Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Look into the Past: Recounting TVB’s Most Influential TV Series of All Time (Part 2)

Here’s the second article in the multi-part ‘TV History’ retrospective that TVB Weekly magazine published recently.   I’ve actually been a bit behind on translations lately, so I haven’t been able to get to as many of these as I would like -- I believe there are 14 or 15 articles to this retrospective, so obviously there is still a ways to go before I finish the entire series of articles….for those who have been ‘following’ this retrospective and are anxious to read subsequent articles, I must sincerely apologize for my ‘slowness’ in working on these.   The magazine scans I used this time around aren’t that great either (pictures rather than actual scans), but they will have to suffice for now....if I get a chance to do so later on, I’ll switch out the pictures with better quality ones (don’t hold me to it though, since I may get busy and end up forgetting…).

Anyway, just some quick commentary on the article itself…

I actually haven’t watched the 1970s version of Legend of the Book and the Sword, so can’t really vouch for whether it’s good or not.  The version I’m actually most familiar with is the 1987 TVB remake with Nixon Pang, Jacqueline Law, Fiona Leung, etc. – despite the horrible casting choice of Nixon Pang as the male lead (I sort of ranted about this in the comments to my ‘Tribute to So Hang Suen’ article), the series overall was quite well-made, not to mention the rest of the cast (outside of the male lead) was STELLAR!  I highly recommend watching the 80s version (try to ignore Nixon if you can…LOL), as the ‘all-star’ cast and well-written adapted script are well worth the effort.  As for the 70s version – well, I guess if you’re a fan of any of the leads (Adam Cheng, Gigi Wong, Liza Wang, Louise Lee, etc.), then it’s probably a nice classic to watch (though I’m pretty sure that the 70s version is hard to find now given that so many years have passed…).

The other 2 series mentioned in this article (The Hotel and A House is Not a Home) I actually have watched, however I don’t remember a whole lot from either series because the last time I watched was like back in the 90s some time.  The Hotel is often mentioned in retrospectives and other shows / features about TVB history, so I do have more memory of that series than the other one – the most ‘famous’ scene from the series is of course the one mentioned in the article where Deborah Lee's character shoots and kills Chow Yun Fat’s character (believe me, that scene is so ‘famous’ that people who haven’t watched the series will probably remember it if they saw it, since TVB retrospective shows love playing that scene all the time…LOL!).  The series was one of Chow Yun Fat’s numerous collaborations with Cora Miao and to be honest, I sometimes get that particular series mixed up with a few other ones from the same time period (that happened to feature much of the same cast).  In any case, I do agree that Fat Gor and Cora were a pretty good-looking couple, but my favorite Chow Yun Fat pairing will always be him and Dodo Cheng (they’re actually my all-time favorite couple from the 70s era).

As for the series A House is Not a Home – well, let’s just say that all I remember is Liza Wang’s Lok Lam (including her famous hairstyle…LOL) and Simon Yam’s controversial character…that’s pretty much as far as my memory extends…

For those who are interested in reading part 1 of this ‘special feature’, the link is included below (though to be honest, that article covers the 1960s and early 1970s eras, which is likely before any of us were even born).  It does make for some interesting reading about early TVB history though!


TVB Weekly Magazine Special Feature:  The Most Influential TV Dramas from the Past 45 Years  (Part 2)

Source:  TVB Zone, Issue 819

Article originally published March 4, 2013

Translated by: llwy12

In 1976, TVB produced its first ‘wuxia’ () series adapted from one of famous novelist Louis Cha’s () popular works:  The Legend of the Book and the Sword (書劍恩仇).  With its status as the inaugural wuxia series as well as Jin Yong adaptation for TVB, this 60 episode grand production is considered one of TVB’s most important drama series from the past 45 years.   It comes as no surprise then that the series featured an all-star cast, however what made this series truly ‘legendary’ is that it did something that even today is unprecedented:  the series featured all 3 of TVB’s most popular first line ‘fa dans’ at the time:  Liza Wang (汪明), Louise Lee (李司), and Gigi Wong (黃淑) – in TVB’s 45 year history, this was the first and only time that the 3 of them participated in a series together as the female leads. 

The series’ male lead was veteran actor/singer Adam Cheng (鄭少), who was already a popular ‘siu sang’ at the time despite only playing lead roles in a few TV series.  In a brave but risky move, producer Wong Tin Lam (王天) cast Adam in 3 of the series’ pivotal roles (Chan Ka Lok, Emperor Qianglong, and Fook On Hong).  The difficulty of portraying 3 different characters with unique personalities (in the same series) can be a challenge to even the most seasoned of actors, let alone someone who only started playing lead roles a few years back.  However, Adam stepped up to the challenge – his performance in this series not only made him a ‘household name’, it also set the stage for him to be cast in numerous ‘wuxia hero’ roles throughout the rest of his career.

Rounding out the ‘all-star’ cast for this epic production were many of TVB’s ‘heavyweight’ veteran actors and actresses from that generation, including Chu Kong (), Candice Yu (余安), Wong Yuen San (黃元), Ha Yu (), Lawrence Ng Wai Kwok (伍衛), Deborah Lee (狄波), Shek Kin (), Kwan Hoi San (關海), Ko Miu Si (高妙), etc.

For the 1976 version of The Legend of the Book and the Sword to have such epic status in HK television history, the ‘once in a lifetime’ collaboration of TVB’s ‘big 3’ fa dans no doubt played an important role.

