[HKTV] Once Upon A Song Episode 04

With the auditions finally on our doorstep, the characters of our motley crew are each faced with some crucial decisions to make. Motives are questioned and ugly rivalries begin to rear their heads; but friendships and love are also strengthened and fought for, and some of our cast even learn some lessons which will surely need to be remembered for the (long) road ahead.

Episode 4 Recap

It’s audition day and on location, celebrities Sky (the meta-musical’s leading man) and Jade (still unconfirmed as the film’s leading lady) find themselves swarmed by fans and reporters alike. Amidst the commotion, Chi Ching, Karlie and Ying Jun manage to sneak by unnoticed and behind the scenes, formal introductions are exchanged by an assembly of the film’s most prominent figures.

During these very discussions, Sky expresses his ‘gratitude’ (for he’s rather haughty in his manner) for being given the opportunity to work with old sunbaes. Jade adds that as it stands, she’s merely acting as an audition judge – she’s not officially signed on to the film yet and the comment catalyses an exchange of uncomfortable glances around the table.

Nothing however, tops the awkward between Dai Wei Gor and Agnes (our confirmed Mystery Lady), as she tells him her preferences have long changed (after he offers her sugar for her coffee). She deliberately drinks from his cup however, and leaves her lipstick print on its rim.

Back at his café (and earlier on I’m assuming), Dai Wei Gor asks with amusement what it is Ying Jun wants from him for him to be kneeling in supplication with coffee in hand. Ying Jun asks to be taken in as his disciple and he confesses that because he feels to blame for Chi Ching’s being egged, it’s his goal now to partake in the auditions and stay by her side to protect her.

Dai Wei Gor commends Ying Jun’s intentions but counters that Chi Ching will only be participating in acting/singing/dancing lessons, not fistfights (ha) and he thus dusts his hands of helping Ying Jun to woo her. That is until, Ying Jun declares he’s already filled out all the paperwork and that he had written that Dai Wei Gor had recommended him; Dai Wei Gor is forced to comply, or, risk his reputation LOL (sneaky, but effective).

We return to the auditions, where Chi Ching, Karlie and Ying Jun analyse their competition – an array of candidates ranging from contemporary dancers, to a girl whose singing, they witness, shattering glass. Nerves rattled, they share a group cheer before Ying Jun is called in to sing with the accompaniment of a lion hand-puppet. At the sight, Dai Wei Gor shrinks behind his clipboard in mortification hahah.

Flashback to Ying Jun’s appeals to be mentored by Dai Wei Gor however, and we hear the big softie’s evaluation of Ying Jun’s act – his singing isn’t bad but nor is it particularly memorable or remarkable. He offers Ying Jun the tip that unimpressed audition judges are oftentimes won over through (fake) tears (ha!) and we see Ying Jun applying this ploy in the present.

Now, at the farce of sorrow, Dai Wei Gor asks drily if Ying Jun needs medical attention (LOL) and Ying Jun explains that the song he had performed had been the first one taught to him by his mentor, who had very high hopes for him… and had died from cancer. Dai Wei Gor slams the table at the ill-boding jinx (hahaha) and denies Ying Jun a second chance; it would be an inconvenience and an unfair special consideration, he argues to his fellow judges.

With Ying Jun’s exit, Sky exclaims that the sob story must all be a charade. The film director however, is impressed that within such a short time-frame, Ying Jun had been able to demonstrate acting, singing and dancing ability. Dai Wei Gor conceals a smile at the success; unfortunately, the same tactic fails for Karlie and when the next contestant is called in, Jade pins Keith with a glare at the realisation that it’s to be Chi Ching.

The piano plays as Chi Ching stands before the panel of judges but in a sudden bout of stage-fright, she misses her cue. Jade impatiently calls for her elimination and it’s at this moment that Keith notices the return of our magical bear friend. It’s all he can do but to spit out the mouthful of water he had been sipping and he excuses himself for a restroom-break, suggesting that their contestant collect herself in the meanwhile.

Outside they reconvene and Keith is left in disbelief at Chi Ching’s nerves when she’s able to sing without issue for the children at the childcare. He holds her face in his hands (squee! Although the act described in words sounds terribly unromantic haha!) and instructs: “Yan Chi Ching, listen well. Right now you need to treat everyone inside that room as a group of the most immature and extremely naughty children you know, okay? Remember that, remember it, remember it.”

