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A Decade of Hong Kong Television, 1998-2008

Written by Monjeh Tell a Friend

Hong Kong television has undergone many changes in the past decade, seeing the rise of joint productions with China and the emergence of a new broadcasting platform in the Internet. The introduction of HD broadcasting in 2008 also marks an important milestone in Hong Kong television. In these ten years, Hong Kong's television studios have also moved in sync with the social, cultural, and technological changes of the time to produce TV dramas for a new generation of viewers. With 2008 also being's 10th anniversary, we've especially selected some representative Hong Kong TV series of the past decade to revisit.

Healing Hands (1999-2000)

In 1998, not long after Hong Kong's Handover back to China, TVB's top-rated The File of Justice series also ended its glorious run. In replacement came another serial revolving around professionals from hit-making producer Gary Tang: Healing Hands. The characters changed from lawyers to doctors, the setting from the courtroom to a hospital, but the results were equally successful. Other than realistic medical cases, the biggest draws of the series are of course the complicated relationships and romances, plus the amusing lifestyles of the doctors. Healing Hands became the most popular series of the year, and Ada Choi and Lawrence Ng's golden pairing won them the Best Screen Couple award at the TVB Anniversary Awards. Ada Choi was also named Best Actress that year. Lawrence Ng, boosted by his memorable turn as neurosurgeon Paul Ching, even released an album, and his duet with Choi, "Give You Every Minute and Every Second", turned into a big hit.

Considering the popularity of the first Healing Hands, TVB naturally kept them coming, releasing second and third seasons in 2000 and 2005 with original cast members and new additions. The baton was passed to producer Chik Ki Yee to continue the Healing Hands legacy. The second and third seasons of Healing Hands are both led by mainstay doctors Paul Ching and Henry Lai (played by Bowie Lam), and supported by new and continuing cast members. The long list of popular stars who have appeared in Healing Hands include Lawrence Ng, Ada Choi, Bowie Lam, Flora Chan, William So, Steven Ma, Nick Cheung, Astrid Chan, Wong Tak Bun, Yoyo Mung, Kit Chan, Raymond Cho, Maggie Siu, Moses Chan, Bernice Liu, Gigi Lai, and Melissa Ng.

At the Threshold of an Era (1999-2000)

To greet the coming of a new millennium, TVB invested full resources in the grand drama At The Threshold of an Era. Totaling 100 episodes, the series is split into Part 1 and Part 2, which aired in late 1999 and mid-2000, respectively. The series' large star-studded ensemble cast boasts the studio's top artists including Liza Wang, Paul Chun, Gallen Lo, Roger Kwok, Sunny Chan, Louis Koo, Nicky Wu, Joe Ma, Flora Chan, Kenix Kwok, Ada Choi, Maggie Siu, and Michelle Saram. Despite TVB's great efforts, neither ratings nor reviews for At The Threshold of an Era were as good as expected. Though the series had a strong narrative and unprecedented cast lineup, the serious storyline and heavy themes did not fit with audience tastes of the time. The series actually fared better as a rerun in 2005, reaching a new ratings high in the late-night time slot.

War of the Genders (2000)

TVB's grand era-spanning drama may have flopped, but in the same year the low-budget sitcom War of the Genders broke records by hitting 49% viewership rating. The unique pairing of stand-up comedian Dayo Wong and 1970s and 80s TV drama queen Carol Cheng in the leading roles, plus the support of comedy regulars like Kingdom Yuen, Rams Chiang, and Siu Leung, created new sparks that attracted audiences in droves. Dayo Wong and Carol Cheng made for an unexpectedly compatible odd couple, filling every episode with laughter. Their "kiss of the century" for the series' finale also became a hot topic in Hong Kong. War of the Genders' popularity was so high, after its television run, the drama was adapted into a stage play starring the original television cast.

A Step Into the Past (2001)

TVB's representative drama of 2001 would have to be anniversary drama A Step Into the Past, starring top actor Louis Koo and many beautiful actresses including top starlet Jessica Hsuan, Joyce Tang, Miss Hong Kong Sonija Kwok, Michelle Saram, and Cantonese Opera star Koi Ming Fai. A serious production with a fresh story, interesting premise, and location shooting in China, A Step Into the Past also launched to instant fame newcomer Raymond Lam. Adapted from Huang Yi's same-title novel, this unique sci-fi costume drama follows a police officer who time travels back to ancient China and unwittingly rewrites history. Louis Koo won the Best Actor award at the year-end TVB Anniversary Awards for his performance, as well as Favorite TV Character awards with Jessica Hsuan.

