For part 1, the guests interviewed were Gregory Wong, Catherine Chau, and Kate Yeung. Those interested can watch the interview and read my recap of part 1 here).
For part 2, the guests interviewed were Noel Leung (梁小冰), Samuel Kwok (郭峰), Benji Chiang (姜文杰), Anita Chan (陳穎妍), and the series' scriptwriter Poon Man Hong (潘漫紅).
Just like part 1, part 2 of the interview was very very informative, especially with all the behind-the-scenes stories about the filming process for The Menu as well as the artists' thoughts on HKTV and the television industry in general. This is definitely another 'must watch' interview for fans of the series!
MemeHK Interview/Live Chat with Noel Leung, Samuel Kwok, Benji Chiang, Anita Chan, Poon Man Hong
- The host (different person from the host in part 1) introduced the cast from The Menu as well as the series’ scriptwriter Poon Man Hong. Just like part 1’s host, this particular host is also a fan of the series – he said that he made sure he watched episode 23 (second to last episode) before doing this interview so he could be up to date and prepared.
o The host mentioned that HKTV made him change his lifestyle a bit – nowadays, every morning when he gets up, he’ll watch 45 minutes to an hour of HKTV’s programming before heading to work.
o This was especially the case when The Menu was airing – brought back his ‘chasing series’ days. Poon Man Hong commented that a lot of netizens made similar remarks about ‘chasing’ the series.
- The host went on to introduce each of his guests, starting first with scriptwriter Poon Man Hong, then Noel Leung (Alma Wong), Anita Chan (Emily), Benji Chiang (Prince) and Samuel Kwok (Kwan Kung).
o When he was introducing Benji, the host leaned in to look at his glasses and noticed that there were no lens in them. Benji said that he deliberately wore Prince’s glasses to the interview today (Benji doesn’t wear glasses in real life). His hairstyle and clothes also reflect his character Prince – the others praised Benji’s professionalism.
- After introductions, they started answering some of the questions netizens had posted on Facebook and other social media. The first question/comment: “Kwan Kung is so cool!!” (haha). As those of us who’ve been chasing the series know, in episodes 22 and 23, Kwan Kung finally stood his ground and faced off against both Emily and his boss KY Cho (Leung Kin Ping’s character)….netizens felt he was so cool in those scenes. Samuel said that in real life, he’s not that cool (to which Benji and the host both said – nope…you’re even cooler in real life…haha!!!).
- The host had prepared some questions that he wanted to ask the group. First was that despite the series only airing on the internet, it was still able to be so successful and get so much good feedback; looking at some of the comments online, some of the compliments the series got were: brilliant series, very successful, characters are realistically written, chemistry between the characters are strong, etc. The host went on to ask the group what they felt was most successful about the series.
o Samuel started by saying that he admired the effort and unity of the cast and crew. He said that he was happy to see this ‘young’ cast take the filming so seriously.
o Anita said that the cast grew very close during the 8 to 9 months of filming and even now, they are still very close – sometimes they would invite each other out to dinner just to hang out.
§ The host then asked why it took 9 months to film the series. Poon Man Hong said that Anita remembered wrong – it was actually only 7 months of filming (end of January to end of August).
§ The host asked did the filming take so long because the artists’ schedules were hard to arrange or because they were extra meticulous with filming to make sure the series came out perfect?
· Poon Man Hong replied that the long filming time had nothing to do with the artists – in fact, the artists were great, as they cleared out their schedules entirely for this series. She said the reason it took so long was because of the real location filming – since each person is a reporter, they would have to go to different locations to get news, plus the scenes of their homes, their families, etc. so they had to switch back and forth a lot between locations.
· Poon Man Hong said that the director once told her that it takes on average 2 hours for them to switch between locations (each time they get to a location, it takes at least ½ hour to unload all the equipment and when they’re done, it takes another ½ hour or more to load everything back into the car). This impacted the overall amount of time needed for filming.
o Next it was Noel’s turn to answer. The host said that since she has filmed Mainland series as well as HK series, what does she feel is the biggest difference between the two? Noel replied that this series was filmed in real-life locations, also utilizing single camera. Also, 1 month prior to filming, they had already received the completed script for all 25 episodes. Noel said that the more she read the script, the more she liked it – plus she loved her character Alma, so that entire month, she put a lot of effort into memorizing the dialogue.
§ When filming finally started, the cast was asked to come together and do a read-through/rehearsal, which Noel thought was odd because normally only stage plays do the rehearsal thing. It was pretty much a practice run to see if the cast had good chemistry and also for them to get feedback from each other so they could refine their acting / performance.
