Review: Fashion War (TVB, 2016)

FashionWar_Cover

Fashion War (潮流教主)

Genre: Modern Drama/Office Politics
Length: 20 episodes
Producer: Dave Fong

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Cast
Moses Chan as Ip Long
Ali Lee as Vincy Kei Wan Wan
Sisley Choi as Cheung Yat Ling aka Ah Yan
Him Law as Francis
Jacquelin Ch’ng as Danielle
Vivien Yeo as Ada
Whitney Hui as Zoe
Koni Lui as Zita
Joel Chan as Martin Ma

and Roxanne Tong, Jeannie Chan, Becky Lee, Tyson Chak, Max Cheung, Eric Lee, Leanne Li, Lisa Ch’ng, Veronica Shiu, KK Cheung, Lee Kwok Lun, etc.

The Review

I looked forward to Fashion War and really had expectations for the drama, but was realistically cautious that TVB won’t produce a good fashion-related drama for unable to pinpoint reasons. My intuition failed me this time and I was wrong. Fashion War at it’s fast-paced, office politics-dominated plot proved to be entertaining for almost every episode. Whether this depicts an accurate depiction of reality for the fashion industry or not, the storyline itself keeps the story moving along and is one of 2016’s best for TVB so far.

The series takes place in MODES, the top magazine in Hong Kong and later focuses on the rival between GINA and MODES. MODES is separated into two main departments, the revenue-generated advertising department, which is headed by Ali and the expense-generating department which is headed by Moses who plays Ip Long, also known as the Trendsetter to both insiders and outsiders. It is said that his character is based off of the famous designer, Karl Lagerfield, but don’t think that this is some kind of compliment because at the worst, Moses is displayed as a jerk with a soft side. Besides a range of backstabbing, plotting, allying, and revealing each others vulnerabilities, secrets, and scandals, the series mainly focuses on Moses grooming Sisley to be his successor to much of the other more experienced editors’ jealousy and disgust, Him’s struggle to join the model industry again, and Ali’s hatred of Moses since day one.

Everyone one else within MODES is also quietly and selfishly looking after themselves for one reason or another even if it means betraying friends. Some say the MODES environment is similar to a palace where the Chief Editor, Ip Long, is the Emperor and everyone else are his subordinates who doesn’t dare to disobey his orders.

Since it’s a largely plot-driven drama, you’ll definitely want to watch it for yourself, so I won’t spoil any of the storylines or backstabbing. However, a little background about the fashion industry reveals that it’s a place where talents and potential takes precedence over experience, seniority, or hard work. Some say they don’t play fair and they are right. A single successful project can render you a promotion like Sisley, but one impulsive, mindless scandal with a married woman can also have your modeling career crashing down, like Him.

It takes place in an environment where there is no such thing as right or wrong, morals or ethics, but only win or lose and everyone’s character and conscience will be tested at some point. It’s interesting and refreshing to see a TVB protagonist having an ambiguous character with a bad rep, but chances are, like everyone else, he only stands up for what he believes in and in the battle of so many egos, if he isn’t a Type-A boss, he can easily appear as a weak pushover. It’s like the Machiavellian phrase, if you can’t be loved by others, at least be feared by them.

And also because of his ambiguous and complex character, Moses’ mentor and mentee moments with Sisley are also quite sweet and hilarious. Think back to when Moses fired Sisley so he can find out the real culprit who framed Sisley. A devastated Sisley greeted Moses at the door with messy hair and immediately slammed it again. Only after she fixed her hair, did she open and welcome her boss inside her apartment. Only with Sisley does Moses let his guard down and able to unleash his gentle side.

And as messed up and unfair to everyone else, you have to love Moses when he found Sisley’s email to their competitor. He knew that someone must be trying to frame Sisley and instead deleted the email and pretended it never happened. He trusts his people and trusts his instincts even more.

Speaking of Sisley, I believe her talents are more told than shown in the series — and I’m not a fan of that kind of preachiness. Other than her messing around with the editorial calendar during her interview and coming up with the last-minute idea of an glossy aluminum-mirror cover for MODES, Sisley spends more time standing up to Moses than creating original content for the magazine. I see more of Sisley’s enthusiast for the magazine as a newbie more than any kind of said potential she has.

Although most of the series takes place in TVB’s contained studios and there’s really nothing worth mentioning, I loved how TVB finally filmed at their skyline deck location again! This is the first drama in about a decade or so that features that view, and they almost used it too often.

