THE TRADING FLOOR (2018) TV review

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An ambitious mini-series co-produced by FOX, Tencent Penguin and Andy Lau’s Focus Television Group, The Trading Floor was created by Cora Yim and is a rare five-part mini-series in a part of the world where all popular TV dramas count dozens of episodes. It takes place in a fictional version of Hong Kong called Coen City, and follows Anthony Yip (Francis Ng), a former economics teacher turned Secretary of the Minister of Economic Development. Twenty years ago, he created an elite financial team including also Pamela Cheung (Maggie Cheung Ho Yee), Nick Cheuk (Patrick Tam) and Wai Hong (Joseph Chang); but years after working with them to avoid a financial tsunami caused by George Soros in 1997, Yip betrayed his team to obtain more power and a government position. Cheung was killed, Cheuk crippled and Wai exiled to Myanmar. Now having struck an alliance with three financial giants, Eastman Properties, Evergate Construction Materials and Marco Media, in a bid for market manipulation and dominance, Yip calls back Wai from his Burmese exile to help them. But Wai has vengeance on his mind, while Claudia Fang (Yu Nan), an agent from the Securities & Futures Commission, has set her sights on him.

Be warned: without a clear understanding of the rules and inner workings of the stock market, The Trading Floor is an absolute slog, an endless rhapsody of financial palaver, thundering legal confrontations and abstruse backdoor dealings, with every five minute a new, barely penetrable twist. This, you might argue, exposes this reviewers lack of knowledge. There’s probably much here to grip those better-versed in economics: but they’re certainly a small percentage of The Trading Floor‘s viewership. And the thing is, the dry, ponderous, grandiose feel of Cora Yim’s mini-series makes for deadening viewing, whether one fully grasps financial dealings unfolding onscreen (a constant avalanche of names and acronyms doesn’t help).

Borrowing quite a few pages from Sunny Luk and Longman Leung’s Cold War/Helios playbook (but without the action scenes), The Trading Floor is all icy corporate interiors (a lot of time is spent in vast, high-ceilinged, unfurnished rooms atop skyscrapers), heavy symbolism (relentless shots of a Monopoly board to hammer home the fact that the stock market plays with money and lives), and moral grandstanding (with dialogue that often sounds more like slogans or book quotes than like anything a human being would utter). And the abstruse nature of the financial plot – at least, again, for the uninitiated – is constantly offset by a disarmingly simplistic approach to drama. This is, at its core, a basic vengeance story that repeatedly wheels out (sometimes literally, in the case of Patrick Tam) characters from the past to create new Dynasty-worthy twists, makes sure the bad guy is really, really, really bad, and reveals hidden agenda upon hidden agenda in an endless, thudding cycle, all set to a grandiose, faintly-ridiculous sampled-orchestra score.

It’s left to the prestigious cast to pick up the pieces. There is indeed pleasure to be derived from The Trading Floor, if one focuses on the characters as so many eyes of a tedious storm. Francis Ng is fascinatingly enigmatic, an almost Sphynx-like figure off whom Joseph Chang bounces beautifully as a true anti-hero, a man on a mission who’s forever a slave to his thirst of revenge and of control. Circling them is Yu Nan, who makes a TV debut with her customary class and subtlety as an upstart too human for her own good. Assorted oily officials and CEOs are played by welcome, familiar faces like Liu Kai Chi or Law Kar Ying, while Maggie Cheung Ho Yee and Jacky Cai are the underused heart of the film. Gwei Lun Mei pops up from time to time in the final episodes, to no immediate narrative use but seemingly to play a more important role in the sequel thunderingly teased in the final minutes.

Long Story Short: The Trading Floor a talky, abstruse, grandiose chore to get through, and only a strong cast stop it from fully crumbling under its own ponderousness. **

 

 

 

 

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