The legendary tale of the Monkey King escorting a monk in search of a sacred sutra may be an enduring Chinese classic, but in Hong Kong, a mainland production of Journey to the West is struggling to find its way into the hearts of television viewers.
The 50-episode drama serial, now airing in an evening prime-time slot, is at the receiving end of 1,100 complaints, a number TVB admits is the highest ever lodged against any of the dramas it has offered. Some have demanded that TVB axe the show.
Critics say the record figure reflects reignited anger over free-television licensing, as the dominance of broadcaster TVB limits the programming available.
The complaints also signalled a widening cultural gap with the mainland and Hongkongers' rejection of mainlanders' taste, they said.
Watch: Trailer of Journey to the West
Scriptwriter and critic Alex Pao Wai-chung said the special effects and props were below par. As the story was so well known, the decisive factor in winning an audience lay in its aesthetics, Pao said - and yet the special effects turned Hongkongers off.
"For example, the gold colour used in the show might appeal to mainland viewers," he said. "But to us, it is the kind of gold that can only be found in 'hell money' burned at funerals."
The Communications Authority said that, as of Monday, it had received 1,100 complaints since Journey to the West started on TVB Jade on April 28. It is being screened at 8.30pm from Mondays to Fridays.
Complainants objected to appalling special effects and unsophisticated characters, the authority said. Some said the show was too violent for children, and there was anger over TVB's choice of a dated mainland series for prime-time viewing.
The 2011 serial, a work of mainland producer Zhang Jizhong, is based on the 16th-century classic novel of the same name. It also drew flak when aired on the mainland but still topped the ratings race.
TVB said it cost 100 million yuan (HK$118 million) to produce, with the special effects led by the team behind the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
The show attracted a weekday average of 1.4 million viewers in its first week, lower than the average prime-time viewership last year of about 1.47 million as stated in TVB's annual report.
On the station's web portal myTV, each episode managed fewer than 40,000 views, while the other ongoing prime-time series, M Club, recorded nearly 100,000 views.
A TVB spokesman blamed the weak interest on the recent public holidays, while a source at the station pointed to Hong Kong-mainland tensions. But Pao said aesthetic taste stemmed from cultural differences. "It is like a person with bad fashion sense. He makes an effort to dress up, but his taste is not our cup of tea."