For a series that takes place in a top fashion magazine, the clothes that the editors and assistants had to wear were mediocre at best. One of my biggest best peeves is that no female character had a distinct, custom-tailored style. While there were a few pieces I liked here and there, it seemed like the costume department just told them to pull on whatever was available in the studios that day. Other than Ali who was more consistent in her style, I disliked many of Sisley and Roxanne’s puffy shoulder tops. It’s on trend this season, but not stylish for the most part.

The Characters and Performances

The four main characters, Moses, Sisley, Him, and Ali had a good amount of screen time and were well-developed characters for the most part. Like I mentioned earlier, I still felt Sisley’s character was too lenient. From beginning to end, she was consistently the good girl and MODES’ biggest fan; she had it really easy and didn’t go through much. Sometimes, I even feel like there was too much handholding from Moses.

FashionWar_HimLaw

At first, I assumed that she’ll have some kind of relationship with Him, but when Him and Ali had a one night stand, it once again confirmed that the fashion industry is an unpredictable place to be. It’s refreshing that no one ends up with anyone here, but after all the ugliness, some friendships are maintained while new ones are formed by the end.

Moses was the perfect TVB actor for this role and I’ve mentioned why before. My next choice will be Bosco, who has a crazy flair for fashion, but Moses appear more alpha with his larger stature. Although it’s only Moses and Ali’s first collaboration, their tension was quite on point and despite being on the opposing side, Moses never blames Ali for being his enemy, but instead understands that there are just some people who just hates the status quo as much as they love the power. Nothing like intimate moments with your enemy who understands you more than a friend does, lol. 😉

Despite a few petty misunderstandings, Sisley’s friendships with the other assistant editors, played by Roxanne and Jeannie were also quite sweet. I’d admit that Jeannie’s change from being a backstabber to being a loyal friend again isn’t convincing. The only silver lining to this is that she’s no longer the green-eyed monster and accepted Sisley for her talents. Amongst the three, I also found Jeannie’s acting to be the weakest and her voice difficult to tolerate at times.

FashionWar_SisleyChoi_JeannieChan_RoxanneTong

Him’s character was slow to grow on me primary because he spent the first half of the series sleeping and being lazy, but once he bounces back with some motivation, he proves that he can do a lot for friends, especially for Ali and Sisley.

I’m so glad that as a newbie, Ali wasn’t pigeon-holed into those rookie roles that Sisley are getting, but at the same time, this shouldn’t be a reason to typecast her in vixen or villainess roles either. Fashion War is definitely better for Sisley’s career than Speed of Life as she has a more mature character.

I can’t help but realize that Sisley is such a random and miscast for this role, however. Perhaps she’s already been typecasted into those athletic roles and we all know her image by now, but she just doesn’t have that fashionable flair that Moses and Ali has. It’s one of those things that you either have it or don’t. She can better control her pronunciation, but she’s definitely more memorable here than in any other role she has taken so far.

I’m not at all surprised that Jacquline and Vivien who co-hosts the fashion variety show, All Things Girls, is here. Their roles call for them to be too stiff and Jacquline spends more time acting indifferent while Vivien either appears mad, holding a grudge, or too serious most of the time. I’m happy that Jacquline resigned on good terms at the end as she wanted to further challenge herself in another startup, while Vivien has a side that you can’t quite pinpoint. You don’t know why she suddenly turned the tables and decide to help Moses and support Sisley. Sisley says she likes him, but I have no reason to believe it.

Koni’s performance was a little flat in her earlier episodes, perhaps still a bit rusty after her time off to giving birth, but she was awesome when she said, “MODES is mine now” with a half raised eyebrow.

The worst performance goes to no one else other than Veronica Shiu who played NaNa. She had a bad character to begin with so I’m not sure if she’s suppose to make her role more likable or make it live up to the crappy personality she had — but she accomplished the latter with her heavy, scratchy, and uncontrolled voice. Girls, get your ear plugs ready.

Overall Evaluation

I’m not sure if it’s a series worth re-watching, but it’s definitely something worth watching for the first time. It is quite unique being a completely office politics drama by TVB even though there were reports saying it’s a copycat of a Japanese drama. It doesn’t bother me but it may bother others. But I think it’s only fair to compare TVB dramas to other TVB dramas or compare it to itself.

In terms of promoting new stars, I find this series more effective at doing that than Raising the Bar, which ended up being more of a vacation show with little plot and drive.

The Verdict

It’s fast-paced so you’ll be able to finish it in a few sittings and four is recommended. It can be tiring at some points, but the story is coherent, has drive, and has a happy ending. Still, perhaps I’m a TVB veteran viewer by now, it somehow feels like a kids’ show to me, so therefore, a bad TVB storyline doesn’t surprise me, but a decent one also doesn’t amaze me.

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