Monday, April 24, 2017

The Menu (導火新聞線) movie - My Thoughts

I finally got around to watching The Menu movie last night (yes, I know, a bit late in the game given that the movie was from like 2 years ago).  As a fan of the HKTV series that the movie was based off of, I will admit that I was initially a bit conflicted and wasn't sure if I truly wanted to watch the movie or not.  I'm sure fellow fans can understand my hesitation but for the benefit of those who may not have been following the whole HKTV saga as closely, I will attempt to explain a little bit about my thought process.  

Back when the movie was being filmed, I had actually followed the production process quite closely and tried to read/watch everything I could possibly get my hands on about the movie.  Part of the reasoning for this is because I loved the series to the point that I became a fan, so naturally, the last thing I wanted was to see an outside company come in and film a movie version that had the potential to "butcher" the original.  Of course, one thing that made this "TV series to movie" adaptation different from what we usually see (i.e. all those past movie adaptations of a certain HK television station's popular series) is that from the getgo, it was very clear from all involved in the production that, as much as possible, the original cast and crew from the series would be involved with the movie as well.  This ended up being true to some extent in that Ben Fong was still the director/producer, Pun Man Hung was still the scriptwriter, other behind-the-scenes crew who had worked on the TV series version were also involved with the movie, and much of the cast remained the same (except for a very conspicuous absence from Noelle Leung).  Still, despite these reassurances, I was still worried, mostly because the production company that would be making the movie was Stephen Shiu Jr.'s China 3D (a company whose most significant "claim to fame" in the past was in the production of category III sex romps).  In addition, there were some "controversies" that erupted during the filming process (which I won't go into here), plus the production process itself came across as super secretive, especially when compared to the "openness" of the filming process for the TV series back in the day.  And then there were of course the questions concerning creative freedom and the possible catering of the movie to the Mainland market (a discussion that I remember having 2 years ago with a group of fellow fans of the series).   Basically, what I'm trying to say is that, given all these factors (and more), I definitely had cause for concern.

Now, after finally having watched the movie, I can say with confidence that, despite my previous concerns and reservations about the movie turning out to be absolutely warranted (and looks like I ended up being right about quite a few things pertaining to the movie), overall I am happy with the way the movie turned out (I will explain in more detail later).

Before I go further, I want to make it very clear that the purpose of this post is NOT to "review" the movie, so please don't read it expecting a movie review-type write-up critiquing the mechanics of the production, the plausibility of the plot, etc. etc.  Instead, please read the below more as a "my thoughts" post on what I thought about the movie from the perspective of a huge fan of the TV series.  Since I am writing from the perspective of a fan who has watched the TV series version more than once, no doubt that my post will lean more towards a comparison of the movie with the series, which in turn also means that there will be some things I talk about in this post that non-fans (and those who haven't watched the TV series version) will probably have no clue about.  For those reading this post who fall into the latter category, I apologize in advance if not enough detail is given in certain areas and you end up feeling lost -- I definitely won't feel offended if you decide not to continue reading the rest of this post. Oh and for the HKTV haters out there, I strongly recommend not reading further, as a large portion of my post will essentially be me waxing sentimental about the series, which I (obviously) absolutely adored!

Ok, so now that the housekeeping stuff is out of the way, on to my thoughts about the movie….

Let's start with the opening sequence.  The first 4 minutes or so of the movie was devoted to a quick recap of the main plot points from the TV series with Kate Yeung's character Mallory narrating in the background.  I felt this recap was a necessity given that not everyone may have seen the series or even if they have, might not remember everything that had happened – besides, the recap was done well and pretty much set the tone for the rest of the movie.  Earlier on, I had actually read some reviews that "complained" about this opening sequence, claiming that the director was "wasting" precious screen time to "rehash" scenes from the series.  Since I had read these reviews awhile back ago before I had the chance to watch the movie, I didn't feel it was appropriate to respond to this critique of the opening segment prior to this point.  Now that I've watched, I have to say that I disagree with the reviewers' complaints about the opening sequence being a "waste of time."  First of all, the recap was only 4 minutes and actually flew by rather quickly.  In fact, I actually felt 4 minutes was too little given the fact that the series itself was 24 episodes and there were a lot of important things that happened.  I actually applaud the production team for being able to cram the main highlights of the series into such a short time frame – if it were me, I would probably need 10 to 15 minutes!  For those who hadn't seen the series, the recap was a nice way to help familiarize them with the background/premise of the series that the movie was based on.  For those who did see the series (even fans like us who have most likely watched the series more than once), it was a good refresher, especially since the movie essentially picked up from where the series left off.  For me personally – I actually LOVED the opening sequence, as it reminded me all over again why I fell in love with the series in the first place! 

Another thing I appreciated about the opening sequence was that the team didn't forget to throw in there what happened to Noelle Leung's character Alma.  Those who watched the series will know that it ended on a cliffhanger of sorts in that Alma was supposed to be on a flight to London but then the Smartpost team received word that a flight with the same itinerary as hers had crashed – the series ended without telling us whether Alma survived or if she was even on that flight to begin with.  The movie answered that question and even though the mention was very brief (as it should be given that Noelle wasn't part of the movie), I appreciated finally knowing after all this time.

In terms of cast, since this was an area of utmost concern for me, I will spend a little more time on this aspect of the movie.  Most of the main cast from the series did reprise their roles – Catherine, Greg, Kate, Samuel Kwok, Dexter Young, Anita Chan, Li Fung…even Benji, whose character Prince died in the series, made a "special appearance" in the movie.  Speaking of Benji –  I remember having a discussion a year or two ago (when I first found out that Benji would be in the movie) wondering how Pun Man Hung would incorporate Prince into the storyline.  I was thinking for sure it would be in the form of flashback, though I wondered whether it would be new scenes or ones from the series.  Then, a few months into filming, the cast "teased" us with pictures posted to their Weibo accounts of the 'Smartpost Fantastic Four' (Fong Ying, Fai Ye, Ah Mal, and Prince) sitting around a table laughing and chatting.  Of course I recognized right away that scene was not in the series, plus Benji had talked about returning to HK to participate in the movie, so at that point, I knew that Prince's appearance would be in "new scenes" filmed exclusively for the movie.  Though it was technically only one scene that lasted only a few minutes, that was enough to get me teary-eyed all over again over Prince's tragic death in the series.  The fact that Prince was one of my favorite characters in the series plus I was a huge shipper of the group's awesome chemistry, it was hard not to get emotional upon seeing the 4 of them back together again, albeit for only a brief moment. 

