Last week, HKTV’s last to air drama Paranormal Mind (開腦儆探) aired its final episode. With production halted indefinitely due to the high costs and lack of a free-to-air licence, most of their contracted actors and crew have now moved onto other endeavours. It’s really sad to see a group of passionate people end up like this. So I’ve decided to write some posts on HKTV – this 1st post will be about the East Touch article with some of the actors, writers and directors. The next post will be shorter reviews of the dramas I ended up watching, and the last will be about the actors I’ve discovered along the way.
**Just a note – HKTV are uploading their dramas to YouTube at the moment!
- The Election (選戰) – 3 episodes released every Monday [Cantonese version]
- Night Shift (夜班) – 2 episodes released every Friday [Cantonese version] [Mandarin version]
Interestingly, LeTV (yes, that’s 乐视 from China) just paid big dollars acquiring the rights to the Barclays Premier League Football and aims to make their own web dramas with the HK market in mind. People might wonder why HKTV couldn’t do the same, but keep in mind the political factors in play here. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Although there might not be HKTV dramas anymore, ever. I guess we can be thankful they existed, showing the potential HK dramas have despite its recent reputation. A common complaint from those of us who still (occasionally) watch TVB dramas is that the story, the actors, the cinematography… is pretty poor these days. But it’s not because the production staff doesn’t want to do something more, it’s not because they’re not capable of something more, it’s because a certain TV station is too busy fighting between themselves than to strive for more. It’s too scared to venture into sensitive topics. If you’re an actor and doesn’t suck up to the executives, even if you’re a great actor you will never get any opportunities.
Very happy that Mr Ricky Wong’s gamble gave us the opportunity for 3 years. Although these 3 years passed by very quickly and the dramas have finished airing, but at least we can tell others – Hong Kong dramas are not bad. Hong Kong should have the market to film dramas for its local audience. – Gregory Wong
Recently, East Touch magazine published an article called “Hong Kong Television Awards” – as a way to honour those who worked hard to make it happen. Although I don’t necessarily agree with their choices, the article is great and definitely a good read. I didn’t translate all of the article because of time reasons, but just on more important parts – the interviews.
Their award winners:
(Since I’m not a professional critic, ‘my choices’ are really – favourites rather than the strict definition of ‘Best’.)
Best Drama: The Election
My choice – To be or not to be or The Menu – I guess I’m more of a ‘traditional’ audience afterall. TBONTB is my favourite, is it ‘best’? I’m not sure.
Best Writer: Poon Man Hung (The Menu)
Yes, this would be my choice as well. It has a good balance between being topical and character driven, and didn’t tank at the end.
Best Actor: Gregory Wong (The Election)
My choice – Liu Kai Chi in The Election or The Borderline, he’s good at everything he’s given. To be honest, Gregory’s role is more supporting in The Election?!
Best Actress: Catherine Chau
My choice – Prudence Liew in To be or not to be, hands down.
Best Supporting Actor: Alan Luk (The Menu)
My choice – Yes Alan Luk! Although I also liked him in The Election.
Best Supporting Actress: Isabel Chan (The Election)
I don’t really have a choice for this one, but Isabel was quite outstanding in her role so I agree with their choice there.
A Hong Kong from a parallel time – The Election
During the time of Occupy Central
The Election was the first HKTV drama to air. It was also the drama which received the most feedback. In the drama, Yip Ching (Angelica Lee) wanted to fight for equality and the right to an open election (not just choosing from selected candidates) so she ran for the Chief Executive. In the real world, Hong Kong wanted a free election so the occupy movement began. “The reel and real world are actually quite close together.” As the drama brought up a lot of issues people agreed on, the drama achieved great results and won a shining first battle for HKTV. “I thought the outside response would be great, as there were market considerations when writing the script. We expected there would be a draw to the series. It also had great timing during the ‘Occupy’ time. I remember there was a day where Sung Man San (Liu Kai Chi) and his wife were in the law firm. The location was in Mong Kok. There were protests downstairs. I remember as we were filming, they were shouting chants downstairs.” Even the director Wong Kwok Keung (KK) didn’t expect the drama to do so well. One of those who benefited from the situation was Gregory Wong, who cares about political issues in real life as well. His role Cheung Kwai Lung, his photo on Lung Wo Road, led him to become one of the hottest actors around after the drama aired. “I benefited a lot from the whole situation. Cheung Kwai Lung won many points in the audience’s minds. He’s a bit of a grey character, good but with some evil elements in him. With him sticking by Yip Ching through thick and thin can easily move the audience. Not only the role, the story, the filming style are also done very well. For example the scene with Liu Kai Chi and Savio Tsang on the rooftop, the spinning cameras, also the scene where I was following Yip Ching, the long shot – they were very dramatic. I believe there’re no other TV stations in HK who will give people the space to do these things.”
