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  • Dec 26, 2014
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Culture Club
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 5:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 2:45pm

Triumph in the Skies, failure in Hong Kong


Vivienne has been a cultural journalist and critic for over a decade and was named one of the world’s best young journalists and critics while representing Hong Kong at the 2004 inaugural Berlinale Talent Press at the Berlin International Film Festival. She has written extensively on culture and entertainment for publications locally and abroad and has covered major international events from film festivals to art fairs. Vivienne also covers Hong Kong and global cultural policy development and publishes a blog, Culture Shock, at www.viviennechow.com. She is the culture beat senior reporter at the South China Morning Post and can be followed on Twitter @VivienneChow.

Recently at a dinner party that was well-attended by some members of the cultural sector, a very obscure thing happened. The conversation of the night evolved around, surprisingly, not the pro-Beijing lawmaker Christopher Chung Shu-Kun’s recent controversial attack on the West Kowloon arts hub’s hire of Western talents at Legco, or that the Hong Kong Ballet is looking for yet another new executive director, but, errr, TVB drama series Triumph in the Skies 2 (衝上雲霄II).

“I adore Captain Cool,” one arts administrator in her late 20s commented on the airline pilot/ womaniser Jayden Koo, the show’s lead played by Julian Cheung Chi-lam (張智霖), also known as Chilam. “Chilam is hot at his age.”

“But Francis Ng (吳鎮宇) is a much better actor,” another 30-something arts manager cut in, rating Ng, a Hong Kong Film Awards best actor-winner, for his performance as the other lead Sam Tong, a pilot living with regret after his ex-lover died in the previous season aired on TVB 10 years ago.” Either way I couldn’t understand why both of them fell for Fala Chen (陳法拉). “She can’t act,” said one grumpy middle-aged critic. Chen plays the female lead Holiday Ho in the series.

Video: Trailer for Triumph in the Skies 2

My jaw dropped not only because I naively thought people from the arts world were more into high brow conversation of arts and culture, but because I was a complete mute almost the entire evening. Yes I have read everything about the show in local entertainment pages and frequent social media posts about the racy love scenes, but I haven’t watched a single episode of Triumph in the Skies 2. The same old narrative and well-worn love triangle just doesn’t interest me any more.

It is not right if we only have one TV station dominating our lives. We deserve more options

“What? You haven’t watched it? Are you even a Hongkonger?” an arts PR glared at me. In a city where there is very limited choice of free TV services, the type of TV you watch can almost define your cultural identity. Now Hong Kong has two free-to-air domestic TV stations in TVB and ATV - both will need licences to be renewed in 2015 in order to remain in the game. And while ATV loops its programmes several times a day (current affairs programme Blog the World three times a day, according to a recent Communications Authority report), TVB rules.

Take Triumph in the Skies 2. The 40-episode drama runs five nights a week for two months during peak hours, with an average of 2 million people glued to the small screen for each episode, according to TVB’s official figures.

This means, with one in every 3.5 Hongkongers following Triumph in the Skies 2 on a daily basis, you are bound to be sitting near one of them at any given time. Like it or not, this is what most people in Hong Kong are talking about. You can turn a blind eye but you cannot deny this fact, even if you do not watch local television. No matter where you go and what you do, you simply can’t escape the world of TVB (and that hasn’t included local online viewership and the over 100 million internet hits per episode on the mainland).

This wasn’t the case back in the 70s to early 80s when TVB was still at times challenged by Rediffusion TV (RTV, today’s ATV) and Commercial TV. It was the golden era of Hong Kong’s television, and a time where anything was possible: Hong Kong New Wave director Patrick Tam Ka-ming shooting TVB dramas in 16mm film back in the mid-1970s, paying homage to Jean-Luc Godard, rocked Hong Kong television production. In 1980, TVB had to axe the series Five Easy Pieces (輪流傳) (produced by Kam Kwok-leung, co-directed by Johnnie To Kei-fung and Wong Kar-wai was an assistant director) in light of the success (40 per cent viewership) of RTV’s heart-wrenching village tale Fatherland (大地恩情) set in the Republic era. Audiences were spoiled for choice, and more importantly, Hong Kong’s TV culture (together with Canto-pop) was exported to the rest of the world.

