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10 Hong Kong period drama series to binge-watch

By Catharina Cheung 7 August 2020 | Last Updated 9 October 2021

Header image courtesy of encoreTVB

Gloomy weather keeping you in? Fear not—we’re here to recommend more television series for your entertainment! If you’ve already seen all the titles from our previous round-up of classic TVB dramas, here are 10 TVB period drama series to watch instead. Hit the shops for snacks and hurry home for a weekend of TV bingeing!

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Photo: 搜狐

The Return of the Condor Heroes《神鵰俠侶》(1983)

There are so many television series, movies, and spin-offs that are based on the Condor Heroes series, originally penned by the famous Hong Kong wuxia (武俠; “martial heroes”) novelist, Jin Yong. Despite being preceded by another drama series of the same name in 1976, this 1983 version is the well-loved classic and is also the adaptation that Jin Yong himself has claimed to like the most.

The plot continues from The Legend of the Condor Heroes (a wuxia novel that also has various television adaptations) and centres on Yeung Kuo (played by Andy Lau) who is orphaned and gets taken in by his father’s sworn brother. They send him off to martial arts training, but because Yeung is bullied by both his peers and teacher, he ends up running away and gets involved with the Ancient Tomb Sect, where he meets Siu Long Nui (played by Idy Chan) and becomes her apprentice.

The pair eventually develop a romance, but such a relationship is forbidden by the rules of the martial arts community, and much of the story involves Yeung improving his skills from different characters, all while his relationship is strained and tested.

Back then, Andy Lau was just climbing to the height of fame, and The Return of the Condor Heroes was his second-ever lead role, catapulting him to stardom and nationwide recognition. The same drama was later revisited in 1995 when TVB remade it starring Louis Koo and Carman Lee.

Photo: 配音网

The Duke of Mount Deer《鹿鼎記》(1984)

This is another story based on a Jin Yong novel, The Deer and the Cauldron, and was the last and longest of the author’s works. Though classed as a wuxia story, it is atypical of the genre because its protagonist is not the zealously upright martial artist that audiences expect, but rather an anti-hero character who relies on wit and a sharp tongue to weasel out of trouble.

Wai Siu-bo is a sly, street-smart young man from a lowly background who, through a series of adventures, gets kidnapped and taken into the imperial palace. There, he impersonates a eunuch, bumbles into an encounter with the young prince who would eventually become Emperor Kangxi, and strikes up an unlikely friendship with him.

One of the story’s major themes is the struggles of the Han Chinese people who support the fallen Ming dynasty and wish to free their country from the invading Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty. Wai helps his friend fend off insidious attacks and eventually ascend the throne, but at the same time, he is involved with an underground anti-Qing organisation, and most of the plot is centred around his conflicting friendships and loyalties.

Starring the legendary Infernal Affairs duo of Tony Leung Chiu-wai as Wai Siu-bo and Andy Lau as Emperor Kangxi, this drama is an entertaining look into one of Hong Kong’s best well-known wuxia stories. The young Tony Leung also turns in a charming performance as the cheeky and quick-witted main character.

Photo: myTV SUPER

The Legendary Four Aces《金裝四大才子》(2000)

This is one of TVB’s rarer period dramas that are more comedic in nature instead of focused on martial arts. Set in Suzhou during the Ming dynasty, the story follows four scholars who are renowned for their intellect and academic prowess.

Suzhou was a region well-known for producing scholars, and among them, Tong Bak-fu (played by Nick Cheung Ka-fai), Chuk Chi-San (Bobby Au-yeung), and Man Jing-ming (Gordon Lam) are three who are particularly talented. Tong is famous for his paintings, Chuk for his oral debating skills, and Man for his calligraphy; collectively, they’re known as the Three Treasures of Suzhou. Through a series of challenges set by other competing schools of scholars, they end up befriending a former nemesis, Chow Mun-bun (Marco Ngai), thus expanding their trio to four people.

As they make their way to the capital city to sit for the imperial examinations—the requirement for scholars who wish to attain positions in the government as officials—there are, of course, romantic storylines which develop. Tong falls in love with the assassin Chow Yuet (played by Esther Kwan) and smuggles his way into the prime minister’s household as a servant to get closer to her, only to realise that the girl working there is Chow Yuet’s estranged twin Chow Heung.

Lighthearted and often humorous, the spirit of The Legendary Four Aces hinges on the brotherly friendships between the four men. Nick Cheung and Esther Kwan have great chemistry on-screen, and little wonder, because the couple later got married in real life!

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Photo: YesAsia

A Step into the Past《尋秦記》(2001)

Based on a novel of the same name by Huang Yi, a Hong Kong writer of the wuxia and sci-fi genres, A Step into the Past was a drama series of historical fiction partly based on real events.