§ Because of all the preparation, each person was able to get into their characters much quicker when the camera start rolling.
o Benji was next to answer. The host asked whether this was his first time filming a series, to which he said no, this was actually his third series: his first series was Once Upon A Song, where he was in a few episodes, his second series was Hidden Faces, but he only had a cameo in that one…so basically The Menu was the first series where he had a ‘heavy’ role.
§ Benji said that technically, he is the newest one amongst the cast in terms of filming, since everyone else had more experience than him (even Kate Yeung, whom some people thought was new, actually has been acting for a long time in stage plays).
§ Benji said that the most difficult thing for him was maintaining the realistic nature of the story and character – he said that each person had to find that balance between ‘acting’ and ‘being natural’…for a newbie such as him, it was difficult to find that balance. He said that he felt he did a poor job and was very frustrated with himself at one point.
· Poon Man Hong said that she did notice Benji struggling a little bit, but she felt he did fine. She said that when you watch the latter half of the series, it’s very obvious that he continued to improve with each episode. She said that it’s actually better to be able to see steady improvement like that rather than constantly performing at a high level and not being able to see any improvement.
· Benji took the opportunity to thank Man Hong, the director, and the rest of the cast/crew for being so patient with him. They all agreed that much of the credit should go to the director (Ben Fong) who did a great job bringing out artists’ strengths.
· Samuel said that he noticed Benji is very observant and is a quick learner – whenever the others would do their scenes, he would observe them and learn from them (the host said it’s probably because acting is in his genes due to his dad / family background). Samuel said that he wasn’t too familiar with Benji before this series (of course he knew who Benji was back when they were at TVB, but they never got a chance to work together).
o He said Benji would watch the others film their scenes and be worried about his own performance – he was constantly watching playback to make sure he was doing things right. Samuel said that he could see Benji improving immensely throughout the entire filming process.
o Samuel praised Benji for being so willing to learn, unlike other young folks he’s encountered in the past who don’t take the filming process as seriously as Benji does (the group was trying to get him to reveal the name of the person he was referring to who didn’t take things seriously…lol).
- Next the host asked Poon Man Hong whether she knew which artists would be participating in the filming when she wrote the script.
o She said that she had a little bit of indication, as she knew the pool of artists she had to work with. At the time, The Borderline and To Be or Not To Be were already filming, which resulted in a shortage of male artists, so she decided to make the story revolve around 3 female leads.
o She also said that while writing the script, it’s important to know whether she needs to lean more towards having more female characters, male characters, or a balance of both in order for her to continue on the right path. For this series, she decided that while the story revolved around the 3 female leads, there needed to be a certain balance on the male side, so other characters were incorporated.
- So then as the scriptwriter, which character does Poon Man Hong like best?
o Before she got a chance to answer, Noel said that Man Hong really likes the character of Alma Wong. She revealed that Man Hong would sometimes ‘become’ Alma and re-enact some of her scenes when they were rehearsing.
o Man Hong clarified that it’s actually kind of funny – during one of their initial takes when the character of Alma was first introduced walking into the conference room, she had written that the character actually had a limp – so when they were practicing, Man Hong would limp into the conference room pretending to be Alma. It was half play half work, as they were trying to figure out how to film that scene and so tried different ideas.
- The host said he had heard that Man Hong studied journalism in school, so was this story about the news media something she has wanted to write about for a long time?
o She replied yes, pretty much. Though she said it’s a little exaggerated to say that she’s been thinking about this story for the past 20 years, as there was actually a long period of time in between when she had forgotten about it completely.
o She said that the desire to write this story was greater the first few years after she graduated, since she would hang out with her journalism friends often and hear their exciting stories about that field. But then after that, for a period of about 10 years, they weren’t in contact as much, so the ‘passion’ to write the story was not as great anymore.
o So then what caused the desire to write this story to be ‘rekindled’?
§ Poon Man Hong said that it was Ricky Wong telling them that they had complete freedom to write about anything they wanted. At first Man Hong was at a loss, as she was so used to people telling her what to write about -- like her former employer would tell her – write a script about doctors or write a police drama -- once the subject matter was determined, then she would think about the details of the story. This was the first time in her (long) career as a scriptwriter where she was not given any instruction on what to write about – at first her mind was blank, but then later she thought about it and remembered the news media story from 20 years ago that she had wanted to write.
§ The host asked whether it was the change in work environment that caused the ‘fire’ to be rekindled? Man Hong clarified that she actually had that ‘fire’ at TVB too, so can’t really say it was purely change in environment. But at HKTV, since she had the chance to come up with what she wanted to write about completely on her own, she figured it was best to do something she’s interested in.