When he finally releases her, Chi Ching argues that the children she looks after are all exceptionally well-behaved. Keith reminds her that rather than defending the children right now, her objective is to help Jade, a point to which Chi Ching concedes. Before she returns inside however, she warns him to be more careful when drinking water and remarks that he’s the only immature and naughty child she knows.

Keith smiles after her and back inside, Chi Ching succeeds in following his advice to a tee. She concludes her rendition of Twins’ Xia Yi Zhan Tian Hou – a love song essentially questioning the prize which is fame, if love is it’s cost – (levels Jade with a challenging glance,) and is met with applause by all, but Jade of course. At hearing further praises for Chi Ching’s singing ability and looks, Jade storms out of the room.

Outside and circled by reporters, Jade pointedly meets Chi Ching’s gaze before confirming that she will star as the lead in the upcoming film after all; in the shadows, Keith sends Chi Ching a silent thankful nod. It’s not long however, before he learns from Kelvin (after the latter switches off the recording of Chi Ching’s audition and manages to finally gain his attention, aw) that Chi Ching has withdrawn from participating in the impending skills-training classes.

Thinking it a waste of her talent, Keith cites the film director’s earlier positive impression and contends that Jade would most likely perform at her peak with Chi Ching as her competitor, before outlining his own plans to persuade Chi Ching to reconsider. Kelvin, unconvinced, questions whether Keith’s actions are to benefit the film or Jade (or Chi Ching) and our CEO very shrewdly returns the question in kind.

Of course, with Chi Ching’s withdrawal follows Ying Jun’s and consequently, it’s only Karlie’s recruitment (off the waiting list) to attend training classes, which the three celebrate. Karlie insists however, that Chi Ching attend the program with her and she pushes Chi Ching to think about her own dreams – for example, of helping her aunt’s and Dai Wei Gor’s shops achieve stock market launches – rather than just thinking of others’ for once.

Under Chi Ching’s interrogation of how she would know of this second dream, Karlie yields that Keith had sought her out to ensure Chi Ching’s participation. She discloses that it’s the one condition to her own eligibility but still Chi Ching protests that she doesn’t wish to upset her aunt – which is exactly when said relative makes her appearance (ha, this woman’s impeccable timing as always).

Chi Ching’s aunt reveals that all along, she had known about Chi Ching’s ‘secret’ audition attempt; in fact, she’s been on top of all news related to Jade, since being alerted to her niece’s being bullied by netizens… and because she’s a founder of the anti-Jade movement (aw, go aunt)! As such, she voices her complete support for Chi Ching. Under mounting pressure from all sides, Chi Ching chooses to simply flee from her losing battle.

It’s only later that night, having received a worried voicemail from her aunt that Chi Ching returns to face the music (both literally and figuratively). She finds her aunt hosting perhaps her last informal ‘concert’ (slash work-out group, from what it seems) for the locals, with her Uncles Do, Re and Mi playing both as the band and back-up singers, aw. Ying Jun calls out at Chi Ching’s arrival and the music stops.

From on-stage, Chi Ching’s aunt uses the intermission to ask that her audience listen to a story she has prepared for them. It’s a story about dreams, she begins, and one which involves a girl she knew, who used to love to sing karaoke afterschool and even as a little girl, used to sing along with her behind the scenes at every concert she had held; at her last concert, before hoping to move onto bigger things, she had even sung the Cantonese version of Auld Lang Syne together with this girl.

Chi Ching’s aunt continues that she never did achieve her dream (because she had to look after this girl), but whilst the girl had thought herself a burden for this and foolishly vowed to spend her life working at her aunt’s dessert shop, Chi Ching’s aunt swears that her dream may not have been fulfilled but she’s never once given up on her love for singing.

With the conclusion of her story, Chi Ching’s aunt urges Chi Ching to likewise, go forth and follow her own dreams. Chi Ching cries, reflecting on the many times she’s compromised herself for Jade’s sake and Ying Jun, along with Karlie, comfort her before leading her on-stage. Together once more, Chi Ching and her aunt (very aptly) sing Beyond’s iconic Under A Vast Sky (loosely translated) –

Aunt : “Many times I’ve been confronted with jeers and mockeries
Never have I abandoned my heart’s hopes and ideals
A moment of hesitation and the fear of getting lost
Without realization, it faded the love in my heart

Forgive me for being wild and yearning for freedom
Yet fearing someday I might fall down (oh no)
To abandon one’s dreams, isn’t hard for anyone
Never mind if someday there’s only you and me

Tonight I saw snow falling from the cold sky
With a deadened heart I set off to faraway places”

Chi Ching : “Hustling in the rain, I barely make out my way in the fog
Vast sky, wide ocean, you and I, who would change?”