One of the things that I don't think was lost on any die-hard fan of the series is the obvious fact that Catherine and Kate had less prominent roles in the movie compared to Greg, who was very obviously the lead.  Of course this isn't surprising given that Greg is signed to China 3D as his management company, so naturally the company would want to promote their own people (which also explains why other China 3D artists such as Jeanna Ho, Jacqueline Ch'ng, Justin Cheung, etc. also got relatively 'prominent' roles in the movie).  I will admit that I was a bit ticked about this given how attached I was to the characters in the series (and the artists who played them) and to some extent, I'm still not thrilled about it even now – but since this was already expected even before the movie started filming, plus the final result was not as bad as I thought it would be (it definitely could've been much worse if the original production team was not involved in the movie), I've pretty much come to terms with it.  Besides, I also gave "brownie points" for Pun Man Hung's efforts in staying true to the series by giving each person on the Smartpost team a chance to contribute to the storyline.  Basically, I was grateful that the rest of the team outside of the main 3 actually had important roles to play and weren't reduced to mere 'guest appearance' roles.  In terms of Justin Cheung replacing Noelle Leung's role as the head of Smartpost, I don't have too much to say, since Noelle had turned down the opportunity to participate in the movie.  Performance-wise, Justin did fine, but I don't feel it's warranted to compare his role with Noelle's in the series, since Alma was so central to the series' plot whereas Justin's role in the movie was not as significant.

As for the new additions to the cast – I don't have too much to say other than I'm okay with the way they were incorporated into the movie's plot (mostly referencing the "newbies" to the Smartpost team as well as their rival newspaper).  Again, it could've been worse so I guess I'm just grateful that the movie turned out the way it did.  With that said though, I do want to give a shout out to the veterans that were invited to participate in the movie (i.e. Mimi Kung, Deon Cheung, Akina Fong, etc.), but especially to Ng Man Tat, whose performance was beyond AWESOME in the movie!  From his facial expressions to body language to the way he spoke the dialogue, Tat Gor did not miss a beat.  He was absolutely the one to watch in this movie and he did not disappoint AT ALL.  I'm glad the younger folks got a chance to work with Tat Gor, as I'm sure they learned a lot from him.


Writing this post as a fan of the series, there were some things I picked up from the movie that others may not necessarily have noticed when they watched.  To be honest, I wasn't really expecting to pick up on so much, as I tried to go into it with the intention of watching an ordinary HK movie, but I guess when a series has such an impact, it's hard not to compare, which I guess I was subconsciously doing in the back of my mind.  In any case, I am going to devote the last section of this post to listing out some of the things I saw which reminded me (perhaps "reassured me" is more appropriate?) that Pun Man Hung and Ben Fong were indeed at the helm of this production. [This is not an all-inclusive list though so if fellow fans picked up on something that I missed, feel free to comment.]

·         The TV series version of The Menu was known for its meticulousness.  Over the past 3 years, I've actually talked about this in various past posts about the series (complete with examples and all) so I don't intend to go into much detail about this here.  All I am going to say is that this meticulousness was indeed maintained in the movie version, which I was happy to see.  Of course, there is no doubt in my mind that this was due to Ben Fong's role as director overseeing the production process -- if the director was anyone else but him, I'm sure things would be very different.

·         Earlier in this post, I touched a little bit on the chemistry between The Menu's cast, which was an important component to the series' success.  One of the unique things about the series was the awesome chemistry between the cast members both ON and OFF the set.  Having watched my fair share of HK television series over the past few decades, one of the things I've noticed is that the series I've been most drawn to are those that feature a cast whose chemistry off the set translates beautifully to the small screen as well.  The Menu definitely fell into this category and for me, the chemistry within the Smartpost team (especially among the 'Fantastic Four') was one of the things I loved most about the series.   Though the cast was changed slightly in the movie (referring only to Smartpost team here), the chemistry between them was definitely still there.

·         As a history fanatic, I love it when TV series or movies reference real life events or points in history that serve as inspiration / motivation for particular actions that the characters take or that shape the lives they end up living (though it has to be done well and accurately of course).  In the series, there were 2 historical references that played a significant role, not just in shaping the characters, but also thematically in the plot.  The first was the significance of the date October 16th, 1968 in reference to athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos' Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics and the second was reference to Hungarian war photographer Robert Capa's famous quote: "If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not [standing] close enough." [I don't intend on going into detail about the significance of these 2 references in the series – if you're interested in knowing, then go watch the series or for those who have watched but forgot, then re-watch episodes 5 and 6 especially.]  In the movie, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Pun Man Hung kept the same stylistic approach by referencing conservationist Kevin Kelly, his magazine Whole Earth Review, and the photograph that was a source of inspiration for one of the major turning points in the plot.

·         Another aspect of the movie I loved was the production team's recreation of the Smartpost office setting that mirrored almost exactly with the series, complete with each of the characters' distinctive personal touches.  The aesthetics were an important component to all of HKTV's series and the story behind The Menu's setting in the series was one of the most talked about back then.  Again, I won't get into details since I already covered most of this in previous blog posts about the series.  As a fan though, I was extremely moved to see the effort in recreating the familiar Smartpost setting in conjunction with how it looked in the series. [With that said though, I do have one very minor "complaint" – I noticed that the Smartpost team switched to doing their group meetings in a sectioned off area out on the floor rather than in a conference room like in the series.  I miss that conference room, lol!]

·         Fellow fans with whom I watched and discussed the series several years back will probably remember our "obsession" with the song Can't Let Go from the series and the great lengths we went to find out everything we could about the song, which ended up rubbing off on the cast and crew as well (I still remember Greg, Catherine, and Kate talking about it during that meme interview and also HKTV addressing it on Facebook as well as other social media).  The music component was more subtle in the movie than it was in the series, but still played an important role nonetheless.  I was happy to see that Kong Fai took up the role of music director once again for the movie (fellow HKTV fans will probably understand my feelings on this).  And even though Eva Chan didn't participate in the filming this time around, her new song We're Not Afraid was featured in the closing credits.  Eva actually composed the music and wrote the lyrics for the song and it was sung by her as well as the 3 main leads (Catherine, Greg, and Kate) -- another beautiful song with meaningful, heartfelt lyrics that fit perfectly with the movie!

·         The format of the credits was similar to how it was in the series in terms of listing everyone's names in both Chinese and English (this is something that I commented a few years back that TVB has never done and still doesn't care enough to do even now, much to the chagrin of overseas audiences like me).  Initially, when I started watching the movie, I was actually paying very close attention to the characters names because I thought that when the credits rolled around, I would have to "manually" match up the names to the artists so I could figure out who the "newbies" were and also familiarize myself with artists I didn't know (this is something I've always done out of habit, whether watching TV series or movies).  With the movie though, it turns out I didn't have to do this after all, as the production team took it one step further in that each of the characters' roles were also listed out in parenthesis next to the characters' names so it was easy to identify which artists played what role and match face to name.  I wasn't expecting this at all (though I should've known better considering how, in the series, they actually featured pictures of the artist next to each character name in the credits, lol), so I was once again pleasantly surprised.  Though the production of the movie had nothing to do with HKTV, I couldn't help being reminded of one of the core elements that had set HKTV apart from their competition back then:  the sincerity and meticulous concern for quality in a production – a concept that is virtually unheard of nowadays, both in the HK television and movie industry (as well as the music industry to some extent).

Concluding thoughts….

