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Friday, July 27, 2012

The old TVB dramas were really quite awesome

"Wouldn't it be cool if you were to direct a TVB drama series?"

This was something my friend said a few years ago, when I was still dreaming of a filmmaking career. At that time, I wasn't sure about my path as a filmmaker, but one thing's for sure, Hong Kong's TVB was, and is, definitely held in reverence by the Malaysian Chinese community. In fact, I would say that our very culture and fabric of existence are much influenced by Hong Kong, from its films to its TV dramas and to its pop culture, while Mainland China and Taiwan remained rather distant for us.

(It wasn't until the appearance of Astro when we were introduced to Taiwanese variety shows)

So yes, like most, I grew up with TVB drama. My late grandmother watched it all the time, so did my mom, and my aunts. TVB drama series were often topics of conversations in primary school, where a group of students would just gather together and discuss about the intense happenings of an episode from the night before.

Many great Hong Kong film directors of today used to work in TVB. Names like Johnnie To, Wong Kar Wai, Ann Hui, Wong Jing, Patrick Tam and many others. So are the A-list actors and actresses of today, who either went to TVB's acting classes (Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Chow Yun Fat, Lau Ching Wan, Andy Lau, Francis Ng, Stephen Chow, Louis Koo), or were contestants of TVB's Miss Hong Kong Pageant (Maggie Cheung, Cherie Chung, Michelle Reis, Anita Yuen). I used to remember watching some of these people on TVB serials before they became big movie stars. I guess that's how most people would remember the TVB drama series of the past, with fondness and nostalgia.

The reason why I started writing this blog entry was because The Golden Rock's Kevin Ma just posted a 25-minute TVB short film "To Murder Father" by Patrick Tam on Facebook this morning. The 1977 short film also marked the acting debut of the actress Idy Chen, who was only 17 that year. This is the film, sorry, it's only in Cantonese with Chinese subtitles. But I have a feeling you don't need to really understand the dialogue to appreciate it. (UPDATED: Video's been taken down.)

I was actually quite awed by the short, aside from it being shot on film, stylistically, it sure seemed light years away from the TVB series that had been appearing on my TV nowadays. The shot compositions were impeccable (Antonioni's films came to mind), and there were numerous long tracking shots that reminded me of Tarkovsky's films. The subject matter was pretty bleak, yet filled with subtlety. Much unlike the countless expositions I'm used to seeing in the TVB dramas of recent years.

But this blog post isn't exactly meant as a dissing of the TVB dramas of today. After all, now that everything's more profit-driven, people would rather give audiences what they want. I can only accept this with resignation.

Back when I was 10. The iconic TVB drama THE GREED OF MAN was finally aired on TV. This was the series that introduced me to the greatness of Lau Ching Wan (I admire this actor so much that I even wrote an ode to him few months ago). 40 episodes that spanned from 1970s to 1990s Hong Kong, following two generations of two feuding families. It had a large cast with countless characters, and it was intense because it actually started with the Big Bad (Adam Cheng) trying to commit suicide with his sons by jumping off the stock exchange market building. Meanwhile, the hero (Lau Ching Wan) poured red wine into glasses placed in front of the photos of his deceased parents and younger sisters, telling them that he had avenged their deaths.

The beginning is actually the end, the hero flashbacks to the past, beginning with the story of his father in the 70s.

It was absolutely novelistic in terms of scope. I cannot even describe it. It's like the Godfather 2 of TVB drama.

But I can share with you the first 3 minutes of the first episode.

Watching the footage again, I suddenly realized that the music was lifted from the Bernardo Bertolucci's THE SHELTERING SKY (which came out two years before the series) theme song composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

... hmm...

Even if I put that aside, I can still say that this is one seriously intense drama. Here's 12-minute video featuring some of the most emotionally intense (the word "intense" had appeared many times, I really cannot think of another word) scenes from THE GREED OF MAN.

There's even a scene where Lau Ching Wan proposed to Yuen Mui (Vivian Chow) with eight rings. EIGHT!

A bit more than ten years after I watched the series, I actually bought a VCD box set of THE GREED OF MAN and revisit it again. Still rather brilliant.