Love Asian Dramas? Feel like you might give up on them if you see just one more rich boy meets poor girl series? Then maybe it’s time to try something a little bit different. Maybe it’s time you tried Hong Kong TV dramas. It’s easier than ever (for American audiences) with about 20 or so HK dramas on Hulu and the recent launch of the Encore TVB app.
Warning: if you know a Hong Kong expat, they’ve probably just rolled their eyes so hard that they are on the floor. But hear us out. Hong Kong dramas can be good. Yes, they can. They’re just…different. This article seeks to highlight some of that difference so you can enjoy without inhibition.
How does it work?
When we say Hong Kong TV drama, we mean those from TVB. Even though other networks have been dreamers and contenders along the way, it’s pretty much just TVB. For a domestic market of less than 8 million, the quantity of dramatic content produced by the single network is staggering: 2.5 hours Monday to Friday every single week of the year. There is no re-run season, no summer break, it’s all fresh, all the time.
Each evening, two one-hour-long dramas air. They go on for 20, 30, or 40 episode runs, and then are done. Rarely, a series gets a sequel, but that can be as many as ten years later. The remaining half hour is occupied by a long-running dramady. As of this writing ‘Come Home Love’ has been on for more than 800 episodes.
What will you see?
There’s really two basic genres – ancient and modern. Ancient dramas depict China/HK in the 1920’s, Qing Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, or other. Modern dramas are all about different workplaces. While cop shows pop up all the time, there’s also shows about lawyers, doctors, property agents, celebrities, even customs agents. All shows are centered around a core group of characters, usually 5-6, and their (mis)adventures in the world.
It is in their adventures that we come to the biggest bone of contention for non-HK audiences: wild tonal shifts. Would it raise your hackles to see a cop investigate a grisly murder in one scene only to be followed by the wacky antics of his brother’s failed love life in the next? Is so, don’t worry. Accepting these shifts is just a matter of acclimation. That’s what Hong Kong audiences like. It’s what they expect. In fact, I have heard a Hong Konger remark that while they liked the story of (the greatest show ever) Breaking Bad, they felt that the unvaryingly grim tone detracted from its enjoyability. So there you go.
Why give HK TV dramas a try?
So you really need a reason to watch TV? Culture, for one. As great as Asian Dramas from other countries can be, this viewer often feels like they’ve been focus-grouped to death to appeal to a demographic that I’m not a part of. No one expects Hong Kong dramas to have much of a reach outside Hong Kong and the Cantonese diaspora. So relatively speaking, you get a fairly unfiltered view of the hopes and dreams of the local audience. Not only that, they are designed to appeal to the broadest HK audience possible so there should be something for everyone here.
Now you are amped, and prepared to be angry if it turns out you don’t like HK dramas. So here are three recommendations to make your chances of enjoyability go up.
When Heaven Burns – Four band members go hiking, three return. Twenty years later, they realize they can’t avoid each other forever.
Beyond the Realm of Conscience – Tang dynasty, imperial palace, two sisters. Drastically different life-choices, drastically different outcomes.
Catch Me Now – Cat-and-mouse police thriller. The mouse leads the cat to something bigger than a mouse.
So there you go, before you hit the books again, maybe try out a Hong Kong TV drama.