Golden Faith (2002)

Since 2002 was also TVB's 35th anniversary year, the studio spared no efforts to gather a high-caliber ensemble cast with three generations worth of stars for the grand anniversary drama Golden Faith. TVB's top two, Gallen Lo and Jessica Hsuan, team up again alongside 1990s comeback star Deric Wan and Miss Hong Kong Anne Heung for a complicated romance of myriad twists and tangles. The series' young actors - Raymond Lam, Michelle Yip, Myolie Wu, and Tavia Yeung - also cannot be overlooked; six years later, they've all become accomplished leads in their own right. Myolie Wu, in particular, won the Most Improved Artist award that year for her performance as a mentally challenged young woman. Equally important are the veterans including Paul Chun, Wong Suk Yee, Shek Sau, Hui Siu Hung, and Lau Dan whose accomplished acting skills helped bring out the best of the entire cast.

Square Pegs (2003)

In 2003, Hong Kong was struck by the SARS crisis. With an air of gloom hanging over the city, Hong Kongers looked to television for escape, turning comedies Square Pegs and The King of Yesterday and Tomorrow into the ratings winners of the year. Square Pegs stars Roger Kwok as the simple-minded, but kind-hearted Ah Wong. Thanks to a cute and likable protagonist and lighthearted and humorous storyline, Square Pegs became a big hit, sending Roger Kwok on a final upturn in his decade-long roller coaster career. He won his first Best Actor award and Best Screen Couple with "wife" Jessica Hsuan at the TVB Anniversary Awards. TVB followed up in 2005 with the modern-day Square Pegs spin-off Life Made Simple starring the same leads. Life Made Simple was equally popular with audiences, bringing Kwok his second Best Actor award and supporting actress Angela Tong a crucial career breakthrough.

The King of Yesterday and Tomorrow (2003)

Sharing the laurel with Square Pegs in 2003, comedy The King of Yesterday and Tomorrow transports Qing emperor Yong Zheng, played by Kwong Wah, and female assassin Lu Si Niang, played by Maggie Cheung Ho Yee, to the present day through a time blip. These two ancient rivals create an endless stream of laughs with their bumbling encounters in the modern world. Delivering another representative comedic performance after Old Time Buddy, Maggie Cheung won Best Actress for the first time at the TVB Anniversary Awards. Of course, the 2003 anniversary aviation drama Triumph in the Skies starring Francis Ng, Flora Chan, Joe Ma, Myolie Wu, Michelle Yip, Ron Ng, Sammul Chan, Bosco Wong, and Kenneth Ma is also a memorable classic.

War and Beauty (2004)

In 2004, palace intrigue drama War and Beauty outshone them all. The onscreen rivalries among the female leads extended off-screen to the gossip columns and the year-end awards, generating huge promotional buzz and widespread interest. Sheren Teng's Yu Fei, Gigi Lai's Yuk Ying, Charmaine Sheh's Yee Shun, and Maggie Cheung's On Sin all attracted legions of supporters, as did Bowie Lam's Sun and Moses Chan's Hung Mou. The fiercer the fight, the more invested the viewers, as empathetic audiences likened the fighting and plotting of the inner court with modern-day office politics and culture. Every episode of War and Beauty became a dinner table topic. The cast virtually swept the Favorite TV Character trophies at the TVB Anniversary Awards, and Bowie Lam and Gigi Lai beat out their co-stars for Best Actor and Actress honors.

Wars of In-Laws (2005)

2005 was the year for costume comedies with dramas like Wars of In-Laws and The Gentle Crackdown finding success with audiences. Neither were high-profile productions, but ended up garnering rave reviews and high ratings. Veteran actress Liza Wang leads the cast of Wars of In-Laws, playing mother to new-generation stars Bosco Wong and Myolie Wu. Letting her hair down, Liza Wang gives a hilarious comedic performance as a shrilly mother-in-law in battle against her wily daughter-in-law. Prior to this drama, no one would have expected such free performances and comedic sparks from the actresses. The mother-and-daughter pairing naturally stole the show, but Bosco Wong also played a crucial mediating role sandwiched between the battling women. TVB followed up in 2008 with a Wars of In-Laws modern-day spin-off starring the original cast.

The Gentle Crackdown (2005)

2005's other period comedy, The Gentle Crackdown, starred the fresh pairing of Moses Chan and Niki Chow, both of whom brought plenty of surprises to viewers with their unexpected comedic talents. Appearing in her first costume drama, Niki Chow leaves a deep impression with her role as an innocent and bumbling female constable, and she ended up taking home the Most Improved Female Artist award at the year-end TVB Anniversary Awards. In keeping with practice, TVB followed up with a spin-off in 2008, this time with Steven Ma and Yumiko Cheng in the leading roles.

Under the Canopy of Love (2006)

2006 saw many popular small modern dramas, the most successful of which would have to rumored couple Kevin Cheng and Niki Chow's romantic drama Under the Canopy of Love. The series was a big hit with young people, establishing the leads' screen couple image and rewarding Cheng with a Best Actor award. Presenting a fairy-tale romance in a down-to-earth manner, Under the Canopy of Love proved to be a remarkably likeable small production, and transformed the two leads into television idols.

