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Mingpao Weekly #2197: Cheung Wah Biu loses faith in TVB

| Wednesday, December 22, 2010 | |
Mingpao Weekly #2197 Shall We Talk? - Heart of Greed's, Moonlight Resonance's, Rosy Business', No Regrets' golden script-writer loses faith in TVB

Wayne Lai and Sheren Tang became the first couple to win the Best Actor and Best Actress awards consecutively, but one of the regrets of that night was that No Regrets did not get the Best Drama award. Script-writer Cheung Wah Biu could only shake his head. It is a pity that there's no chance next year, because he has already left TVB and joined Jimmy Lai's Next TV station in Taiwan. On the week of TVB's awards ceremony, he came back specially from Taiwan to witness the ceremony.

Wah Biu has rendered his services to TVB for 30 years, starting from Felix Wong's and Barbara Yung's The Legend of The Condor Heroes, to Journey to the West and Time Before Time, which broke the ratings records of that time. Heart of Greed, Moonlight Resonance and Rosy Business have won the Best Drama awards consecutively, making him the golden script-writer of the TV industry.

Although Wah Biu has left TVB, he still has something to say to his former company. "TVB is the place where I grew up in. Why did I leave? It's because I've lost faith."

Spends $10 000 every month in fees
Cheung Wah Biu resigned from TVB in April, but he actually has thoughts on leaving TVB during the awards ceremony 2 years ago.

"That year, when we won the Best Drama award, the company wanted all the back-stage crew to go on stage. The producer had the mike, so I had no chance to say what I wanted to say. I was standing behind him. He thanked his wife, his son, his father, his mother, and other people who did not participate in this drama. What about those script-writers and script-editors who personally came out with the scripts? He did not mention them. At that time, I really felt like leaving the stage. In my heart, I knew that it was time to go."

Heart of Greed and Moonlight Resonance had golden phrases, and these were all thought up by Wah Biu. However, he got no acknowledgment for it.

"A producer is only good at producing the drama, not in writing the script itself. He represents the drama itself. A script is just a script, and everybody knows how to say it. It's a pity that there aren't many people who understand."

What pisses him off is that some producers who never took part in the creation of the drama have the power to change the scripts at their whims and fancy.

"There was one time when we wrote this, where A said sorry to an elderly person: Please forgive me, I won't reveal other people's secret again! The producer changed this and changed that, becoming Ripping apart the whistle-blower's mask. This, by itself, is already a wrong use of words. Ripping apart the whistle-blower's mask is a righteous action. We had 2 script-editors and 5 script-writers. We sent out 2 female script-writers to negotiate with the producer, but still, he refused to change it. After that, we sent out the 2 script-editors to talk to him, but there was no results. I had to settle this personally, and it resulted in a row between me and the producer. I had to threaten him and say that I refused to write anymore before he finally relented. It was then I knew that the producer has the final say in everything. When a person has so much authority, there is no need for any reasons when he wants to do things according to his own ways."

At one time, when he was writing a happy scene for Moonlight Resonance, he wanted the accompanying music to be Teresa Teng's Tian Mi Mi, but the producer shot it down, saying that Teresa Teng has died, and it doesn't match the happy scene.

"Being a script-writer is like that. We have only 4 days to complete the script for one episode, but because of such petty rows, we have already wasted 1 day. Pick any week of the month, and there will be 4 days where we work till 2 am. I have to spend about $10 000 every month on taxis to send the female script-writers home."

Jimmy Lai's phone call
Just as Wah Biu was about to resign from TVB, another producer approached him, and that was the producer of 2 highly-rated dramas, Rosy Business and No Regrets, Lee Tim Shing. Wah Biu described it as "Thank goodness I met a good guy!"

"Tim Gor is one who helps us in creating the drama as well as writing the scripts. When we were working on Rosy Business and No Regrets, there was not one day when we had to work OT. We knocked off at around 7 or 8 pm everyday. We feel happy sitting in Tim Gor's car, and he'll send us to the MTR stations."