Television industry is not dead yet
The appearance of HKTV injected life into an industry which had been dull for a long time. For the actors and crew, it was a great arena to hone their skills. “Firstly, HKTV’s dramas allowed the audience to know me, but actually no one had hope in the television industry at the time as it had been stagnant. No one watches HK television anymore. But television is a medium for us lesser known actors to hone their skills, because in movies, we don’t get roles which will allow us to show our skills. HKTV gives actors another platform, and the audience has more dramas to watch.” Isabel Chan, who had an outstanding performance in the drama rarely spent time filming dramas, so she very much agrees with Gregory’s viewpoint. “I agree with what he said about honing our skills. I rarely film a long drama, but this role as a reporter made me notice politics more. I’ve grown up as a person. I’ve never acted in a role with such self interest. But the whole script was very intense, so I became very interested. Co-incidentally Occupy Central was happening at the time. The whole situation is really interesting. I really look forward to The Election 2. I know they finished writing the script, so I hope there’ll be a chance to make it!” KK thinks the opportunity to try new genres and new ways of filming is the most precious. “These learnings are better than at TVB. Its platform is open, we can really try different genres. Thinking back, there’re many shortcomings with this drama. We concentrated a lot on the twists and turns of the plot but didn’t do as well with the characters. If there’s an opportunity to improve, I can do better.”
Three years passed by quickly
Three years of hard work, because of the changing situation, the issue with getting a free-to-air licence, caused the station to not be able to make dramas anymore. Gregory, who participated in several productions feels it is an unfortunate situation. “Very happy that Mr Ricky Wong’s gamble gave us the opportunity for 3 years. Although these 3 years passed by very quickly and the dramas have finished airing, but at least we can tell others, Hong Kong dramas are not bad. Hong Kong should have the market to film dramas for its local audience.” It’s rare to see a company whose boss is so popular amongst the employees. For example, from what KK said, you can understand how the staff feels about this boss. “I know by saying this sound like I’m sucking up to the boss, but I really admire Ricky Wong. I’ve been in this industry for so many years and I’ve never seen someone turned from knowing nothing, to working really hard to get to know this industry in 6 months. Sometimes he’ll just call me into his office and ask me things about filming. During the conversation I know he read many books to learn. I feel he wants to put in new systems for this industry. I believe he will be able to use it in the future.”
A record of our real society – The Menu
How The Menu began
Compared to The Election, The Menu created another discussion topic. The Election achieved success due to the political climate. The audience felt a sense of realism due to The Menu’s portrayal of social issues, including homelessness, corrupt politics, family tragedies – every storyline is happening right next to us. “In the past I’ve always wanted to write a story about journalists but at the time I was just a lowly writer. When I suggested it to the script supervisor he said, not bad, when you become the supervisor you can do it! The chance never came. At TVB, there was always a type of drama they wanted to make, for example Charmaine Sheh is intellectually disabled, Raymond Lam will be in it, and it became ‘My Sister of Eternal Flower’. Another drama they wanted to have 福祿壽 (Fuk Luk Sau aka Wong Cho Lam, Louis Yuen and Johnson Lee), you write it! Then it became ‘Super Snoops’. Until I came here, Ricky Wong said there isn’t anything. So I remembered a story I left behind 10 or 20 years ago.”