When I finished watching the movie, I actually felt a bit sad.  This sadness had nothing to do with the plot or even the movie itself technically.  Watching the movie brought back all the memories from 3 to 4 years ago of the whole free-to-air TV license saga and HKTV's efforts to revitalize the ailing HK television industry.  This made me think once again about "what could have been" – if HKTV had gotten a license and would've been able to film season 2 of The Menu as originally planned, how would that have been like?   As much as I don't feel as strongly opposed to the movie being made now as I did originally (again, since I've talked about this before, I won't rehash the argument here), I still feel that, taken as a whole, the movie didn't have as much of an impact as the series did.  Of course, there are valid reasons for this (including the fact that TV audience tastes are different from movie audiences), but in keeping with the overall sentiment of this post, I am speaking from the personal perspective of a fan.  While the movie was absolutely a sincere effort production-wise and I definitely appreciate everything that Pun Man Hung and Ben Fong did to give the movie the same "look and feel" as the series, it is still not the same at the end of the day.  I still prefer having a continuation of The Menu via TV series rather than a movie -- I know this will never happen, but my sentiment is still the same regardless.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

HK Television Wars - newest update

As further followup to my previous 2 posts about the "HK television wars" and the state of the television industry, I wanted to share the latest "hot off the press" news about something I had mentioned in those posts:  the fate of i-Cable.

As previously stated, i-Cable's parent company Wharf Holdings had announced that they were no longer going to invest any more funds in the company, which meant the fate of the station's cable network as well as newly acquired free-to-air TV network hung in the balance.  There had been rumors that Forever Top's David Chiu -- who had already submitted an application for a free-to-air license and was still awaiting the government's decision -- was interested in buying the station.  This rumor went on for weeks and now finally, it has been confirmed.  David Chiu has agreed to invest funds in i-Cable, which means he will own about half the company and therefore become a decision-maker in the station.  The article below has more details, so I would say go ahead and read it, but one thing I found interesting that I wanted to point out was the fact that David Chiu stated he already told the government to put his free-to-air license application on hold until they sort everything out with i-Cable.  This actually makes perfect sense, since i-Cable already has a free-to-air license so if he takes over the station, he essentially won't need another one, though not sure at this point what he plans to do with Forever Top -- it sounds to me that both will function as separate entities, but right now, it's kind of too early to tell.  I guess we still have a few weeks to find out, as I'm assuming that there will be a little more clarity by the time i-Cable's free-to-air channel Fantastic TV launches on May 14th.


News article:  i-Cable down 21 pc despite white knights ride to rescue with plans for expansion

Source: SCMP

Troubled pay-television provider i-Cable Communications dropped 21 per cent on Friday morning as it resumed trading after announcing that it had found a white knight.

Shares of i-Cable dived to 46 Hong Kong cents shortly after market open, down 21 per cent from its previous close of 61 Hong Kong cents. The company had suspended trading for three days pending the release of an announcement that involves “inside information”. By 10am, shares had erased some losses and fallen 13 per cent to 53 Hong Kong cents.

The decline came after i-Cable announced Thursday night that it had been rescued by a consortium of white knights led by property tycoon David Chiu Tat-cheong together with New World Development chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun and others, who plan to use the broadcaster as a foundation on which to build a new media company.

“The share price dropped as the market is not sure if the HK$1 billion injection is sufficient to help with a turnaround for i-Cable, which has suffered losses for many years. In addition, the rescue plan involves right issues which require existing shareholders to pay for the offer of shares. That is not welcomed by investors,” said Ben Kwong Man-bun, director of KGI Asia.

But Kwong said the future share price of the company should become more stable with the help of the white knight.

“It all depends on what the next business plan of the new buyers will be. If the white knight has a good development plan for i-Cable, it would be positive for the future of the company.”

In a statement late on Thursday, Forever Top said it had agreed on a deal with i-Cable’s parent, Wharf (Holdings), for an equity injection of HK$1 billion to strengthen the broadcaster’s financial position.

In addition to Chiu, other backers of the consortium include New World Development chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun, Guangzhou R&F Properties chairman Li Sze-lim, John Zhao Huan, president of private equity firm Hony Capital, and conglomerate Chow Tai Fook Enterprises.

Chiu is the second son of Deacon Chiu Te-ken, who founded ATV, the free-to-air broadcaster that went off the air in May 2016.

Under the agreement, about HK$704 million will come from an open offer to existing shareholders, fully underwritten by Forever Top. A further HK$300 million will come from the conversion of debt due to Wharf into an equity stake in i-Cable.

An open offer allows existing qualifying shareholders to increase their stake in the company.

According to a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange, five shares will be offered for every three existing shares held by qualifying shareholders at 21 HK cents each.

Following completion of the offer, Forever Top will hold 40 to 54 per cent of i-Cable’s issued share capital, depending on the take-up of the offer by the public shareholders.

“Upon completion of the transaction, Forever Top will use i-Cable as the platform to drive its media business,” Chiu said in the statement.

“Hong Kong has been known as Hollywood of the Orient and I believe television talent, whether back-stage or front-stage, are abundant here. I am hoping that all these talent will be given the chance to bring into play in the most flexible manner of co-operation with i-Cable.”

He also said Forever Top would strive to strengthen the scope of financial news in the region as well.
The announcement comes just in time to save i-Cable and its 2,176 employees from the axe.

Last year, i-Cable made a loss of HK$313 million and Wharf had indicated it would cease funding the broadcaster and exit the unprofitable business of providing pay television and broadband internet.

The Communications Authority had said i-Cable must fulfil its financial responsibilities before its pay-television licence matured on May 31.

“With the new equity injection, i-Cable’s capital structure and operation outlook will be significantly improved – increased equity, reduced debt and possibly expanded services,” Chiu said.

Forever Top, which had previously applied for a domestic free-television licence, said in the statement that it had requested the Communications Authority put on hold the processing of this application until the outcome of the equity injection into i-Cable became clearer.

The injection plan will require approvals from the independent shareholders of i-Cable, the Securities and Futures Commission, the Hong Kong stock exchange and the Communications Authority.

Forever Top said it hoped the deal would be completed in September.

Trading in i-Cable’s shares was suspended on Tuesday, pending the result of an announcement.

In a statement to the stock exchange, the firm said it had applied for trading to be resumed from 9.30am on Friday.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

HK Television Wars -- more updates

I wanted to do a quick follow up to my post from last month about the state of the HK television industry as of late, as there were some new developments this week that have the potential to change the landscape of the television industry going into the second half of the year.

1)      The fate of i-Cable:  I had mentioned in the previous post about i-Cable giving back their broadcast spectrum to the government and questioned why they would do that if they still plan on operating.  Well, my question has been answered now, as last week, i-Cable's parent company Wharf Holdings announced that they will be backing out from the media business and will no longer be providing funding to i-Cable.  This decision stemmed primarily from the billions of dollars in losses that the pay TV arm of i-Cable racked up, plus the decline in ad revenue, which has made the pay TV market unsustainable (note that TVB also shut down their pay TV division last year and returned their pay license to the government, so obviously there are issues all around on the pay TV front).  The fate of i-Cable is up in the air at the moment, as they are hiring a financial advisor and going through their current cash reserves to see how much money they have right now and whether that is enough to keep the station running.  No one is willing to commit to anything publicly at the moment, but based on all the facts and numbers, the prognosis looks bleak.  Basically, there is a 99.9%  chance that i-Cable is going to give its pay TV license back to the government, but whether the company will have to shut down completely or not remains to be seen.