What made Wah Biu's resolution to leave TVB stronger is that, Tim Gor has already reached retirement age. There are rumours that Tim Gor has refused to renew his contract in TVB. Wah Biu feels that he may not be that lucky to meet another producer like him, so he decided that No Regrets should be his last collaboration between Tim Gor and himself. At around the same time, he received a call from Jimmy Lai, who wanted him to go over to Taiwan's Next TV station.

"I thought it was very strange, because the boss actually personally phoned me. I asked him whether he found the wrong person. I'm just a TV drama script-writer. Jimmy Lai then said that he didn't find the wrong person, and said that people should learn that script-writers are very important as well. I thought for about 3 minutes, and decided that I should leave the TV station that I have been with for 30 years. I was very surprised, because the person who truly appreciates the creators of the drama is not my colleague, but a businessman."

There were rumours that Jimmy Lai offered him 3 times his salary in TVB, which Wah Biu denied. "This is not true at all. When I decided to join Jimmy, my salary was not discussed yet."

Feels apologetic for leaving behind the new script-writers
"Me and the script-writers of Heart of Greed have worked until 2 am for many nights. But this new batch of script-writers include university graduates and they earn very little (about HKD$9000 per month). Other people see it as a lowly job, but since I am already a famous script-writer, I can't say anything for them or change anything for them. This is my biggest regret in my 30 over years in this industry, and I feel really apologetic. In fact, only one script-writer from Heart of Greed is still with TVB. The rest have left. What a waste."

Hospice shock
The audience are getting cleverer, and they are nit-picking at every storylines in every dramas. Even slight similarities from other dramas cannot escape from their eyes. To this, Cheung Wah Biu said, "There are only these few dramas in the whole of Hong Kong. This is a disgusting job sector. No other job sectors will or have been criticised as much as us. During the past, people go to the stadiums and watch ball games. The players may be scolded by 1000+ people, but dramas are watched by millions of people. We are very pitiful."

A few years ago, his father had terminal-stage cancer and was in the hospice. He had to visit him every night.

"There were many patients, so every night when a drama would be airing, they would be very happy and gather around the TV. I would also be there watching. A nurse told me that my dad said that I was the script-writer. She said that we did a good job in writing the series, and the patients feel happy watching it. However, the drama is 40 episodes long, and none of them can finish watching it since they will die. What the nurse said really shocked me, because I didn't realise that so many people actually enjoy watching Hong Kong Dramas. I have a piece of advice for the new generation of script-writers: Your job is very important. It can bring a lot of joy to the audience!

However, in recent years, TVB dramas have been accused of plagarising overseas dramas. Cheung Wah Biu thinks that this is due to lack of creativity.

"Somebody is tasked with overseeing the drama from the start to the end, and they get all the credit while those people who write the scripts get little recognition. Which idiot would be willing to do that? Producers are not born script-writers. The producer is the boss, and those who create the drama for him become his side-kicks. If the producer likes to copy overseas dramas, the script-writers can only listen. This is why there is a lack of good script-writers in TVB."

He considers outstanding TVB script-writers like Gam Kwok Leung, Wai Ka Fai, Tang Tak Hei and Chan Bo Wah as pros in script-writing, while he said that he cannot be compared to them.

Regrets not being a producer
After graduating from secondary school in 1967, Cheung Wah Biu joined the TV industry. He did advertising before switching over to script-writing, working together with other script-writers to come up with Reincarnated, an ATV drama.

"Whatever they said, we copied it down. When the gist of the line is out, we would go and improve on it. They did not teach us properly, but we had an eye-opener. At times, we would go to the filming sites to know the scenes better. I would not forget those 2 years."

At that time, he got promoted quickly. In 3 years, Wah Biu became a script-editor, writing Tsui Siu Ming's Fearless Heroes, which starred Leung Siu Lung. After which, he went over to TVB, where he was in-charge of the 3 installments of The Legend of the Condor Heroes.