- Moving on, the host mentioned that all of them (the ones there presently) had all collaborated at TVB, so now with all of them at HKTV, what are some of the differences filming for the 2 companies?
o First, the group clarified that they had actually never worked together at TVB, since they were there at different times. Poon Man Hong said that she and Noel had collaborated, but since at TVB the scriptwriter is never around during filming and the artists only see the scriptwriter’s name, they never interacted.
o They all commented that it was nice to have the scriptwriter there every day during filming, overseeing the process. Poon Man Hong stated that it’s actually a lot of fun.
o The host mentioned that it must be exhausting (for the scriptwriter) to have to show up for every scene – with the artists, at least they only need to be there for the scenes they’re filming. Poon Man Hong said that she’s actually the most relaxed one, since all she has to do is sit there and watch them.
- The host then asked Noel how much does she like the character of Alma Wong.
o Noel said that she didn’t like the character at first and was surprised when she was asked to play such a bossy, mean character….she didn’t think she would be able to do it. Poon Man Hong revealed that Noel was mad at her at one point for asking her to take on such a character. Noel explained that she eventually gave in, as Man Hong told her that she’s been playing ‘goody goody’ roles for so long, why not try a ‘mean’ character?
o Noel said that she had such a reaction initially because when Man Hong was persuading her to take the role, she actually hadn’t read the script yet, but still decided to give it a try. After reading the script, she fell in love with the character.
o After understanding her character, Noel said she started to feel pressure, as she had to figure out how to make the character even ‘meaner’ and even more ‘hated’, especially since her character is supposed to be direct opposite of Catherine’s Fong Ying.
- Next it was Anita’s turn to talk about her experience. The host asked her how different was it filming this series versus the ‘office lady’ roles she used to get at TVB?
o Anita clarified that the characters she used to play were more relationship-related. She said that her role in The Menu can be considered a breakthrough role for her. She said that there is actually a comical element to her character, especially in the latter part where Emily becomes the chief editor, as she is constantly trying to imitate Alma but fails at it and becomes a laughingstock instead.
o The host asked whether she would try to think of ways to be ‘meaner’ than Alma, to which Anita replied not really, since technically, the character is not a villain nor a bad person – it’s just that she is unqualified for the role and is essentially a ‘puppet’ doing whatever her boyfriend KY told her to do.
o As they were talking, they were also reading the comments from netizens. Benji pointed out one of the comments that said ‘Emily is so annoying, I feel like slapping her’. Anita said that when she sees those types of comments, she’s actually happy because it means that audiences paid attention to her performance.
o The host said that Emily’s character was easy to relate to, as most of us who work in offices are bound to encounter someone like her.
- The focus was then on Samuel Kwok and what a great job he did, especially with those scenes in the last few episodes. Samuel joked that the scriptwriter Man Hong probably forgot about his character Kwan Kung and only remembered at the end so she gave him a few ‘big shot’ scenes to do (haha…btw, I love Samuel Kwok….he was so funny throughout the entire interview!). Actually though, it was deliberately planned for Kwan Kung to ‘have his say’ at the end – it was part of the character’s development.
o The host asked Samuel about his experience and started off by saying – “since you’ve been acting for 30 to 40 years…” but before he got a chance to finish, everyone else chimed in saying “no, he’s only been acting less than 10 years!” Then they said that he actually just started in the industry and can already act so well – he should get the Best Newcomer award! (lol…love the playfulness of the group).
o After a bit of fun, Noel said that actually, Samuel taught her a lot of things on set while they were filming. She recounted the scene where Alma had to push all the files on her desk to the floor out of exasperation and anger after her big argument with Fong Ying – Noel said that she didn’t know how to do it, since she never gets angry like that, so Samuel showed her what to do. Samuel said that he is used to playing villain roles and doing those types of scenes so it wasn’t a problem. He praised Noel as being a fast learner, as she filmed that scene in 1 take.
o Back to Samuel’s experience – the host said that with all the scripts he’s seen and all the series he’s been in, was the role of Kwan Kung relatively easy for him?
§ His answer was that when he first got the script for The Menu, he didn’t think anything about whether the role was easy or not…instead the first thought that crossed his mind was “excitement” because he actually received the complete script all at once, which is a very rare experience for him.
§ The host mentioned about TVB’s ‘on-the-fly’ scripts, to which Samuel said that actually very early on (he’s referring to the 70s and 80s), they used to get complete scripts, but later on, things changed and for a long period of time, it became the ‘flying paper’ method.
