Monday, March 26, 2012

Mingpao Interview with TVB producers Mui Siu Ching and Lau Ka Ho: 50 + 50 = 100

In the newest edition of Mingpao Weekly, there’s a GREAT interview that they did with 2 of TVB’s golden producers (well, technically, ‘former’ producers) – husband / wife team Lau Ka Ho and Mui Siu Ching.

Even though I wouldn’t necessarily count the 2 of them as my favorite producers at TVB (definitely far cry from favorites), I definitely have a lot of respect for their work ethic as well as their contributions to TVB for the past 26 years. They produced a lot of great series starting in the 80s up through today and quite a few of the series they produced in the 80s/90s are amongst my favorites.

LKH and MSC’s departure will definitely be TVB’s loss! I wish the couple the best of luck in their new career with NowTV and hope that in the future, we will be able to see more great series from them.

P.S.: This article is definitely a MUST-READ for long-time TVB fans, as it talks alot about many of the classic hit series from the 80s/90s!


Source: Mingpao Weekly, Issue 2263

Article published March 24, 2012

Translation: llwy12

Mingpao Interview with TVB producers Mui Siu Ching and Lau Ka Ho: 50 + 50 = 100

Just recently, both Mr. and Mrs. Six (aka Run Run Shaw and his wife Mona Fong) have decided to step down from their decades-long role of leading TVB -- now, another husband and wife couple have also decided to leave Tseung Kwan O: golden producers Mui Siu Ching (梅小青) and Lau Ka Ho (劉家豪). Two series that they produced in recent years – Lau Ka Ho’s Moonlight Resonance《家好月圓》and Mui Siu Ching’s Beyond the Realm of Conscience《宮心計》—each broke ratings records by peaking at 50 points back when the series were broadcast. Due to this accomplishment, the couple have a ‘catchphrase’ that they’ve been using of late: “He [Lau Ka Ho] contributes 50, I [Mui Siu Ching] contribute 50, and together, we contribute 100%.” Such a catchphrase is in line with the usual ‘easy to remember’ and ‘easy to understand’ golden phrases that are usually found in TVB series.

March 23rd marked the couple’s last day at TVB – they will be starting at ‘rival’ station NowTV in April. Our [Mingpao] reporter saw the recent episode of “The Scoop” 《東張西望》that reported on the farewell dinner that TVB executives held for the couple – in the report, Lau Ka Ho was nowhere to be seen and only Mui Siu Ching’s hand as well as half her face were shown – of course, we all understand the ‘reasoning’ for this. No matter what though, the couple expressed that their departure is an amicable one -- there are no complaints – rather, there are many precious memories from their past experiences working at the company and in the future, if they happen to cross paths again, it will definitely be a ‘happy’ meeting.

Alex Man’s ‘blood-stained shirt incident’

Lau Ka Ho and Mui Siu Ching married in 1981. Both started in the industry back during the Rediffusion Television era [their contemporaries included Johnny Mak (麥當雄) and Shiu Yeuk Yuen (蕭若元)] and later on, they became one of ATV’s ‘golden’ behind-the-scenes couples. [TN: Rediffusion Television (aka RTV) is ATV’s predecessor – RTV became ATV in 1982]. In 1986, Lau Ka Ho jumped ship to TVB to ‘test the waters’ and 9 months later, his wife joined him – with the blink of an eye, they have already been with TVB for 26 years.

The first peak in Lau Ka Ho’s career was back in the late 80s when he produced the 2 series that shot comedic actor Stephen Chow (周星馳) to fame: The Final Combat 《蓋世豪俠》and The Justice of Life 《他來自江湖》.