Of course, I'm sure you've figured out by now that this is going to impact the free-to-air TV license that i-Cable received last year.  Though their free TV arm Fantastic Television is scheduled to launch in May, there is now talk that it might or might not happen anymore.  Based on all the reports that have come out, everything will depend on what happens once the financial advisor goes through numbers and also whether they will be able to find a new financial backer willing to invest in them, as i-Cable needs to figure out whether they will have enough funds to fulfill the terms of the license (which requires them to commit to investing X amount of dollars for X number of years to maintain programming content).  If getting rid of the pay TV arm means that they can take all those funds and throw them into the free TV arm, then they might still be able to keep things going…however it doesn't look likely given that the company is already millions of dollars in the hole due to all the losses.  For me, this statement from i-Cable's chairman and chief executive Stephen Ng (as quoted from this SCMP article) says it all:  "We have three [broadcast] licenses, including the new one to be awarded by the government.  We are now considering whether or not to accept the new license and how to deal with the existing licenses."

2)      Forever Top consortium – coincidentally, David Chiu held a press conference a couple days ago and confirmed that the "restructuring" of their company is complete now so they have reinstated their application for a free-to-air license.  From what I understand based on what was stated in the press con (need to wait for the official reports to come out for actual terminology), the restructuring that took place was basically the consortium replacing their primary investor from a Mainland company to one that is based in Hong Kong.  The reason for this is because of the stipulation in the free TV license rules that foreign investors are not allowed to involve themselves in the day to day operations of the free-to-air TV station in any capacity whatsoever.  Sounds like David Chiu was playing it safe and didn't want this to affect his chances for a license, which in a way, is a smart move given what happened to ATV and what ultimately led that station to shut down after 59 years of existence (I'm sure no one needs to be reminded of the damage that Mainland investor Wong Ching did to ATV).  So basically, Forever Top is back in the game now and has confidently expressed that they are pretty sure about their chances for being granted a free-to-air TV license.  David Chiu also said that he expects the government to make a decision "very soon."  

Hmmm….ok, well, the "mystery" over Forever Top's sudden suspension of their license application has been solved now but I'm honestly not sure whether I should feel good about this or not.  I'm still not convinced that Forever Top will have a positive impact on the HK television market and to me, I don't see a difference between them and all the other media companies that are now trying to infiltrate the Asian entertainment market (more on this later).  I remember David Chiu saying back when he first submitted his application that if the government did not make a decision on the licenses within 6 months (or was it 3 months?  Can't remember the actual timeframe off the top of my head), he would rescind his application, as he does not have time to wait several years and will put his resources elsewhere instead.  This was what, like 3 years ago?  And obviously the government still has not made their decision yet.  So then David Chiu changed his mind and decided he DOES have time to wait after all?  Or was that "threat" his way of trying to strong arm the government into giving him a license?  By now, I'm pretty sure you guys understand why I don't feel good about this company (David Chiu and his consortium) at all.

3)       Last but not least – TVB.  I don't have a whole lot more to add from what I wrote in my previous post other than a "warning" to TVB that they better step up their game – and sooner rather than later.  Here's why:

-          ViuTV announced last week that they will be revamping their business model and have been given the green light (by their top execs) to invest in the production of more TV series.  So instead of focusing on reality-based variety shows (which is what they've been doing this past year since launching in April 2016) and only churning out 1 or 2 original series every couple months,  they will now be producing their own series on a consistent basis and airing them nightly (versus once or twice a week like they did previously).  I personally feel that ViuTV's "Margaret and David" series from last year showed a lot of potential (and this year they are upping the ante by inviting HK movie veterans Anthony Wong and Patricia Ha to film the next installment in the series), so it's still possible for ViuTV to give TVB a run for their money in the TV series department (though it's very obvious that the target audience is different for both stations, as ViuTV is trying to pull in younger generation audiences while TVB is still catering to housewives for the most part).

-          Fox Asia (the international arm of U.S. media giant Fox Network) already announced plans to film their first Cantonese language television drama.  It will be a crime thriller that is based on true life events and will star award-winning HK movie veterans Anthony Wong (man, Anthony sure is busy lately, lol), Kara Hui, Tse Kwan Ho (all 3 are HKFA and/or Golden Horse Best Actor and Actress winners).  Fox will be doing a separate press conference to announce further details but rumor has it that they intend on working primarily with HK movie stars on their drama series so there is a possibility that we may see more HK movie industry A-listers returning to the small screen in the near future.

-          Netflix, which launched in HK last year, has been working on strengthening up its programming as well as its presence in the city.  They haven't made any formal announcements yet but industry insiders predict that they will likely make a move soon.  If Netflix does decide to produce their own original Chinese-language series, no doubt that it will turn up the heat on the competition given their track record of already producing hit TV series in other countries.  Also, they've already bought broadcasting rights to a bunch of popular Korean and Japanese TV series, which they plan on airing on their HK channel.

-          I just read an article this weekend that said HBO is also gearing up to get a piece of the action as well.  I actually didn't know this but turns out that last year, HBO had collaborated with a Chinese production crew (that consisted of a famous Mainland China director and HK stunt choreographer) to film and release 2 Chinese language TV movies.  In addition, they also collaborated with one of Taiwan's top TV stations on a series starring Taiwanese singer-actress Guo Shu Yao.  While it looks like HBO's target isn't necessarily the HK television market (at least not right now), it's pretty obvious that they are trying to establish their footprint in Asia and with HK's history of being one of Asia's premiere entertainment hubs (hey, HK didn't get its nickname "Hollywood of the East" for nothing), the likelihood of that "reach" expanding to HK in the future is pretty huge if you ask me.

Friday, February 10, 2017

HK Television Wars – Latest updates

It has been a long time since I’ve written about the ongoing “war” between TVB and the HK television industry.  Personally, I haven’t really been following TVB news as closely anymore (though of course I haven’t abandoned them completely – kind of hard to after following them for 30 years), but I’ve continued to keep tabs on the HK entertainment industry in general, especially as it pertains to my favorite artists or entertainers I grew up watching.  And yes, I’m also still keeping tabs on the HK television wars (aka the free-to-air licensing issue) to some extent (time permitting of course).

Here’s an update on a few things that have been going on recently impacting the HK television industry and TVB (note that this is NOT all-inclusive of everything that has been going on in the industry lately…I only cover a few things that come to mind):

1)      i-Cable’s free TV arm Fantastic Television finally received their license in hand last year and a few months ago, they held a press conference announcing that they are planning a launch date of May 2017.  As with their usual style, i-Cable’s management team has been super-secretive about their programming content, though what is known so far is that their business model will be very similar to ViuTV (NowTV’s free TV arm, which launched last year) in that their focus will be on variety programs and purchased content rather than self-produced TV series.