100 episode full length series The Hotel () sets precedence

That same year (1976), there was another grand production series produced that is an important part of any discussion about TVB’s most influential drama series:  the 129 episode family conflict-themed series The Hotel ().  With Chow Yun Fat (周潤) and Cora Miao (繆騫) leading an all-star ensemble cast,  The Hotel was an important series on many levels – not only was it TVB’s first foray into the ‘large family conflict’ theme [which obviously becomes a common theme in many of TVB’s subsequent series], but it was also TVB’s first attempt at producing a full length (each episode was 1 hour) drama series that spanned more than 100 episodes.

With such an important series, the production was definitely not taken lightly – TVB invested heavily in the series on all fronts:  cast, script, and even filming location.  In order to get the best results possible, the production team specially rented a 10,000 square feet factory building in Kwai Chung for filming.  In addition, the cast and crew filmed many of the scenes in real life hotels and cafes in HK rather than on a set inside the studio – the result was a more realistic effect that audiences could more easily relate to.

As far as cast goes – not only did the series catapult the 3 the core characters in the series (Chow Yun Fat’s Siu Wah San, Cora Miao’s Cheng Si Ka, and Deborah Lee’s Lui Yan) to instant stardom, it also had a far-reaching effect on HK society as a whole.  At the time the series aired [November 1976 to early 1977], practically all of HK’s television-viewing audiences would stay home and ‘chase’ the series – as a result, many of HK’s restaurants and eateries saw a huge decrease in business during the usual peak dinner timeslot in which the series was broadcast, especially during the weeks when the series’ story arcs reached climactic moments.  When the series aired its finale episode – which consisted of the ‘famous’ scene where Deborah’s Lui Yan shoots and kills Chow Yun Fat’s Siu Wah San – it was reported that 9 out of 10 eateries (restaurants) in HK were practically empty!  This proved that the popularity of the series had already reached ‘fanatic’ levels.

This grand series also had another ‘unique’ and ‘unprecedented’ characteristic:  the countless number of ‘heavyweight’ stars who participated in the series, whether in a recurring role or guest star/cameo role, each had their own unique story arc and it wasn’t until close to the end of the series that the plot was tied back to the main story of Chow Yun Fat’s character seeking revenge on the Cheng family. [TN: As a point of reference, some of the ‘famous names’ who participated in this series include:  Shek Kin, Chu Kong, Gigi Wong, Damian Lau (劉松), Lee Heung Kam (李香), Miu Kam Fung (苗金), Helena Law (), Cecilia Wong (黃杏), Meg Lam (林建), So Hang Suen (蘇杏), Simon Yam (任達), Susanna Kwan (關菊), Candice Yu, Lawrence Ng Wai Kwok, Wong Wan Choi (黃允), Kwan Hoi San, etc.]

Due to its well-written story arcs, numerous climactic and suspenseful moments, talented cast, and meticulous production, The Hotel garnered tremendously high ratings when it aired and also set the stage for TVB’s subsequent wave of 100 episode drama series.

 A House Is Not a Home () gives rise to ‘successful career woman’ craze

On August 1, 1977, TVB introduced another ‘family conflict’-themed grand production – the 110 episode  A House Is Not a Home ().  This series is important in HK television history because of 2 main reasons.  First, when the series premiered back in 1977, it garnered unprecedented high ratings of 95%, which was equivalent to approximately 5 million viewers – this makes the series one of the ‘most watched’ series in television history.  The second reason is of course the ‘iconic’ character of Lok Lam ():  the series’ main female protagonist played by Liza Wang.  The character left such a deep impression on audiences at the time that it led to a phenomenon rarely ever seen in HK television history:  the hairstyle that Liza had in the series was so popular that it spawned a trend-setting ‘craze’ whereby many of HK’s young women would run to their local hair salon while the series was airing so that they could get a ‘Lok Lam style’ hairdo.   In addition, the character of Lok Lam also gave rise to the ‘successful career woman’ (女強人) term that started to become more widely used in HK after the series aired.

Of course, the success of a series doesn’t depend on one person alone.  As the saying goes:  ‘a peony flower may be good in and of itself, but still requires its green leaves to support it.’  If Liza Wang was considered the ‘peony flower’ in this series, then actor Chu Kong should definitely be counted as the best ‘green leaf’ for her -- his character Chim Pak Lam was absolutely the ‘ultimate match’ for Lok Lam.  While the couple’s ‘love/hate’ romance in the series was certainly heart-wrenching to many viewers, the friction between the two characters also provided many emotion-charged moments for audiences.

It can be said that one of the biggest draws of this series was its incredible cast, which included many household names such as Chow Yun Fat, Ha Yu, Simon Yam, Nam Hung (), Lee Heung Kam, Tang Bik Wan (鄧碧), etc. – however another important element was its strong, fast-paced storyline.  In order to make the series more relevant to audiences, the production team added in story arcs involving ‘hot topics’ in society at the time – for example, the infamous corruptions involving the ICAC during the 1970s era.

A House Is Not a Home was an ‘innovative’ series not just because of its story, but also with the unconventional way it tackled such things as promotion for the series.  For example, when the episode about Lok Lam’s father Lok Fai’s (played by veteran actor Bak Man Biu 白文彪) sudden disappearance aired, promoters for the series took out front page search ads in all of HK’s major newspapers with a message from the ‘Lok family’ stating how much they miss Lok Fai and for him to contact them immediately upon seeing the message.  Such a promotional tactic was a first in the HK television industry and definitely set a high standard to follow for future generations to come.

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