HKTV's political drama The Election wins the youth vote
Newly-launched internet TV station wins plaudits for The Election, a taboo-breaking series with some familiar sounding scenarios
Hong Kong's first publicly elected chief executive is killed on the night of the poll; a candidate for the top job is caught having extramarital affairs; the leader of a pro-Beijing party tries to manipulate his way to victory despite being turned away by forces from north of the border.
The plots sound familiar but this political reality exists only in HKTV drama The Election, which is already wining the hearts of critics and young viewers. The series premiere was uploaded on Wednesday when the internet television station was launched and has been hailed for delivering an alternative to the output of major free-to-air player TVB, often criticised for staid dramas.
Critics said the drama, which touches on the dark side of politics, is a breakthrough after a decade of lacklustre television.
"Although political shows are common in American and Japanese TV, politics has been a taboo in Hong Kong's television entertainment," said Saville Chan, producer of award-winning film The Way We Dance. "The show's subject matter itself is already a breakthrough. And the fact it is set in Hong Kong creates a lot of room for imagination."
The Election charts the chief executive race in 2022. One of the candidates is the leader of the patriotic party and Legislative Council chairman Sung Man-shan, played by Liu Kai-chi. He was promised by forces above Hong Kong that he would be made chief executive, but the promise was never delivered as a seemingly weaker candidate was elected, despite being caught cheating on his wife. Sung then plots to turn the situation around to realise his ambition.
On the other hand, Yip Ching (Angelica Lee Sinje), widow of the chief executive who died in a car crash on the night he was elected in 2017, decides to run after she finds out her husband's death was not what it seemed.
"One major problem of TVB dramas is that the characters are flat and superficial. But the characters in The Election are multi-dimensional. The protagonists aren't all righteous, while the antagonists aren't entirely evil," said critic Keith Ho.
Some political reporters said aspects of the plot, such as the chief executive-elect's promise to make his young aides Executive Council members, were unrealistic. But the plot about patriotic party leader Sung being manipulated by Beijing rang a bell, they said - the parallel to Legco chairman Jasper Tsang Yok-sing was hard to miss.
"The characters are not a reflection of any politician in particular," said Liu, an award-winning actor. "Audiences have the right to freely interpret the show."
HKTV turned to the internet after an application for a free-to-air licence was surprisingly rejected last year. Its app has been downloaded more than one million times to mobile devices, smart televisions and set-top boxes. Some 640,000 views were recorded on the app on Wednesday, though as many as 300,000 viewers were said to have turned to illegal feeds on other websites as HKTV suffered technical woes.
But no amount of technical difficulty can stop the programme becoming required viewing for Occupy Central protesters.
Lam Yat-Fung, an Occupy protester in Admiralty, said he'd seen only the first 20 minutes or so of The Election and it already gave him hope. "The show is about precisely the path that we're on and imagining where it'll take us," said the 29-year-old, a greeter at Disneyland.
Additional reporting by Alan Yu and Samuel Chan