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The best Hong Kong TV dramas

Have American and British television been disappointing you lately? It’s time to turn back to our city’s greatest televisual achievements

Triumph in the Skies
By Graham Turner and Olivia Lai |
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Forget about Game of Thrones and its dragons and White Walkers. Nothing beats the over-the-top love triangles, nightmare in-laws, hilarious caricature villains and melodramatic deaths in Hong Kong television dramas. It certainly makes for some highly addictive viewing. Yes, it can be easy to laugh at the exaggerated twists and turns but many of Hong Kong’s greatest cinematic talents got their break working on TV dramas including the likes of Wong Kar-wai, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Chow Yun-fat and Maggie Cheung. Join us as we list and reminiscent the best Hong Kong dramas…

RECOMMENDED: Though, if TV dramas aren’t your thing, try Hong Kong’s best movies or the sexiest Hong Kong movies ever made for something more alluring. 

Best Hong Kong TV dramas

The Bund

The Bund《上海灘》(1980)

Set in 1920s Republican-era Shanghai, The Bund begins with Hui Man-keung (Chow Yun-fat) and Ting Lik (Ray Lui) struggling to earn a living in the Triad business, and all the shady dealings, violent confrontations, a tragic love triangle, murders and revenge that ensue. Like a HK version of The Godfather, The Bund is classic HK TVB drama at its finest, spawning remakes, spinoffs, movies and Chow Yun-fat’s acting career. 

Police Cadet

Police Cadet《新紮師兄》(1984)

With an all-star cast headed by future Cannes award-winners Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, not forgetting Carina Lau and Sean Lau who also have major roles, Police Cadet centres on a group of young police cadets as they grow and develop throughout their training. Of course, they also experience a plethora of tragedy, romance, jealousy, and in later seasons, workplace struggles and dastardly criminals.

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Looking Back in Anger

Looking Back in Anger《義不容情》(1989)

With its not so subtle Chinese title that translates as ‘Righteousness doesn’t permit feelings’, this TV drama, was always going to be lovelorn, emotionally complex and heart-wrenching. Despite its convoluted plot set over three decades, with its A-list cast – consisting of Felix Wong, Deric Wan, Carina Lau, Kathy Chow Hoi-mei and Maggie Shiu – and masterful storyline, this show won several awards and gained a huge following.

A Kindred Spirit《真情》(1995)

With well over 1,000 episodes, A Kindred Spirit is one of the longest-running of all Hong Kong dramas. The show follows the trials and tribulations of the Lee family, who run a small siu mei restaurant – headed by Lee Biu-bing, who, to our delight, is more commonly referred to as Char Siu Bing. It’s your usual hodge podge of life, love, family and all that good stuff, except it goes on forever. But still, Char Siu Bing (pictured in all his barbecued glory), brilliant.

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File of Justice

File of Justice《壹號皇庭》(1992)

Following a handful of young lawyers, their usually grizzly murder cases and their melodramatic personal lives, this addictive TVB serial with slightly comical melodramatic overtones developed over five seasons into quintessential HK drama viewing. 

Journey to the West《西遊記》(1996)

There’s no shortage of adaptions of the classic Chinese novel but this is the one that people often remember most fondly. Dicky Cheung’s portrayal of Shuen Ng-hung (the monkey king) brilliantly encapsulates the charm and mischief of the character. The original buddy road trip, Journey to the Wests got a pretty good story. Might be why they’re still cranking out adaptations today...

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Old Time Buddy

Old Time Buddy《難兄難弟》(1997)

Set during the roaring 60s, this rom-com tells the tale of struggling actors Tse Yuen and Lee Kei and charts their journey (and hilarious mishaps) through Hong Kong’s cut-throat film industry back when the burgeoning local movie business was starting to produce its first real icons. Old Time Buddy proved to be so successful that it spawned a sequel by way of Old Time Buddy – To Catch a Thief as well as inspiring the film Those Were the Days.

