Sunday, May 17, 2020

New ViuTV series: The Gutter (歎息橋)

I’m back! Well, at least for now. About a year and a half ago, I had stopped posting on this blog mostly because my life’s priorities at that time had changed to the point that I knew I would no longer have time to dedicate to this blog. It also didn’t help that, with the continued decline of the HK entertainment industry these past few years, I felt that writing about the industry started to become a huge waste of time. I felt like there were better ways to spend the limited leisure time that I have each day and consistently maintaining this blog just wasn’t worth the time.

So you must be thinking — if that’s the case, why did I decide to post again? The answer to that question is a bit complicated. First of all, nothing has changed in terms of my priorities — everything I stated above still stands and I definitely don’t intend on keeping this blog updated long-term. The reason why I decided to resurrect this blog temporarily is because I recently started watching HK series again and finally found one that is not only worthy of my time to actually watch, but also inspiring enough to spur me to write about it.

The series is called The Gutter (歎息橋), which is a production that just started airing on ViuTV this week. The Gutter reunites the creative team behind ViuTV’s earlier series Margaret and David: Green Bean — directors 25 (楊承恩) and Fat Ball (李紹波), award-winning scriptwriter Norris Wong (黃綺琳) — along with actors Bowie Lam (林保怡) and Catherine Chau (周家怡). This time around, Bowie has also taken up the role of producer for the series, so his involvement goes beyond that of lead actor.

As one of the few people who actually enjoyed and appreciated the Green Bean series (which, for those who never heard of it, was another non-mainstream HK series that realistically portrayed relationships and was based on the book series written by Nam Fong Mo Ting), I of course was excited when I heard, as far back as 2 years ago, that Bowie has plans to collaborate with 25 and Fat Ball again on a new series — so basically, this series has been on my radar for awhile.

Since I just started watching and am only on episode 3 (there are 15 episodes total), it will be awhile obviously before I’m in the position to write any type of review (if I decide to write a review that is — I’m still thinking about it). But one thing I do intend on doing (hence the reason for resurrecting this blog) is to share my thoughts on the series as I watch it and also provide a platform for others who may also be watching this series to share their thoughts as well. 

Those of you who know me know that when become interested in a series, I don’t just “watch” the series — rather, I do my research and try to find out everything I can about the series, including reading / watching all the behind-the-scenes stuff about how the series was made, as it enhances my viewing experience (I do the same thing with books that I like....I spend a lot of time researching and reading up on stuff). With this series especially though, research is necessary because it’s not a typical “formulaic” HK series akin to the kind that TVB usually churns out. Instead, The Gutter is a series that requires those who watch to really pay attention, as there are a lot of nuances and nothing is clearly explained — the audience actually needs to think when they watch the series and reflect. According to Bowie (via various interviews he has done over the past week), this is a series that won’t be easily understood with only one viewing — I love the way he put it in his most recent interview for Mingpao Weekly: “If you are able to watch The Gutter only once and completely understand it, then you must be a genius!” Bowie said that he himself had to read the script twice in order for him to begin to understand the message the story is trying to convey.

My intention for this particular post is for it to be an “introduction” of sorts where I wanted to share some of the information I had gleaned while reading up on the series. I’m also sharing links to the 25 minute production special that gives a “making of” behind-the-scenes look at the series as well as interviews with cast and crew that give important insights into the series. I recommend watching those interviews and the production special before watching the series. 

Also, just a word of warning: in order to get the most out of the experience, you need to go into this series without any preconceived notions of what you typically see in traditional HK (specifically TVB) series — in other words, if you are used to watching TVB’s formulaic series and are looking for something similar, you’re not going to find it with this series. The Gutter is very much a character-driven story where the focus is on how each of the main characters evolve and become who they are later in life and how that shapes how each of them view certain events that happen in their lives. I personally love character-driven stories so this series is a perfect match for me, but I know not everyone feels the same way. Also, it has been made very clear in multiple interviews with the cast and crew that this is not a series that you can just turn on in the background and make dinner while watching, nor can you multi-task and do other things at the same time — in other words, this series makes the audience “work” for their reward, taking the position that the audience is intelligent enough to work out the meaning on their own and interpret as they see fit (as opposed to TVB’s series, which mostly takes the position that their audiences are either dumb or lazy or, at minimum, aren’t the type who want to think for themselves). If that’s not something you are up for at the moment (which is perfectly fine given we are in the middle of a pandemic and many people may not be in the mood), then I recommend putting off watching this until you’re ready.

For my thoughts on specific episodes, stay tuned to my blog, and subsequent posts will cover that. For now, here is some introductory info to note:

- First, the significance of the series’ title. The English title “The Gutter” comes from renowned poet and playwright Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play Lady Windermere’s Fan, which is about the events that unfold when the titular character (Lady Windermere), suspects that her husband is having an affair. The title comes from a quote in Act III of the play, where Lord Darlington (Lady Windermere’s friend) comments: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” [Reference:'s_Fan]

- The Chinese title 歎息橋 is literally translated as “Bridge of Sighs”, which is a real-life bridge located in Venice, Italy. Built in the 1600s, the bridge connected prison rooms to the government palace rooms where prisoners were interrogated. The bridge’s name refers to how “prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells.” [Reference:]

- The style of the series takes inspiration from Japanese director Akita Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon in that it applies “the Rashomon effect” to tell its story. defines the Rashomon effect as “an instance when the same event is described in significantly different (often contradictory) ways by different people who were involved.”

- Each episode is told from the point of view of each of the 6 main characters (Thomas, Sammy, Ken, Joyce, Catherine, and Kevin).

- The first 15 minutes or so of each episode is dedicated to telling the back story of each character through some of the events that occurred when they were young. The purpose of these scenes is to show how things that happen in our youth, the environment we were raised in, etc., influence the type of person we become later in life. 

- Part of the series was filmed on location in Belgium (the entire series was filmed in early 2019, so prior to the coronavirus outbreak).

- The cast of this series is one of the best I’ve seen in years! From veterans to newbies, the cast is star-studded and from the few episodes I’ve watched so far, the acting is excellent! Even if you’re not keen on the story, I would suggest watching this for the cast alone.

Here’s a brief rundown of the main 6 characters and the actors who portray them: 

- Thomas (李子勇) is played by Bowie Lam (林保怡), younger version is played by Kelvin Chan (陳健朗)

- Sammy (方小薇) is played by Catherine Chau (周家怡), younger version played by Hedwig Tam (談善言)

- Joyce (何樂兒) is played by Michelle Wai (衛詩雅), younger version played by Renci Yeung (楊偲泳)

- Ken (胡啟源) is played by Hanjin Tan (陳奐仁), younger version played by Himmy Wong (黃定謙)

- Catherine (梁淑媛) is played by Christine Ng (伍詠薇), younger version played by Leila Tong (唐寧)

- Kevin (鍾家俊) is played by Kaki Sham (岑珈其)

Other supporting characters also important to the story are:

- Lau Siu Ming (劉兆銘) who plays Thomas’s father 李文滔 , younger version is played by Samuel Kwok (郭鋒)

- Paul Chun (秦沛) plays Joyce’s father 何永昌 , younger version played by Wilson Tsui (艾威)

- Poon Chan Leung (潘燦良) plays Catherine’s husband Ryan 鍾懷安, younger version played by Ling Man Lung (凌文龍)

- Bonnie Wong (黃文慧) plays Ken’s mother 胡彩雲, younger version played by Luna Shaw (邵美君)

- Alan Luk (陸駿光) plays Sammy’s boyfriend 黎銘南, younger version played by Yatho Wong (黃溢濠)

- Angie Cheong (張慧儀) plays Thomas’s mother, who dies early on (not a spoiler since it’s in the summary) 