§ The host asked whether it was hard to get used to getting the entire, complete script all at once. All of them said of course not…actually, it’s very exciting. Samuel said that it’s like getting to enjoy a sweet treat. The group explained to the host why most actors/actresses are so happy to get a complete script – main reason is because they get to see exactly how their character develops and understand the character completely, which obviously allows them to do a better job in terms of acting. (personal note: THANK YOU!!! I’m not an actor/actress, but even I understand this concept…which is why I get annoyed when I hear die-hard TVB fans claim that there is nothing wrong with TVB’s ‘flying paper’ method and the artists are just being too picky. Hopefully now that people get to hear it from the actors/actresses directly, they understand how important this is).
§ Samuel said that getting to see the complete script and everything the character goes through helps make the character more realistic and mutli-dimensional, which is the way it should always be.
- Talking about characters that are multi-dimensional and realistic, the host said that this was one of the compliments that audiences had towards the series. Another compliment was the meticulousness of the production – for example, in the scene with the girl who had lost her memory (Katie), when they showed her holding the camera, there was careful attention paid to detail to make sure the camera was actually the same make and model that came out that particular year (in the series, that scene was 7 years ago from 2012, so it was a 2005 model camera).
o Poon Man Hong said that the camera was actually borrowed from one of the other scriptwriters. She said that the director himself (Ben Fong) is very meticulous when it comes to these things, so the credit should go to him for all the attention paid to detail.
o The other example the host gave was in one of the later episodes where Noel’s character Alma is wearing a sleeveless top with her left arm in view – we were clearly able to see a scar on her arm close to the elbow area…..remember at the beginning of the series when Alma was attacked with a knife? Well, that was the exact spot she got injured!
§ Noel said that every time she wore a sleeveless top on set, all the PA’s and makeup people would run over and make sure that scar was added to her arm. Noel jokingly said that she protested one time and said it’s not visible anyway, but they refused and told her if she doesn’t let them draw the scar on, she doesn’t get to eat lunch (haha). When they drew the scar, they needed to make sure the angle was correct too, so they would measure it and have pictures of the scar in front of them to make sure it matched exactly.
§ Noel gave another example of how meticulous the crew was. As reporters, all of the cast working at the newspaper had to wear watches – well, the crew actually made sure all the watches were set to the exact time in the scene…if the character was having a conversation for 10 minutes, they made sure to set the watches forward to that time when filming so that everything matched up. (personal note: wow – talk about paying attention to detail! How many times over the years have we heard audiences complaining about TVB’s “sloppiness” with their productions? With their meticulous productions, HKTV absolutely puts TVB to shame!!)
§ The host mentioned that this is the type of thing they do when filming movies – making sure that scenes follow logically and minimizing the risk of error.
o Poon Man Hong praised the director and assistant director for being so attentive but also said that their job was the most difficult. She described another instance in a scene involving Mallory where she walked into the conference room and set her camera down on the table, with the camera strap laid out a certain way on the table. The director had his PA take a picture of the camera strap so that the next shot when they had to film another close-up of the camera, they could make sure the strap is laid out the exact same way as in the original shot.
o Poon Man Hong said that she was tempted to tell the PA to put all the pictures on the web so everyone can see how meticulous the director is – she said if they had to lay out all the pictures, there would probably be thousands of them.
- In the next segment, the host decided to go through some of the netizens’ questions.
o First question: Is there a chance that there will be season 2?
§ The group let Poon Man Hong answer. She said that none of them are HKTV employees anymore, so there’s no way for any of them to answer that question.
§ The host then asked whether they heard anything ‘through the grapevine’, to which Poon Man Hong said there are no plans for season 2. The group then asked whether anyone is willing to invest for them to film a movie version or stage version.
§ Noel asked Poon Man Hong whether she actually has the desire to write a sequel / season 2 to the series (good question!)
· Man Hong replied that she doesn’t like to rehash the same story so if she were to write a sequel, it would have to be a completely different story.
· She said that if there was more to write about the same characters, then the script would not be complete in the first place.
· Samuel jokingly suggested that Man Hong could write about Kwan Kung and the rest of the group chimed in saying that they could do a “Kwan Kung / Prince” relationship storyline (haha).
o The conversation then segued into the brief bisexual / lesbian segment of the story in the last few episodes. The host asked if this were the ‘big station’ (TVB), would they dare to right the segment about the main lead going down the homosexual route?
§ Poon Man Hong’s answer was that first of all, even with The Menu, they are not exactly going down the lesbian/bisexual route. The main lead (Fong Ying) only said that she likes Mallory, but there is no further action after that.
