Magical tales

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 August, 1998, 12:00am

The costume drama Dark Tales (Pearl, 8.30pm), the replacement for Journey to the West, was, like its predecessor, made first for the Jade channel.

TVB proudly points out that the series is one of the most ambitious it has ever undertaken, with a starry cast and lots of expensive location shooting and special effects.

And it certainly looks good, most of the time. Tonight's opening story, Love Knows No Limits, was filmed on the slopes of a holy mountain, and includes striking scenes of a Buddhist temple and the appearance of a Deer God.

Unlike Journey to the West, the main characters in Dark Tales are not blessed with magical powers themselves, merely subject to them, so there is less need for the flashy pyrotechnics and complicated make-up that were a feature in Journey to the West.

Instead we have the relatively simple tale of Dr Cheung (Weng Chia-min), a young herbal doctor who is also a devout Buddhist, struggling to defend the sacred deer of Deer Mountain from a feisty young woman he calls 'Miss Lo', who gallops about on horseback with her bow poised, attempting to kill the creatures.

Cheung is half-appalled, half-infatuated with Miss Lo, and is in turn the subject of the affections of a Mrs Fung, left bedridden after her husband walked out. This triangle forms the basic story which will run over the next five weeks.

Cheung is torn between horror at his beloved's apparently selfish massacre of sacred creatures and dreams of her beauty, and poor old Fung is torn between the nice man who loves her and the handsome doctor who helped her to walk again.

And as these are Dark Tales, there are plenty of ghostly apparitions, reincarnations, bids for immortality and faith in the after life, and love beyond death.

The performances are excellent, and the recreation of rural traditional life seems to this non-expert faithful. So why has TVB again decided to go for the cheap option with the English dubbing? It isn't just the clumsiness of the English dialogue, but the way it is delivered in American-sounding accents. The result is so unnatural that the show might as well be in Cantonese.

The first part of the new series on CNN, Heart of Healing (CNN, 9pm), is also in a sense an exploration of belief in the unexplained. It shows the lives of four people who prefer to trust in belief over medical science to heal the sick.

Ursa Blankenship is a 'snake healer' who lives in the coal-mining hills of West Virginia. He believes in the power of laying-on of hands and gospel music to cure terminal cancer, and claims his own illness was cured by snakes.

Dr Hugh Faulkner is a scientist who took refuge in alternative treatments when he was told medical science could do nothing to cure his pancreatic cancer. Six years after his terminal diagnosis, when he stopped taking medicine, he is still in remission.