Lau Ka Ho recounts that 'peak' in his career this way: “Well, actually we should go back to 1988 with the production of the 5 episode ‘golden’ series Behind Silk Curtains 《大都會》. Led by Adam Cheng (鄭少秋) and Liza Wang (汪明荃), the series boasted an ‘all-star’ cast, as it utilized practically every single artist employed by TVB at the time. Stephen Chow played Adam’s son – a slippery fellow with a careless attitude – and Tony Leung (梁朝偉) played the honest and righteous older brother; it was during that production that I realized Stephen’s potential as an actor and started to feel that he was not a simple person. My next series [in 1989] was a 30 episode martial arts costume drama – we wanted to go against tradition, so we had actually considered naming the series ‘I Am Not a Martial Arts Hero’《我不是大俠》, since the protagonist in the series is not the typical martial arts hero, but rather a cowardly fellow who makes a living by opening a winery. I needed a completely new ‘face’ for the role, so the first person I thought of was Stephen Chow – the result was success.” [TN: The information about Behind Silk Curtains is erroneous: Tony Leung did NOT play Stephen Chow’s older brother in the series -- Adam’s older son was played by Stephen and his younger son was played by Spencer Leung (梁思浩). Tony’s character had nothing to do with Adam or Stephen.]

Stephen Chow is well-known for his habit of changing a script’s dialogue. However, back then, since he was still a newbie, he would obediently do his research and then meet up with the producer and scriptwriters to pitch his suggestions – even back then, he was very persuasive.

That same year (1989), the anniversary series was to be The Justice of Life, which would be led by actor Alex Man (萬梓良). As producer of the series, Lau Ka Ho decided to add Stephen Chow to the cast, which turned out to be a good move, as the series garnered high ratings. In the subsequent years, Lau Ka Ho was responsible for producing several of TVB’s anniversary series, including 1991’s The Big Family《大家族》, 1992’s The Key Man《巨人》, and 1993’s The Edge of Righteousness《龍兄鼠弟》 – the artist he collaborated the most with at the time was Alex Man. It was during the filming of The Big Family that Alex Man’s famous ‘blood-stained shirt incident’ occurred: to protest his dissatisfaction over the lack of availability of filming timeslots, Alex wore a T-shirt with the words ‘Beg the chicken feather commanding officer to grant filming timeslots’ 「乞求雞毛司令賜廠期」written in red paint (to represent blood) and went around having reporters take pictures.

Lau Ka Ho: “I understand how Alex is – he’s the type of actor who throws his heart and soul into every series. Back then, filming timeslots were definitely very limited and many times, near the end of a production, the filming would be very rushed, which put a lot of pressure on all of us. The last couple days of filming were especially crazy, as the studio would be so filled to capacity that there were no timeslots available whatsoever. Alex took that action out of frustration, however at the time the incident occurred, I was not aware of it. I know he had good intentions and was merely fighting to get more timeslots added so that productions wouldn’t be delayed, but unfortunately, the company has its rules on how timeslots are distributed – if I had known what he was going to do, I would have stopped him.”

It turns out that the ‘chicken feather commanding officer’ who was in charge of distributing filming timeslots at that time was none other than TVB’s current ‘golden’ producer Lee Tim Sing (李添勝).

Lau Ka Ho: “I apologized many times to Tim Gor already, as I know that the company has its policies and the lack of filming timeslots is not his fault. Alex is an actor with a lot of ‘heart’ – even after he finishes filming his own scenes, he would stay behind to help his co-workers with their scenes.”

Leon Lai (黎明) responsible for bringing Michelle Reis (李嘉欣)

Not too long afterwards, a new siu sang rose to popularity at TVB – Leon Lai (黎明). Leon’s first 2 series prior to becoming popular were 1988’s A Friend in Need 《飛躍霓裳》and 1989’s Yankee Boy《回到唐山》—Mui Siu Ching was the producer for both series.

Mui Siu Ching: “After he [Leon] filmed those series, I bumped into him one day in the street -- he excitedly came over and told me he would like to participate in the promotion for both series. Since he only has a singer’s contract with TVB and not an artist’s one, when the series aired, he used his own money to buy a plane ticket back to HK to participate in the promotional events.”