"We edited the original version a lot, because if we strictly followed the story, we would not be able to film so many episodes, but Lau Tin Ci (producer at that time) was afraid of the backlash by fans of Jin Yong novels, so he guided us along, and helped us whenever we met with any difficulties."

In the 1990s, Cheung became the producer of one drama, and that is The Challenge of Life, which starred Leon Lai.

"At that time, Tim Gor was a TVB excutive (the position that Catherine Tsang has now). He wanted me to try being a producer, which I rejected at first. I remembered that the cover on the script was Producer: Lee Tim Shing, Script-writer: Cheung Wah Biu. When the script was handed to him, he changed it to Producer: Cheung Wah Biu, Script-writer: Cheung Wah Biu. When it was handed back to me, I changed it again, and when it was given back to him, he changed it back. I decided to let it rest, so I became a producer. Being a producer in TVB is easy, because many people would want to help and support you. In the process, I found out that 90% of the time is spent on creating the script while 10% of the time is used for producing the drama. I told Tim Gor that instead of using that 10% to produce a drama, I'd rather spend 100% of the time on the script itself. So I remained as a script-editor."

"After so many years, you may asked if I regretted my decision. Yes, I did. I thought that by writing a script, the producer would be able to film the drama according to the script, but I found out that not all the producers can do it. They like to push their weight around and this has become a stumbling block. It diminishes the quality of the script."

High blood pressure
In 2003, he wrote Perish in the Name of Love, which had dismal ratings and word-of-mouth. He was very stressed after that. His boss, Catherine Tsang told him, "You haven't taken a rest for these past 20 years. Give yourself a break."

Her words woke him up. He's a work fanatic, and has poured all his efforts into writing scripts, to the extent of sacrificing his personal life. He's over 40 and yet he has not dated anyone or gotten married. He decided to go back to church, where his secondary school teacher introduced him to his current wife. They got married 5 years ago. He was already 49 years old.

It was also at that time that Cheung Wah Biu's life changed. When he was writing Heart of Greed, he and his script-editors and script-writers worked well together.

"I like intense scenes. We would work together and each person had to act out a character. I scold you, you scold me, and another person would be jotting down all the dialogues. It's not like the past where the script-writers go back home and write it themselves." Louise Lee's "My eyes are the evidence" then became the golden phrase that everybody knows. This is how her golden phrase was thought up - we "scolded" each other. "So every time I write a script, my blood pressure would rise."

The new script-writers like to watch overseas dramas, so they would like to incorporate ideas from those dramas into TVB dramas. Cheung Wah Biu feels that they should incorporate ideas from their daily observations in life instead.

"There are many people with poor characters in real life. When I write villain characters, I want them to be really bad. Heart of Greed's Sai Kei, Moonlight Resonance's Aunt Hung, Rosy Business' Bit Man are just a few examples. There are many scenes that No Regrets' Fei Fan Gor has which are real-life dialogues. There was a scene where Lau Sing and his policemen were catching the criminals. Lau Sing killed all the criminals and was supposed to be handsomely rewarded, but Fei Fan Gor stole all the credit instead. The script-writer said that it wasn't logical, because even if you wanted to claim credit, you had to secretly find your superior, but I said that it isn't like that in reality. There was one time when a producer and I analysed the drama's ending, and decided to change it. That producer was Director Chai, and he was helping with the directing. I told him that I felt that the ending had problems, so I wanted to change it. He still asked me about my opinions, so human character is really like that."

The script is dramatic, but that is because of reality. Cheung Wah Biu has been in this big company for 30 years, and having seen so many changes and heard many things, he himself is a script.

Intellectual property
On the second day after the interview, Cheung Wah Biu had to return to Taiwan. He returns to Hong Kong for about 4, 5 days every month to visit his wife, who stays in Hong Kong. Although husband and wife seldom get to see each other, but Mrs Cheung is very meticulous. She helped Wah Biu scanned the photo and gave them to the reporters.

The Taiwan TV station that he is in has not started operating yet. He is now writing the script for a modern cop drama, and filming is to commence in January. Having Taiwanese producers, Taiwanese artistes, and writing Mandarin dialogues - all these are new experiences for Wah Biu.

