Thursday, November 7, 2013

Article: Hong Kong dramas dethroned

Very interesting article that I happened to come across earlier today.  I’m actually not familiar with this particular Media site, but from what I can tell, it’s a Mainland news outlet, so the articles will undoubtedly have a Mainland spin to them.

In any case, I decided to share this article because it actually highlights the same sentiment that I’ve had towards the HK television industry for the past 15 years or so.  Most people probably know that I’ve been ‘following’ the HK television industry (and the entire entertainment scene as a whole) since the 1980s era and my parents have been ‘following’ since the 1960s, so collectively, we share several decades worth of ‘investment’ in the industry.  So of course, it goes without saying that having to watch the industry deteriorate the way it has the past 15-20 years has definitely been painful and heartbreaking.   I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, as it definitely hasn’t been all bad and no good – but unfortunately, the ‘bad’ has outweighed the ‘good’ for many years already and it has gotten to the point where it’s hard not to lose hope (especially with the recent events surrounding the free TV license controversy). 

Some people have asked me why I even bother with the HK entertainment industry anymore, especially given how badly it has deteriorated and how disappointed I have become towards it nowadays.  Well, it’s hard to give a simple answer, since there are a boatload of reasons why I’m still so concerned about the industry (and listing them all out will probably take forever) – but one reason I will state is that, even though the industry might be ‘dying a slow death’ in my eyes, the fact of the matter is that it’s still not ‘dead’ yet.  There are still people in the industry I care greatly about (artists I grew up watching for example) and as long as those people continue to exist, I will continue to ‘follow’ the industry (albeit not as ‘closely’ as I used to). 

And of course, there are always the memories of the ‘good old days’ -- that ‘golden era’ when the industry was flourishing and all aspects of the HK entertainment world (TV, music, movies, etc.) were worth experiencing.   Back then, the TV programs were better, the movies were better, the music was better, the people were better – everything all around was better!   Sometimes, when I feel particularly frustrated or disappointed with the industry and am to the point where I want to give up, those memories of ‘how it used to be’ come flowing back and it restores my hope just a little.  Yes, you can say that it’s a ‘coping mechanism’ for me, but hey, if it works, why not?

Anyway, for those fellow HK television fans reading this article – try not to get too depressed after reading it….after all, it’s just entertainment, right?


Hong Kong dramas dethroned

Source:  The Global Times

Scenes from Hong Kong TV's heyday (from top): The Legend of the Condor HeroesAt the Threshold of an Era and The Legendary Fok

The Hong Kong TV industry has been in the news not for its popularity but rather its decline. Hong Kong's TV dramas have long been a symbol of Hong Kong's culture and economic prosperity. From the 1960s on, the industry enjoyed four decades of sizzling stars and innovative ideas promoted by Hong Kong TV stations like Television Broadcasts (TVB). The industry stood as a standard for all of Asia.

Yet, all these are now statements in the past tense. Along with the dwindling viewership, various critics are mourning the fall of the Hong Kong TV industry.  

The glory days

Like its economic development, the TV industry in Hong Kong experienced a golden age in the 1980s. Asia Television (ATV) and TVB are the two biggest and most widely-known free-to-watch stations in Hong Kong. The two dominated the market after Commercial Television (CTV) shuttered in 1978.

Founded in 1957, ATV is the longest-established TV station among the three. TVB was founded in 1967 by Hong Kong media mogul Run Run Shaw. Fierce competition between the two allowed the industry to flourish.  

Immigrating to Hong Kong with his whole family in the early 1980s, Li Zhi (pseudonym), like many Hong Kong citizens, grew up watching local programs. Every evening as a child, he would sit in front of the TV with his parents and switch on TVB Jade. 

Li can still recall some of the scenes from the 1981 version of Legendary Fok, a 20-episode drama produced by ATV. 

They would curse a little bit whenever there was a hokey plot in the soap operas.

"When we first moved to Hong Kong, we watched ATV more. There were not many choices then, but many of the dramas produced by the two TV stations were very good," Li said.