Later on, Leon started gaining popularity in the music world and in 1991, he had his first official lead role in the series The Breaking Point 《今生無悔》, which was also produced by Mui Siu Ching. In the series, Leon plays a ‘prodigal son’ type who rides a motorcycle and makes a living in Taiwan as a stuntman – the inspiration for his character came from the real life background story of singer Dave Wang (王傑). Also, since Mui Siu Ching graduated from the National Taiwan University of Arts (NTUA) with a specialty in television broadcasting, she had a particular fondness for Taiwan arts and therefore incorporated that element into the series: “When I studied in Taiwan, I had a habit of going to the countryside after school and sit there reading a book, watching the sun set – it was very picturesque and idyllic. This is why The Breaking Point had a little bit of that ‘flavor’ to it [for the scenes filmed in Taiwan].”

Mui Siu Ching admits that in real life, she would constantly encourage her husband Lau Ka Ho to learn how to ride a motorcycle, but he never obliged because he felt it was too dangerous, so she had to satisfy that ‘dream’ through Leon’s character in series: “The seriousness that Leon showed toward filming is comparable to Alex Man – in efforts to help maintain good rapport and morale amongst the cast and crew, Leon would often arrange get-togethers during holidays such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and Christmas. Back then, the company [TVB] had a more ‘open’ system – even non-biological children such as Leon [he was signed to Polygram at the time] could become first male lead in a 40 episode series. Nowadays, it’s a lot harder for something like that to occur.”

In 1993, Leon had already become a ‘Heavenly King’ – at that time, TVB invited him to be the lead in the series The Legendary Ranger《原振俠》. Due to his popularity, TVB allowed him to choose Mui Siu Ching to be the producer of the series – Leon ‘returned the favor’ by convincing 2 of his good friends to participate in the series: “Leon helped serve as the ‘go-between’ in helping us get Michelle Reis (李嘉欣) and Faye Wong (王菲) to participate in the series. He was good friends with them and also was close with their manager, so he helped facilitate a meeting between them and TVB. Faye only agreed to participate in a few episodes, so we purposefully added a couple episodes just for her.”

Siu Ching Jie continues: “Michelle pays a lot of attention to her physical appearance onscreen and always tries to look her best for the camera. Whenever I work on post-production editing for my series, I always cut out any excess shots that I feel are irrelevant to the production, however there was one particular shot involving Michelle that I couldn’t bear to cut. In the shot, the camera panned from Michelle’s legs all the way up to her face – from her makeup to her outfit to her hairstyle, Michelle looked so beautiful in that shot that I couldn’t help rewatching that shot again; in the end, I did not make any edits to that scene at all.”

Michelle Reis has often been criticized as being a ‘wooden beauty’. [TN: the ‘wooden’ in this case refers to Michelle’s acting]. Towards this, Mui Siu Ching stated that with The Legendary Ranger being a science fiction / fantasy – themed series, Michelle actually did a pretty decent job – in fact, it was actually Faye Wong’s acting that seemed a bit on the ‘elementary’ side at that time: “There was one particular scene that she [Faye] had to redo. I was personally in charge of the filming for that particular segment and when I gave her various instructions on how to act out that scene, she was very obedient. It wasn’t until later on that I found that was actually Faye’s unique style – she applies the same style with her singing and it’s actually very popular with audiences.”

The Charmaine Sheh (佘詩曼) / Kevin Cheng (鄭嘉穎) rumors appeared ‘somewhat real’

For most producers, it’s usually not too difficult to ‘figure out’ when a series’ male and female lead might be in a real-life relationship outside of filming. Mui Siu Ching admits that during the filming of The Legendary Ranger, she did feel that Leon Lai and Michelle Reis were ‘especially close’.