§ She said that she truly can’t answer the question about whether she would be able to write that type of storyline at TVB because she doesn’t know. But she has been thinking about this same question, since a reporter also asked her about this yesterday in a different interview.
§ The host then asked, as a scriptwriter, is there a certain element of ‘self-censorship’ when writing a script – like for example: perhaps this will be too controversial so I won’t write it.
· Poon Man Hong said that there is no self-censorship in that regard, at least not on her part…however she does ask herself whether she would be able to handle a certain topic before she writes it. For example, with the homosexual storyline, she asked herself whether she would be able to handle a full-fledged storyline about homosexuality and her answer was no, so she didn’t even attempt to do it. She said that first of all, she’s not familiar with that subject matter and second, she didn’t want that to override The Menu’s entire story, since it was never her intention to begin with.
· Poon Man Hong went on to explain why they had that part about Fong Ying liking Mallory. She said that she feels all characters in a series have a life of their own – throughout the development process for Fong Ying’s character, they ‘felt’ that there was a natural attraction there with Mallory, so they decided to let nature take it’s course so to speak and go in that direction. She emphasized that they were NOT trying to throw something random in there as a gimmick – that’s why they never promoted this aspect of the series or that particular scene, since they understand that the minute there’s any promotion, there will be ‘noise’. Man Hong said that she and the director Ben Fong discussed it and didn’t want that part to sidetrack the entire series.
· Actually, they had even considered not mentioning any of the ‘intimate’ scenes (i.e. Fai Ye and Mallory’s kiss/sex scene as well as Fong Ying and Prince’s make-out scene) at all, but they knew that they had to give the Media something to report on, otherwise it’s not fair to them or the company (HKTV)…so in choosing between Fong Ying’s love declaration toward Mallory and Prince’s make-out scene with Fong Ying, they decided to ‘sacrifice’ Prince (Benji).
o Next question: A netizen wrote that both Noel and Catherine’s story arcs were strong, complex and able to draw audiences in…in contrast, Kate’s story arc was kind of bland. Do you agree with this?
§ Everyone disagreed with this right away. Poon Man Hong expressed that she can only say this – the ‘feeling’ that they get when producing the series will undoubtedly be different from how the audiences feel when they are watching…there’s no getting around that since everyone’s perspective is different.
§ Poon Man Hong said that someone had asked her out of the 3 female leads’ and their story arcs, which one is the ‘main’ lead? She told that person that she really can’t answer because she doesn’t feel that there is 1 person or lead that sticks out – the way the script flowed, all 3 of them have similar amount of focus on them / their stories.
§ Man Hong tried to understand why some people felt that Kate’s story arc was boring (for the record, the host said he didn’t feel that way and a lot of audiences didn’t feel that way either). She said that throughout the development of the script, there was never an intention to have Mallory’s story be ‘secondary’ or use her to ‘build up’ the others – but if there are people out there who feel that way (about that story arc), then she feels it’s a failure on her part as a scriptwriter.
o Moving on – the host talked about the ‘godly’ aspect of the series due to its ability to ‘predict the future’. [Side note: for those who didn’t follow the news about this piece…early on when the series first aired, there were reports that the series seemed to ‘predict the future’ because certain parts of the plot ended up really happening in HK several years later (the script was completed in 2012 and the series was filmed in 2013…in 2014, some of the things that happened in the series ended up happening in society too, which we find out now that the series is airing in 2015)].
§ Poon Man Hong said that the intention was not for the series to ‘predict the future’. When she was writing the script, she just wanted to take some of the things that had happened in society in the past and build a story around it (for example – chief editor of a newspaper being attacked – that incident happened several times in the past). What they didn’t anticipate was that those events would happen again so soon.
o Some people also said that the series has a strong human/personal element that makes it easy to relate to due to the well-flushed out characters and realistic relationship / story arcs. What is the group’s opinion of this?
§ They agree that it’s true. Noel said that for instance, watching the scenes between Mallory and her mother and the domestic violence issue, it brought tears to her eyes. Same with the theme of homosexuality – these are things that happen in real life….it’s just a matter of whether the producer/scriptwriter is brave enough to depict this realism on TV.
§ They took what happened in real life and add a little bit of drama to it.
§ Kwan Kung’s character was especially realistic, with the sad plight he goes through with his family.
§ The host shared a story of his personal experience – he said that the scene where those bad cops put some drugs in Mallory’s purse trying to get her in trouble, he had actually experienced something similar (he said that his friend called him up and said hey, The Menu used your case in their series!).