To be honest, I don’t get these companies’ mentality.  It doesn’t sound like they are serious at all about competing with TVB.  Everyone and their mothers know how “obsessed” HK audiences are with television series and currently TVB is pretty much the ONLY option when it comes to TV series production.  Doesn’t it make sense then that if you’re planning to launch a new TV station, your first priority should be to produce high quality television series that will  give you a decent chance of pulling in the ratings and audience share long-held by TVB?  I would surely think so!  Yet, both of the TV stations that were granted free-to-air television licenses 4 years ago (gosh, time sure does fly!) have chosen to go the complete opposite direction.  When ViuTV launched last year, they even stated publicly that they are “not  trying to capture TVB’s core audience” but rather, are focusing on those audiences who have abandoned TVB already, with the goal of producing content that will bring these audiences back to watching HK television.  Um, ok….sure, ViuTV, that’s a lofty goal and we appreciate the idea of wanting to bring HK audiences back but don’t you guys think that’s an unrealistic goal given the current environment in HK?  Besides, do you guys truly think that HK audiences who have abandoned TVB are now all of a sudden going to come scrambling back to watch variety programs, reality shows, and Cantonese-dubbed Korean series?  Did the ATV lesson of “how not to run a TV station in HK” teach you guys anything???  Apparently NOT…..

Anyway, back to the subject of i-Cable (aka Fantastic Television) launching soon.  According to recent reports (like literally from yesterday’s newspapers), Fantastic Television – which had put in an application to the Communications Authority last year (June 2016) to grant them some of the over-the-air broadcasting spectrum that ATV had to give back to the government after they closed last year – has now decided to put the broadcast spectrum talks on hold.  The Communications Authority is perplexed at this decision (and rightfully so) because Fantastic  Television won’t be able to broadcast in a free-to-air environment without establishing a terrestrial network, which is what the spectrum does (don’t ask me to explain the details cuz I’m not scientific so not 100% sure how it works).  Basically, without the spectrum, the station would need to purchase transmitters and a bunch of other equipment in order to transmit their signals in the free-to-air capacity, which would mean huge investment on their side.  Frankly, I’m scratching my head on this one as well – I mean, I highly doubt i-Cable has their own broadcast spectrum like HKTV does (which is the reason why Ricky Wong didn’t bother applying for ATV’s broadcast spectrum back when they gave it back to the government last year).  Something doesn’t sound right with this whole thing (the media outlets are actually calling this “a blow to HK’s free-to-air television market”), though who knows what the real story is behind the scenes.  I guess we will have to wait and see what happens in 3 months when the station officially launches.

2)      On the free-to-air license application front, the “big” (albeit “old”) news is that Forever Top (the consortium led by David Chiu – the son of former ATV owner Deacon Chiu – and Pansy Ho) decided to “suspend” their application for a free-to-air license in September of last year.  Their explain was that they need to “reorganize their corporate structure” before deciding whether to resume the application process.  Not really sure what that means, but putting my business hat on, I’m going to make an educated guess that there was either a major change in their executive ranks (i.e. maybe David and Pansy’s companies decided to part ways?) or there was some type of merger / acquisition (or something of that sort)….whatever the case may be, there is guaranteed to be a financial impact in one way or another, which is most likely the “real” reason why they are suspending their application.

So with Forever Top suspending their application, that leaves HKTV as the only other candidate out there with their second application for a license still pending.  I’m pretty sure Ricky Wong is banking on the fact that the new Chief Executive (we will know who it will be soon enough) coming in will be “nicer” to him than CY Leung was and perhaps give him the license that he has been trying to get (anyone want to bet that RW is hoping and praying that John Tsang becomes CE, since he has an amicable relationship with RW and HKTV?).  To be honest though, when it comes to government and politics, there is no such thing as “playing nice” or “playing fair”….doesn’t matter that the former Finance Commissioner was “supportive” of HKTV in the past – once he gets to the CE spot (if he makes it that is), he will need to abide by a different set of rules.  Personally, I don’t think HKTV will ever get their license (and this coming from a huge HKTV supporter) – the political environment in HK right now is toxic and tensions in society are at its highest levels.  With all the issues in the city right now (some of them “life and death” issues), I’m sure that deciding whether to grant new free-to-air TV licenses is low priority.  Besides, if the government decides to deny HKTV for a second time, I’m fairly certain that Ricky Wong and HKTV won’t get the type of mass audience support they got back in 2013 after the first license denial.  I could come up with many reasons to support why but will only cover a few here:  one – a lot has changed in the past 4 years and there are more pressing issues for Hong Kongers to worry about now; second – with ATV gone and ViuTV flopping, most HK television audiences are already resigned to the fact that they will be forever chained to TVB and if they don’t like it, then they can look outside of the city (i.e. China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, etc.) for entertainment options that fit their needs, since the local alternatives (non-TVB fare) aren’t appealing.  Besides, after seeing how poorly ViuTV is performing, it’s understandable that audiences don’t have confidence that other stations coming in will do any better.  The bottom line is that the “momentum” is not there anymore – HKTV’s best chance of getting a license was in 2013 and maybe 2014 when their series were airing and everything was still “fresh” with audiences…now that 3 years have gone by (and who knows how much longer it will be until the government decides to pick up the license issue again), HKTV has already been largely forgotten.  I hate to say it, but as much as I still support HKTV, I’m not oblivious to the reality of the situation.

3)      In terms of TVB – well, let’s just say that they’ve (supposedly) got challenges of their own to deal with.  Aside from being fined left and right by the Communications Authority for repeatedly violating rules governing product placement and indirect advertising on their programs (which TVB has been fighting the CA tooth and nail), TVB has been trying to fend off unsolicited offers to buy their company.  Just 2 days ago, there was a little known Mainland production company that offered to buy 30% stake in TVB – this while internally, the station’s current biggest shareholder Young Lion Holdings, led by Mainland investor Li Ruigang, just launched a share buyback program that will give themselves an even stronger hold on TVB. 

In addition, TVB decided to return their pay TV license back to the government last month, citing that they’ve been losing money on pay TV service for years now and it is no longer sustainable to be in that market.  They’re also claiming that their 2016 net profit will be down significantly (they are saying it will be down by as much as 55% to 65%) due to declining advertising revenue.  The numbers aren’t out yet so there’s no way to know whether TVB is exaggerating or not, but as a point of reference, from 2014 to 2015, TVB’s net profit went down by 6% (they went from net profit of HK$1.41 billion in 2014 to HK$1.33 billion in 2015).  Ok, I will be the first to admit that I haven’t the slightest clue how much it costs to run a TV station, but um, with the economy the way it is right now, being able to still turn over a profit in the billions of dollars is damn good if you ask me!  Sure, TVB is “making less” than what they made the year before, but it’s not like they are really losing money or operating “in the red” like ATV was doing.  Honestly, TVB should quit their whining over declining ad revenue (and all the other stuff they’ve been complaining about such as audiences’ viewing habits changing to watching series online rather than on the TV) and instead put that energy into producing better programs.  Their reputation has been in the toilet for more than a decade now and things are only going to get worse with more and more entertainment options cropping up globally.  But I guess that’s too much to ask of a company that already has an unchallenged monopoly on the HK television industry….

