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This article was written By Wilson Kwong on 05 Mar 2017, and is filed under Features.

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About Wilson Kwong

Wilson Kwong is a cinema lover and film festival enthusiast based out of Toronto, Canada. He normally works in healthcare, but escapes from his day job by writing random thoughts about cinema on the internet. Within the realm of Asian cinema, his focus is on the Hong Kong film industry. He is currently touring Toronto's film festival circuit and the rest of his work can be found on his website throwdown815.

TVB – A Necessary Evil in the Hong Kong Entertainment Industry

TVB

So here’s the thing, I used to be a huge fan of TVB. Like every other (Cantonese-speaking) Asian person I knew, watching TVB wasn’t just a way to kill time, it was an activity ingrained with a sense of normalcy that you never really questioned. The cultural significance of TVB in Hong Kong is something that simply can’t be overstated, and for my parents (who immigrated from Hong Kong), TVB served as a not-so-distant olive branch that kept them connected with the territory’s popular culture scene. And for me, that was certainly a factor, but in more basic terms I just genuinely enjoyed watching TVB series. Sure, the plot lines could get repetitive and the production values teetered on a level of laziness more often than not. But there was just something captivating about the world of TVB that kept you hooked.

Even the acting, which had long been plagued with a stigma that many refer to as ‘TVB acting’, could surprise you. To take a quick drive down memory lane, remember Francis Ng in Triumph in the Skies (2003)? Or Paul Chun in pretty much anything? And what about At the Threshold of an Era (1999)? Arguably the most ambitious and best show to ever come out of the TVB engine, this was, in my opinion, the epitome of what TVB was capable of doing. Gallen Lo might not be the strongest actor out there – and the same could be said of most of his cast mates – but if there ever were a perfect storm this would certainly be it. TVB just had the ability to create melodrama in a way that wasn’t your usual soap opera affair. It’s hard for me to put in words, but anyone who’s watched a TVB series will know what I mean. Hell, if given the opportunity to re-watch At the Threshold of an Era again for the fourth time, I would happily take you up on that offer. I’m just hoping that offer doesn’t come anytime soon, because at 107 episodes long, it’s going to be a bit of a time drain. But a fourth viewing will definitely happen some day.

Threshold

The thing with TVB is that although it was never home to the most groundbreaking material, it always had the capacity to engage viewers familiar with its content in a way that was unique and culturally specific. Which brings me to the meat of this post – why TVB just isn’t the same anymore. I stopped watching TVB back in the mid 2000s, so am fully aware that my opinion is not as valid as it might’ve been a decade ago. But having said that, the TVB world has always been in my periphery and I’ve maintained more than just a cursory knowledge of the industry. I even watched Triumph in the Skies II (2013), which was a poignant reminder of why I quit in the first place. TVB shows are just lackluster nowadays, to a point where it’s become difficult to find a compelling reason to stay on board.

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Part of the problem might be the slew of younger acting talent, which has taken over most of the leading roles. This can probably partly be attributed to the inbreeding perpetuated by the training camps offered by the studio, which, are apparently mostly run by TVB veterans. The same inbreeding comment could apply to the writing and production departments, and might explain why creative advancement seems to be at a standstill. But that never seemed to be a major issue before, so I think it has more to do with a general deficiency in the Hong Kong entertainment industry talent pool. That’s something that definitely extends to the other entertainment mediums as well, but that’s a separate topic altogether.

Seeing American television shows flourish during the early 2000s certainly didn’t help TVB’s cause to remain on my essential viewing list. It was during this time that cable television came into the limelight, and from a purely practical standpoint, one only have so many has in a day. But deep down, I never expected TVB to match up to the same level of production prestige as its American counterparts. Much like how I view Hong Kong cinema, every entertainment industry is its own unique entity and it’s never fair to compare apples to oranges. It was really more an issue with TVB shows not evolving with a degree of relevancy.

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But – and this will be a huge but – having said all this, I firmly believe that the Hong Kong entertainment industry has never needed TVB more than it does at this very moment. With Hong Kong cinema’s identity being in crisis for quite some time now – no thanks to the pressures of China co-productions and a shrinking local market – TVB remains something that is unapologetically Hong Kong. Everything about its conception maintains a target that is aimed solely at Hong Kong audiences. Unlike the film and music industry, both of which have a tendency to pander to the expectations of China, TVB seems free to do as it pleases. From a popular culture standpoint, this is immensely important. TVB is essentially the seminal product of Hong Kong culture in the entertainment world, which, in the times we currently live in, is a valued construct of how society is represented and appreciated by the world at large.

Given Hong Kong’s urbanized culture and how important the entertainment industry has been to its development as an independent society, this only elevates the importance of TVB. So as much as I’ve flooded my views of TVB with negative assertions, I don’t for a second diminish how vital its existence has become. I’ve heard the argument that TVB makes its viewers ‘dumb’ from an artistic standpoint, a comment aimed at criticizing the studio’s insistence on delivering content with a dated sense of quality. Although I’m inclined to agree with such sentiments, bringing a greater cultural context into perspective, it’s unfortunately a necessary evil. While other facets of the Hong Kong entertainment industry have been losing their ideological battles with the larger China market, TVB survives and thrives. This is one pillar that remains untouchable and, quality issues aside, the Hong Kong entertainment industry should hope that the monster that is TVB continues to stand tall.

This article has been cross-posted at throwdown815.

 

Related posts:

Mr. and Mrs. Incredible (Hong Kong, 2011)
Choi Min-sik: Korean Film Legend and International Star [NYAFF 2012]
Flash Point (Hong Kong, 2007)

One Comment

  1. llwy12
    7 March, 2017

    Well-said and agree with you for the most part. As someone who grew up in a family of TVB watchers and who has been following TVB (as well as the HK entertainment industry as a whole) since the 80s, it pains me to see how badly the industry has deteriorated nowadays. I actually stopped religiously “watching” TVB series in the late 90s when the station and the industry as a whole started going downhill (though it was technically in the early 2000s that TVB hit its low and to be honest, never fully recovered). While on the one hand I agree with your sentiment about TVB’s existence being vital for HK culture purposes, the problem is that TVB is well aware of this too, which is why they are so complacent with producing crappy programs day in and day out. It’s almost like they are taking the ATV approach, where the delusional management got too complacent with doing whatever the hell they wanted because they figured no one would dare touch them, since they are a “cultural icon” being the first official TV station in HK with an existence way longer than TVB (their management was stupid enough to even say this out loud while asking HK audiences to “donate money” in order to keep the station alive!)….and of course, look where that got them (good riddance in my opinion!)

    The part that I don’t agree with is the piece about TVB being seemingly untouched by the Mainland influence or pandering to Mainland. The fact that they allowed a Mainland investor to take the reins of their station last year, plus the official announcements that TVB will be focusing more on expanding their reach in the Mainland in near future (which technically they already started doing this year) speaks volumes to how they are positioning themselves in case the HK market is no longer viable. The writing has been on the wall for a long time already and with each year that passes, things only continue to get worse.

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