Lighthearted and Hopeful, ‘Workers’ Details the Antics of a Trio Determined to Get Rich Quick
Three labourers try their best to realise outlandish get-rich-quick schemes.
Director: Cheng Fen-Fen
Cast: Christopher Lee, Alex Ko, Yu An-Shun, Miao Ke-Li, Hsueh Shih-ling, Ko Shu-Yuan
Language: Chinese, Taiwanese Hokkien
Runtime: Average of 45 minutes per episode
After a few too many drinks, Ming-qi (Christopher Lee), a down-on-his-luck labourer, looks at his recently purchased crocodile aimlessly swimming in a bathtub and jests to his friends, “Don’t you think the crocodile is just like us? Whether it is stuck in a mud pool or a tub, it fights hard to get itself out. No matter how much it gets bullied and suppressed, it wants to be somebody.”
It is with these half-drunk nuggets of wisdom that captures the spirit of HBO’s Taiwan-based series Workers 做工的人. Fronted by a likeable cast, the lighthearted series highlights the trials and tribulations labourers face, and how their hopes for a better life always shines through.
Workers follows the antics of Ming-qi and his outlandish get-rich-quick schemes, from making a fortune out of building a temple to growing a crocodile to sell its skin. Promising a share of the profits, he ropes in his worksite friends, the henpecked Chang (Yu An-shun) and the easygoing Quan (Hsueh Shih-ling) in the process.
However, it is quickly established that Ming-qi isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Much to the chagrin of his wife, he has a history of falling for scams and losing months’ worth of his hard-earned pay in the process. Yet – as with his pals – Ming-qi’s intentions are well-founded, looking to rise above his backbreaking life to etch out a better one for his family.
The dynamic between the trio would feel familiar to fans of sitcoms – Ming-qi the troublemaker, Chang the dorky and reluctant accomplice, and Quan the happy-go-lucky hard worker. This relationship lays the groundwork for a group of likeable characters that viewers want to root for. This, however, would be based on the viewer’s stomach for blind optimism.
While the trio are tenacious in seeing their harebrained schemes through, there are obvious red flags that they are being scammed, or that their plans are not as straightforward as they would believe. In the process, they invest large amounts of money into their plans as well – often money borrowed from family. Without its cheery tone, their situation could feel like a financial disaster for their families just waiting to happen.
Workers attempts to wrestle this conclusion from the viewer’s mind by celebrating its characters’ never-say-die spirit. Their journey to find their way to a quick fortune leads them through the familiar backdrops of their lives. From the densely packed construction site showered under the unforgiving sun to the messy lorry that Quan calls home, the series readily shows the difficulties and issues labourers face. It also heartily shares their happy reprieves in feasts at roadside stores and their beer-filled celebrations.
Adding onto these moments are the performances of the trio. Singapore-based actor Lee draws on his experience as a manual worker in his youth to create a believable and charismatic lead that weasels his way out of situations with his sharp tongue. While the two episodes have mainly focused on its lead so far, Yu and Hsueh each spice up the dynamic with their character archetypes and effortless chemistry between the three of them.The comedic quips between them hardly feels scripted as well, making the series’s humour feel natural and relatable.
When the series isn’t focused on the hijinks of the trio, it hones in on the day-to-day life of Ming-qi’s reserved younger brother, Ming-qin (Ko Shu-yuan). Despite being fully aware of how his brother’s schemes are bound to go awry, he remains fully supportive. While he does partake in the plans, it is through his eyes where Workers takes melancholy side roads, focusing on his tricky relationship with a prostitute and hints of heartbreak from a messy breakup. Through Ko’s magnetic presence and stalwart demeanour, Ming-qin’s arc, in particular, is one that I am looking forward to as Workers moves ahead.
Despite the series’s intro sequence harkening to over-the-top surrealism, the technical direction of the series is far more subdued. It doesn’t rely on snap cuts or quirky musical stings to punctuate the humour. Instead, it employs straight-forward and clean framing to allow the performances to shine through. This creates a sense of realism that, despite the series’s tone, does not detract from the realities of the labourer’s situations.
The lighthearted tone of Workers could be jarring to some when highlighting the rather sensitive topic of financial uncertainty. However, in between the camaraderie and laughs, there are seeds planted in its first two episodes that could hint of a slightly more dramatic turn. Besides, while the topics the characters face are heavy, their infectious optimism should shine through to create a comforting sense that everything will be alright in the end.
The first two episodes of Workers is now available on HBO GO, with a new episode of the six-part series releasing every Sunday evening.
Catch the trailer for the series below:
Image credits: HBO Asia
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