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Triumph in the Skies

17 best Hong Kong TV dramas of all time

A look back at our city’s greatest televisual achievements

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong
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Forget about all the K-dramas and new Netflix shows. Nothing beats the over-the-top love triangles, nightmare in-laws, hilarious caricature villains, and melodramatic deaths in Hong Kong TV dramas. Yes, it can be easy to laugh at the exaggerated, and always predictable, twists and turns, but many of Hong Kong’s most celebrated 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 some of the best Hong Kong dramas ever made.

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《上海灘》(1980)

The Bund《上海灘》(1980)

Shady dealings, triad business, violent confrontations, a tragic love triangle, murders, revenge – think of The Bund as a Hong Kong version of The Godfather. Spawning remakes, spinoffs, movies, not to mention Chow Yun-fat's acting career, The Bund is classic HK drama at its finest.

Police Cadet《新紮師兄》(1984)

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 around 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《義不容情》(1989)

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 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 is one that's loved by many even to this day.

A Kindred Spirit《真情》(1995)

A Kindred Spirit《真情》(1995)

With well over 1,000 episodes aired, A Kindred Spirit was one of the longest-running 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, aka 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 is, and always will be, one of the most classic characters in the history of Hong Kong TV dramas.

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File of Justice《壹號皇庭》(1992)

File of Justice《壹號皇庭》(1992)

Following a handful of young lawyers, File of Justice has everything from grizzly murder cases to melodramatic personal lives. This addictive TVB serial with slightly comical overtones developed over five seasons into quintessential HK drama viewing. 

Journey to the West《西遊記》(1996)

Journey to the West《西遊記》(1996)

There’s no shortage of remakes and adaptions to this classic Chinese novel, but this is the one that people often remember most fondly – mainly due to Dicky Cheung’s portrayal of Shuen Ng-hung (the monkey king) and how he brilliantly encapsulates the charm and mischief of the character. Add that to the undeniable chemistry between Cheung and the rest of the cast, and you've got yourself a buddy road trip story that will keep you glued to the screen.

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Old Time Buddy《難兄難弟》(1997)

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 (as well as 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)

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), My Date with a Vampire was arguably some of the only work the channel has done that's legitimately competed with the almighty TVB. All but doing away with the Qing-style vampires – stiff hopping and all – My Date with a Vampire went all-out on special effects, 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 (pun intended) by the intense love-triangle shared by the leads.

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Healing Hands《妙手仁心》(1998)

Healing Hands《妙手仁心》(1998)

This classic aspirational medical series covered all the expected storylines and emotional tent poles often associated with this kind of drama – life, death, and love. Things flagged towards the end as the show became somewhat creatively bankrupt, but whenever the three leads Paul, Henry, and Gilbert shared a scene, TV gold ensued.

A Step into the Past《尋秦記》(2001)

A Step into the Past《尋秦記》(2001)

Out of TVB’s many, many attempts to make a programme about time travel that’s not complete dross, this is arguably the only one that actually succeeded. Starring Louis Koo 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 wanted him to film the coronation of the Yongzheng Emperor in 1722 and 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. Yup, definitely a classic TVB-style storyline.

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War of the Genders《男親女愛》(2000)

War of the Genders《男親女愛》(2000)

Having achieved some of the highest viewing figures of any TVB dramas, War of the Genders is one of TVB's best. Starring Carol Cheng and Dayo Wong, the romantic comedy series follows the fortunes of a bickering couple, Miss Mo (Cheng), a sharp-tongued, confident, and classy solicitor, and Yu Lok-tin (Wong), a loud-mouthed paralegal advisor who's also a gambling addict with a pet cockroach. But he's you know, lovable and stuff. Opposites attract!

Square Pegs《戇夫成龍》(2002)

Square Pegs《戇夫成龍》(2002)

They say true love overcomes any obstacles, right? Well, at least that what Square Pegs is all about. An endearing tale with a lot of heart, Square Pegs revolves around Choi Fung (Jessica Hsuan) and Ding Seung-wong (Roger Kwok), a man with the mental capacity of a child who Fung is forced to marry. The excellent performances by the two leads made both Hsuan and Kwok a household name. 

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Triumph in the Skies《衝上雲霄》(2003)

Triumph in the Skies《衝上雲霄》(2003)

The one that everyone knows, in no small part thanks to Eason Chan's theme tune Years like a song (歲月如歌). Triumph in the Skies follows the literal highs and lows on the never-ending rollercoaster that is life in the aviation industry. Featuring not one, but two separate love triangles (one of which could possibly be classified as a love square), the romance is off the charts. The series even provided 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)

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《溏心風暴》(2007)

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 2007. Heart of Greed follows the trials and tribulations of the wealthy 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 a lot of shouting. The show was so popular that it spawned two spin-off series in 2008 and 2017 – with a majority of the same cast returning but with a completely different storyline. 

Rosy Business《巾幗梟雄》(2009)
Photograph: Courtesy TVB

Rosy Business《巾幗梟雄》(2009)

There's no set formula to a successful TV drama, but if we had to find an example, Rosy Business comes close to it. Set in the mid-19th century in eastern China, this historical drama had something for everyone. Whether it's a complicated romance, intense fight scenes, tear-jerking monologues, or butt-clenching cliffhangers – you name it, it's there. As one of TVB's highest-rated series of all time, Rosy Business successfully swept up six awards at the 2009 TVB Anniversary Awards, with the main leads Wayne Lai and Sheren Tang taking home the Best Actor and Best Actress awards.

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Line Walker series《使徒行者系列》(2014-2020)

Line Walker is arguably one of the most successful drama series in Hong Kong. Since the series premiered on TVB in 2014, the crime thriller only grew in popularity following its sequel seasons in 2017 and 2020. The story is riddled with jaw-dropping plot twists, intense fight scenes, and even heartwarming moments that will make you drop a tear or two. To top it off, the Line Walker series stars some of the biggest names in the industry including Michael Miu (苗僑偉), Raymond Lam (林峯), Charmaine Sheh (佘詩曼), and many more. The TV series was so successful that it was adapted into a movie of the same, with some of the same characters played by the original cast of the TV drama.

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