Here’s a quick translation of the summary that is in the Wikipedia page for the series (though please note that the summary is very incomplete....I translated what was there but there is way more to the story than that): 

Summary: 李子勇 Thomas (林保怡/陳健朗飾) 出生貧窮,年輕時為了賺取母親的醫藥費,拼命打工賺錢,認識了同在茶餐廳打工的少女 方小薇 Sammy (周家怡/談善言飾),自此成了好朋友。母親離世後,Thomas開了一間餐應,生意不俗,與 好友兼拍檔 Sammy 一起打拼。一天,Thomas 重遇在比利時結識的 何樂兒 Joyce (衛詩雅/楊偲泳飾)。二人一拍即合,很快便走在一起,但種種跡象均顯示 Joyce 似對 Thomas 不忠。Thomas 決定要當場拆穿她,卻沒料到自己才是第三者。原來 Joyce 與 胡啟源 Ken (陳奐仁/黃定謙飾) 已拍拖八年,當意識到到 Ken 似乎沒有求婚的打算時,Joyce 決定與有主見、有見識的 Thomas 開始另一段新感情。Thomas 知道自己莫名奇妙地做了 Joyce 與 Ken 之間的第三者之後,識趣地離去,本來不想再介入二人的關係…

Translation: In order to raise money to pay his mother’s medical expenses, Thomas Lee, who grew up poor, takes up a job at a cafe, where he meets Sammy Fong, also a worker there. The two of them become close friends into adulthood. After the death of his mother, Thomas teams up with Sammy to open a restaurant, which does good business. One day, Thomas is reunited with with Joyce Ho, a girl he met many years ago when he was working as a poor artist in Belgium. The two of them hit it off immediately and begin dating. Soon however, Thomas starts to notice things that suggest Joyce has perhaps been unfaithful to him. When Thomas decides to confront Joyce, he makes the discovery that all along, he has actually been the third wheel in Joyce’s relationship with her boyfriend Ken. Joyce and Ken had actually been dating for 8 years, but when she gets the feeling that Ken has no intentions of marrying her, their relationship hits a snag. When Joyce sees Thomas again, she is attracted to his ambitious and hardworking nature and decides to enter a relationship with him. After Thomas finds out that Joyce is still seeing Ken, he no longer wants to come between them, so he breaks things off with her....

Behind-the-scenes production special feature:

Cast and Crew Interviews:

Monday, December 3, 2018

SCMP Article: Hong Kong film: from ‘Hollywood of East’ to China’s supporting cast?

After months of not posting anything (mainly because I've been super busy and haven't had time), I am finally back with an article I came across in my reading today that I wanted to share with you all.  I like this article because it provides keen insight into how the Hong Kong entertainment industry has evolved over the years and the impact that Mainland China has had on that evolution (or "de-evolution" depending on which way you look at it).  This article is lengthier than most of the other articles that SCMP puts out, but not long to the point of being a tedious read, as the amount of detail is sufficient to get the main points across.  I especially recommend this article to those who may not be familiar with the HK entertainment industry back in its glory days (the late 1970s, entire 1980s, and early 1990s), as the historical context gives a good glimpse into the past and also puts the current state of the industry into perspective.

Note that I only included the text of the article in this post, as I always have problems trying to get pictures to come out right when I do these blog posts via mobile.  Therefore, I highly recommend just going to SCMP's website and reading the article there so you can see the pictures that originally accompanied the article (there's a video clip too!).  The link is included above (in the "Source" section).

Hope you enjoy this one (I sure did…but then again, with the deplorable state of the industry currently, I've been in a nostalgic mood for a while now so articles like this – as long as they are done right – are usually nice reads for me).  Feel free to post your thoughts about the article below!

** Sidenote:  My apologies for not keeping up with this blog!  It's been a rough few months for me from a time management perspective and in weighing my priorities, unfortunately some things had to give.  With all that said, I'm not sure when I will next have time to post, but most likely I'll try to squeeze one more post in before the end of the year (I may do one about the TVB Anniversary Awards – depends on whether they piss me off enough to make me want to hop on my blog and rant about it until it's out of my system, lol).


Article published November 30, 2018

Hong Kong film: from 'Hollywood of East' to China's supporting cast?

Source: SCMP

The past 40 years of reform and opening up in China have not only been about massive investments, infrastructure projects and turning the country into the world's second largest economy. The years of the Cultural Revolution left mainlanders with little to watch on television and at the movies other than propaganda. As China opened up, Hong Kong television dramas and movies offered a glimpse of the outside world, city life and of what China's big changes might bring.

When the mainland was ready to grow its own television and movie industry, Hong Kong producers and filmmakers played a crucial role, but the tables soon turned on the "Hollywood of the East". 

Today, mainland Chinese television serials and movies are immensely popular in Hong Kong, and dominate in terms of output, viewership, and box office receipts.

On a single Sunday in August this year, an episode of mainland Chinese television hit The Story of Yanxi Palace clocked up 530 million views online, setting a record.

Packed with drama, betrayal and intrigue, the 70-episode period drama won over audiences not only on the mainland, but also in Hong Kong, where it is 2018's most popular drama aired by Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), the city's largest television broadcaster.

Costing 300 million yuan (HK$338 million) to produce, the series is about a maid who goes to work in the imperial palace to investigate her sister's death and ends up a concubine of Emperor Qianlong.

Its huge success epitomises a major shift in the television and moviemaking scene over the past 40 years of China's economic reforms and opening up.

Where mainland audiences once lapped up made-in-Hong Kong serials and movies, mainland productions now dominate in output, box office takings and viewership, including online.

There is occasional tension and controversy over red lines – political taboos and censorship – as the mainland government has become more assertive.

And where once the themes and plots were scrutinised, today the political beliefs and public actions of artists can become the issue, and some are made to pay the price.

For the Hong Kong entertainment industry, the big question is whether future success lies in integrating with the mainland, or staying distinct.

Recalling the glory days, Hong Kong cinema veteran Tenky Tin Kai-man said: "We were the Hollywood of the East. A large number of talented individuals gathered in such a small place, competing with the finest, and selling to markets across Asia."

The actor and producer, who heads the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers, was a teenager when he joined the industry in 1979. Now 56, he said he felt lucky to have been part of the golden era of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Between 1979 and 1999, Hong Kong made an average of 133 movies annually, peaking at 200 a year in 1992 and 1993. Meanwhile on the mainland, fewer than 100 movies were made each year in the 1980s and the cinema industry even declined in the 1990s when television prevailed.

Dr Lo Wai-luk, a Baptist University associate professor specialising in the history of Chinese cinema, recalled that in 1983, the Jet Li martial arts movie The Shaolin Temple was watched by 50 million people on the mainland.

It was one of the few distributed widely in mainland cinemas in the 1980s because it was produced by state-funded Chung Yuen Motion Picture.

Many other Hong Kong titles by independent companies such as Cinema City and Golden Harvest, including those starring comedian Stephen Chow Sing-chi, circulated by videotape.

"Can you imagine people in Xinjiang gathering to watch a Stephen Chow movie by playing a shared tape?" Lo said.

Hong Kong movies had an appeal because of the mainland's restrictions on the themes, plots and characters in movies made there.

Tin said: "Hong Kong could produce plots that mainland producers dared not make, for example, about cops committing crimes and officials being under fire."

By the mid 1970s, the city's three television stations were churning out drama series more than 100 episodes long, whereas on the mainland, the Cultural Revolution had not yet ended and it was still years before the earliest television series would be produced.

Through the 1980s and the 1990s, a wave of dramas from Hong Kong swept across the mainland.

Actress and emcee Liza Wang Ming-chun, a Hong Kong television veteran of more than 50 years, remembered being invited to Guangzhou for her first live stage show there in 1979.