- After the break, it was back to the host’s questions. He asked Man Hong what was the primary message she wanted to bring forth in writing this script?
o She said that she wants people to read more news and pay more attention to what goes on behind that news story in terms of getting to the truth. She said that in order for a news story to be published, there is a long process that they must go through.
o She said that when someone reads a story in a newspaper, she wants them to realize that what they read may not necessarily be the real truth….if they compare the same story in different newspapers, they may find different elements of the ‘truth’ in them.
- Next question: With recent news of ATV closing up shop, what are the group’s thoughts on this?
o They said that as artists, of course they will not feel that any TV station deserves to close, as that means fewer opportunities for their colleagues. They expressed that it’s actually heartbreaking to see a TV station with so much history having to shut down.
o Noel had actually filmed for ATV for a year, so she felt especially bad. She said that with HK only having 2 TV stations, it’s unfortunate that ATV didn’t make good use of the license they had by making the decision to stop producing series. She sees it as a “triple loss”: audiences don’t have option to watch series, the investors don’t get return on their investment since no series means no ratings which means no advertising, and the artists don’t get to put their acting skills to use.
o Benji talked about how most of the people from HKTV came from TVB and the reason why they couldn’t produce such series as The Menu over there is due to the stifling of creativity. There are a lot of talented people there but their creativity was being held back. It’s the same thing with ATV – without being able to film series, talented people don’t get the chance to put their skills to use. And now with HKTV, when they actually get the chance to let their creativity flow, they were denied a license. He said that for those of us who witnessed the HK television industry’s glory days back in the 80s/90s, the current situation is heartbreaking.
o They asked Samuel Kwok for his thoughts (perfect person to ask, since he used to work for ATV and even went through the period of their predecessor Rediffusion Television – he also worked for other TV stations in other parts of Asia). The host asked what were some of the differences he saw throughout his career working for different stations.
§ Samuel started by saying that Malaysia’s TV station was technically ‘started up’ by HK due to their overwhelming interest in HK series – plus it was HK directors / producers, etc. who went over there to work for the station and build it up to the level it is today. Samuel sighed and said that now, Malaysia’s TV station is actually ahead of us (Hong Kong) in terms of TV production and industry success.
§ Samuel said that when HKTV came into the picture, he saw a ray of light for the industry, especially since the wave of the future is internet television anyway (but of course, they couldn’t get a license).
§ Samuel expressed that it baffled him why the HK television industry continues to take steps backwards rather than move forward with the times. He said that if the HK television industry continues to go downhill, it will affect a lot of people – i.e. the media, advertisers, etc.
o Next question was kind of related to ATV, kind of not. They had talked earlier about ATV not producing series causing artists to lose opportunities to put their skills to use. But why is it that a TV station must produce series?
§ Samuel tried to explain it by saying that TV dramas are a form of art, therefore actors/actresses performing in TV dramas are expressing themselves artistically. It’s also a way to reflect society, as you can take something that happens in society and interpret / express it in a multitude of different ways. Basically, it’s part of human nature to be interested in ‘performing’ (whether it’s you performing or watching other people perform).
§ From a behind-the-scenes production crew perspective, Poon Man Hong also tried to explain: a unique feature of series is that it allows viewers to experience a wide range of emotions along with the characters – this is something that variety shows and documentaries can’t do. TV series have a certain “attractiveness” that is difficult to explain because of its ability to draw viewers in and really be invested in certain characters/storyline/plot. The negative side of course is that if the series aren’t produced well, then the results could be disastrous, as it could cause severe hatred from the viewers (again, because they are so ‘invested’ emotionally).
§ How about the rest of the group? With the exception of Benji, who hosted music and variety shows before going into acting, the rest of them are all mainly actors/actresses. Do they feel the same way about variety shows and game shows?
· The consensus was that there needed to be a healthy mix of both. Doing some hosting in between acting can liven things up a little.
· Noel said that she has a slightly different mindset because her passion is acting so of course her focus will be there. She enjoys filming series and movies, but her biggest passion is performing in stage plays, as she feels she gets the most satisfaction acting-wise from being on stage.
o Going into Noel’s background, the host said that she started in the industry via the Miss HK pageant, but Noel clarified – prior to MHK, she was actually filming movies and even prior to that, she was doing commercials.
o So having the point of comparison with commercials, movies, TV series, and stage plays, Noel enjoys stage plays the most. She said that she’s told Poon Man Hong before why doesn’t she create a stage version of The Menu. Man Hong said that it’s too difficult, especially since she is most unfamiliar with stage play format and the techniques needed she cannot handle at this point. She said she enjoys watching stage plays, but even when she watches, she can’t help asking herself – wow, how do they write that?