Friday, January 6, 2017

News Article: Hong Kong’s king of comedy Michael Hui hopes to direct a film again after 25-year hiatus - to give the city some hope

Here is a great interview that SCMP did with one of my favorite HK actor-comedians, Michael Hui.  I was actually quite a huge fan of the Hui brothers (Michael, Sam, Ricky) back in the day – loved watching their movies and of course, with Sam, loved his music too!   The Hui brothers brand of humor was quite unique and Michael especially never failed to crack me up, whether with his comedic antics in his movies or his speaking gigs on various variety shows.  One of the things I loved most about the Hui family (back then and even now too) was the awesome chemistry between the brothers as well as how close-knit the entire clan was – it was always a joy to see how the brothers always supported each other both on and off screen (when any of the brothers would hold a concert, you’re guaranteed to see the other brothers sitting in the audience).   Their type of chemistry and also immense talent within the family is hard to come by nowadays in the entertainment industry (the only other family that comes close in my opinion is the Chiang family, whom I also adore).

Reading this interview brought back so many memories of the good old days for me.  It also made me realize how much I missed the Hui brothers (Michael rarely films anything nowadays and is enjoying a semi-retired life playing with his grandkids, Sam is officially retired and only comes out occasionally to do a concert or two, and Ricky – well, kind of hard for me to mention Ricky without getting teary-eyed since he passed away 6 years ago).   I remember back in the old days whenever Sam would do a concert and both his brothers Michael and Ricky would be in attendance to show their support, then during “intermission” they would go up and do their hilarious comedic segment (which usually included a song or two – that entire family is talented in music too!!).  Michael’s comedic routines (whether solo or with his brothers) were always funny and I always got a kick out of how Michael always managed to keep a straight face during his routines when everyone else was doubled over laughing (he’s known for this actually – he’ll say the most hilarious of things but still have a serious expression on his face, lol).

One of my fondest memories of Michael is how he would constantly “complain” (jokingly of course) that his little brother Sam overshadowed him in everything, whether it be looks (yes, Sam was definitely good-looking, lol), talent (acting and singing – well, Sam WAS the first generation God of Songs, lol), popularity (yes, Sam was VERY popular back in the day), their parents’ affection (Sam was the youngest of the 4 Hui brothers and as the Chinese saying goes, “the youngest son has the keys to the parents’ hearts”), etc .  So when Michael had grandkids first (since his children were older than Sam’s), he said he was so happy and proud because finally there was something where he was “better” than Sam.  The  way Michael described his little “feud” with his brother in interviews (and in his comedy routines) was absolutely HILARIOUS – he said something along the lines of when his first grandchild was born, he deliberately took the child over to Sam’s house so he could rub in his face the fact that he had a grandchild and that finally he had something Sam didn’t….but then later on, when Sam’s sons started having kids too, Michael’s bubble got burst when Sam brought HIS grandkids over to Michael’s house to boast that HE had grandkids now too (hahahaha…just thinking about the expression on Michael’s face when he recounted that story is enough to make me laugh!).  Awww, love these brothers, lol!!  Makes me want to go pull out a Hui Brothers movie now and re-watch it!

A side note about last year’s Golden Horse awards:  to be honest, I was kind of conflicted back when I found out both Michael and my idol Jacky Cheung were nominated in the Best Actor category (Michael for Godspeed and Jacky for Heaven in the Dark) for roles that both of them performed very well in.  I would’ve been happy if either of them won, though of course I would not want to be one of the judges for that awards show because I definitely would not have been able to choose between them (I ended up rooting for both, though it turns out that neither ended up winning).

Anyway…I definitely enjoyed this interview and hope you guys do too!  Oh, and I will most certainly be on the lookout for the next film that Michael is planning to write/direct/act in! 


Hong Kong’s king of comedy Michael Hui hopes to direct a film again after 25-year hiatus - to give the city some hope

Source: SCMP
Written by Edmund Lee 

Michael Hui in the office of his production company in Causeway Bay.

After being nominated as best director in Taipei’s prestigious Golden Horse Awards for his 1978 film The Contract, Michael Hui Koon-man thought it was going to become a habit. After all, he had just co-scripted, directed and starred in the now-classic The Last Message (1975) and The Private Eyes (1976), and would go on to cement his place as a Hong Kong comedy legend within a decade.

But for the longest time it seemed that lightning was not going to strike twice.

“I remember that when I was nominated 38 years ago, I thought a nomination would follow every year afterwards,” says the 74-year-old, who was finally nominated again – this time as best actor – for his leading role in the Taiwanese film Godspeed. “If they were to give me the prize this time, it’d be because they thought I didn’t have another 38 years to wait – it would be for humanitarian reasons.”

Michael Hui Koon-man on the red carpet at the 53rd Golden Horse Awards in Taipei, Taiwan in 2016. Photo: Reuters

The cruellest part of the experience for Hui is that – despite heading into the November 26 awards ceremony as favourite for the best leading actor prize – he didn’t win this one, either.

Ironically, missing out on the top honour probably suited Hui just fine: during our 45-minute chat, he shows repeated glimpses of the perfectionism that has made him a solitary artist and one who seldom feels his work is good enough.

Michael Hui as a Hong Kong native who has had a hard time since moving to Taiwan in the film Godspeed.

It’s reasonable to think Hui might have put some of his pent-up frustration into his character in director Chung Mong-hong’s engrossing Godspeed – part road movie, part violent crime drama. In the film, Hui brings his funny Hong Kong accent to the role of Old Hui, a Hongkonger who has struggled to make ends meet since moving to Taiwan 25 years earlier.

Coldly received by his family, Hui spends his days and nights driving an old taxi around Taipei to save money for retirement. Everything changes one morning when he chances upon a drug mule (played by Na Dow) who needs to travel to the south of Taiwan to deliver a package. The long and winding journey eventually renews in the unlikely pair a much-needed sense of hope – an element Hui considers essential for any filmmaker with a story to tell.

The Hui brothers (from left), Sam Hui Koon-kit, Ricky Hui Koon-ying and Michael Hui Koon-man

“The reason I haven’t made many films in recent years is because I haven’t encountered any good scripts,” he says. “This one is excellent, so it took me no time at all to accept the part. I hope the Hong Kong audience will find it refreshing to see me in this film, because I haven’t acted in this way before. I was used to exaggerating my body language and my dialogue, but there’s none of that here.”

Born in Guangzhou, Hui moved with his family to Hong Kong in 1950 and first hit the big time when he co-hosted the early 1970s TV comedy variety programme The Hui Brothers Show with his younger brother, the pop singer Sam Hui Koon-kit.

Run Run Shaw (left) shakes hands with Michael Hui at a press conference in Kowloon in 1972

The elder Hui made his film debut in Li Han-hsiang’s The Warlord (1972), and went on to appear in several more films directed by Li, although it was the box office hits he scripted, directed and starred in alongside his brothers – Sam and Ricky Hui Koon-ying – that established him as one of the biggest stars of the ’70s and ’80s, not only in Hong Kong, but also Japan, Taiwan and across Southeast Asia.

Before Godspeed, Hui’s only prominent screen roles in the past decade had been in the mediocre comedies Robin-B-Hood (2006), The Bounty (2012) and Delete My Love (2014). He hasn’t directed a film since 1992’s The Magic Touch, which he made with popular comic Dayo Wong Tze-wah, and the writer-director-actor admits frankly that persistent doubts about his ability prevent him returning to directing.