"There weren't many private cars. The bridge across the Pearl River was full of bicycles during rush hour. And the people there were dressed in black, white, grey and blue – very modest in general," said Wang, now 71.

"I could see their envy as they stared at us, the stars from Hong Kong."

Rediffusion Television's The Legendary Fok was the first Hong Kong drama imported and shown on the mainland, in 1983, two years after it was aired locally.

The hero, patriotic martial arts master Fok Yuen-kap, or Huo Yuanjia in Mandarin, was so popular that the 20-episode series was eventually broadcast across the country and even at prime time by state broadcaster CCTV.

Drama serials adapted from the martial arts novels of the late Louis Cha Leung-yung followed, including The Legend of the Condor Heroes and The Duke of Mount Deer. Stars such as Felix Wong Yat-wah, Barbara Yung Mei-ling, Michael Miu Kiu-wai, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Andy Lau Tak-wah soon became household names on the mainland.

A defining moment for the popularity of Hong Kong productions arrived with The Bund, starring superstar Chow Yun-fat and former beauty queen Angie Chiu Nga-chi in a sprawling tragic romance that has been dubbed "The Godfather of the East". Its Cantonese theme song remains popular to this day among the mainland's Mandarin-speaking audience.

"Hong Kong stood for novelty, affluence, fashion and opportunities for mainland audiences coming  out of decades of isolation," said Zhu Ying, a Chinese television culture studies professor at Baptist University's film academy.

"Hong Kong dramas provided a window for mainland audiences to peek at the outside world."

Lo said Hong Kong movies made in the 1980s by a new wave of independent production companies and featuring more outdoor, real-life locations, had the same impact.

"Audiences on the mainland now could really see the city – for example, the shopping mall in Taikoo Shing where Jackie Chan was chasing after thieves in The Police Story series – as well as modern transport, the urban way of dressing, and business situations such as board meetings," Lo said.

All these images of Hong Kong city life gave mainland film-goers, long fed anticapitalist propaganda, a glimpse of things to come in China. The "capitalist poison" label previously stuck on these movies was gradually removed.

"People on the mainland realised that outside the mainland there was a place with its own cultural system called Hong Kong, where they could find things not available at home," Lo said.

But then the mainland began encouraging its own television and movie industry, and Hong Kong helped by supplying capital, professionals and know-how.

Wang said: "We made really big contributions to the mainland at the early stage of the reform and opening up process, bringing them techniques, art directors, machines, operational models and professional crews, because we knew much more than them.

"They didn't stop at purchasing copyright. They would hire the whole team behind a programme to run the show till they grasped every bit of the craft."

'Economic power confers cultural status'

The reversal of fortunes started in the 1990s, when new television stations mushroomed on the mainland, programme production boomed, and the country welcomed private and overseas capital for joint productions.

Mainland audiences soon had much more choice. There were still programmes about the Communist Party's revolutionary history and ancient literary classics, but popular new shows such as The Aspiration and A Native of Beijing in New York showcased themes of migration and entrepreneurship.

Perhaps the last major Hong Kong drama serial to be a hit on the mainland was War And Beauty, a 30-episode TVB period production about four warring concubines of Emperor Jiaqing in the Qing dynasty.

The 2004 series was aired on the mainland two years later and is believed to have inspired a hugely popular new wave of period productions about palace intrigue and infighting.

In 2011, there were at least eight such series made on the mainland, including the 76-episode Empresses in the Palace, which drew so much attention that Hong Kong's Cable TV picked it up to broadcast in 2012.

By 2007, mainland China had become the world's largest producer of drama serials, cranking out 15,000 episodes every year.

Output was so massive that traditional television channels could not keep up, and by 2013, the internet had become a major platform. The following year 250 series with a total of 2,918 episodes were made by or for online streaming portals.

Over in Hong Kong today, all three free-to-air broadcasters are relying increasingly on dramas imported from the mainland and South Korea.

"Things have changed now that the mainland has acquired its own level of chic and fashion and technique in producing its own sophisticated dramas," said Zhu of Baptist University. "The mainland has aggressively rebranded itself as the new land of opportunity. Economic power confers cultural  status."

Over the past decade, a number of popular mainland dramas have been directed or co-directed by Hong Kong directors.

"The mainland has a lot of space, talent and capital," Liza Wang said, pointing out that the sprawling Hengdian studio complex in Zhejiang province had full-size replicas of ancient palaces for period dramas, something space-starved Hong Kong could not provide.

The mainland pays better too. "Some artists can earn several hundred thousand yuan by singing a few songs. This is unimaginable in Hong Kong," Wang added.

Walking the tightrope of censorship

The Hong Kong movie industry has noted the talent drain, Tin said.

"The mainland market has yet to reach its peak," he said, adding that the big money was not only for stars but also backstage crews, with strong support for the cultural industry from local governments.

Last year the mainland's total box office takings reached a record of 55.9 billion yuan, almost 3.5 times that in Hong Kong.

But access to the mainland market has been difficult for Hong Kong productions, because China sets a quota of 64 to 74 imported movies per year.

However, joint productions offer the city's moviemakers a way in. An agreement treats movies co-produced by companies from the two sides as domestic productions and gives Hong Kong producers 35 per cent of ticket revenue, instead of just 15 per cent. The agreement was part of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) signed between the mainland Chinese and Hong Kong governments in October 2003 to boost the city's economy, when it was struggling to recover from a downturn following the Sars epidemic that year.

Over the past 15 years, the proportion of joint productions leapt from about 15 per cent to over 60 per cent of all Hong Kong output. Three of the top 10 movie blockbusters on the mainland were joint productions, which earned between 2.44 billion yuan and 3.65 billion yuan.

But the issues of taboo subjects and censorship remain.

"Red lines have always existed," Tin said. "We don't know where they exactly are, or when and against whom they will be used.

He said many movies had not managed to clear mainland censors over the years, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

The result, he said, was that some Hong Kong producers adopted self-censorship, while others planted a few scenes they hoped the nitpicking censors would snip quickly and clear the rest of the movie.

When the authorities are displeased, their wrath is plain.

Taiwanese artists who openly supported students taking part in the "sunflower movement" protests against a services trade deal with the mainland in 2014 were severely criticised by state-owned media on the mainland as "smashing the rice pot they eat from".

Punishment may range from a torrent of online bashing, to having contracts cancelled, a heavy reduction of screen time, or outright bans on performing on the mainland.

Singer-songwriter Anpu, award-winning director Wei Te-sheng, television host Kevin Tsai Kang-yung, and actor Leon Dai Li-jen have all paid a price.

Several Hong Kong artists met the same fate for supporting civil disobedience protesters in the Occupy movement, which shut down several business areas for 79 days in 2014.

They included singers Anthony Wong Yiu-ming and Denise Ho Wan-sze, who participated in the protests, and actors Chapman To Man-chat and Anthony Wong Chau-sang, who defended the demonstrators and criticised authorities.

Hong Kong film with Chinese characteristics?

Hong Kong comedian Wong Cho-lam, who has been active on the mainland since 2010 and set up his own studio there two years ago, said: "Nowadays contracts stipulate that if an artist or director causes damage to the production as a result of personal ethics, a criminal offence or political stance, the person will be liable."

Wong, who sits on the political advisory body to the Guangxi government, was frank about pressure on cross-border artists.

"Some Hongkongers might put me under fire when I say I am a patriot, but if I refrain from saying so, some patriotic audiences might put me under fire," he said.

Wong said he did not believe in joint productions as a way to keep Hong Kong's movie industry thriving.

"I would rather make a movie either catering to the mainland, or in the Hong Kong style," he said. "Why don't we make something with a genuine taste and character of Hong Kong and introduce it to the mainland audience?"

Lo of Baptist University did not think joint productions would destroy the flavour of Hong Kong movies.

"Project Gutenberg was loved by mainland audiences," Lo said, referring to a film released in October.