 

My Date with a Vampire《我和殭屍有個約會》(1998)

Following the success of other ATV vampire dramas (namely Vampire Experts 1 and 2), ATV arguably did their best work in the genre with the first season of My Date with a Vampire, which was arguably some of the only work the channel’s done that has legitimately competed with the mighty TVB. All but doing away with the Qing-style vampires – hopping and all – My Date with a Vampire went all-out on, for the time, huge, special-effects laden action set pieces and a super-stylised aesthetic reminiscent of the contemporaneous Blade. It may look a little hooky now but at the time, this was badass. Even if the action didn’t appeal, almost everyone was sucked in (geddit?) by the intense love-triangle shared by the leads.

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Healing Hands《妙手仁心》(1998)

The classic aspirational medical series, covering all the expected bases and emotional tent poles oft-associated with this kind of programme – life, death and love. Things flag towards the end as the show becomes somewhat creatively bankrupt but whenever the three leads – Paul, Henry and Gilbert share a scene – TV gold ensues.

Step into the Past

A Step into the Past《尋秦記》(2001)

Out of all of TVB’s many attempts to make a programme about time travel that’s not complete dross, this is arguably the only one that actually succeeds. Starring Louis Koo (in his last TV drama role to date) and Jessica Hsuan, A Step into the Past follows Hong Siu-lung (Koo), a special agent whos recruited for a secret time travelling experiment because the government wants him to film the coronation of the Yongzheng Emperor in 1722 because they couldnt think of a better use for time travel... Hong ends up in 250BC in the middle of the Warring States period by accident because if he didn’t, then there wouldn’t be a programme.  

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War of the Genders

War of the Genders《男親女愛》(2000)

Most people will agree that this is one of TVB’s best. War of the Genders achieved some of the highest viewing figures of any TVB drama. The ensemble romantic comedy series predominantly follows the fortunes of bickering couple Miss Mo and Yu Lok-tin – the former sharp-tongued, confident and classy while the latter is, basically, despite being a paralegal advisor, a loud-mouthed gambling addict with a pet cockroach. But he’s you know, lovable and stuff. Opposites attract!

Square Pegs《戇夫成龍》(2002)

True love overcomes any obstacle tale. The obstacle this time round is the fact that Choi Fong is forced to marry Ding Seung-wong, a man with the mental capacity of a child. The endearing tale – although trope-laden ­– had a lot of heart, very many wife cakes and some excellent performances that would go on to make Roger Kwok and Jessica Hsuan household names.

 

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Triumph in the Skies

Triumph in the Skies《衝上雲霄》(2003)

The one that everyone knows, in no small part thanks to that Eason Chan theme tune. Triumph in the Skies follows the literal highs and lows on the never-ending rollercoaster (in the skies) that is life in the aviation industry. Featuring not one but two seperate love triangles (one of which could possibly be classified as a love square), the romance is off the charts. The series even provides a surprisingly detailed examination of the industry, from the ground control staff through to the airline chefs. The less said about the sequel, though, the better.

War and Beauty《金枝慾孽》(2004)

Set in the Qing dynasty, this drama focuses on the power struggles between different royal concubines as they strive to gain the emperor’s attention. With a strong cast featuring Sheren Tang, Maggie Ho Yee Cheung, Gigi Lai, Charmaine Sheh, Moses Chan and Bowie Lam, War and Beauty perfectly nails the survival of the fittest politicking of the imperial court and its attendant scheming and back-stabbing that is so often over-wrought in similar dramas.

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Heart of Greed

Heart of Greed《溏心風暴》(2007)

This 40 episode-long drama featuring an all-star cast was the water-cooler topic back in 2017. Heart of Greed follows the trials and tribulations of the rich Tong family, where the patriarch Tong Yan-gai (Ha Yu) struggles to keep his two wives and four children happy as they fight over status and the family fortune. Think of it as Hong Kong’s answer to Dynasty but with more outbursts and shouting. The show was so popular it spawned two spin-off series in 2008 and 2017 – with a majority of the same cast returning but with a completely different storyline. 

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