One familiar script-writer that has left TVB to join him is script-editor Chu King Kei. "He is the one who created Laughing Gor. So many people know Laughing Gor, but how many people know that Chu King Kei is the one who created Laughing Gor? This goes to show that this place doesn't respect one's intellectual property!"

Cheung Wah Biu claims that he is shy, but every word he utters is filled with excitement and authority. Gau Mui's sense of righteousness and anger is seen on Wah Biu himself.

Representative works
- Reincarnation
- 大內群英
- The Legendary Fok

- The Fortune Teller
- Legend of the Condor Heroes
- The Mamasan
- The Challenge of Life (producer)
- Journey to the West
- Time Before Time
- Gods of Honour
- Point of No Return
- The Conqueror's Story
- Safe Guards
- Heart of Greed
- Moonlight Resonance
- Rosy Business
- A Fistful of Stances
- No Regrets

The TVB Anniversary awards 2 years ago made Cheung Wah Biu want to leave TVB. He has written many classics, including The Edge of Righteousness, Big Family, Down Memory Lane, which starred Alex Man as the lead.

Although Wayne Lai was just a supporting character in Safe Guards and Steven Ma was the lead, but Cheung Wah Biu read the forums and knew that many people preferred Wayne's portrayal, so he took the gamble and gave Wayne the lead role in Rosy Business.

In 1999, when Road to Eternity wrapped up filming, Mariane Chan treated them to dinner, where he and Gordan Lam became good friends.

In his younger days, Wah Biu only concentrated on writing his script, and he only got married at 49.

During the period of The Challenge of Life, he, together with Kitty Lai and Frankie Lam, Wayne Lai etc went to Kitty's house for BBQ.

There are many people who have followed Cheung Wah Biu, but there are a few who made it big. One of them is Amy Cheung, and another one is Yau Nai Hoi, who is still very young. He is the who joined Johnnie To in the end.

- Credits to Mingpao Weekly
- Credits to 泰式辣醬 of 义海豪情吧 for pictures


Comments: OH MY GAWD! I'm finally done with translating this article! It's really very, very long, but I hope you guys have fun reading this.

It's such a pity that Cheung Wah Biu had to leave TVB, but it did seemed like he is very unhappy with TVB. Could this be the reason why No Regrets didn't win the Best Drama award?

Anyway, it's TVB's loss that Cheung Wah Biu chose to leave them. I think it's a smart choice, though that means that we probably won't get to see good dramas anymore. =(

I wish him all the best! =D


  1. Thank you for translating! I've heard people mention his name but really didn't know much about him. This is really deep and touching. What Cheung Wah Biu seeks is the artistic, intellectual and emotional side and art of drama while many people just take the easy route. It's such a shame because that's what a lot of viewers want but producers and TVB have to realize that.

    I personally don't watch dramas where I can almost accurately guess what's going to happen next because quite frankly I could write a drama myself... (I did watch Mysteries of Love but that's only because I wanted to relax and not think deeply like I am right now with No Regrets; yeah I'm watching it now it was airing when I had midterms :()

    The audience want to be kept on their toes and be excited with new stories, new plots with a touch of humanity; not stolen or plagarized ideas.

  2. @Trang and Anonymous Yes, it is really a big loss to TVB, but actually, the script-writers who wrote Rosy Business and No Regrets are pretty young. Wayne and Wah Biu did mention in an interview that they're only about 30+ years old... Wah Biu is like the overall-in-charge of the scripts.

    If Rosy Business' and No Regrets' script-writers don't leave TVB, maybe we'll still get to see more meaningful dramas. =)

    I totally agree with Wah Biu. Many people know how to read the scripts, but not many people actually really understand WHY they wrote such things. =/ The artistes themselves also have to do a lot of homework.

  3. thank you very much for translating this! now i'm gonna need to have low expectations for Rosy Business 3! hope it won't be a total disappointment :) thanks again!


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