Ahhh, Hong Kong TV dramas. Love triangles, nightmare in-laws, hilarious caricature villains and melodramatic deaths – these are the recurring themes that make these programmes such 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. So put aside any prejudice and join us as we list the best Hong Kong dramas…
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
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.
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.
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.
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 West’s got a pretty good story. Might be why they’re still cranking out adaptations today...
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.
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.
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 who’s recruited for a secret time travelling experiment because the government wants him to film the coronation of the Yongzheng Emperor in 1722 because they couldn’t 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.