Sunday, January 4, 2015

HKTV Launch: Interview with the ‘brains’ behind HKTV series “To Be or Not To Be (來生不做香港人)”

Happy New Year, everyone!! :-)  Hope everyone had a great holiday!  

This is my first official blog post of 2015 (boy, time sure does fly!).  I know I did a horrible job of keeping up with this blog in 2014 (always seemed to be pressed for time), but hopefully this year I can carve out more time to dedicate to this blog and finally post up some stuff I've been wanting to do (no guarantees though....sorry...).

Those who've been following my blog probably know that I've adopted a new habit recently -- watching HKTV's series.  I finished watching all of Borderline last month (loved it) and am currently 'chasing' both The Election and To Be or Not To Be (and yes, I've given up on watching the newer TVB series period, in fact, I can't even remember which series are airing currently because I haven't bothered watching even tidbits here and there like I usually do).  

I'm not planning on posting up consistent commentary on any of the series I'm watching, since that's not my style, but if I come across something interesting and feel like sharing it (and have time to translate it), then I'll try to do it.  Otherwise, it will just be random stuff here and there....

Anyway, for this post, I decided to translate an article that I came across last week about HKTV series To Be or Not To Be.  The article is actually an interview that Apple Daily did with the series producer and scriptwriter.  For the record, I have to say that I still dislike Apple Daily and Next Media and try to stay away from all their publications as much as possible (and for the most part I do), but occasionally there will be some 'good stuff' that actually comes out of their publications and those are the articles I don't mind reading.  The below is one such 'exception' article that I feel is a very good read....

The article speaks for itself -- but one comment I will make about the article is that I appreciate the brutal honesty with which both Alex Pau and Luk Tin Wah spoke in terms of what their thoughts are on the current state of HK and what their goal is with their series.  I've always been a huge supporter of the 'behind-the-scenes' people who work their butts off at the TV stations (TVB and ATV) but rarely ever get recognized for what they do and rarely have a say in anything.  Well, the past couple years, I had the opportunity to read / watch quite a few in-depth interviews of behind the scenes people such as producers, directors, scriptwriters, etc. (almost all of them did the interviews once they left their former employer) and in doing so, I was able to find out alot of interesting things about the series / programs that I watch -- and of course, it made my viewing experience much more enjoyable and meaningful.  I'm happy to see that alot of these behind-the-scenes people finally have a voice -- hopefully we get to see more of this in the future!


HKTV Launch:  Interview with the ‘brains’ behind HKTV series “To Be or Not To Be”

Source:  Apple Daily

Translation:  llwy12

Article originally published December 28, 2014

BIO:  Alex Pau and Luk Tin Wah

Since the return of Hong Kong to China back in 1997, the ‘HK/Mainland contradiction’ has been a never-ending topic of discussion within society.  Despite the ‘one country, two systems’ promise, the glaring culture clash between HK natives and their Mainland compatriots created by huge differences in political structure, environment, background, lifestyle, values, etc. has continued to intensify over the years, ultimately coming to a head several months ago with the Occupy Central movement.

Even though the Umbrella Revolution has officially come to an end, HKTV – despite failing to obtain a free-to-air license last year – has continued to release TV series that reflect reality and bring the problems of contemporary society to light.  With their inaugural series The Election (選戰) controversially diving into HK’s current political scene, HKTV continued the momentum with the release of To Be or Not To Be (來生不做香港人) – a series that explores the exact topic of HK/Mainland culture clash.  With its realistic portrayal of the much talked about differences between HK and Mainland, the series has certainly struck a chord with HK audiences.

Helmed by creative producer Choi Suk Yin (蔡淑賢), main director Luk Tin Wah (陸天華), and head scriptwriter Alex Pau (鮑偉聰), the series not only resonates with audiences due to its realistic exploration of the HK/Mainland relationship, it also reminds audiences to be reflective of the past and how it affects the present and future.

