Hong Kong broadcaster TVB unveils promising range of new shows at trade fair

Showing off their acting chops at Filmart are A Fist Within Four Walls' (from left) Benjamin Yuen, Ruco Chan, Nancy Wu and Grace Wong.
Showing off their acting chops at Filmart are A Fist Within Four Walls' (from left) Benjamin Yuen, Ruco Chan, Nancy Wu and Grace Wong.PHOTO: TVB

TVB has not had a big hit in the past year, nothing as successful as Line Walker in 2014 or Triumph In The Skies II in 2013.

In the face of competition from the booming mainland Chinese television industry and the enduring Korean Wave, the leading Hong Kong broadcaster's drama ratings have flatlined - and director Johnnie To has warned that his former employer is "on a drip".

And yet, judging by its latest presentation on upcoming shows at Filmart, TVB seems to be in good health - maybe even in fighting form.

At the entertainment event in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Monday, the broadcaster had its usual parade of stars and trailers, for what turned out to be a promising variety of dramas.

Blue Veins, a high-powered modern-day fantasy that was more than a year in the making and which will premiere on TVB First (StarHub TV Channel 860) on April 11, stars Kevin Cheng as an immortal who runs a midnight restaurant and has a secret life as a vampire slayer. The actor's real-life girlfriend, Grace Chan, is his on-screen love interest.

House Of Spirits, which stars Bobby Au-Yeung, Nancy Wu, Woo Fung and Helena Law (the scary granny of the Troublesome Night horror movies), is a comedy about a man who sees kooky dead people, including his late father, in his home.

Prominent movie-maker Wong Jing is producing a Harry Potter- style adventure in which Nezha, the Chinese child deity played by Wong Cho Lam, goes to school. (Wong Jing is also reuniting with actor Patrick Tse to reboot The Shell Game, their 1980 hit drama for TVB, though the show was not part of Monday's presentation.)

Esteemed character actor Liu Kai Chi is returning to TVB to headline Law dis-Order, his first drama for his former employer after a stint at the start-up HKTV.

Most emblematic of all is A Fist Within Four Walls, an ambitious kung fu show that was saved for last at the presentation.

The retro drama, starring Ruco Chan, Wu and Yuen Qiu, is set in Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong's legendary lawless labyrinth of interconnected buildings to which fugitives fled, and which was demolished in the 1990s.

In the trailer shown on Monday, Chan, Wu and Yuen had the moves and verve of comic-book action heroes, who would not be out of place in a Stephen Chow movie (for instance, Kung Fu Hustle, 2004, starring Yuen).

It is TVB trying to play to its strengths: tackling a fairly fresh genre, tapping into Hong Kong nostalgia, doing something better than the mainland Chinese can.

In the 2000s, the broadcaster still dominated Chinese-speaking TV with hits including the family saga Moonlight Resonance and the historical melodrama Beyond The Realm Of Conscience.

But in recent years, TVB dramas have been increasingly sidelined by mainland hits - sumptuous period pieces such as Empresses In The Palace and Nirvana In Fire.

Strikingly, the Chinese historical genre was not represented at the drama parade.

Speaking to reporters after the presentation, TVB's assistant general manager Felix To said: "You tell us to shoot a drama like Nirvana In Fire, this isn't TVB's strength. You tell us to shoot a drama with the textures of domestic life in urban mainland China, this isn't our ability."

Rather, what TVB is good at are themes "close to Hong Kong or textures of urban life in Asia".

It also seems supernatural themes are a new strength for the broadcaster, as shows involving ghosts and aliens are frowned upon in China. In Hong Kong last year, the No. 1 drama on TVB was Ghost Of Relativity, the in-house modern- day paranormal romance starring Moses Chan, Kristal Tin and Wu.

The average viewership was 27 per cent, just a little ahead of the show at No. 2, The Empress Of China, the mainland historical drama starring Fan Bingbing.

At the presentation, one of the shows unveiled was My Love From The Planet Meow, a follow-up to Ghost Of Relativity, also starring Chan, Tin and Wu.

This time, Wu will not play a ghost like she did the last time.

Instead, Tin will play the title character, an alien with feline qualities from a galaxy far, far away from mainland China.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2016, with the headline 'TVB in fighting form with new dramas'. Print Edition | Subscribe