§ How about movies? If an investor was to invite you guys to film movies, would you guys participate?
· Poon Man Hong said yes, because the film medium is closer to TV series than stage plays – in fact, she is already in talks with some film investors on a few projects.
- Next was more a personal question. The Menu’s cast and crew filmed together for 7 to 8 months and have obviously grown very close. Now that the series is almost done airing and the cast/crew has disbanded (due to HKTV not getting a license), do they feel particularly sad? Or are they used to it by now, since, as actors/actresses, they experience this all the time anyway?
o Noel said that there is a bit of sadness, for her at least. She said that she rarely has the chance to film in HK – the last time she filmed in HK was an ATV series more than 10 years ago. Even though artists are able to make money filming in Mainland, they are still Hong Kong artists first and foremost, so there’s a certain excitement getting to film HK series.
o Also, Noel said that there is actually more variety in HK series – the past 10 years that she’s been filming in Mainland, all of the series have been period pieces / ancient series…they rarely film ‘modern’ series. Noel said this is why she was so excited to come back and film The Menu….it’s also why she was surprised that Man Hong asked her to film the series.
o The group said that Noel actually lost her voice a few times while filming because she was yelling so much. Anita shared that it’s actually quite difficult to do ‘yelling’ scenes, as they have to strain their voices yet also keep the acting in check.
o Noel said that if you were to ask her to play the role of Alma again, she really doesn’t want to because it’s too emotionally and physically draining. Anita concurred with this, as she said that when they were filming her scenes as chief editor, she had to ‘yell’ at people for 3 days straight (since those scenes were all filmed together)….it was very tiring.
o Going back to the topic of the ‘human’ element in their filming experience, Benji said that there were quite a few scenes in the finale where they showed their real emotions instead of ‘acting’. (Poon Man Hong chimed in and told Benji not to reveal too much – she relayed that the ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ on Golden Discussion forum said if they reveal spoilers, the punishment is that they have to watch ATV for the rest of their lives! LOL).
§ Benji said that the good thing about filming together for so long is that they were able to bond with each other, which helped them bring out their real emotions when filming certain scenes. He also said that the impact on audiences is significant, as they become so invested in the characters and the chemistry that they end up ‘missing’ them, which creates the desire to want to ‘chase’ each episode of the series to see what happens. The host concurred that TV series definitely have this type of power.
- Next question was from a netizen, who asked what were they most dissatisfied with in terms of the series or their own performances.
o Poon Man Hong said that the comment about Kate Yeung’s story arc being bland really hit home for her. She said that looking back now, she does see that there was not as much focus placed on Greg and Kate’s relationship line, which may have caused some audiences to feel that Kate was merely there to ‘support’ the other 2 actresses. She said that if she had the chance to re-do things, she would probably write that story arc a little differently.
§ The host mentioned that there were some comments about Greg and Kate’s relationship coming across more as brother/sister than as lovers. Poon Man Hong recognized this and said at the time when they were writing that arc, they (the scriptwriters) really liked it, but the feeling came out different than expected.
o The host asked Poon Man Hong how she ended up going on Golden discussion forum, to which she replied that she was planning on doing it from the beginning because she wanted to see people’s feedback and also prepare herself to get yelled out by netizens. He said that back when they were at TVB, there didn’t seem to be all this focus on discussion forums. Poon Man Hong said that they actually did go on discussion forms in the past too, it’s just they weren’t vocal about it.
§ Everyone was curious why Poon Man Hong decided to use her real name on Golden Discussion forum this time around when she didn’t do it in the past. She explained that there was a post where netizens were discussing 2 things: 1) that perhaps the cast/crew should book a shopping mall and watch the finale together with audiences, and 2) they were hoping that the cast/crew could say hi and give them some feedback on their discussion. Man Hong said that #1 was out of her control, but with #2, she felt it was something she could do, especially seeing all the support for the series and how fervently they were discussing it.
§ Man Hong said that she did go on discussion forums before, especially back during the time when TVB’s The Hippocratic Crush was airing (note: Poon Man Hong was the scriptwriter for that series – the first one, not the sequel) because at that time, there was fervent discussion on the forums about THC plagiarizing other series. Man Hong said that she hates it when people claim they plagiarize when they didn’t, so she felt the need to go on the forum to clarify.
§ Benji said that all of them actually pay attention to the comments on forums. The Menu’s cast and crew actually has a chat group where they would share feedback they saw with each other. With The Menu being the talk of the town recently, they’ve been chatting every day about the series.
