*Written by AngryBaby
Instead of writing a review, the recent TVB series "Heart of Greed" prompted me to ask a question. Do you support communism or democracy?
You're asking "how the hell did you come up with this question?" Well I'm suggesting that the answer to this basic question of what is 'good and right' for society and where our allegiance lie, can be found by understanding what pulls our heartstrings (to put it in soppy TVB terms) in our television dramas, rather than by what our rational minds would have us believe.
You may or may not be aware of the political backboard on which our favourite stories are mounted. Consider which TV series over the years have left an impression on you whilst seizing your emotions for a roller coaster ride? Perhaps these ones come to mind: A Threshold of Era, Secret of the Heart, Warm Blood Cold Heart, Golden Faith, Revolving Doors of Vengeance, Brink of Law and many many more – not to forget the recent series "Heart of Greed"
What these popular dramas have in common bind them back to the roots of ancient dramas. For those viewers who only watch modern fashionable series and diss ancient series for being 'old-fashioned' and 'boring', don't be too loud because they are pretty much on the same page and more importantly may give us the answer to our question.
Don't believe me? Lets compare them (I'll raise examples from Heart of Greed, but think of all the other series as well):
The Big Picture
In modern series the big Company is the country/empire as in ancient series (HOG – abalone company). This successful company/country was built by the Father (aka the CEO)/King (HOG-Dai Bao) – like a heavenly mandate, so it rightfully belongs to him. The fearless CEO/Father is a wise and fair ruler whose actions affect the welfare and lives of employees and associates of company (civilians of the country). Work issues (country politics) inevitably mix and entwine with family/domestic affairs ('hao goong'), causing problems for this leader and his large extended royal family. They all live under the same roof (initially) in a massive mansion (the palace), have chaffeurs and servants, and eat together at a big table where everyone sits in their pecking order – Father at the head, on the throne of course.
It's not great to be the Father/King, you'll be dead part way through the series. The question is how you'll die, either due to a long battle with bad health (such as a heart attack from learning you've been betrayed by your children/wife) or murdered – either way, your death will be treated with suspicion and chaos will follow closely.
The Father/King has several wives, the first wife is the 'Queen' (HOG – Lee Sze Kei) followed by concubines (wife number 2,3,4,...HOG – Sai Kai). In modern series, this includes women who have affairs with the father that usually result in illegitimate children, who will prove to be a black horse for a share of the estate. To viewers, oddly enough, the Father's integrity and good character can remain totally untarnished despite these extra-marital affairs. Viewers tend to accept their betrayal as if it's expected - like Kings having many concubines (HOG – all the kids seemed to accept their Dad's busy hands with no problems). In Heart of Greed, it really wasn't the father's fault – it's just the real wife was deathly sick and she 'forced' another woman for him. First wife recovers, but oops too late - second wife was now with child, so he has 2 wives – poor guy, he just wanted to be responsible. And then whilst his first wife was dying and already with a 2nd wife, he sleeps with yet another – but once again its not his fault, he was just drunk because he was depressed about his first wife's condition (yeah whatever TVB).
So just as in the palace, there are in-house jealousies and psychological warfare between the women to gain power footholds in the family (HOG – Dai Kai, Sai Kai etc). The ones with sons have an upper hand and in conversations full of 'bones' they belittle each other's children's mistakes and faults. Social balls, cocktail parties, charity auctions substitute the ancient lavish banquets, festivals and religious events, where wives dress up to try and upstage each other or expose the other to public embarrassment (HOG – the dinners, the wedding, courtroom etc.).
In ancient dramas, it's normal and even respectable for men to fight for control in the company/country's affairs but when women try, it's not right and they are blamed for the troubles because they upset the natural order of power. Likewise in modern series, when the wives begin to be 'involved' in company issues they are seen petty and stir up a lot of trouble for the family
The wives succeed when their rivals are banished from the house (exiled from palace) or ignored by the husband (thrown into 'cold chamber'). (HOG – Dai Kai ousting Sai Kai from the house). Chances are you'll either end up dead, in hospital, in prison, drinking coffee with ICAC or crazy.
