Friday, May 25, 2012

Mingpao Interview with former TVB artist Dominic Lam: ‘Jump’

Here's another great interview from Mingpao Weekly magazine (issue 2271, which was originally published last week).  This time, the interview is with another one of my favorite veteran artists:  Dominic Lam (林嘉華).

Dominic has been one of my favorite artists (actor as well as host) since the 80s -- even though he hasn't done a whole lot of series in the past 15 years or so due to immigrating to Canada and such, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to see him onscreen again the past few years, as he has always been (and still is) a very talented actor in my mind.

I really enjoyed reading this interview and even though not much of it was a surprise (especially the part about why he joined CTI), I still learned some things about Dominic that definitely makes me respect him more as a person (since I already respect him alot as an actor...LOL).

Anyway, hope you enjoy the article!


Article originally published May 19, 2012

Translated by:  llwy12

Mingpao Interview with former TVB artist Dominic Lam:  ‘Jump’

Our [Mingpao] magazine has a sister publication – a recruitment newspaper entitled《JUMP》: jump out, jump up, jump ship to another company [in terms of jobs]. Recently, with new free-to-air TV stations coming into play, there have been many people ‘jumping’ in the entertainment industry – veteran artist Dominic Lam (林嘉華) is one of those ‘jumping’ to Ricky Wong’s new TV station CTI. Many who have joined CTI talk about Ricky Wong’s ‘sincerity’ as one of the primary reasons for joining the company – though Dominic Lam’s reason is very similar, he also explains for us how Mr. Wong redefined the meaning of ‘sincerity’ for him: “Mr. Wong flew 30 hours [round trip] to come meet with me in Toronto [Canada] and when he arrived, we discussed for over 10 hours – throughout the entire time, he humbly talked about wanting to learn how to ‘do television’ from me.”

Sure, Mr. Wong certainly has charisma, but then again, Dominic is no naïve youngster who hasn’t seen the world – when he was barely 21 years old, he was already hosting the RTHK program Junior Police Call《少年警訊》for the HK Royal Police Force and not long after that, he was ‘poached’ from the police force by Rediffusion Television (RTV)’s mega-producer Johnny Mak (麥當雄) : “He [Johnny Mak] asked me how much I’d get paid if I were to become Superintendent of Police (警司) and offered me a salary that was way more than that!”

After more than a year at RTV, Dominic was ‘poached’ once again -- this time by TVB – with offers of a yet higher salary, which prompted producer Mak to issue a ‘never hire again’ order against him: “Luckily, TVB agreed to honor the criteria and compensation negotiated in earlier discussions.”

Three different ‘poaching’ experiences, three different stories – Dominic Lam can definitely be considered the ultimate ‘jump ship’ [aka changing jobs] example.

Johnny Mak’s salary offer more than that of Superintendent of Police position

At the age of 16, Dominic Lam entered the HK Royal Police Cadet School (RPCS) and after graduating, was recruited by the Police Public Relations Bureau to host a fledgling police informational program called Junior Police Call《少年警訊》 [TN: He was the program’s ‘first generation’ host] and successfully became the ‘face’ of the police force to young audiences.

After 2 years in Cadet School, Dominic’s subsequent 2 years on the police force was spent promoting good relationships between the police and the citizens rather than investigating actual cases. Due to his success hosting Junior Police Call, Dominic unexpectedly became an ‘idol’ to many high school and middle school students – not long after that, RTV’s founder Stephen Shiu (蕭若元) took an interest in him, resulting in RTV producer Johnny Mak seeking him out to participate in his first series Crocodile Tears 《鱷魚淚》:

"He sat me down and told me that he wanted to find someone with no acting experience yet when he appeared onscreen, audiences would recognize him immediately, then told me that I would be perfect for the role as Pat Poon (潘志文)’s younger brother in the series. He also said that he was very familiar with people in the police department and could easily apply to have me film series on the side. I told him that timing-wise it would be difficult because my work in the Public Relations Bureau is practically non-stop. He then tried to persuade me to quit my job in the police force and become an actor instead. He asked me what my ultimate goal was in the police force and if it was to eventually become Superintendent of Police, it would be a slow, long road upward – then he took out a contract and when I saw the salary offer, it was higher than what a Superintendent of Police would make!”