Made with investments and stars from Hong Kong and the mainland, the movie had Hong Kong scriptwriting and directing. Lo did not think the story about a frustrated painter who becomes a master banknote counterfeiter could have come out of the mainland or Taiwan.

"Hong Kong movies must find their own ethos," Lo said. "Hong Kong movies do not have to seek distribution on the mainland if they can manage the budget and attract local audiences."

Tin thought Hong Kong artists should continue working to remove the negative labels on their peers who have run foul of mainland authorities.

"To isolate or ground someone who is found politically incorrect will cause a chilling effect, which is unhealthy," Tin said.

"To some extent, Hong Kong movies have lost their charm because we agreed to compromise our professional judgment and expertise."

Liza Wang believed Hong Kong's younger talent in television and movies had a land of opportunity in the "Greater Bay Area", which has close to 70 million people who understand Cantonese.

Beijing's vision is to connect Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province and create an innovation and technology powerhouse to rival California's Silicon Valley.

"There are so many people there who can understand our language and enjoy our work," Wang said. 

"And the market size is not as huge as the whole mainland so it should be suitable for young talent to get some exercise."

In March, Wang, kung fu star Jackie Chan and veteran comedian Eric Tsang Chi-wai were involved in forming a committee to help Hong Kong artists make their way into the mainland.

While Wang said she respected those who held firm to their political beliefs, she also said: "If you want to tap into a certain market, you must think twice about whether you should test the rules there."

 Additional reporting by Jane Zhang

Monday, August 27, 2018

MUST READ: TVB CEO Mark Lee details upcoming changes and development plans

Source: Hong Kong Economic Journal

TVB CEO Mark Lee did an interview with the Hong Kong Economic Journal yesterday where he talks about additional changes that will be happening at the station in the coming months.  In the interests of time, I'm not going to translate the entire article (there is a summarized version on HKEJ's website, which I've linked to above), however here are some main points from the article that are important to know.

Before I list out the main points though, need to preface with this -- several months ago, TVB already announced their intention to switch to becoming a multimedia digital platform, as they recognize that the way audiences consume their entertainment nowadays has changed significantly due to all the advancements in technology.  TVB feels that their previous business model is no longer viable in today's world and so they need to adapt to the changing times.  Of course, this is not something that will happen overnight, so TVB has been taking gradual steps over the past year with the goal of transitioning completely in the near future.  To this point, Mark Lee had actually done an interview several months prior where he had hinted at some of their plans, but at that time, he wasn't very specific on what exactly those plans would entail….with this interview, he lays it all out…

-  Currently, TVB is about two-thirds of the way done with their "digital transformation" plan and estimate that they will need another year or so to finish the remaining one-third.  They are estimating that they should be 100% up and running by the year 2020. 

-  In restructuring the company, there are 4 main areas of focus that will drive TVB's new direction:  increase revenue from advertising, control expenses through proper utilization of investments, increase the number of co-productions with other companies, expand Big Big Channel and other internet-related revenue streams (more detail on each of these aspects below).

-  Staffing – by the end of the year, the plan is to reduce 5% of current staff.  

  •   Total staffing right now is 3900 employees, so reducing by 5% means that approximately 200 staff will lose their jobs by the end of the year.
  •  This reduction is in addition to the changes they already made earlier in the year.  Here's how the numbers break down:
    • Looking at TVB's past annual reports, the number of full-time staff they employ is usually around 4000 or so – this includes all contracted staff in HK as well as overseas (meaning outside of HK – basically wherever TVB has a presence).  
    • As of June 2018, total staff count was 4333 – however after closing down the sports/athletic department and laying off staff from the international arm (TVBI) last month, total staff count as of right now is approximately 3900 people.  
    • If we take the reduction in staff that was made previously (reduction from 4333 to 3900), that's approximately 10% reduction in staff (rough estimate about 430 people)….couple that with the 5% reduction (estimate 200 people) by the end of the year, that would mean that this year alone, TVB would've laid off / fired 15% of their staff, which is obviously A LOT!  I hope those 630 people will be able to find work elsewhere!

-  As part of re-evaluating which areas they will be spending their money, it was determined that they are going to invest more resources (financial and otherwise) into their OTT platform, which includes expanding myTV Super and also increasing their footprint in other markets.

  • The money that was previously spent on their "traditional TV channels" (HK free-to-air channels such as Jade, Pearl, etc.) will be significantly reduced.
  • As announced earlier, there will be a gradual increase in co-produced series (Mark Lee didn't specify "who" they would be co-producing with but given TVB's recent direction in shifting to the Mainland market, the assumption is that the co-productions will be with Mainland production companies or streaming platforms).  In 2019, they plan on having 4 co-produced series and in 2020, they will increase that number to 6 series.
  • The co-productions will utilize more on-location filming (meaning outside of HK) as well as real location filming (no longer limited to filming only inside TVB City).
  • Since majority of filming will be done on location, there will be less need for filming inside their massive Tseung Kwan O facility, so they will be shutting down some of the studios within TVB City and in turn, either transferring the staff from those studios to different positions or getting rid of the positions altogether.
  • In terms of myTV Super, they will be switching to an On Demand format.  So instead of what they have now, where programming is arranged to air at a certain time, all channels will be replaced by On Demand service whereby the user can pick and choose what to watch and when to watch it.  This will help them further reduce their expenses by not needing to have their staff arrange programming, decide on scheduling and content, etc.
  • For overseas viewers, current format will be gradually replaced by TVB Anywhere (their OTT service outside of HK), which also means that whatever events were associated with overseas platform will also be reduced.  [It's a bit vague but the "events" they are referring to are things such as award ceremonies – hence their announcement earlier this year that they're cancelling this year's Astro Awards (in Malaysia) and Starhub Awards (in Singapore) – for those who were wondering, it sounds like based on the above, these cancellations will be permanent!].
  • The print edition of TVB Weekly Magazine will be discontinued.  Instead, they will switch to an on-line version, though no guarantees that the content will be the same.  This will help them save on printing and distribution costs.

-  Mark Lee emphasized that TVB is merely "changing with the times" and that these changes aren't being done haphazardly.  He said that their mantra is basically – "reduce where necessary, increase where necessary."  He said that despite the reduction in staff this year, they have actually hired more staff over the past years in areas that count, such as in the scriptwriting department, sales and finance, etc.

-  Increase revenue from ads

  • TVB's main source of revenue is (and always has been) advertising – which currently accounts for approximately 57% of their revenue. 
  • Mark Lee claims that the ad market for the first half of the year was "dismal" as there was only a minor increase of 2% revenue.  He said that many businesses were hesitant to place ads due to the retail market in HK not doing too well (most of their ad revenue the first half of the year came from businesses mostly specializing in beauty products, medicine, health and wellness options, etc.)
  • Mark Lee said that he is confident they will see more of an uptick in advertising in the second half of the year, since that is traditionally the "peak period" for advertisers to get their products out there due to all the holidays and such.  Also, TVB will be increasing the number of anniversary series this year from 2 series to 3 series, which means there will be additional opportunities for businesses to buy advertising during those "prime" timeslots.
  • Many companies are placing more emphasis on "new media" (i.e. web series, online streaming, etc.) nowadays due to the ease of getting content out to a wider audience in a quicker manner, plus there are fewer restrictions than with traditional media.  To this point, Mark Lee said that the advertising ratio of "new media" versus "traditional television" has reached 1:9 for the first time (meaning for every 1 ad placed on their internet platform, they would need 9 ads placed on traditional TV platform in order to make the same amount of money).  To this point, their goal is to increase the number by 2% by 2020. 
  • The first half of the year, advertising on myTV Super increased by a whopping 76%, which allowed them to turn a profit (where they were "in the red" previously), bringing in $85 million additional revenue for them.
  • In terms of OTT format, there is a huge difference between using the app and using set-top boxes to watch their content – the former (the app) is based on how long audiences watch the content for while the latter (set top box) is based on balancing advertising with subscription fees.  Mark Lee cited the following statistics:  starting first week in July, there was an average of 1.26 million audiences streaming their content each week, with each audience member watching on average for 16 hours – if they are able to increase this by 3% each year, those are more than solid numbers to attract advertising.