Together : “Forgive me for being wild and yearning for freedom
Yet fearing someday I might fall down (oh no)
To abandon one’s dreams, isn’t hard for anyone
Never mind if someday there’s only you and me”

As the song fades out, our terrific trio greet the (double-rainbow-filled) morning together before setting off for training class. At the school, the introductions to our ever-expanding cast continues – we meet a bespectacled girl who enthusiastically captures the world around her on camera but shies away from them herself, as well as one of Sky’s fans, who Sky begrudgingly allows to tail him.

Keith welcomes the film’s potential next top stars and he encourages them to work hard during the next two months of training if they wish to secure a role in Director Yip’s movie (to be titled) 201314 (A.D). Next, Agnes gives a self-introduction and warns her pupils of her tough training methods with a saccharine smile.

Dai Wei Gor follows with his promise to teach the students all that he can but he emphasises that ultimately, he believes a successful artist can’t be judged on their singing abilities alone – what’s important is the heart put into one’s singing; although he affirms that this is a quality that cannot be taught, he assures the group of the confidence he holds in them.

Finally it’s the director’s turn to give a speech and he draws an (expectedly superfluous) analogy between being a successful star and seeing ghosts: it’s dependent upon one’s character and one’s past deeds. More simply, he stresses that one’s dedicated efforts are what will count most during training (and in becoming a celebrity) – not the maintenance of appearances with aviators, revealing clothes or makeup.

After sending a snooping reporter on his way (the director hears the camera shutter), he dismisses the group to attend their first dance class. In the change rooms however, trouble breaks out when Karlie and Jade, both distracted, bump into one another and Jade drops her phone in the process. Jade accuses Chi Ching of intentionally orchestrating the accident, a proposal Karlie immediately shuts down.

Nevertheless, Jade demands an apology and her groupies are quick to side with their idol, obstructing the exit and parroting her words. Chi Ching produces one on Karlie’s behalf, not wishing to fuel the fire and Agnes effectively extinguishes the squabble with the warning that all the girls are expected to be warmed up within the next five minutes, or will be expelled from her class.

As the girls reluctantly make their way to their lesson, Karlie brushes past Jade roughly in childlike retribution and to the ensuing outcries, Chi Ching exasperatedly tows her best friend away; in the distance however, coupled with ominous background music, the cleaner who pays witness to the scene (a Jade fan evidently), grips his broom in a trembling rage.

Overall Thoughts

There are two key things which really worked for this episode and these two things would be that one, the plot resumes its forward momentum and two, the musical numbers were embedded with meaning and were enjoyable (for the most part anyway as admittedly, I did have to first overcome my distaste for the relatively arbitrary and forced insertion of aunt’s community ‘concert’).

In spite of my earlier comments and current description of the plot progression as having ‘momentum’ however, I feel the pace with which our drama is moving along at (or in the case of this episode at least), can seem to be plodding at times; concurrently, I feel that the more emotional beats are given less time to really resonate.

I expect that the new characters we’ve come to meet in this episode will come to have their own time to shine (even if only briefly) and it brings to mind the (formatting) likes of Dream High and Dance Academy, my wariness at drawing comparisons, withstanding. I honestly can’t say I’m much anticipating these stories however because with what we’ve seen so far, I remain much more invested in the stories of our primary cast – the dramatics of the parents excluded.

On the other hand, it’s all very paradoxical (and I don’t really want to focus too much attention on the story only hinted at in the 18-second preview we get with this episode’s wrap, although it does seem to indicate a rather predictable future plot timeline and setup), but I am beginning to worry a little at the prospect of this drama grinding to a standstill or, ending up with the last few episodes being merely infuriating circles of angst and jealousy.

So if it’s side-character backstories that will prevent this (and if they’re to have some sort of depth), perhaps then they won’t be so bad. After all, the romance taking more of a back-seat in this episode was a nice touch too, as focus was turned more towards friendship and family and we got to appreciate just how awesome Chi Ching’s aunt and best friends can be; there’s time yet for the romantic cuteness to come into play and hopefully it’s smaller doses right now will lend it a more organic feel (and more squee-worthiness!) later on.

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