The 'Royal' Children
This younger bunch are your princes and princesses who have claims inheritance and if you're male, a chance at the throne (CEO of company – apparently it doesn't matter that you have no work experience, it works more like a birth-right) (HOG – Bosco got to open a whole chain of restaurants on his first day). There is always a long lost illegimate/adopted son somewhere out there who has had it tough, has lived amongst (and therefore is in-touch) with the 'commoners' – which makes them a good future 'ruler' and wins the support of the audience. Confirm it with a DNA test or try the good old fashioned 'drop of kin blood' test which is apparently just as reliable! (HOG – Sai Bao and his two impossibly compliant siblings)
Amongst this royal rabble there are the bad and the few good kids (obvious favourites). In the bad eggs you have your lazy leeches who drink and party hard all day, rebellious ingrates whose ambitions outstrip their ability. (HOG – seemed to escape this part, had enough conniving family members already, though Bosco was a bit of a rebel)
If you are a son/prince, you'll be influenced by your mothers and strive to beat your brothers to the throne. If you are a daughter/princess beware of falling prey to smooth bad guys who just want to marry you to get in the royal clan.
As heirs/heiresses chances are you'll end up either dead, in hospital, in prison, drinking coffee with ICAC, crazy or you will successfully restore and take back the company (meaning you win).
All the King's men ...
This group includes everyone else surrounding the Father/King and the family. Such as your evil royal uncles (those who missed out on the throne in Round 1), the wives' (concubines') greedy family/relatives and the few experienced hard working loyal employees (the King's trusty advisors). They have the roles of either help toppling the empire or supporting the upcoming sucessor. (HOG – Lai yi, her brother/the uncle, Sai-Kai's grossly mismatched lover, Tavia's money vulture-like family).
Modern and ancient dramas run pretty much on the same ups and downs, twists and turns. There are so many I'll just mention a few. Tension builds as Father/King ages but the real fun begins when the he dies and company/country, wealth and power is divided, usually in a will by his lawyers/government officials. This is challenged by unsatisfied children/wives and the will is suspected of being fake. Followed by bitter court battles (civil wars) amongst the siblings and use of all sorts of evil schemes, including a hint of murder. You have hostile company takeovers from commercial rivals which is equivalent to the country being invaded by foreigners. There are the greedy relatives who persuade the bad kids to betray the company/country by colluding to fraud, stealing and perhaps star in a 'staged' kidnapping. But in the end, peace returns when the good son takes power, bad guys gets what they deserve – happy days.
Back to the question
So do you find yourself engrossed in these series, feel a strong sense of justice and satisfaction with the endings? Then perhaps the truth is you neither support communism or democracy. It maybe because deep your heart lies a quiet monarchist? Ultimately you believe there is only one rightful heir who should wield power and authority, and when this is 'stolen' by illegitimate people you fell that justice has been violated.
There could be many reasons why this is - the demographics to which these series are written for covers viewers who have been brought up in chinese/asian traditions, idealistic in self-denial and sacrifice for the good of the all important collectivism and unity of community (especially the family unit). Submission to authority and passivity has been our honourable badge, look at the role and push of Budhism by leaders in chinese history.
Maybe after thousands of years, monarchy is in our blood, an invisible instinct and loyalty our subconscious cannot escape (Communist Mao ZeDong was practically ROC's emperor). Looking closer at the fundamentals on which our favourite dramas are based and how our primitive emotions are targeted, reveals an insight into our human nature - not to mention a range of questions. And it effects our drama ratings, their popularity and the stories we demand on our TV screens.
Bu Bu Jing Xinstarring Cecilia Liu Shi Shi, Kevin Cheng, Nicky Wu, Yuan Hong
The New Adventure Of Chor Lau Heung (DVD, English subs)starring Miu Kiu Wai, Barbara Yung