Lau Ka Ho interjects: “For some reason, my series seem to help bring together real-life couples! The Final Combat 《蓋世豪俠》brought about Stephen Chow and Jacqueline Law (羅慧娟) – it was obvious that they were dating at that time, as Jacqueline would constantly be on-set whenever Stephen was around, even though she didn’t have any scenes to film during that time; The Edge of Righteousness《龍兄鼠弟》brought Dicky Cheung (張衛健) and Jessica Hsuan (宣萱) together – I sort of sensed that the two of them were dating at that time, but I didn’t want to be nosy, so I didn’t ask, however I noticed that one time when we were filming on location in the U.S., Jessica secretly went over to knock on Dicky’s hotel room door to wake him up – at the time, I thought it was a bit unusual for her to be so good to him – it wasn’t until later that I found out the truth; the series Down Memory Lane《萬里長情》brought Frankie Lam (林文龍) and Kenix Kwok (郭可盈) together – this was the pairing with the best real life result, as the two of them married and have a child now.”

Mui Siu Ching expressed that the female artist she admires the most in recent years is Charmaine Sheh (佘詩曼). The first series they collaborated in was Forensic Heroes 2《法證先鋒2》, in which the male lead was Kevin Cheng (鄭嘉穎).

Mui Siu Ching: “The emotional scenes between Charmaine and Kevin [in Forensic Heroes 2] were truly done very well, very sweet, to the point that as a producer, I felt that I just had to make them a couple – with the Heavens as my witness, a lot of people actually felt the same way! Later on when I re-watched the clips, I thought to myself: no wonder they were able to absorb themselves in the performance – perhaps it’s because their relationship was ‘somewhat real’ at that time. After that, in Beyond the Realm of Conscience《宮心計》, Charmaine and Kevin were paired together again; even though this time around, there was a story arc with Charmaine and Moses Chan (陳豪) as well, there was no doubt in my mind that the way Charmaine did her scenes with Moses was very different from her scenes with Kevin – I could feel it. The scenes where Charmaine and Kevin’s characters elope and pledge their love to each other – the way they looked at each other, the expression in their eyes, etc. – all made me feel that there was truly something ‘real’ about their relationship [in real life]. There was another scene where the 2 of them embraced each other, both of them in tears – I had a similar feeling at that time too.”

In her position as a producer, of course Siu Ching Jie was not going to ask directly [whether Charmaine and Kevin were truly in a relationship] – plus there was no point asking anyway: “It’s very interesting….when they were hanging out in the studio waiting to film their scenes, the two of them rarely socialized with each other or even looked at each other, yet when I watch them perform their relationship scenes, I truly felt that they were [in a relationship].”

Siu Ching Jie cited yet another example from back when they were filming Forensic Heroes 2 . Siu Ching Jie admits that she is the type of producer who doesn’t always accept performances in one take -- there was one particular scene that she felt was well-performed and so had accepted it already, however Kevin Cheng actually called her later on and asked if he could re-shoot the scene. It turns out the scene that Kevin wanted to re-shoot was the one where his character declares his love to Charmaine’s character: “The re-shoot was truly a lot better! The shot where Kevin grasps Charmaine’s hand – the audiences don’t know it, but that was actually the second take.”

Kevin and Charmaine have never admitted to a real-life relationship and no one knows for sure whether they are together currently. Siu Ching Jie states: “I really like the 2 of them together, as I feel they match each other really well. The two of them are definitely artists with a lot of heart!”

Was ‘scared silly’ by Moses Chan

In recent years, Mui Siu Ching has taken a liking to both Charmaine and Kevin on a personal level.

Two years ago, even though Charmaine did not win the TV Queen award for her performance in Can’t Buy Me Love《公主嫁到》(she lost to Sheren Tang), the series itself did win ‘Best Series’ that year. Looking back through the pictures from that night, Siu Ching Jie could see from Charmaine’s expression how sincerely happy she was that the series received recognition at the awards ceremony.

Siu Ching Jie expressed that every year, Kevin Cheng would make the effort to call her during the Chinese New Year holiday to send his new year’s greetings – even when he was not in HK during the holiday, he would still call her prior to leaving and send his early greetings. Last year, even after winning the TV King award, this ‘tradition’ continued. Siu Ching Jie says that she has great admiration for a man with such heart.