Dominic’s father was also a cop and when he retired, he was still a low-ranking officer, so in the face of such a huge offer, Dominic felt that it was the best option for him at the time – besides, he figured that he would sign on to be an actor for 2 years and if that fails, he could always go live with his Uncle in the U.S. and continue his schooling there.

He decided to sign with RTV, however because he was barely 21 years old at the time, his father had to sign on his behalf: “Johnny Mak was my first mentor in the television industry. He never yelled at people and in fact always had a smile on his face, yet everyone was afraid of him – whenever he would crinkle his brow, everyone in the room would be silent. He was able to invoke such awe-inspiring prestige because he ‘had substance’ [TN: meaning he had ‘impressive talent’] and so everyone respected and admired him.”

Unfortunately, the 90 episode Crocodile Tears was not well-received by audiences – the storyline kept changing as filming was being done and many of the actors were unpopular with audiences, so many of their roles risked being cut short: “If producer Mak wanted my character to ‘disappear’, it was every easy – he could have killed me off, or had me leave to go study overseas, etc. – luckily I did not disappoint and the audiences actually liked my character.”

Afterwards, he filmed 2 more series and a little over a year after he joined RTV, he was poached by rival station TVB.

‘Never Hire Again’ Mandate
 A year and a half into his 2 year contract with RTV, Johnny Mak started new contract discussions with Dominic:

“Without looking at the contract yet, I told Johnny ‘If I told you that TVB hadn’t approached me, I would be lying, however if possible, I would prefer to stay with a company I’m familiar with, so I did not sign with them yet.’ When I looked at the contract though, there was a huge gap in TVB’s offer versus RTV’s, so I told him that if he could lessen the gap, even if the price is a little lower, I would be willing to sign with RTV – unfortunately, he refused to budge with his offer and the manager of the artists’ department [also present for the discussion] said they would have to discuss it internally.”

Later that day, when Dominic returned home, he received a call from a reporter informing him that they had received a news release from RTV announcing that he would ‘never be hired again’ with the company: “Earlier that day, RTV was still airing my artist promotional clip with the slogan ‘RTV’s darling Dominic Lam’, however the marketing department was ordered by producer Mak to remove the clip, so even they [marketing department] called me to ask what was going on.”

Dominic continues: “I don’t feel that Johnny was wrong in what he did – after all, TVB had not signed me yet, so with the ‘never hire again’ announcement, RTV was probably thinking that TVB might try to reduce its price, thereby pushing me against a wall. Looks like they miscalculated though because Ho Ka Lien (TVB’s Head of Artists’ Department at the time) later announced to reporters surrounding my house that the criteria we had discussed earlier would not change and they were only waiting for me to sign the contract.”

Just like that, Dominic left RTV as well as his mentor Johnny Mak behind him – despite what happened, Dominic did not harbor any grudge against the producer. Later on, Johnny Mak mysteriously ‘disappeared’ from the entertainment industry and has lived a reclusive life ever since: “A few years ago, I bumped into him at a mall in Tseung Kwan O – he now does volunteer work for a senior center.”

Received ‘silver whistle award’ in cadet school

Dominic Lam’s representative work at TVB was his hosting gig for the program Sports World 《體育世界》, which turns out did not require the use of his police background.

“For the first installment of the series Police Cadet ’84《新紮師兄》, producer Chiu Chun Keung (招振強) asked me to serve as a consultant. The major characters in the series – Sean Lau (劉青雲)’s ‘Fit Lo’ [Ngai Fung] and Tony Leung (梁朝偉)’s ‘Kit Lo’ [Cheung Wai Kit] for example – were reminiscent of my own days in cadet school. At the time, TVB had also arranged for producer Chiu and myself to do on-site observation at the actual cadet school. The cadet school instructor role played by Ng Man Tat (吳孟達) was based on a person who existed in real life but had since passed away – the real life instructor was of Indian descent, was very tall, and very intimidating. Prior to filming, Ng Man Tat and I would discuss his character in the series – his gesture [in the series] of putting the instructor’s pointer [stick] under his arm was extremely accurate!”