“The reason I hadn’t directed since The Magic Touch was because I’m not satisfied with myself,” says Hui. “I’m not satisfied with The Magic Touch, either. And I thought to myself, if I couldn’t come up with something new, I should hide myself deep in the mountains. I should only make a film when I have something worthwhile to say; otherwise, what’s the point?”

Michael Hui (right) as a taxi driver who inadvertently walks into some unusual situations in Godspeed.

What Hui envisioned as “a little down time to think” has now spanned more than two decades, during which time he relentlessly tried to write the one story that would live up to his impossible standards. More than a dozen original comedy screenplays now line his bookshelves, waiting to be brought to life to entertain the public.

“I’ve written a lot of scripts that I thought were good,” he says. “Usually I’d write as soon as I got the creative impulse. Then I’d put them away – I’d go fishing or travelling – and later come back to look again and see if the spark is still there. If it isn’t, it means the script isn’t working.”

The collection of finished work has caught his wife’s attention. “Once in a while, she’d come and say, ‘This stack [of screenplays] is your life, wasted. It’s becoming the past and you don’t have much time left.’ I asked why, and she said, ‘Because people get old. How do you know the scripts aren’t working?’ And I don’t know, to be honest, because I’m the one who writes, directs and stars in my films. There’s nobody to give me opinions.”

Hui is hopeful he will start shooting his next directorial effort this year. “I don’t really like to act, but it’s not up to me. The jokes have a lot to do with timing; they won’t work if an actor turns around a second too late. So I’m sometimes forced to take up a part in my own film.”

Although he hasn’t yet given the comedy project a title, Hui is adamant his upcoming films, like Godspeed, will be optimistic. “This film is especially for Hong Kong, where everyone is so grim nowadays,” he says.

“Why don’t I make anything other than comedy? Because the world is sad enough, and there’s no need for me to remind people of that. Some filmmakers like to reflect on how cruel the world is, which leaves me wondering: why do you feel the need to reflect that [when it’s so obvious already]? It’s our everyday life.”

Nevertheless, Hui says a question he always asks himself to ensure a film’s universality is: “Would it sell in Congo? Like Security Unlimited, you can show it to a Japanese audience or an African audience and it’ll still work anywhere,” he says of the film that won him the best actor prize at the first Hong Kong Film Awards in 1982.

Hui understands that his early brand of Hong Kong-centric social satire is irrelevant today because “after 1997, it’s not about Hong Kong cinema any more”, he says. “Hong Kong is now part of China and, in the future, there’ll only be ‘Chinese films’ – and not any distinction between mainland productions and Hong Kong productions. It’s just like you wouldn’t differentiate American films between those made in New York and California.”

Why, then, have we rarely seen him in any notable Hong Kong-China co-productions in the past decade?

“Because it’s not really my…” Hui trails off and then starts again. “I only care about the script. I don’t care where it’s from. Why haven’t I [done any]? First, because I’m not familiar with the China market. It’s very hard for me to write [for it]. I wrote several stories but threw them away. And I don’t want to superficially write about something that I don’t understand, with the intention to [pretend that I do].

“I’ve had several offers [to act], but they’re not like Godspeed, which I find really meaningful in the ways it echoes my personal sentiments. I’m not quite interested in those other offers. At this stage, I’d rather just enjoy life; actually, filmmaking is part of my way to enjoy life. If I were to make a pointless comedy that says nothing after all the laughs, even if it does well at the box office – don’t waste my time.”

Hui looks extremely lively for a 74-year-old, but has he given any thought to real retirement? “I retired a very long time ago,” he protests, with a laugh. “The fact is that I retired 20, or maybe 30, years ago. But when people ask me about my favourite activities in my retired life, I still tell them that I like diving, fishing and making films. So that’s what I’m doing.”

Godspeed opens on January 5.

Monday, December 19, 2016

TVB Anniversary Awards 2016 – My Thoughts

Let me just start off by saying that I don’t have too much to say on the award results themselves, since I haven’t watched many TVB series this year and -- as has been the case the past few years -- I also haven’t watched a single TVB series in its entirety (meaning every single minute of every single episode).  With that said, any opinion that I give below regarding the results are based mostly on the episodes/partial episodes that I caught here and there during the times when I happened to be in the same room when a family member was watching the series.  Also, since the TVB awards have grown increasingly meaningless as each year goes by, I’ve become more and more indifferent towards who the winners end up being in most of the categories except for a handful that can pretty much be counted on one hand (i.e. TV King, Best Supporting Actor, Professional Actors Award, Lifetime Achievement Award).  Therefore, don’t expect me to comment on each category or to writeup a detailed recap like I’ve done in the past, as I feel it is a huge waste of time. 

As with past years, I’m more interested in who the presenters for each of the awards ends up being rather than who actually got nominated and/or wins in each category.  Over the years, I’ve found that the choice of presenters as well as the ‘speeches’ they give prior to presenting are often the biggest highlights of the Anniversary award show, sometimes even overshadowing the speeches from the winners themselves.

Ok, so diving right in….

Lifetime Achievement Award:  Chow Chung

This was actually the one award I was most concerned about this year, especially after stupid TVB chose undeserving Nat Chan as the recipient of this award last year (believe me, it was one of those WTF moments of the ceremony that I was pissed off about for months).  This year, they chose to give the award to 81 year old veteran actor Chow Chung, which was a great choice (ok, TVB, you redeemed yourself in this category this year – better not screw it up again next year!!!).  Though Chow Chung may not be the best of actors (to be honest, I’ve never been particularly fond of his acting), there is no doubt about his contributions to the television (and movie) industry throughout his extremely long acting career.   

In terms of presenters for this award, TVB did the right thing by having veterans Kenneth Tsang and Wu Fung do the honors.  Both artists are good friends with Chow Chung and have known each other for many years, plus all 3 were Shaw Brothers actors back in the day and collaborated often during those times, so of course, having them present was appropriate and relevant.  This is one category where I’m happy with the result!

Professional Actors Award:  Jerry Koo Ming Wah, Carlo Ng, Chun Wong

Ever since TVB added this category a few years ago, it’s been one of the few award categories that I pay attention to every year and largely agree with the results.  This year was no exception, though I do feel that only 3 artists receiving the award this year is not enough (I wonder why so few?  The past few years it has always been at least 5 artists receiving this award).  The way I see it, this category was created to recognize those veterans who have contributed greatly to the industry (most of them through stellar acting) but do not have much chance to receive any of the other ‘main’ awards.  I guess we could say that this is TVB’s way of still promoting the people they want to promote (to get the ‘main’ awards) but still throw an olive branch to audiences by still recognizing the veterans who actually deserve those ‘main’ awards way more but will never get the chance to be in the running.  Though I may not necessarily agree with the motive for creating this award, my take is that SOME recognition of veteran actors is better nothing, right?