Compared with the dull, poorly-produced works of the Chinese mainland then, shows from Hong Kong sparkled and were widely watched, especially by young people. For example, the 1983 version of The Legend of the Condor Heroes is still a good memory for many Chinese mainland audiences now in their 30s and 40s.

A number of talented actors and actresses were brought up during this time as well. Household names like Chow Yun-Fat, Carina Lau and Andy Lau were all being trained at that time. These stars later contributed a great deal to the Hong Kong TV and film industry.

Hackneyed and forsaken

The glory days lasted until the 1990s, though there were already signs of decline in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"You can see from the statistics, the audience rating of Hong Kong TV programs keeps going downhill from the late 1980s on," Anthony Y. H. Fung, director of the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told The Time Weekly. 

But the dwindling appeal really became apparent a decade or so ago, when South Korean and Taiwanese dramas swept the Chinese mainland.

In research conducted by Hong Kong's Office of the Communications Authority earlier this year, ATV was criticized for too often broadcasting reruns of old dramas and biased news reports.

Li's first reaction to this buzz around ATV was, "Is there anyone who still watches?"

TVB has been condemned for formulaic dramas. Some netizens deride the so-called "TVB styles." For example, lines like, "As a human, the most important thing is to be happy," and "Why not have some noodle?" were once heartwarming in the old days, but after being widely used for several decades, they have become jokes.  

"TV markets around the world are shrinking, except for the places where the Chinese are living, because the Chinese love to watch TV dramas," Chow Yuk-ming, a renowned scriptwriter who worked at TVB for nearly 20 years, told The Time Weekly. "The frequent turnover at ATV made TVB the monopoly over the recent two decades. [In a market with little competition,] quality is guaranteed to go down." 

Chow has created a number of TV dramas with both high ratings and critical acclaim, such as Cold Blood Warm Heart (1996) and At the Threshold of an Era (1999).

In 2012, he left TVB and moved north to the Chinese mainland with a number of others in the TV industry, though he said there was "no special reason." 

"I wanted a change in my working environment," he said.

TVB is not only losing its drama makers, but its stars as well. The mainland TV industry is attracting numbers of Hong Kong actors and actresses.

As The Time Weekly described, TVB is facing the biggest shortage of stars in 40 years.

Effect on the film industry

The downfall of Hong Kong TV was accompanied almost simultaneously by an ebb in the film industry.

Li Qing (pseudonym), a student at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, told The Time Weekly that though 90 percent of the academy's students ultimately go into the film industry, they all know TV and film industries have their ups and downs. 

Looking back over the past 40 years, it is not difficult to see the supporting function Hong Kong's TV industry has played for its film industry.

"Almost all the scriptwriters and directors of the early Hong Kong film industry came from TV," Fung said. "Therefore the death of the TV industry indicates an end to the film industry."

While many of the veterans move northward, it is difficult for young beginners to follow the same way, Li added.

"The best way to train the young people is with the TV shows," Li said. "A film cannot provide the same work experience." 


  1. Hello there llwy12! It's been sometime since I've last visited and commented. And about Tumblr, I'm still very much 'learning the ropes' myself. Hopefully I'll be able to get your feedback sometime. :D

    As for the decline of HK dramas, it really does spell real trouble for the entertainment industry. They're losing a lot of talent just because they're not actually cultivating it. There's very little reason for them to stay behind.

    Looking at the Mainland dramas now, we can see that there's been huge leaps in improvement (though I'm generally not a fan of them). Even the Mainland film industry is doing better than HK. And ATV dramas did used to be good, at a point in time. On a sidenote, I was impressed with some of the HKTV previews. It's a shame that the government wasn't supportive of their efforts.

    That last comment from the performing arts student really rings true. It's sad that he feels that way because these are supposed to be the next generation of on-screen talent. It's hard enough to get exposure in the film industry, let alone experience for newbies, without that TV backup.

    I was actually re-watching God of Gamblers 3 and in that part where King Sir's character had been shot, I was just jokingly thinking, "Well, that's why TVB's Acting Classes have stopped." But in truth, there still needs to be a sincere effort in creating an environment where young performers and future entertainers can hone their skills.