In real life, Dominic feels that he was more similar to Sean Lau’s character – the top student in the class who excelled in all disciplines and the one who would receive the ‘silver whistle’ award in cadet school.

Dominic’s biggest regret is that he only had the opportunity to participate in the 3rd installment of Police Cadet and in that series, he played a villain rather than a cop. After returning to TVB several years ago, he had the chance to play the role of a cop in the series On the First Beat《學警出更》, E.U.《學警狙擊》, and the upcoming series Tiger Cubs《飛虎》(scheduled to air in June).

“When it comes to playing the role of a police officer, I’m very much into maintaining an orderly appearance. If I noticed a problem with the actors’ cadet uniforms, I would help them fix it immediately – everything from the belts to the shoelaces to the berets that each cadet wore had to be perfectly matched and aligned, as that was all part of my training back when I was in cadet school.”

In the upcoming series Tiger Cubs, Dominic finally gets to play the role of Chief Superintendent of Police (總警司) – a role he only had the chance to play in the acting world: “I didn’t want to go any higher than Chief Superintendent and even asked the producers not to make me Assistant Commissioner of Police because those types of positions sit in an air-conditioned office all day – there isn’t much acting needed for that type of role!”

Six years ago, Dominic returned to HK [from Canada] and participated in Pou-Soi Cheong (鄭保瑞)’s film Dog Bite Dog《狗咬狗》in which he played a villainous cop and later in director Benny Chan’s (陳木勝) Invisible Target 《男兒本色》 where he played a corrupt Superintendent who robs an escort vehicle; in 2009’s Overheard《竊聽風雲》, he plays the head of the police department’s Commercial Crime Bureau.

Being a police officer is Dominic’s ‘unfinished job’ – many of his classmates from back then have already reached the Superintendent of Police position. If he had stuck with the police job in real life, of course he wants to be a good cop – in the acting world however, he is most satisfied with his role as a psychotic cop in Dog Bite Dog.

Ricky Wong flew to Canada to recruit him

In recent years, Dominic travelled back and forth between HK and Canada, filming several series for TVB such as Men Don’t Cry《奸人堅》, The Four 《少年四大名捕》, Grace Under Fire 《女拳》, etc. In 2010, his villain role in the series A Fistful of Stances《鐵馬尋橋》won him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at that year’s TVB Anniversary Awards – even though he ended up losing the award to Evergreen Mak (麥長青), he will always remember Evergreen saying to him before the results were announced: “You’re the only one I will be happy to lose [the award] to.”

Dominic recounts his experience filming with ‘golden’ producer Lee Tim Sing (李添勝) in A Fistful of Stances: “Collaborating with Tim Gor and Cheung Wah Biu (former TVB scriptwriter) was very satisfying. When Tim Gor first sought me out for the series, he told me that it would be a 30 episode series and I would pretty much only participate in the first few episodes as well as the ending, however I ended up having an important role throughout the entire series. Tim Gor is a very hardworking producer – whether we were filming on location or in the studio, he would come observe and accompany us on the set; he’s also very quick in coming up with ideas and making changes – filming with him was a very happy experience.”

Even though he lost the Best Supporting Actor award at TVB’s ceremony, he did win the Best Villain Award at Malaysia’s AOD awards ceremony – an award which he made a special trip back from Canada to accept.

In the past 6 years collaborating with TVB again after his return to HK, his experience has been a pleasant one. Each time he discussed contract renewal with TVB, he always received a satisfactory adjustment in salary – therefore, his decision to leave the station and join CTI definitely had nothing to do with money.

During autumn last year, when Dominic received Ricky Wong’s ‘recruitment’ phone call, he was at home in Toronto: “He called me and very humbly said that he wanted to learn from me how to be successful in television. We agreed to meet up and a few days later, he personally flew to Toronto. As soon as he got off the plane, he was ready to meet with me, but I told him he should rest a little bit first. We ended up meeting the next day and after we talked for more than 10 hours straight, he headed straight to the airport -- he was extremely sincere!

Dominic continues: “He [Ricky Wong] is a man who is very clear and resolute with his mission – he wants audiences to have options. Hong Kong used to be the forerunner in Asia and the Pacific when it came to the television industry, but with the quality declining so drastically in recent years, he really wants to do something to turn the situation around. Working for Mr. Wong, there is truly a lot of opportunity for development! We talked for almost an entire day and it wasn’t until the last 10 minutes or so that he actually invited me to join his company – I told him that it was still too early to make a decision.”

