Country Spirit

This is a pretty old TVB drama in the same league as Plain Love I and II. I’ve never watched Plain Love, but Plain Love II was a pretty good drama revolving around a tea plantation. Country Spirit revolves around a wine-making factory owned by the Gu family.

The cast for this series is pretty big too, it has Gordon Lam and Yuen Wah (both of them were also in Plain Love II). They also still have the mentor-disciple relationship, like in Plain Love II. The female leads are Charmaine Sheh and Sheren Tang. Ironically, years later they work together again on another epic, War and Beauty, and it’s quite refreshing to see how they were back in Country Spirit, which was first shown in 2001.

Gordon Lam is the main character, Ah Shun. He’s basically a coward, with no pride and no self-worth. He has way at the bottom of the food chain in the factory, even though he’s been there for years. Everyone looks down on him except for Sheren and Charm. He doesn’t dare to dream big and fight for what he deserves, and in this way he’s pretty similar to his character in Plain Love II. I don’t know why Gordon Lam plays this sort of character so well; if it were someone else like Gallen Lo or Louis Koo, I don’t think they could pull off being a guy with no self-esteem. Gordon Lam makes his character believable, and makes your heart ache for his troubles, even though at times I did feel like reaching out to slap him out of his silliness.

Charmaine is the fiesty and brave Soon Fong, who marries into the Gu family as the wife of their presumably dead son. She has no status in the family (a lot like Ah Shun), and she only accepted the marriage to save her father and brother from debt and out of guilt, because her father drove the ship which claimed the lives of her supposed husband and also Sheren’s boyfriend. Her mother-in-law is especially mean to her, and treats her like a lowly servant. Interestingly, she is played by Rebecca Chan, who was the evil empress in War and Beauty. She is just as evil, if not more, in Country Spirit too. Anyway, Charm pulls off the fiery and stubborn Soon Fong so well. I don’t think anyone can watch all 42 episodes without liking Soon Fong, or at least feel sorry for her. I was completely taken aback when I first saw Charmaine in this series so many years ago. Before this, my impression of her was that soft, demure girl like in Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain and Detective Investigation Files IV. In here she has a completely different character, someone who isn’t afraid to speak her mind or stand up for what she thinks is right. I simply loved Soon Fong in this series for her strength and her perseverance.

Sheren Tang is the sister to Chun Pui’s character. She oversees the fermentation section of the winemaking process. Ah Shun has secretly liked her over the years, but he was never brave enough to profess his love for her, as he felt inferior to her boyfriend. Even after the death of the boyfriend, he still felt as though he could not measure up to her, since she is after all, of a higher class. Although Sheren is a kindhearted soul who never looks at Ah Shun or Soon Fong as servants, it’s hard to tell how she feels exactly. I don’t think she ever gets over her first boyfriend, even though she later almost marries Ah Shun.

Ah Shun eventually though, falls for Soon Fong, whom he pities at first, since for once there’s someone who is treated as badly as he is. Lol. They sort of encourage each other and stand up for each other as they meet with obstacles in the factory. Even though Soon Fong cannot stand how cowardly Ah Shun is, she is touched by his loyalty to his mum. And what’s not to like about Soon Fong’s never-say-die spirit? However, despite falling for each other, they do not get together, because Soon Fong is too stubborn to admit her love, and Shun is too cowardly to express himself, because after Soon Fong helps rescue the factory, she gains the respect of the people, and finally her position as the daughter-in-law is recognised. This again puts a barrier between Shun and Soon Fong, not to mention the fact that she is married to the dead son. The dead son eventually comes back to his family alive, giving everyone a huge shock. He was presumed dead after the ship accident, where he fell into the river trying to save a little girl. They never recovered his body, so it was theoretically possible that he came back. He causes a little havoc between Soon Fong and Shun as well, increasing the barrier between the two.

The wine factory provides an excellent backdrop for their touching story, and the series was actually filmed on location in Guangxi. The mountains and rivers and waterfalls were so magnificent that it didn’t require elaborate sets or anything to bring out their beauty. Any scene with those waterfalls is sufficient to distract you from everything else going on. TVB really went the extra mile to give such a great setting to the series. It shows that they have excellent locations near to Hong Kong, without having to go abroad to New Zealand or whatnot to get beautiful scenes. If only they’d bother to move to China to shoot their ancient dramas, they’d be so much better off. No need to rely on hair-pulling scenes to get viewership.

Also, the themesong for the series is excellent. Both the theme song and insert are sung by Jacky Cheung, the theme song being a duet with Kit Chan. Interestingly, the theme for Plain Love II was also a duet between Jacky and this time, Priscilla Chan. Tvb was definitely looking to reproduce Plain Love II’s winning formula in Country Spirit, and I’m not complaining. Jacky Cheung is an amazing singer; he even wrote the insert song himself. Tvb used to get more established singers to sing their theme songs, like Eason Chan (He sang for Triumph in the Skies and a couple more), Miriam Yeung, and Andy Lau. Most of these series became hits, and it’s partly so memorable because of the great theme songs too. Now Tvb prefer to push their own actors and let them sing the themes, but no offense to the actors, they should just really stick to acting. Leave the singing to the real singers.

Rating: 4/5 (It would’ve been 3.5 only, but the songs and setting made me more generous)

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