Heart of Greed (2007)

Hong Kong's biggest drama of 2007 is without a doubt Heart of Greed. The social phenomenon that was Heart of Greed even extended into 2008 with the equally popular spin-off sequel Moonlight Resonance. Heart of Greed didn't start out big right away, but as the story's inheritance battle picked up steam, so too did the ratings. Louise Lee's cutting lines became an especially popular discussion topic among viewers. By the time the drama entered its climax, the whole of Hong Kong had been bitten by the Heart of Greed bug.

The turbulent storyline and verbal catfights are of course important factors for the drama's success, but the greatest credit goes to the cast of brilliant veterans (Ha Yue, Louise Lee, Michelle Yim, and Susanna Kwan) and popular stars (Moses Chan, Raymond Lam, Bosco Wong, Tavia Yeung, Linda Chung, Yoyo Mung, Fala Chen, Chris Lai). Drawing in viewers with episodes and episodes of tumultuous family and romantic conflicts, Heart of Greed also set new ratings highs with every episode, culminating with a special Heart of Greed banquet show to accompany the series finale.

Moonlight Resonance (2005)

After Heart of Greed's phenomenal success, TVB acted quickly to shoot a sequel. Though unrelated to the original in storyline, Moonlight Resonance features the original Heart of Greed cast, plus new members like veteran actress Lee Heung Kam, popular character actor Wayne Lai, and Kate Tsui, fresh off her Hong Kong Film Awards Best New Performer win. Relationships are even more complicated the second time around, with 2007's seven-member Tong clan turning into the cheating husband, two wives, seven children, and extended relatives of 2008's Gam and Chung families. Matching the buzz and popularity of Heart of Greed, Moonlight Resonance set a 50% ratings record when the finale was aired, and Ha Yue and Michelle Yim won Best Actor and Best Actress at the TVB Anniversary Awards.

ATV's Date with a Vampire

In the last ten years, TVB has per usual dominated Hong Kong television, but ATV has also produced many quality dramas, including the classic My Date with a Vampire. A stockpile drama in ATV's warehouse, My Date with a Vampire made it to screens in 1998 about a year after its completion, and turned into a surprise hit. ATV even showed same-day late-night reruns of each episode, attracting a new following of late-night watchers.

Without the big-station baggage of TVB, ATV has always pushed innovation as their strength. Combining ghosts, vampires, romance, and special effects, the My Date with a Vampire series marked a new alternative venture for Hong Kong television. Joey Meng's super-short mini skirt and sassy acting as vampire slayer Ma Siu Ling, Eric Wan's cool turn as vampire Fok Tin Yau, and their tearjerking star-crossed romance won over many televisions fans of the time. Scene-stealing child vampire Cheung Kwok Kuen, comedic slayer-in-training Chapman To, and sweet school teacher Kristy Yang are also memorable characters. Of course, an exciting storyline and rousing special effects and fight scenes are also big selling points for My Date with a Vampire.

Despite having no promotion whatsoever, My Date with a Vampire steadily attracted more and more viewers through good word of mouth, becoming one of ATV's most popular dramas in recent years. ATV went on to shoot sequels in 2000 and 2004 with Eric Wan and Joey Meng continuing in the leading roles, and an upgraded ensemble cast that included names like Simon Yam, Ruby Wong, Tse Kwan Ho, Angie Cheung, Joey Leung, Teresa Mak, and Mark Cheng, making My Date with a Vampire one of the most star-studded ATV drama series of the last ten years.

Other than My Date with a Vampire, ATV's recent grand dramas about family feuds and corporate battles like Central Affairs, Central Affairs 2, and Flaming Butterfly have also garnered good reviews. The former stars ex-TVB starlet Michelle Yip, Raymond Wong, and ATV's own Pinky Cheung and Wilson Lam; the latter stars TVB crossovers Rain Li and Michael Tong in a story rumored to be based on late Hong Kong tycoons Nina and Teddy Wang.

Holding on to You with Heart

As times change, the viewing habits and tastes of television audiences have also greatly changed. In comparison to previous decades, it's become increasingly hard to hold the interests of audiences, and harder yet to keep viewers by the television every night. In recent years, top-quality Hong Kong dramas have become rare specimens, and the rising popularity of dramas from Taiwan, Korea, and Japan has cast the future and identity of Hong Kong television into even greater uncertainty. To renew interest in Hong Kong TV dramas, other than TVB's longtime slogan to "spare no effort and do the very best," studios especially need to remember ATV's slogan from the early years: "holding on to you with heart." Of course, chanting slogans is easy, but realizing them is another story.

Translated by Sanwei

Published December 10, 2008

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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