-   In terms of Big Big Channel, there are plans to expand it beyond a platform where audiences can interact with TVB artists.  Earlier this year, TVB already launched Big Big Shop, which is their e-commerce platform for consumers to buy regular products as well as TVB-related stuff (similar concept to what HKTV did with HKTVmall).  In the near future, they are thinking of expanding to include online games and competitions as well as other "value-added" services.

** Note:  In case you guys are wondering why there are so many "numbers" and "calculations" in this article – well, Mark Lee used to be (and I think still is now) an Accountant – and supposedly a mighty good one at that – so it's no surprise that he's always bringing up numbers and bottom line and revenue, etc.  Based on my personal experience (20+ years working with accountants at the companies I've been a part of), I find most of them are rigid and don't usually consider any circumstances outside of the numbers at hand (they are basically the anti-thesis of customer service).  When customers are late in paying their bills for instance, the accounting people I've worked with our pretty relentless in chasing down the money regardless of the circumstances, even if it means foregoing the relationship with the customer (in other words, they don't care if you offend the customer or if that customer will no longer be a customer because you you're unwilling to work with them or at least give them a little more time to pay or whatnot, they want the money regardless of the outcome).  In that light, not sure if TVB having an Accountant at its helm calling all the shots is a good thing or not….

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mingpao Weekly Interview: Sheren Tang on reprimanding TVB: “The deeper the love, the stronger the criticism”

As a follow up to my post from last week about Sheren Tang and Sunny Chan filming a series for ViuTV, I saw the below interview in this week's issue of Mingpao Weekly magazine and absolutely had to translate and share it right away!  MP printed a condensed version of this interview in their regular entertainment news section so in case you see parts of this interview elsewhere, know that the below is the actual full version as originally printed.

Sheren's interview speaks for itself but I have to say that I absolutely love the way she responded to all those media reports about her "betraying" TVB by filming for ViuTV (quite honestly, those reports pissed me off too so I'm happy to see Sheren putting those stupid media outlets in their place, lol!).  Also love what she said about the importance of speaking up when there are issues and not pretending that everything is fine when it's actually not.  And yes, when I read the part where Sheren gave her 愛之深,責之切 speech, I actually got out of my chair and did a happy dance because everything she said is EXACTLY what I've been saying about TVB for like the past 2 decades.  I'm sure those who follow my blog or any of my postings in other forums know how much I'm always criticizing TVB and calling them out on stuff (in my line of work, I call that type of feedback "constructive criticism") -- I've been asked many times whether I keep criticizing TVB because I hate them so much that I can't saying anything nice about them (which technically isn't true because I DO say nice things when it's appropriate, it's just that those "appropriate" times are few and far between -- hey, it's not my fault that TVB rarely does anything that warrants praise).  In response, I always give people my "constructive criticism" speech, which is essentially the same as Sheren's  愛之深,責之切 speech -- if I didn't care about TVB (and the HK entertainment industry in general), I wouldn't bother to give them feedback on what they're doing wrong in the hopes that they'll change it for the better.  One thing that my boss at work told me a long time ago that has always stuck with me is that the more someone cares about something/someone, the more critical they are going to be because they don't want to see that something/someone fail.  Of course, the way the criticism is given is important as well, but the gist of the message is that just because someone is critical of something (or someone else) doesn't necessarily mean that the person has malicious intent or is out to get the other person or whatnot -- there is such a thing as "constructive criticism" and hopefully those who believe that all criticism is bad can perhaps research this term and better understand what criticism is truly about.

Anyway, enjoy the interview and be sure to leave any comments / reactions you might have to it in the comments section below.  


Sheren Tang on reprimanding TVB:  “The deeper the love, the stronger the criticism”

Source:  Mingpao Weekly, Issue # 2595
Published 8/4/2018

Translated by: llwy12


ViuTV has been recruiting heavily in recent days, securing veteran artists such as Amy Chan (陳秀雯) and Liu Kai Chi (廖啟智) to film a new series for them about HK’s school system. Their most successful recruitment recently though is persuading TV Queen Sheren Tang (鄧萃雯) to film a series for them — she will be teaming up with actor Sunny Chan (陳錦鴻) in a new series where they will play a married couple.  At the end of last year, when golden scriptwriter Chan Po Wah (陳寳華) returned to TVB with the intention of producing the new series Wonder Women (多功能老婆) for them, she had indicated that good friend Sheren Tang would be perfect in the role — however in the end, the role went to singer/actress Miriam Yeung (楊千嬅) instead. Now, after several months, Sheren personally clarifies what happened with that situation and why a previously rumored return to TVB ended up being a collaboration with ViuTV instead. 


Every time Sheren Tang is rumored to have a television project forthcoming, it’s usually a given that audiences excitedly anticipate her new series.  Last year, when scriptwriter Chan Po Wah announced she would be returning to TVB in early 2018 to prepare for a new series, she had expressed interest in inviting actress Sheren Tang to take up the starring role. Immediately, TVB’s assistant manager of production (non-drama department) Sandy Yu as well as deputy general manager Felix To personally reached out to Sheren to discuss the possibility of her returning to TVB to film Po Wah Jeh’s series.  However, in the end, the role went to Miriam Yeung and instead of returning to TVB, it was recently announced that Sheren will now be filming for ViuTV.  As soon as the news broke, various media outlets started reporting that Sheren, in filming for a rival station, has turned against TVB.

Towards this, Sheren responds: “I actually never turned down [Po Wah Jeh’s series] Wonder Women. In fact, I’m very grateful to Po Wah Jeh for considering me as her first choice to star in her series when it was confirmed last year that she would be returning to TVB. Usually, when a project is still in the discussion stage and I haven’t made the decision to accept yet, I don’t like to talk about it publicly — at the time, the discussion was actually only in very early stages, but as Po Wah Jeh’s good friend, I knew that she really wanted me to support her.  This was the first time she would be returning after so many years and I also admired TVB’s sincerity in inviting her back — all of us shared the same goal in wanting to film a truly good quality series and the fact that they were willing to really focus on the production was already worth supporting.  So I agreed to do that interview in support of Po Wah Jeh [TN: THIS is the interview Sheren is referring to] with the hope that it would bring more attention to the project — besides, I love HK series and am more than willingly to support a good quality production!  At the time, my intention was actually very simple.  After that, I actually didn’t hear anything more about the project and there was no further follow up.  I’m sure they [TVB] have their reasons for choosing Miriam. I’m actually happy for them because to me, the most important thing is being able to produce a quality series so that audiences can see that HK series are worth watching.”