Playing 9 different characters in 1 series

Around that time, Dominic had just established a small production company of his own and the amount of work involved with arranging performances in the U.S. and Canada, filming commercials, promotional clips, etc. already took up a lot of his time. Because of this, he decided not to renew his contract with TVB and also did not want to commit to joining CTI either.

“However, Mr. Wong and I continued to stay in touch. In fact, every time his company had plans for development, he would consult with me and ask my advice – for example, the groundbreaking ceremony and other events, I knew about it all. This kind of friend is worth having!”

Two months ago (in March), Dominic received the script for CTI’s new series and realized that everyone in the creative and production teams he had worked with before. He immediately agreed to join the company and in April, he returned to HK earlier than anticipated for the costume fitting. He will start filming this week [TN: actually last week, since this article was published back on 5/19].

“A 10 episode horror / suspense series, 8 individual stories, I will be playing 9 different characters.” The idea itself already sounds fresh. The temporary name for the series is Frightful Century《驚異世紀》and some of the other artists participating include Felix Lok (駱應鈞), Samuel Kwok (郭鋒), Lawrence Chow (周俊偉), Noelle Leung (梁小冰), Leila Tong (唐寧), etc. Dominic is the male lead in the series: “As an actor, to be able to play 9 different characters at one time, I’m very happy to have such an opportunity.”

In a departure from tradition, Ricky Wong decided to forego the role of the producer having complete authority over the production – instead, the scriptwriter, main director, as well as the artists themselves will share authority. With this model, Dominic gets the chance to work directly with the scriptwriter and director and also contribute his own ideas – the creative atmosphere is very open.

Dominic will be filming until August, so for the time being, he will rent a house in HK. Also, he has only signed a ‘per series’ contract with Ricky Wong, not a management contract. With TVB’s Tiger Cubs scheduled to air in June, Dominic states that if he is invited, he is willing to help promote the series:

“My contract with Mr. Wong is very free, so I’m allowed to work for any company. Today I can film for CTI, tomorrow I can film for TVB, the day after tomorrow I can even attend ATV’s Anniversary Gala if I wanted to! During my contract-signing with CTI, NowTV actually sent a crew to interview me and I spoke as I normally would. This day and age, the world is like one big village with all its boundaries erased – all the more reason for the entertainment industry to break down its barriers.”

Beauty Pageants

Dominic Lam’s wife Jumbo Lau (劉寶珍) was TVB’s image consultant in the 1980s – all of the outfits that the Miss HK contestants wore back then were designed by her. Today, Mrs. Lam accompanied her husband to the interview and prior to taking photos, she would help him fix his hair, straighten his outfit, etc. – back in Toronto, she once owned 2 designer shops but ended up selling them later on.

The couple immigrated to Canada back in 1988 – the main reason was to accompany their only son in his studies. Their beloved son graduates from college this year and currently works as a consultant for a fashion website – looks like Mrs Lam has someone to carry on her work!

Nowadays, Mrs. Lam is no longer involved in the beauty pageant world, however her husband still has ties to the pageants – Dominic has been the host of the local Miss Chinatown Pageant for the past 19 years: “Bernice Liu (廖碧兒), Linda Chung (鍾嘉欣), Aimee Chan (陳茵媺), Christine Kuo (苟芸慧), Leanne Li (李亞男), Janet Chow (周家蔚), Sherry Chen (陳爽), and most recently Candy Cheung (張慧雯) – I watched all of them win their pageants. That’s why I always joke that those ladies all gave me their ‘first time’ on the stage [meaning their first time stage appearances].”

In addition to his work in HK, Dominic also continued with his hosting job for Canada’s Chinese TV Station. Back when he was still at TVB, he would record for his program via phone during his breaks: “A few times I would be standing near the speakers doing my program and when they started paging me to enter the studio for filming, I would hurry up and wrap things up.”