Hong Siu-lung (played by Louis Koo) is a G4 special agent police officer who gets sent back in time on a secret mission to photograph the coronation of the first emperor of China, but a technical glitch sends him back three years earlier than intended. Trapped in the Warring States era, he has to journey to a specific location and time before his transmitter device can pick up the signals that can bring him back to the present. Hong then gets embroiled in royal affairs among other events, all while taking care not to trigger any chain reactions that could potentially alter history. He ends up assisting Chiu Poon (Raymond Lam) in becoming the crown prince of Qin, and eventually the first emperor of a unified China.

A well-written series that balances comedic scenes with heavier drama, A Step into the Past remains one of Hong Kong’s most well-loved period television series, scoring high ratings even during its rerun in 2005. A running gag in the show is the characters being confused about the “funny” language that Hong uses because he insists on speaking in modern colloquialisms despite being physically back in the past. This was Louis Koo’s last work in a television series before he turned his attention to films. It was also Raymond Lam’s first major role, and his breakthrough performance as the rebellious Chiu Poon slowly transforming into the ruthless Qin Emperor was particularly memorable and highly praised.

Photo: encoreTVB

Point of No Return《西關大少》(2003)

This is a series that is still considered period, but not set as far back in history as the rest on this list. Taking place in the 1920s, the plot centres on a well-to-do family in Guangzhou, the trials and tribulations related to their family business and relations, as well as various love triangles.

Chow Ming-hin (played by Damian Lau) is the head of his family and the founder of a successful shipping enterprise, while his son and eventual successor, Chow Tin-chi (Julian Cheng), is a bit of a spoilt and feckless brat. The patriarch marries Ng Yuk-hing, his right-hand in the business and one true love, despite already having a wife, which incites much jealousy.

Upon his death, the business is left to Ng because Chow doesn’t have faith in his son’s abilities. She then has to deal with running the business, the main wife’s increasing bitterness, and extended family members who have their eye set on stealing the Chow assets. As Tin-chi matures into a more responsible man, he falls in love with Ho Sheung-hei (Charmaine Sheh), but is not allowed to pursue a relationship with her because of disparities in their social class.

TVB has a knack for scripting family dramas well, and Point of No Return is no exception. This series also sees the reunion of Julian Cheng and Charmaine Sheh as an on-screen couple after their work together in Return of the Cuckoo in 2000, and their chemistry was again highly praised by audiences.

Photo: encoreTVB

War and Beauty《金枝慾孽》(2004)

War and Beauty’s stellar cast boasts having an unusually high number of actors who have won the TVB Best Actor or Actress awards. It also received widespread praise among both critics and mass audiences and is one of Hong Kong’s best drama series to date about palace intrigue.

The plot largely focuses on the harem of women and concubines within the inner palace during the Qing dynasty. Imperial Consort Yu (played by Sheren Tang) is a concubine highly favoured by the emperor and wields a great deal of power among the harem. Yi-sun (Charmaine Sheh) and Yuk-ying (Gigi Lai) are newcomers to the palace who eventually get embroiled in the power struggles, inner machinations, and corruption plaguing this large group of women all vying for the emperor’s favour.

It later transpired that Yi-sun is a Han Chinese posing as Manchurian, only entering the palace to save her adoptive father, who had committed treason, from a death sentence. She also falls in love with the imperial doctor Suen Pak-yeung (Bowie Lam), but he begins an affair with Yuk-ying instead—also an act of treason in itself.

This drama was so popular that all the feuding and shifting alliances were followed closely by viewers, who analysed and discussed everything in great detail in online forums. There were some who criticised the show for promoting backstabbing and insidious hatred as a natural way of life among women, but in general, it was very well-received with superb acting.

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Photo: R的港劇- 痞客邦

Twin of Brothers《大唐雙龍傳》(2004)

Despite the misleading English title, the main characters of this series are not even brothers, let alone twins. Instead, this is a wuxia series about two young men who call themselves the ‘Twin Dragons’ and their adventures in the world of martial arts.

Kau Chong (played by Raymond Lam) and Tsui Chi-ling (Ron Ng) are two orphans who grew up together and are best friends. Their personalities are polar opposites: While Kau Chong is extroverted, impulsive, and mischievous, Chi-ling is more level-headed, serious, and morally righteous.

Their carefree lives are upended when they stumble upon the manual for the Secret of Immortality, a set of martial arts skills that has the potential for tremendous power. A female assassin captures them to get hold of the manual but later realises both boys have the potential to master it and takes on the role of their master and adoptive mother instead. When she is killed, the boys decide to properly learn the Secret of Immortality to avenge her, slowly gaining prominence in the martial arts world.