In terms of multiple media outlets reporting that she “betrayed” TVB by agreeing to film for ViuTV and once again bringing up her past gripes with her former employer, Sheren responded:  “Many artists came from TVB and whenever any of them leave, the media always makes them out to be ‘traitors’ — honestly, this type of mindset is so outdated!  In today’s internet-driven world, with people watching series online now and so many different options, the HK market is already so small, why are we fighting amongst ourselves?  Sure, in series I film, there is often a lot of infighting, but in real life, my sights are set pretty far — what is the point of [each station] competing so aggressively against each other?  Does it really prove that you’re the best if you beat other HK series? If it’s really necessary to fight, why not try to beat American, Japanese, Korean, Mainland series instead?  People keep saying that I’m always reprimanding TVB — in response, I really want to tell them: ‘the deeper the love, the stronger the criticism’ [愛之深,責之切]!  If I didn’t love HK series, love my profession, I wouldn’t be so adamant about giving feedback and hoping for improvement – I could just stand back and let things happen without bothering.  All I want is for my colleagues and the entire industry to do well, to be an industry we can be proud of.  Not saying that TVB is regressing, but rather, the film and television industries in the rest of the world are all progressing, moving way ahead of us [HK].  When this is something that everyone can see, how can I possibly close my eyes and continue to pretend that TVB series are perfect, that nothing is wrong?  When even the reporters start to sense that something is wrong and they come ask me for my opinion, as an artist with experience, I am simply stating the truth of what I feel and know. HK series used to be the ‘big brother’, the leader [in Asia], so many people grew up watching TVB – it is because I love TVB a lot that I dare to reprimand them.  Actually, in the past, when having dinner with TVB colleagues and a few of the execs were present, I would pull the execs aside and take the opportunity to tell them about the problems I’ve seen [within the company], but unfortunately that never seemed to do any good.  When the reporters discover the same issues and come ask me, I’m sorry but I’m not a 3 year old who can just pretend nothing is wrong and blindly go along with things, especially when I’ve also seen those issues with my own eyes.  Good acting can’t cover up things that are so obviously visible to the naked eye, such as crude stage sets for example,  [TN:  Sheren is referring to the time when she filmed TVB series No Regrets where she complained that the stage sets looked really fake and also were falling apart right before her eyes – it was a distraction for her when she was trying to film her scenes], also declining ratings, audiences complaining they can’t understand the series, etc. -- in this situation, I cannot just bury my conscience and say everything is fine.  When it gets to the point where even reprimanding them no longer works, then I try a different method, go elsewhere in efforts to prove to them that the advice I am trying to give them can result in successes.  I hope that people will stop slandering me – I am actually the one who loves TVB the most!”

Received complete script prior to filming

Those who invite Sheren to film for them know that she has quite strict requirements, so the fact that she is willing to film for ViuTV means that they must have passed muster.  Sheren explained her decision to film with ViuTV:  “Actually, there were a few reasons why I decided to collaborate with them – I was impressed by their sincerity for one and two, I was attracted by the freshness of the script.  The story revolves around relationships and at its core, it’s about dealing with the various feelings and emotions surrounding this. I like this story’s theme because it fits with my personality – I’m the type of person who feels things especially strongly and acutely.  The character I’ll be playing has her complexities, only a handful of people surround her, yet their relationships [to each other] are linked in countless ways.  I honestly feel that playing characters in palace series, period pieces, even playing strong career women roles, is really not that difficult because at the end of the day, most audiences don’t really know what it is truly like.  Playing an ordinary person dealing with the complexities of marriage, that type of role is challenging because it’s so universal – you have to be very meticulous and careful with your performance in order to make your character resonate with audiences.  The other important piece to this is my physical ability to perform – for me, I need to have sufficient rest and sleep in order to be at my best performance level.  I’ve told you guys in the past that nowadays it’s impossible for me to work long hours day and night without sleep or rest and still be able to give a good performance.  With everything being high definition nowadays, I want the result that audiences see on-screen to be me at my prettiest and most alert, which is why it’s so important for me to get enough rest and sleep.  Also, my other requirement is that I must receive the entire script prior to starting filming – this is something that I refuse to compromise.  The reason for this is because if I don’t have the complete script, it’s impossible for me to fully understand and digest my character and figure out the best way to portray her.  I need sufficient time to prepare and study my character in depth and if I’m not given that time, it directly affects the quality of my performance.  In order to make a truly good series that is able to compete with the outside world, every position at every level is important and no detail can be overlooked.  We have to admit that the market in HK, as compared with the Mainland, is indeed very small, but that doesn’t mean we’re incapable of producing quality dramas that people can respect and approve of.  In order to make this happen, all of us need to play our part and put in the extra effort as well as take the production seriously.”

Since filming for ViuTV’s new series doesn’t start until September, Sheren is spending this next month preparing for her role.  “The producer Ruby [TN: book series “Margaret & David” author 南方舞廳] actually approached me about working with her around the same time that Po Wah Jeh did.  When it comes to production companies that approach me for collaboration, I don’t play favorites – if they are not able to meet my requirements, then I turn them down, it doesn’t matter who they are.  With Ruby and ViuTV, I told them that I must have the complete script in my hands before I agree to film and they were actually able to deliver – I received the entire script more than a month ahead of when filming is scheduled to start!  They told me that even if I didn’t request to have the completed script before filming, they would still do so anyway because they need time to prepare as well – we all have the same goal of wanting to put forth our best work.  Of course, the end result is not something we are able to control, but if a lot of people end up praising the series, that will be a reflection of the entire cast and crew’s efforts.  Our entertainment industry plays an important role in maintaining HK’s reputation.”

Monday, July 30, 2018

Breaking News: Sheren Tang, Sunny Chan, and Amy Chan to film new series for ViuTV

Saw this article and got super excited so figured I post now and elaborate later, lol.

Basically, I just found out that two of my favorite television actors/actresses – Sunny Chan and Sheren Tang – will be filming a new series for ViuTV.  The series will be produced by   南方舞廳   (whom most people may recognize as the name of the author who wrote the Margaret and David books, the entire franchise of which was turned into a series by ViuTV that aired over the past 2 or so years). 

Sheren and Sunny will play a married couple and the theme of the series will be about older couple relationships (kind of in the same vein as M&D, which was also about relationships except the central couple was younger).  I'm excited (first time I've felt excited for a series in a long time), since Sheren and Sunny are 2 of my favorite actors/actresses,  it's been a long time since I've seen them onscreen, the pairing is fresh (trying to remember but I don't think the two of them have collaborated before), and the theme / plot will be more relevant to society as well as different from typical HK series (no more TVB recycled formula – yay!).

According to the producer, Sheren's only requirement was that she receive the entire script in hand before commencing filming and they've already delivered on that!  Now it makes sense why Sheren didn’t take up the offer to film that new Chan Bo Wah series from TVB...they probably couldn’t meet whatever demands she had.

In related news, veteran actress Amy Chan Sau Man (another actress I like) will also be filming a series for ViuTV but not the same one as Sheren and Sunny.  Wow, ViuTV is really hitting it into the park with the veterans this year – after reuniting “Greed of Man” father and son Adam Cheng and Michael Tao in the Detective Psycho Prequel earlier in the month, now they're bringing on veterans that many of us have been waiting a long time to see again.  Hope they keep this up!!  I for one will definitely be keeping an eye out for their upcoming series!

More to come on this!!!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Fox Asia’s “The Trading Floor” to premiere on May 24th

Saw this article yesterday about Fox Asia's highly anticipated first Chinese-language series, "The Trading Floor."  Many of us were wondering when this series will air and the last I had heard several months back was Spring 2018….well, yesterday they finally announced that the series will officially premiere on Fox's Chinese language channel on May 24th.

Below are some of the highlights from the article (will translate in more detail when I have time but for those who can read Chinese, I suggest checking out the original article itself).

-          Chinese name of the series changed from  香港華爾街   to 東方華爾街
-          Producer for the series is Andy Lau
-          Director is KK Wong (he was the director/producer for HKTV's "The Election")
-          Cast features ensemble of actors/actresses from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China
-          Partial cast includes:  Francis Ng, Joseph Chang, Patrick Tam, Maggie Cheung, Liu Kai Chi, Poon Chan Leung, Law Kar Ying, Cheung Lui, Carlos Chan, Jacky Cai, Fish Liew, etc.
-          Season 1 will be 5 episodes
-          Story is about the finance sector in Asia and the changes that it goes through over a 20 year time period.  Francis plays a finance expert who will do everything he can to climb to the top and become finance boss – throughout the process, he will face off against his apprentice student Joseph Chang

There is a trailer included in the article, which I haven't had a chance to watch yet so I'm not sure if it's the same one as previously released.  The 2 posters are new though and both versions (which have been dubbed "Cash 1.0" and "Cash 2.0" by the director) look AWESOME!