Dominic revealed that after our interview, he will need to get on the phone with the station again for his program: “We pretty much talk about everything on the program – housekeeping, furniture, cooking, grocery shopping, etc. There was even one time when a female audience member who had just gotten remarried called me up to ask advice about how to improve her relationship with her stepdaughter – we maintained contact via the program and years later, when her stepdaughter got married, she personally delivered wedding pastries for me to eat!”


  1. Hi llwy12, thank you for another good article on an ex-TVB veteran. Probably Dominic is too good of an actor till I dislike most of his characters in TVB. I can't believe that I watched Crocodile Tears before but i can remember nothing about it, LOL.

    I notice that 2 of CIT's new dramas are only 10 episodes long. It is good not to be draggy but I wonder if it is sufficient to tell a good story. Don't know if I'll have enough time to relate to the characters. Probably CTI want to test the water with shorter dramas.

    I am not really a fan of horror drama but like suspense one. It will be better if they can do time travelling eg parallel universe. The title Frightful Century sound frightening haha...Btw are you watching Master of Play? I won't comment too much on it yet except I am impressed with the innovative sand paintings at the end of each episodes, very stylish & artistic.

  2. @BOGAEfan: You're welcome! :o)

    I actually wasn't too fond of alot of Dominic's roles either, whether previously or after he returned to TVB -- I feel that TVB definitely did not do a good job of cultivating Dominic's acting talent.

    Haha...funny that you had actually watched Crocodile Tears before...I had never even heard of that series prior to reading this interview!

    I think that CTI is trying to go the 'short but sweet' route with their series, which is not necessarily a bad thing if the script is written well. But I guess we will have to wait and see. Btw, I thought the vampire series (the one with Danson Tang) was 13 episodes long? At least that's what I read initially -- unless things changed. I know the musical one is the longest (I believe it's either 18 or 19 episodes).

    I'm not a fan of horror series either, but I'm definitely all for suspense. Time travelling would be interesting, but I highly doubt they will do a series like that any time soon because TVB is already coming out with a time travel series this year (the 3 Kingdoms series)...

    Nah, not really watching Master of Play -- pretty much just catching an episode here or there when I have time (my mom is watching though). Jonathan Chik's series have never really been my cup of tea (especially the series that he has made in the past 10 years) so that already doesn't give me much motivation to watch his series -- add to that the fact that I don't like majority of the cast of Master of Play (never really been fond of Moses, can't stand Adam, Kenny is ok but I wouldn't purposefully choose to watch a series with him in it, and I feel like I'm going to puke if I see Aimee Chan in another series again). The only 'main' cast I like is of course Maggie Siu, but honestly she's not enough to make me interested in watching this series....

  3. Yah, i watched a lot of old RTV/ATV dramas because my uncle used to own a Cantonese video rental shop so I got to watch them for free:P Later, he decided to close shop when TVB levied high license fees & disallowed him to rent ATV dramas. Thus I reallly want all these new TV stations to do well because I hate TVB monopolistic & controlling business model.

    Actually many old RTV/ATV dramas are rather good & memorable, even better than TVB. I didn't rewatch but until today I can still remember how much I adore Leslie & Amy Chan in Gone with the Wind. In fact, many stars like Leslie Cheung, Rosamund Kwan, Alex Man, Mai Suet, Nick Cheung etc started out with ATV. I don't know how they can run down the coy till it is a pale shadow of its former self.

    I don't have high hope for the time travelling 3 Kingdom series. A Step into the Past & King of Yesterday & Tomorrow are only passable. I am currently obssessed with this kdrama with a seamless plot and likeable/realistic leads where the protagonist travels back & forth between 2 universe. Korea is producing many time travelling dramas now yet each of them has different focus & feel as this concept is quite abstract & you are only constrain by your own imagination. Btw I notice nowadays TVB derives a lot of their storylines from Japan & Korea dramas. I don't mind as long as they can adapt them well but so far I have only seen inferior copies.

    I can understand why you are allegic to Jonathan's dramas:) He tends to alienate his audience with pretentious directing, slow story telling & confusing characters. A good drama is one which appeals to the mass audience but his dramas are only well liked by a few who have the patient and concentration to dissect them.

  4. It seems like besides War and Beauty, Jonathan Chik hasn't had any other hit series lately and many with poor ratings too. Hope W&B2 will be as good as last time.