I don’t have much comment on the recipients of this award other than I was surprised that Jerry Koo was on the list, since it’s not like he hasn’t won any major award with TVB before, plus he has been largely MIA from the small screen the past year or so (I had read that he was actually ill for a long period of time, to the point of having to be hospitalized, so that’s why he hadn’t filmed much for TVB this past year).  Of course, I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve the award because he does, but given that so few artists got the award this year, I was surprised that they gave it to him over others who were equally deserving.  I was definitely ecstatic to see Carlo Ng and Chun Wong receive this award, as it has been long overdue for both of them.  Both are great actors (and in the case of Carlo, he is a great host too) who’ve never gotten recognition from TVB despite their contributions.  In my opinion, Carlo gave the most moving speech of the night with the mention of his wife saying it was a good thing he hasn’t been tremendously popular over the years because that has allowed him to spend a lot of time with his family (indeed, Carlo actually has a reputation for being a family man as well as a good husband and father).  The fact that Carlo prioritizes his family over his work and would rather sacrifice the chance to become popular if it means he can spend quality time with his wife and kids definitely makes him a good man in my book!  Congrats to all the winners in this category!

Best Supporting Actor:  Raymond Cho

For me, this has always been a tough category to choose a winner, as most of the candidates are usually very strong.  This year, TVB decided to go with Top 3 finalists (as opposed to top 2 like they’ve done in the past).  While I agree with Raymond Cho and Hugo Ng making it into final 3, I had no clue what TVB was thinking by putting FAMA’s Luk Wing in the 3rd spot (my immediate reaction when I heard them announce final 3 was – WTH, Luk Wing made it into the last spot?  What happened to the other more deserving nominees such as John Chiang, Power Chan, Carlo Ng, Jimmy Au, etc.?)  Though in the grand scheme of things, it probably didn’t matter much since the ‘race’ was pretty much between Raymond and Hugo anyway (both were hot favorites for this category), but still – would’ve preferred for the ‘race’ to be tighter like in past years. 

In terms of result, I would’ve been happy with either Raymond or Hugo winning, as I like both actors and both were equally deserving of the award (though I kind of felt that Hugo had a slight edge in that he was pretty much the sole highlight of Brother’s Keeper II and made that series even remotely watchable, so in a way, he single-handedly saved that entire series – no small feat given how horrible that series was overall).  But Raymond definitely did stand out this year as opposed to previous years (though he has actually given enough outstanding performances in the past to make him long overdue for this award).  I was happy to see Raymond finally get this award and also enjoyed watching him give his acceptance speech with the signature humor that has always made him endearing to friends and fans (I chuckled when he made sure to thank his father-in-law John Chiang not once but twice, LOL).  Congrats to Raymond but at the same time, kudos to Hugo for putting in such a strong performance!  I’m actually glad he’s back and look forward to seeing more from him in the future!

Most Improved Male Actor:  Jonathan Cheung

I usually don’t care much about this category and to be honest, this year I didn’t really care a whole lot either.  But since Jonathan Cheung was nominated this time around and he’s an artist I started noticing a few years back as an actor with huge potential, I naturally was interested in this category this year.  After Jonathan’s win at the Astro Awards in Malaysia, no doubt that he was a shoo-in to win again at the Anniversary awards too, but I was curious to see whether TVB would pull an upset or not.  Luckily TVB came through as they were supposed to and chose Jonathan as the winner – definitely a wise choice given the rest of the nominees who made it into top 5 were extremely weak (to the point that I’m sure TVB would’ve gotten major backlash if they chose any of the others to win in this category).  Jonathan gave a great acceptance speech (though not as touching as the speech he gave in Malaysia, which had most everyone in tears) – glad he got the chance to thank people that he had forgotten to thank in Malaysia (such as Andy Lau for instance).  Congrats to Jonathan for a well-deserving win!

TV King (aka Best Actor):  Ruco Chan

Ok, I will admit that Ruco’s win in this category was unexpected in my book.  Nothing against Ruco, as he is definitely a solid actor – in fact, he’s one of the few ‘current generation’ actors I actually like due to him having true acting talent.   Ruco’s performance this year was solid as usual, but acting-wise, was not as challenging as past roles he’s had, especially when compared to Roger Kwok, who was outstanding in Dead Wrong.  If it was based on acting, I would’ve definitely chosen Roger over Ruco (and yes there is a little bias at play here due to me being a Roger fan).  I don’t think it would be a far stretch to say that Ruco had an advantage due to the popularity of his character and the series itself, plus the fact that Roger’s series aired so late in the game (the final episode of Dead Wrong aired just 1 day prior to the awards).  Those of us who have been following TVB’s awards for a long time know that when it comes to TV King and Queen, it’s not necessarily about whose acting is truly the best – popularity of a series, ratings, hype, etc. can impact the results and it’s obvious that’s what happened with this category (and with the entire awards ceremony in general, since Ruco’s series A Fist Within Four Walls pretty much swept the awards with 6 wins).  With all that said though, I guess it shouldn’t matter to me, since my first choice for this category (Liu Kai Chi, an actor I adore who did great in his series Law Disorder) didn’t even make it into top 5 (can’t even remember if he was nominated or not, since there was like zero hype for his series).  So I guess you could say at the end of the day, I’m indifferent to Ruco’s win – I’m neither for nor against it, just surprised given TVB’s pattern of rewarding veterans the past few years.

That’s it for me in terms of award results (LOL…obviously I didn’t care about the other categories so didn’t even bother mentioning them).  I do want to say a few things about the presenters this year as well as the awards ceremony itself.

I will admit that the choice of presenters for some of the categories was very surprising (in some cases, pleasantly so).  I was happy to see some familiar faces back again and appreciate that TVB put in the effort to do a “partner” theme this year with the presenters.  Of course, the presenters were relatively lackluster in that they were all mostly current/former TVB people (or non-TVB people currently filming series for TVB) and no big names like they’ve had in the past (though this has actually been the case for like what 4-5 years already?).  The “highlights” of the night in terms of presenters (in my opnion) were definitely:  the Virtues of Harmony cast (Nancy Sit, Louis Yuen, Joyce Chen, Johnny Tang), the Come Home Love cast (led by Lau Dan), Frankie Lam and Jessica Husan, Andrew Lam and Johnson Lee (mostly for Andrew’s irreverent humor, which always manages to crack me up, lol), and of course, the biggest surprise of the night, Sheren Tang returning to present the Best Series award alongside Wayne Lai.  No doubt that the 64 million dollar question that has been abuzz since the awards wrapped is whether Sheren will return to film another series for TVB or not -- my gut instinct is “no” given Sheren has such strict requirements nowadays for filming series and TVB obviously is not high on her list of priorities…however, if Wayne is persuasive enough and TVB is willing to meet her requirements (and if they bring back producers/scriptwriters that Sheren is willing to work with), it still might be a possibility in the near future (though my personal preference is for Sheren not to return if TVB is just going to give her crap series, plus the way they treated her, I wouldn’t even give them the time of day if I were her).

Rundown wise, I honestly didn’t really like the format this year.  The whole Dodo + FAMA gimmick has been used/re-used way too much this year and it’s getting old.  They should’ve gone with either having Dodo host the show by herself as she’s done in the past or perhaps just pair her up with Sammy Leung (who is a good host actually) if they truly wanted to switch things up this year.  The way they did it with Sammy officially hosting and the others kind of doing a ‘side-hosting’ thing was a bit unprofessional in my opinion (plus kind of annoying).  Other than that, the show was similar to previous years in that it was largely disorganized and lackluster.