I honestly can't wait to watch this series!

Link to article:即時娛樂/186166/東方華爾街-吳鎮宇張孝全師徒決裂-記錄亞洲金融戰場20年

Sunday, May 6, 2018

CRHK Radio Interview with Ricky Wong -- PART 2 (END)

Here's part 2 of the interview that Ricky Wong did with CRHK back on 3/29.  Before reading this post, please go back and read my post recapping PART 1 first -- you can read it here.

Again, enjoy and feel free to comment below! :-)


CRHK radio program:
On A Clear Day (在晴朗的一天出發)
Hosts:  Stephen Chan (陳志雲), Chan Chong (陳聰), Yeung Lok San (楊樂笙)
Guest:  Ricky Wong (王維)


-          Continuing interview with Ricky Wong…

-          One of the hosts started off by saying that this 8 year process of applying for a free-to-air license has officially come to an end, but is it truly over?  The host asked now that it’s official, looking back, what, in Ricky Wong’s opinion, is the reason why HKTV was not able to get its license?

o   Ricky said that he actually doesn’t know why (the hosts must have been staring at him incredulously because then he said – even with your six pairs of eyes staring me down right now, I still have to say I don’t know).   

o   He said he doesn’t know why, but regardless, to him, this “project” (HKTV as a television station) has already ended.

o   Then the host asked – so if in the future someone asks you this same question, is that how you are going to respond – that you don’t know?  Ricky responded saying he truly doesn’t know so yes, that’s how he would answer.

-          Stephen Chan asks then how would you describe this “finale”?  After all, it did end in such a dramatic way….

o   Ricky said that in life, there are a lot of things that we don’t know the answer to anyway.  You can’t spend your entire life looking for answers to everything.  That’s just the way life works and we have to accept that. 

o   Stephen agreed with him – they both said that instead of trying to find the answer, why not just look to the future?  Life is too short to spend all that time trying to analyze the past.  It’s better to look to the future and spend that time/energy doing present things well.

-          Stephen then said that he truly does feel bad for Ricky because he is one of the few people who actually did persevere to the very end.  He said that a lot of citizens feel this way too.

o   Many citizens sympathize with HKTV because they truly had a heart for doing this and for the longest time, didn’t give up. 

o   For example – even after the free-to-air license was denied, HKTV decided to try mobile license instead, but even that got shot down because of the government’s assertion that the mobile spectrum will reach more than 5000 households, which is equivalent to operating under a free TV license. [TN:  At the time, the government claimed that HKTV was trying to circumvent the system and so took them to court to prevent them from launching using the mobile license.]

o   This shows that Ricky (and HKTV) never gave up and actually did try other paths, but unfortunately, all the doors were shut on them.

o   Stephen said that he agrees with the general sentiment that if HKTV had gotten its free-to-air license back then, the television environment / landscape in HK would’ve definitely been different.

o   Stephen then ended this segment by saying – “It’s fine though, I guess we can just hope that there will be another Ricky Wong in the future…but then again, it’s probably not going to happen….” [TN:  LOL…while I definitely feel that Stephen was sincere in sympathizing with Ricky Wong (especially given his own run-in and subsequent legal battle with TVB, he definitely has a bone to pick with them still…), his tone also sounded a little facetious in that he was indirectly taking jabs at the government for their repressive actions…]

Moving on to the audience call-in segment….[TN: note that the hosts decided to take all the calls and have the audience ask their questions first, then later Ricky Wong would answer/address each question after the person hangs up].

-          First call is from Mr. Tam:  the gist of his call was to give Ricky Wong words of encouragement and support.  Here are the highlights of his call:

o   Mr. Tam said that he was listening to all the stuff Ricky said about why he (HKTV) doesn’t want to continue “waiting” for a license and he agrees with all the points he had made. 

o   He said that everything Ricky had done in terms of career – IDD and broadband (telecommunications), television, and now e-commerce – all have one common characteristic running through them:  in the face of big corporation monopolies, he (Ricky) tried to forge a path that was different from the status quo…on this path, he had some huge successes (telecommunications business) as well as some failures (television), both of which are inevitable.

o   He went on to say that with the license thing, yes, it was technically “one man’s decision” but at the end of the day, it’s a government prerogative and things didn’t work out.  He hopes that Ricky won’t be discouraged by the television thing failing and instead, will find success with the e-commerce venture.

o   Mr. Tam ended his call with some advice:  he said that at the end of the day, consumers are also customers – yes, they will wholeheartedly throw their support behind a project at the moment, but to maintain that support, it’s important to make sure that both the products as well as customer service continue to be up to par.  Also, the government will no doubt play a role, but in any case, he wishes Ricky and HKTV the best and hope they find success with e-commerce.  [TN:  Mr. Tam mentioned the name of someone – I’m assuming a businessman in HK --  in the past who had also tried to do e-commerce in HK but failed – I didn’t catch the name of the person nor do I know any details about this, but I’m curious enough to perhaps do some research on it at some point if I have time.]

o   Stephen asked Mr. Tam if those last words of Mr. Tam’s were meant as encouragement or warning, to which Mr. Tam said (several times) that it was absolutely meant as encouragement.  He said that it is all about having the HK spirit, so it’s absolutely encouragement on his part.

-          Second call was from Mr. Chan, who asked 2 questions:

1 )    Ricky is known for being a shrewd businessman with many innovative, creative ideas, so back when they had heard he was going to apply for a license, many audiences were actually looking forward to it…Ricky was probably looking forward to it as well…but in the end, it didn’t happen.

His question is this:  from the time the government invited Ricky Wong to apply for a license (implying most likely he was going to get the license), but then in the end they denied his application (which can be viewed as the government reneging on their promise), was there any point when Ricky was mad enough at the government to perhaps want to get back at them – not necessarily “revenge” per se but things like revealing any “dirt” on the government he may have on them for instance?  Mr. Chan was basically curious as to what Ricky Wong’s feelings were after the license denial. 

o   Ricky’s response:  He believes that no matter what we do, we should not have the attitude of wanting to seek revenge when things don’t work out in our favor.  He said that revenge was never something that he considered. 

2)      At the time that Ricky and HKTV were applying for a license, he had a lot of staff / people fighting the battle with him and the overall sentiment at the time was a happy one.  Even when the government started giving them a hard time, the staff still stood by Ricky because they saw how hard he was fighting back.  In the end though, with the recent announcement, he has now decided to give up the fight – does he feel that he is letting those staff who stood by him down?  Especially since all the staff who worked for him truly did have heart and the desire to change things for the better.

o   Ricky’s response:  From the day the announcement was made, there has been uneasiness in his heart.  Back during the “battle” for a license, there were many staff who had decided to leave the “safe harbor” they had stayed at for 10, 20, 30 years and go work for him in a new environment.  He knows the courage and trust involved to make such a move, yet in the end he failed them in not being able to get a license…

o   After a bit of a pause, Ricky said that he doesn’t know if apologizing helps or not but personally, he has apologized to many of his staff already multiple times and will continue to do so because that’s all he can do that’s within his control.

-          Third call was from Mr. Kwan, who also wanted to ask Ricky 2 questions:

1)      Currently, filming web series is a very popular venture that many production companies are getting into.  Does Ricky have any intention of filming or perhaps investing in web series for his HKTVmall platform to support the products he is selling?  Something along the lines of those commercials that HKTV had filmed and aired during two of their series [TN: Borderline and The Election] which were actually interactive with the series itself.  Investing in web series is the trend right now and there is definitely money to be made there.