Earlier, Luk Tin Wah and Alex Pau accepted an interview with Apple Daily to talk about their new series.  Personality-wise, the 2 of them are at opposite ends of the spectrum – one is ‘hard’ while the other is ‘soft’.   Each of them may hold their own respective stance on issues, however they both share a common goal, which allows them to set aside their differences and come together – in fact, the feeling is very similar to the relationship between the 2 sisters in their series, Prudence Liew (劉美君) and Maggie Cheung (張可頤).

No interference from ‘above’

From the onset, the naming of the series was already a ‘story’ within itself.   Prior to the start of filming 2 years ago, the series applied for filming permits in Mainland China using the title Hakka Women (客家女人) – yet when the series was released, the title then became To Be or Not To Be (來生不做香港人). 

Asked about the ‘story’ behind the series’ name change, scriptwriter Alex Pau – who, in addition to his writing career, is also a guest host on the CRHK radio show Summit (光明頂) alongside political writer and commentator To Kit (陶傑) – revealed that there was indeed a reason why a different name was used in the beginning.   Alex admitted that when it came to the production of this series, there was a lot of ‘planning’ involved and the title was certainly no exception – at that time, they decided to use such an ‘ordinary’ title as Hakka Women as a cover-up:  “That was actually a working title only – the original title [To Be or Not To Be] was always in existence, it’s just we never revealed it until now.  Actually the title Hakka Women was a simple name we came up with last minute – at the time, we didn’t think that the original title would be kept under wraps for 2 full years.”   Director Luk Tin Wah added:  “Because many of the scenes are filmed in the Mainland, we were afraid that using the series’ real title might interfere with filming.  We didn’t want people questioning what the series was about and whether it would be too ‘controversial’, so we settled on using a more ‘neutral’ title.  If we had used the real title, we believe things would not have gone as smoothly – since the title Hakka Women sounded like a ‘run-of-the-mill’ housewife series, it was an easy sell and the filming permits were approved pretty quickly.”

With the ‘ordinary’ title Hakka Women, the production team was able to get past the first obstacle of Mainland China’s strict censors.  How about the next obstacle – HKTV’s chairman Ricky Wong (王維基)?  As the boss, wouldn’t he have to give his ‘approval’ before the team could proceed?  Luk Tin Wah reveals that, from the beginning, Ricky Wong was never an ‘obstacle’ that they had to worry about overcoming:  “Ricky Wong always tells us – don’t try to guess the audiences tastes or worry about trying to film a series that caters to all audiences – instead, just put out a production that you feel is your best work.  In all our productions, this is the objective that we go by!”   Alex Pau highly praised the work environment at HKTV, stating that it is one of the few places where you will NOT see ‘interference from above’:  “Our boss’s philosophy has always been not to interfere with production because he understands that if he were to stick his hands in there, then what we (production team) consider ‘our best work’ would not exist.  That’s one of the biggest treasures of having ‘creative freedom’ in HK productions and could be considered one of our ‘intrinsic values’.  Sure, being in the entertainment industry and doing television means that our main job is to ‘entertain’, but we also need to have a certain responsibility towards society as well – a type of ‘social importance’ if you will.   If through our work, we are able to motivate HK people to have the urge to watch TV and find joy in it, or perhaps cause a family to have a common subject to talk about, that is definitely much more meaningful and important than ratings!”

Since it started airing over two weeks ago, To Be or Not To Be has garnered a lot of feedback, with much of the response in HK being mostly positive.  For Luk Tin Wah and Alex Pau – both of whom ‘grew up’ in the behind-the-scenes production ranks of their former employer TVB – their current work environment (HKTV) may be much smaller in comparisons, but the beauty is that they have unlimited creative freedom.  Alex Pau bluntly stated that with To Be or Not To Be, they (production team) never once had to consider whether the subject matter of the series was ‘too sensitive’:  “I don’t agree with the word ‘sensitive’ – to me, it promotes a self-censorship mindset.  [The HK/Mainland culture clash] is reality, it’s something that is truly happening in society.  The most important thing for a drama series is for it to reflect reality and thereby resonate with audiences.  For us, there is no such thing as ‘sensitive’ -- our main goal is to present the story of these 2 sisters and lay everything out there without having to think about all the ‘baggage’.  We started filming this series in 2012 and back then, there was not as much going on in HK as there is now.  All we’re trying to do is produce a good drama series, so I don’t see a need to ‘shy away’ from anything in particular!”