Satisfaction from acting
HKTV gave Poon Man Hung a free, creative platform. For lead actress Catherine Chau, it’s a story where she finally gets an opportunity. “It brought me the role of ‘Fong Ying’, her character is really deep. It felt great to portray her everyday. Of course, she made me realise I can work in this industry, not dead yet! It didn’t feel this way while I was filming this drama. But when it’s released and everyone liked it, there’s some feedback, I realised I can still survive, I can still act. Also, some people think Catherine Chau knows a bit about acting, so more job opportunities came along.” Fong Ying brought Catherine fame and opportunities, as well as the pure satisfaction from acting. This is more important for Alan Luk, sitting beside her. “This place gave me fulfilment from acting. Before the dramas were released it was really exciting, since I wasn’t sure whether the audience will like it. But I didn’t care, just do it first. After it’s released the audience can feel it, knowing that people recognise us, that satisfaction is great.”
At HKTV, Alan Luk participated in a lot of dramas. Man Hung calls him ‘Best Supporting’. One of the most well known was Fu Wing Heng (from The Menu). “I’ve never had such a complete role. Since his personality is very different to mine, his life is very unfortunate so I spent a lot of time getting into the role. I kept to myself for some time, play with my own emotions. Thinking back it was quite dangerous.” Using this version of method acting can be dangerous, but doing it for a supporting character for several months – that dedication is amicable. “I really admire Na Jia (Alan’s nickname). To be honest I didn’t know him before so I had zero expectations. But after he acted, then watching the rough cut, the layers and depth in his character were unexpected. He even understood the character more than me, I admire that a lot. He wasn’t a lead character of the whole drama, but an actor can get to this stage. How can I not admire him?”
Strive for Change
Catherine Chau thinks the reason for the dramas’ success was the group’s strive for change. “The dramas couldn’t be aired on free-to-air. At first I was scared and worried, but getting these results, I felt very lucky! I feel everyone has a strive for change, whether it’s filming, story, acting – all tried something new so we brought these new genres. If you ask whether HKTV shook up the television industry, I don’t think so since it’s not aired widely. Maybe it doesn’t have that influence, but the creativity definitely brought some new ideas into the industry.” The creativity Catherine refers to is not just on the storylines. Even for Man Hung who has a lot of experience, the new ways of production helped to increase the quality of the dramas. “I remember after we started filming, the boss asked me to check on the progress. After 10+ years, I’ve never had this opportunity. In the past I only worked on writing behind closed doors, it’s very separated from the filming. But being immersed in it, I now understand the director and the actors more. They also understand the script more. That’s a triple win situation.” This unwillingness to stay at the same place, the strive for change puts them in an unexpected place. In this new world, there’s no sadness from saying goodbye, just a new beginning.
The Road for HKTV
CTI (HKTV), Cable and Now formally apply for a free-to-air broadcast licence with the government.
The Executive Council kept delaying their decision on the broadcast licences, leading to discontent from the applicants. The Chief Executive CY Leung expresses “This matter is very complicated.” and refused to speed up the process.
The government announced the results on 15 October. The other two companies were granted licences but the company which was seen as the most prepared – HKTV did not receive a licence. HKTV and the people demanded an explanation but none was given. The government’s response was “there was a basketful of reasons.” On the 20th October, 120,000 people took to the streets and gathered to express their strong disapproval.
HKTV announced they acquired the mobile TV licence and spectrum from China Mobile HK, planning to launch in July 2014.
The government announced under the existing legislation, broadcasting via mobile TV will still require a free-to-air licence. HKTV delayed their launch, stopped productions and made some of their staff redundant.
HKTV announced they will launch on the web along with their shopping channel. The launch date will be 19 November.
The Election received the highest votes and became the first drama to be released. It received great feedback and viewership reached 560,000. Later, To be or not to be also received high ratings.
Beginning of 2015
Viewership deceasing, the lowest was less than 20,000.
The Menu led to a rise in viewership to about 180,000. But after it finished airing, the ratings dropped again.
The release of Hidden Faces and Night Shift brought increased ratings.
Their last production to be aired – Paranormal Mind is released. They don’t have plans to make new dramas at the moment. There are plans to release their 17 dramas on YouTube, so a worldwide audience can view them.
Credits: Original article from East Touch