Ricky’s response:

o   Ricky started off by saying that Mr. Kwan’s suggestion is very good.  He emphasized that even though they (HKTV) are giving up on a TV license, that doesn’t mean they are giving up on multi-media production. 

o   He said that with their e-commerce business, they do plan on filming commercials and/or short 8 to 10 minute mini movies to supplement or promote the products they sell, so producing video content will continue to happen.

o   Stephen asked if they were going to do these commercials themselves or outsource to 3rd party.  Ricky replied that it would be both.  He went on to talk about their newest “project” and introduce ‘The Base’ – 4 studios with state-of-the-art filming equipment that they have opened up and are allowing young students to utilize free of charge.  He said that they have different settings (backdrops), all sorts of equipment, professional recording studio, editing studio, etc. – basically they have everything these students will need…they just need to come with a concept or idea that they want to pursue and also be either a college student or have experience in multi-media production – if they meet these 2 requirements, they can approach HKTV to request using their facilities.  Also, they don’t have to be filming anything related to HKTVmall – they can be filming for a competitor (i.e. rival supermarket selling same product / brand)…basically they don’t have to be working for HKTVmall.

o   Stephen asked is the reason why they are not allowed to “rent” the facilities is because of restrictions placed on them by the property?

§  Ricky’s response was yes, but most importantly, there are already studios out there that are even more “professional” and go the “commercialized” route in terms of renting out facilities for business purposes, so they don’t feel like they need to do the same thing as others. 

§  He said that even previously with the TV station, their hope was that they could cultivate and groom more younger people for HK – this has always been their goal / wish.  [TN:  This point was actually made quite clear in the book about HKTV that former staff wrote several years ago (which I bought and read back when it first came out but haven’t had the chance to write up my thoughts on).  I encourage everyone who wants to understand HKTV better to definitely read this book!]

o   Stephen then asked how big the studios were, to which Ricky responded:  There are 4 studios, with the largest one being 4000 sq ft and smallest is 400 sq ft.  Which studio the students are given access to depends on what they want to film – HKTV’s facility currently has backdrops for kitchen, family room, bedroom, office, etc.  They also have editing rooms and recording studios – currently gaming is popular, let’s say they want to do livestreaming of gaming, HKTV has strong computers, strong internet / broadband connection, etc. for them to record gaming videos.   

o   Stephen asked what is the utilization rate of the facilities currently, to which RW replied that every week the facilities are being used.

o   How should those interested reach out to HKTV? 

§  Those interested can go on HKTVmall’s website and contact them. 

§  Ricky also emphasized that they do not really “filter” the requests they get.  Basically, as long as they fit the criteria that were set  out – must be college grad within certain number of years (2 to 8 years but he doesn’t remember for sure) or currently in college OR they have experience in multimedia production of some sort (i.e. Youtuber, social media personality, etc.). 

§  Of course, it makes sense that they are not going to just open it up to anyone – it must be people who are truly interested and not just fooling around.  

o   Ricky had mentioned earlier that they have produced video content related to the products they are selling currently – is there any particular limit in terms of how much content will be produced?

§  Ricky’s response:  They are currently doing this [filming content related to products] already.  Currently, they have 2,700 businesses selling products through their HKTVmall e-commerce site -- many of these businesses have asked them to produce content to help promote their products.  These productions are both in-house as well as ones where they collaborate with outside parties. 

2) Since Stephen is there and helping ATV with hosting programs currently, is there any chance of Stephen or ATV collaborating with Ricky’s e-commerce platform?
o   [TN:  This question was actually never answered, though I guess in a sense, it really wasn’t much of a question in the first place.]

Last segment:  Since they don’t have time to take all listeners’ calls, the hosts decided to ask a few generic questions that many audiences wanted to know about.

-          Ricky had said earlier (in part 1 segment) that “if HKTV had been granted a license back then, the subsequent 4 years would’ve been 4 of the most glorious / brilliant years that the HK television industry has seen in decades.”  This obviously didn’t happen for HKTV, but two new TV stations DID enter the market.  How do you (Ricky) view the TV landscape (industry) currently?

o   Ricky clarified that first of all, he’s not saying that if HKTV had gotten a license back then, they would’ve come out on top.  What he’s saying is that with them being present as a formidable competitor/challenger, it would’ve changed the landscape in terms of the industry seeing greater room for improvement overall, but especially the “big station” (referring to TVB).  Stephen Chan said that he absolutely agrees with this. [TN:  Haha…Stephen definitely should know given his previous position as GM at TVB].

o   He said that TVB already has a set audience pool, established revenue streams and market share, historical foundation, etc. so of course they will naturally be better than us (HKTV) in terms of ratings, production process, etc.  In essence, we (HKTV) became the “catalyst” that pushed TVB into action in the areas where they were most deficient / struggling.

o   As far as Ricky’s thoughts on today’s TV landscape:

§  The 2 new stations coming in are huge corporations in HK currently so from a financial perspective, they should definitely have the means -- however at the end of the day, it’s not really about the money but rather do they have the heart to do it.

§  Ricky feels that doing television is NOT like a business in the traditional sense – rather, it’s actually a form of art.  Using the big station (TVB) as an example --  Sir Run Run Shaw was able to find such success in building his film and television empire because he truly did have the passion (heart) for it.  Run Run Shaw loved watching movies and was very diligent about it – he had his own movie theater at home and watched movies every single day.  Also, even when he was 90 years old, he still went into work every single day without fail.  This shows how much heart he truly had for it – he didn’t treat it as a mere business where he’ll invest $1 and hope to earn $2. 

§  Ricky had this advice for would-be entrepreneurs interested in going into television:  if your mentality is to invest X dollars in the hopes of earning X dollars back, you are destined to fail.   

o   The host then brought up the fact that the 2 new TV stations (ViuTV and Fantastic Television) so far haven’t really made too many of their own in-house produced series.  Could that be one of the problems? 

§  Ricky said that when he first started, he also didn’t have any previous experience making movies or TV series – the question is really whether you have a passion for it or not.  He said that he has always loved watching TV series and watching movies, which is what spurred his interest in creating a TV station. At the end of the day, boils down to whether you are truly interested in it and want to do it.  If you don’t like movies / television or have no interest in it, yet still you go into the film/television business, then you are purely a “financial investor” – someone who is just throwing money into something thinking it will earn money back.  Honestly though, when it comes to money, the bank has a lot of it – in order to manage the business well, it takes more than just money.   He emphasized that regardless of whether it’s television, movies, even radio, there has to be a passion for it because it’s that passion that motivates and drives them.   

§  Using himself as an example --  in doing e-commerce, it is because he has a passion for it and sees it as his mission in life, which drives (motivates) him to wake up at 7am every morning to start his day. 

§  Every occupation has its problems and challenges.  His advice to everyone is not to treat your job like it is merely a job, but rather treat it as an important part of your life.  Ask yourself how you can do the best job possible, put in the best effort possible.  Also ask yourself if it is something you are truly passionate about.

o   Ricky Wong had said during his announcement that currently there are already a lot of options for consumers when it comes to television.  Does he think it satisfies audiences needs currently?  Is there truly an effective amount of competition?  What is his take on this?

§  In terms of competition, he said it’s never about having an “effective” amount of competition.  Competition should always be open and limitless.  The government in the beginning actually had the right idea in that they were encouraging an unlimited number of licenses because they felt that having more people with the heart for doing television was beneficial for free competition – the policy was absolutely clear and correct. 

§  As for the 2 new stations, he said that they are still new and we should give them time to organize and fix whatever problems they may have.  He said that if they are willing to invest so much money / time / resources into TV station, he believes they do have the heart to do it.

The interview ended with the basic message being the importance of effective competition and the need for opportunities to be given in any venture, whether it’s e-commerce business or television station.