No need to ‘harmonize’

With half the series already aired, there have already been plenty of climactic moments.  Asked whether the series’ finale will have any particular message, Alex Pau revealed:  “When the 2 sisters were kids, there was an unresolved issue in their hearts that continued to weigh on them into adulthood – all I can say is that they will end up ‘resolving’ the issue.  Does that mean they will live in ‘harmony’ with each other then?   Well, I don’t feel that’s realistic, as it’s impossible for them to be in true harmony with each other.  To be honest, I feel that all this talk about ‘harmony’ is just a way for higher officials to maintain peace and order – the reality is that Hong Kong is Hong Kong.   It’s not necessary for everyone to be in harmony – Hong Kongers just need to be themselves and that is already enough.  Our series won’t have any messages about maintaining social order, nor will it teach people to live harmoniously and accept other people’s differences – that has never been our motive.   The reality is that a drama series will always mean different things for different people -- each audience’s feelings toward the drama will vary based on their own experiences.  For example – some audiences can view the sisters resolving their differences as ‘a lesson in maintaining social order’ while others can view it as ‘adding fuel to the fire’ in terms of the HK/Mainland relationship.  Again, different people will view things differently and there is no ‘right’ way to look at it.”

In the past 10 years, due to the general sentiment that it is necessary to ‘maintain social stability’ in HK television productions, a lot of potentially good content (subject matter) has never seen the light of day.  Under such circumstances, Alex Pau and Luk Tin Wah were still able to successfully incorporate the sensitive issue of HK/Mainland ‘contradictions’ into a story about the relationship between two sisters living in two different places.  Towards this, director Luk states:  “HK audiences need to peel back the layers and think about what the underlying significance is when it comes to the societal problems HK is facing.  Is it truly that we have to be at odds with Mainlanders?  When they call us ‘British lapdogs’ and we yell back ‘deadbeat locusts’ and then the animosity intensifies, is that really necessary?  What meaning is there to hate each other in that manner?   Why don’t we take a step back and reflect – at the end of the day, we’re all Chinese, so must we continue at odds forever?   Our whole point with the series is to let everyone know that these problems exist and as a society, we should be thinking about how to resolve them.”


  1. Please please do a review of this series once you finish it ^^

    1. @Anonymous: Glad to see so many people supporting this series! As to whether I will do a review on this series or not – well, that kind of depends on my mood and also whether I have time (sorry). We’ll see….I might end up just doing a recap of thoughts rather than a full-fledged review….

      By the way – if you’re interested in reading more about this series, I will be posting up a recap of the CRHK interview that the series’ scriptwriter Alex Pau did last week (along with the director and scriptwriter for The Election)….so please stay tuned….

    2. @Anonymous: I decided that I will write a review on this series after all. I'll probably have it posted up by this weekend, so check back in a few days if you're still interested in reading it (word of warning though -- my reviews are typically very LONG and this one is no exception...) :-)

    3. I am VNese-American girl who loves HK series since I was a child. I love Maggie Cheung and many other HK actors, actress. I totally agree that this film is one of the best series during the last few years. Maggie Cheung and Prudence Liew both did great jobs.

  2. I haven't started watching this series but both my mom and sister has been praising it alot. That's something you rarely hear regarding TVB series except that series by Wong Cho Lam where the main topic was really Ram Tseung's singing lol.

    1. @sport3888: The series is definitely worthy of praise...LOL! Actually, the feedback so far has been great -- in fact, the series' female lead Maggie Cheung just posted on her weibo some of the reviews and commentary from people who are praising this series for the well-written script and great acting...I also read other articles throughout the past few weeks with similar feedback.

      I agree that this type of praise and positive feedback is rare nowadays with TVB series (and rightfully so, since there haven't been any TVB series worthy of praise the past couple of years).....