Compared to other series in the same genre, this was quite a major production, with the crew filming on location in mainland China instead of using sets. The comradery and brotherly affection between the two male leads translate well on-screen and contribute to much of this show’s charm.

Photo: Dramabox.Se

The Conqueror’s Story《楚漢驕雄》(2004)

This series is based on historical events that occurred during the Chu-Han Contention, a period of discontinuity between the fall of the Qin dynasty and the establishing of the Han dynasty. After the Qin empire was split into 18 factions, two major contenders for power rose from the rampant civil wars: the Kingdom of Western Chu, led by Hong Yu (played by Kwong Wa), and the Kingdom of Han, led by Lau Bong (Adam Cheng).

The Conqueror’s Story is interesting because of its presentation, in which each episode features a major event affecting the Chu-Han Contention. Every episode has a prologue, where a cast member explains the context and main point of the episode. Many of these events are well-known and have been immortalised in idioms used in Chinese society, so each episode is themed and named after one such idiom.

An example would be “to break cauldrons and sink boats” (破釜沉舟), an idiom which means an unflagging determination to fight to the end. This was based on the Battle of Julu, in which Hong Yu led his army across the Yellow River to battle, then ordered all their boats, cauldrons, and lodgings to be destroyed, with only three days’ worth of provisions to be left, showing that no man should entertain the idea of returning without a fight to the death. No doubt those interested in Chinese history that is more than fictional drama will enjoy The Conqueror’s Story for being rooted in real events.

Photo: encoreTVB

Rosy Business《巾幗梟雄》(2009)

Inspired by the successful mainland Chinese series The Grand Mansion Gate, Rosy Business follows the story of the Chiang family, owners of the largest rice business in the city of Wuxi.

Set during the mid-nineteenth century, the patriarch of the Chiang family (played by Elliot Ngok) falls ill and leaves the management of his business in the capable hands of his fourth wife Hong Po-kei (Sheren Tang). This, of course, incurs the wrath and jealousy of his other wifes and sons.

Hong sees potential in the second Chiang son, Bit-ching (Ron Ng), and guides him to eventually become the successor of the family, but her efforts are hampered by the first wife, Fung-yee, who wants her son, Bit-man, to be the sole heir instead. The impoverished coolie Chai Kau (Wayne Lai) seeks vengeance from being mistreated by Bit-man and his uncle, and initially opposes Po-kei but ends up joining forces with her to protect the Chiang business from crumbling through various setbacks and the Taiping Rebellion.

The series was a commercial success, receiving 12 TVB Anniversary Award nominations and eight Top 5 nominations, eventually winning six of these and therefore becoming the highest-awarded series of 2009. Sheren Tang and Wayne Lai both won Best Actress and Best Actor respectively for their work.

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Photo: encoreTVB

Beyond the Realm of Conscience《宮心計》(2009)

Beyond the Realm of Conscience was one of the two TVB productions made in 2009 to celebrate the channel’s forty-second anniversary, and features an all-star cast. Its title is a play on the phrase “攻心計,” a homonymous phrase that means “to plot with a devious heart,” reflecting the overall theme of the storyline itself.

Set in the later years of the Tang dynasty, Lau Sam-ho (played by Charmaine Sheh) and Yiu Kam-ling (Tavia Yeung) enter the palace as young children. Although Kam-ling was technically Sam-ho’s servant outside the palace, the girls grew up together and have a close sisterly bond, and both work as palace servants within the Imperial Household Bureau.

Dowager Concubine Cheng’s son, Prince Lee Yi (Moses Chan), encounters Sam-ho as a child and holds affectionate feelings towards her kind nature, but is forced to fake a mental illness and is sent from the palace in a bid to protect his life. He eventually grows up and returns to fight for his place on the throne, aided by Sam-ho and imperial scholar Ko Hin-yeung (Kevin Cheng). The three develop a love triangle, while Kam-ling resolves to become powerful and respected, and begins climbing the ranks of the concubines and scheming to get rid of her competitors, which eventually includes Sam-ho.

Hong Kong audiences are generally very receptive of the palace intrigue format, and Beyond the Realm of Conscience was a highly anticipated drama that was positively received. Apart from Tavia Yeung’s first time playing a villainous role, this series was also much noted for its lavish costumes, hairstyles, and use of colours and make-up to show the hidden personalities of characters.

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Catharina Cheung

Senior editor

Catharina has recently returned to her hometown of Hong Kong after spending her formative years in Singapore and the UK. She enjoys scouring the city for under-the-radar things to do, see, and eat, and is committed to finding the perfect foundation that will withstand Hong Kong’s heat. She is also an aspiring polyglot, a firm advocate for feminist and LGBTQIA+ issues, and a huge lover of animals. You can find her belting out show-tunes in karaoke, or in bookstores adding new tomes to her ever-growing collection.

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