· Benji said that even with his car accident, when other reporters came over to report on it, they ended up afterwards talking about The Menu for 2 hours. He said that a lot of people in the news media industry are able to relate to the series.
· Noel said that she’s been doing quite a few interviews lately and people have been telling her how similar her character is to people they know.
§ They talked a little bit about how the scriptwriter should get credit for incorporating so many different unique characters in the series. Poon Man Hong said that it’s a joint effort, as a lot of times, inspiration for the characters come from real life. For example, Fai Ye’s character was based on one of her scriptwriter friends who truly had an odor whenever he walked by (LOL!). And Sister Lai Wan was also based on another scriptwriter who had similar personality traits.
- Since the interview took place the day before the final episode aired, the host was trying to get them to reveal a little bit about what to expect. Of course, the group refused to give away anything, but they did confirm that it won’t be one of those typical BBQ endings.
- They went back to reading netizens comments. One question was whether the relationship between chief editor (Alma) and director of the newspaper (Kwan Kung) is like that in real life.
o Poon Man Hong said that she did ask her friends in the news media about it. In real life, the newspaper director actually can call the shots at the end if he/she wanted to, but the chief editor is really the one executing things on a daily basis.
o Also, even though the director is higher position than chief editor, if a report comes out and anything goes wrong, the chief editor is the one held responsible – this is why the director usually doesn’t get involved in the publishing of the stories, since he/she is not the one ultimately held responsible.
- There has been a lot of positive feedback and good word of mouth since the series starting airing. Does it make you happy to realize that HK audiences actually DO know how to recognize and appreciate quality series?
o Poon Man Hong said that she doesn’t dare think that way…instead, she feels grateful.
o She said back when HKTV’s license was denied, they had just finished filming The Menu and it was in the post-production stage. As soon as the decision came through, they thought it meant the end of HKTV, so they wouldn’t even be able to finish post-production. They thought they would just have to finish up the editing really quickly and then sell the series overseas. They never thought they would get the chance to actually air the series in HK, so all the positive feedback and success of the series right now is a huge bonus for them.
o Poon Man Hong also said that it’s too arrogant to say that only people who know how to appreciate series will watch this series. She and the rest of the cast /crew are grateful towards each person who chooses to watch, whether they appreciate / like the series or not.
o Benji said that actually, the series is quite popular in Singapore and Malaysia too. For audiences who like to watch series, that habit isn’t going to change and nowadays there are options out there in the form of American series, Japanese, Korean, etc.. He used a food analogy to describe it (which I felt was quite fitting): if the cooking at home isn’t good, then people will eat outside or order take out elsewhere, but now that they were able to get a good chef to make good food at home, people will stay home to eat instead (great analogy!!).
- The group said that they will be gathering with the rest of the cast/crew tomorrow to watch the finale episode together. They booked a restaurant and invited the entire cast/crew as well as media people to come watch the finale and celebrate the series’ success with them.
- After filming this series, have their attitudes towards reporters changed?
o They all said that they’ve always had good relationships with reporters, but now they do have a better appreciation for their work and what goes on behind the scenes.
o There was feedback that Fong Ying’s character was very much in-line with how front-line reporters are. Every character was realistic and made it easier for viewers to be engaged. A lot of this also had to do with the real location filming (which has already been discussed to death pretty much).
- With the series being over tomorrow, it will probably be hard to part with each other. Any sad feelings?
o Samuel said that after they finished filming the series back in 2013, they already found it hard to separate from each other as a group.
o When the host asked what their feeling will be after watching the finale together tomorrow, they said they don’t really know. But they hope to get the chance to collaborate again.
o Benji said something that I totally agree with – he said that if after audiences watch a series, they are fervently looking forward to season 2 and wish to see the characters again, that’s already a sign that the series was successful and the artists already did what they set out to do.
o Noel said that she wants to continue filming in HK and she hopes to continue getting the chance to work with a production team that really has the heart for filming quality series.
- The host reiterated what Benji had said earlier – that as HK audiences, of course are first choice will be to watch HK series, as that is what we are most comfortable with, plus we don’t have to worry about subtitles and we can relate to the series more. Unfortunately though, the past couple years, we (HK audiences) have been ‘forced’ to watch non-HK series…
- For the last part of the interview, the group had some fun talking about the closeness of the cast and some funny stories of when they would go out to eat as a group (Noel said that they went out for buffet once and when Samuel saw her eat 2 lobsters, his mouth dropped open…haha).
- The interview ended with the host thanking the cast and crew of The Menu for giving HK audiences such a great series and also congratulating them on their success. The group wanted to thank HK audiences for all the support and for making the series a success.