Moses Chan (陳豪) is another artist whom Mui Siu Ching helped to cultivate. When he first joined TVB, very few producers were willing to utilize him – the first series where he was heavily utilized was in 2002’s Where the Legend Begins《洛神》, which was produced by Siu Ching Jie: “At that time, his [Moses] raspy voice had just healed. The series was a costume drama and for the character of Cao Pi, I wanted to utilize a newcomer – only problem was that physically, Moses didn’t fit very well with the costume, especially the hairpiece; we had to tailor-make the costume and hairpiece specially for him, though to be honest, the overall ‘look’ still was not very pleasing to the eye. During the filming of the very first scene, Moses actually scared me silly! During that scene, he and Steven Ma (馬浚偉) had to walk across a traditional bridge (the type usually found in ancient seres) – with Steven’s experience, it was of course no problem for him, but when you look at Moses next to him, it was very obvious that Moses lacked experience – he wasn’t sure where to put his hands and he looked like a puppet; I was worried that perhaps I had chosen the wrong person to play the role. I didn’t want to call him to my office at that time because I didn’t want to hurt his self-esteem, so I used the excuse of the dialogue changing to ask him to re-shoot the scene – with each try, he truly continued to improve and in the end, he won the ‘Most Improved Male Artist’ award.”

Moses has great affinity with audiences and as a result, many of his subsequent series were well received. Mui Siu Ching continued to collaborate with Moses the following year in Family Man《絕世好爸》and after that, turned him over to Lau Ka Ho, who tapped into Moses’ comedic side with 2005’s The Gentle Crackdown《秀才遇著兵》—this route ultimately led to the character ‘Dak Dak Dei’ in Heart of Greed (2007) 《溏心風暴》, which is also the role that helped Moses win TV King.

Back during the filming of Love Bond 《心花放》in 2005, Mui Siu Ching expressed that she actually was not aware of Moses’ relationship with co-star Bernice Liu (廖碧兒) until near the end of filming: “One of the last scenes that we filmed was their kiss scene and at that time, I remember thinking -- wow, so much feeling, great acting there! It wasn’t until I went to ask the director that he told me: ‘Yes [they’re dating]! You didn’t know that?’”

Teaching by example

After 2007, Lau Ka Ho and Mui Siu Ching’s series have been ratings winners almost every year – this helped them break into the Mainland China market and now, it’s time for them to begin a new chapter in their lives: “Both in terms of salary and position, there is definitely more room for development. Our son is almost done with his 2 year lawyer training and will be able to start out on his own soon, plus we are finished paying off the mortgage on our house in West Kowloon, so we can feel more at ease trying our luck outside.”

Since submitting their resignation letters in September of last year (2011), both Lau Ka Ho and Mui Siu Ching are grateful for the warmth and support they have received. These past 6 months have been especially memorable for them: “After having submitted our letters to human resources on the 2nd floor, we were walking back to our offices on the 7th floor when our cell phone rang – turns out that the HR department had contacted Stephen Chan (陳志雲) almost immediately; he invited us to his office for a discussion and later on, Mark Lee (李寶安) joined the discussion as well.

In efforts to urge the couple to stay, management offered to let the couple head up their own production team that would be independent of the current 2 teams headed by Catherine Tsang (曾勵珍) and Tommy Leung (梁家樹). Though the offer was definitely enticing, the couple decided not to reconsider: “Through our attitude toward our jobs, we want to teach our son by example. He has seen with his own eyes how seriously we take our work – even when we get off work and go home, we are still not completely off work, as we head to our separate rooms and work on editing the scripts to our series for hours on end. This helps him understand that making a living is not easy – to get something done right requires a lot of persistence and sacrifice. We hope that in the future, he will take his work as seriously as we do with ours.”

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