off a cliff, banged his head and got amnesia like Damien’s character did (yes, it really happened =____=)?? I only found out after browsing a few forums that the story is actually suppose to be about God (which would make more sense) but TVB had replaced Man with child, and the Lord with dad. See the original story for yourself here.
All in all, you’re not missing anything if you skip this. In fact, I urge you to skip this series. Unless, of course, you like to criticize and make fun of of what is happening before your eyes — in which case, this one is hoot and a half (just fast-forward through all the boring eating scenes, and self-reflecting scenes).