    1. @TAQ: Great to see you again! Thanks for visiting! Hopefully when I get some time on my hands (which may not happen any time soon given how busy I’ve been…LOL), I’ll be able to ‘learn the ropes’ again and visit you on Tumblr. In the meantime though, you’re definitely always welcome here!

      Yup, it’s hard not to be sad over the state of the entertainment industry and how big of an impact that the ‘fall’ of the TV industry has overall. To me though, the most frustrating part of this whole thing is that IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY – throughout the past few decades, there were quite a few opportunities to ‘change’ things for the better (the HKTV thing is a great example), but unfortunately, those opportunities were ‘shot down’. It’s almost as though HK as a whole doesn’t want to change and instead, is content with maintaining the status quo, even if it means falling behind other countries….it’s hard for anyone to not find this type of environment discouraging.

      Interestingly enough, that last comment by the HKAPA student was a similar sentiment that Chow Yun Fat had when he commented on the whole HKTV free license issue. Fat Gor expressed how concerned he was that after the younger generation graduates from their studies (i.e. from HKAPA), it will be hard for them to find jobs in the entertainment field because there are so few opportunities now – he actually ‘blamed’ the government for not supporting the entertainment industry and instead of ‘creating’ opportunities for these youngsters, the government takes the opportunities away. The part I loved most about Fat Gor’s comments is how he said that when the government needs help from the entertainment industry (i.e. goodwill ambassador-type stuff), they expect artists to support in helping to make them (the government) look good, yet when the entertainment industry needs help, the government doesn’t bother to support. SAD, BUT TRUE!!

      The ironic thing about the Acting classes is that they actually HAVEN’T stopped – it’s just that the format changed and less focus had been put on the classes in the past decade. One sentiment I’ve always felt is that back in the 70s and 80s, TVB did a pretty good job of balancing Acting Class people with beauty pageant people – meaning that back in those days, there was a good mixture of ‘talent’ from the classes as well as beauty pageant winners/losers participating in series and programs, which to me, made the ‘mediocre’ performances less noticeable. Nowadays, it’s too lopsided in one direction (most likely due to the lack of ‘balance’ from the Acting Classes), which makes the poor performances a lot easier to spot.

      With all that said, there is still some hope because last year, TVB revamped the Acting Classes and invited back some very experienced, talented individuals to support as ‘facilitators’ and ‘mentors’ to the students (Lawrence Cheng is the main instructor for the newer acting classes and there are other ‘consultants’ who are part of the ‘instructor’ group as well, including veterans such as Dodo Cheng and even the man who started it all, King Sir himself!). Of course, whether these ‘revived’ classes will be successful remains to be seen (not going to put too much hope in it for now), but at least the effort is being made (though whether that effort is ‘sincere’ or not I won’t bother to comment on).

  2. This is so true. After taking a break from TVB for a long time, I can't help to notice how cheap TVB camera and lightings are compared to other country dramas. This made everything look like cheap daytime soap opera. Mainland and Korean drama on the

    1. on the other hand are more advanced and look beautiful to watch. TVB scripts also rely on same old formulas and scripts that's why more and more of their actors are drifting out once they achieved some stabilized stage to get more challenge because TVB failed to cultivate a good environment for artistes to stay around longer with their dwindling scripts and outdated equipments.

  3. No surprise that HKG drama is dethroned. KOR is so powerful to produce drama with their loads of good looks actors/actresses while Mainland China has upperhand to create wuxia/ancient series with their beautiful panorama and artistic element. Sad feeling to see TVB series condition now, poor storyline, most of their artists can't act properly particularly those actress who's coming from beauty peagant. Even the grand production series didn't show their class, cheap soap opera, many lopholes here and there.
    Where's the creative script-writer that TVB ever had? Where's the talented artists that TVB ever produced? I'm afraid we never see Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu Wai successor, where star power and acting skill blending each other to make perfect combination.