But now, partly due to the lack of local competition, TVB’s trendsetter status has gradually been overtaken by new content exporters including mainland China and South Korea. And worst of all, a Hong Kong perspective could well one day be replaced by a homogenic ”TVB perspective”, as the broadcaster rises into a force for cultural hegemony that will dominate our society’s values system. (Although TVB shows can be great headache cure, as you don’t need to think while you are watching them. Trust me, it works.)

If pluralism is what is to be considered among the traces of Hong Kong’s cultural identity in the 21st Century, as stated in the then Culture and Heritage Commission’s cultural policy recommendation report published 10 years ago, it is not right if we only have one TV station dominating our lives. We deserve more options.

Sadly, more than three-and-a-half years after Ricky Wong Wai-kay’s HKTV, PCCW and i-Cable Communications applied for free-to-air TV licences, there’s still no sign of approval. HKTV has been filming TV dramas including crime thriller Borderline (警界线) at the cost of HK$1 million per episode, and has spent HK$300 million so far, but we still don’t get to see anything on TV except a few clips on the internet.

Video: Trailer for HKTV's Police Boundaries

This prolonged delay of new TV licences drags on at the cost of not only the millions of dollars that Wong has spent on the movie-quality productions but also Hong Kong’s pluralistic cultural identity.

But obviously this isn’t what the current administration cares for the most right now.


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This article is now closed to comments

Frankly it's sad how **** the HK entertainment industry has become.. from the quality and talent of the actors to the singers and now these so called "artists"... none of them can act or sing at all.. its all about packaging and who they have backing them... If any of these HK entertainers actually tried to make a living based on their talents in other countries, I'm pretty sure they will all be living on the streets by now...
Frankly, Triumph in the Skies 1 was one of the worst TVB shows during it's gradual decline in quality back in the 2000s, and I can't believe they made Triumph in the Skies 2 which is even more boring. Hey but it sells, we HK people are basically the brainless toad-in-the-well types that have no idea what real high quality entertainment is all about. I once talked about an entertaining and astonishingly well crafted TV show from the 90s (TVB oldies) and my work colleagues just had no clue even though they watched it in the past. Its like reading an English poem to them, they just can't decipher why it was so great!
I agree with the writer about the appalling lack of choice on Hong Kong TV. Digital TV can support 100 channels. So why is it OK to have a healthy competition in Telecoms but not on Broadcast TV.? Afraid it will be hijacked for political purposes?
I felt misled by your headline; I thought this is a critique of Triumph in the Skies. Although I understand your tirade for more options in TV ... I accept TVB dramas for what they are. A mindless "headache cure" is a good thing. Many of us are bombarded by the normal stresses of our lives. Are the TVB dramas meant to entertain? I think they do. Advocacy for options in TV could be done without a bashing of TVB.
"Caption Cool"?? Did you guys even bothered to proofread your material before going into print??
I'm sorry - I can't resist this. "Did you ... bothered .....??" No doubt I too have left a faux pas here for someone else to pick up on.
This is a misleading article as well. I thought it was about the TVB drama series alone and it then led on to making a case of TV station monopoly being evil. Come on, whats wrong with TVB dominating the HK viewer market? TVB earned it because it had much better production and stories than the rotting ATV which should have been shut down long ago in terms of corporate survival theory. Also the idea of decentralisation (having too many TV station choices, and honestly an average viewer will not need to watch 100 channels each day which most of the channels will become dead waste in productivity terms). Don't encourage decentralization as it does no good to society in general. Having one good TV station supplying good content to general public is good enough. The further improvement is really to make sure this one dominant station stays fair in perception and provide good quality contents (i.e. well regulated).
80s Shallow US soap drama maketh, shallow US & world housewives buyeth, happy business maketh. 90s shallow Japanese and HK soap drama maketh, shallow Pacific Asian mid teens & housewives liketh, business maketh. Even more shallow plastic Korea soap, even more shallow & dumb oriental housewives, pre-puberscent teens, non-Asian alike swooneth, big money maketh. However, post 2000 dead HK, shallow and pointless soap drama remaketh, incurably lost HK & south east asian oriental mid-teens & housewives & aunts liketh, passionately defendeth if u questioneth, pay no attention at all & do not associate your valuable time, thoughts with then & leave them be-eth.
Yes, we need more options indeed.......as I've never watched that, or any, TV series for years................there is no real story in them!!
Chi-lam has never been a good lead actor. The other 4 male pilots can all do better.


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