Sibling rivalry

Hakka Sisters stars Prudence Liew and Savio Tsang as a Chinese couple who have dealings with her estranged Hong Kong sister.

It's too soon to speak of a revolution in Hong Kong television, but the new Internet service HKTV gives me hope.

Since going live last month, it has been streaming bold, topical shows in a genre I think of as "non-TVB": notably, The Election, a political drama that unfolds around two chief executive elections in the near future, and Hakka Sisters, a tale of two siblings in two cities, Hong Kong and Dongguan, China, that takes a long, hard look at the cultural gap between them.

Frank and pungent, Hakka Sisters sees the apprehension of Hong Kongers, whose gleaming city is fading into a historical footnote right under their noses. (In Hong Kong, the show has been renamed a more resonant Not To Be A Hong Konger In The Next Life.)

More than a decade after reverting to Chinese rule, Hong Kong is turning into another mainland city that might soon be surpassed by Beijing and Shanghai.

Some Hong Kongers, such as public relations consultant Anson Leung (Maggie Cheung Ho Yee), bristle at menus that are written in simplified Chinese, not traditional, one more sign that their city is losing its identity in its chase for the mainland tourist dollar.

Others, such as her colleague Hill (Poon Chan Leung), wonder what will happen to Hong Kong if they all abandon it for opportunities in China.

But the show also looks at their predicament through the lens of history.

Not that long ago, Anson's uncle was an illegal immigrant, one of the Chinese who swam to Hong Kong - braving shark-infested waters with crude flotation devices such as rings of blown-up condoms - for a chance to score a Hong Kong identity card and make a better living.

Anson, who prides herself on her sophistication - on all that distance she has put between herself and the dirt of her birthplace, a village in Dongguan - hasn't been back home in decades. But she is enough of a realist to announce her roots in Dongguan, when she has to convince a new Chinese boss to let her handle a big project there, and to accept help from her estranged big sister, Dongguan restaurateur Liang Meitian (Prudence Liew, who is wonderful as a nosy, lip-curling Hakka woman who has moved out of the village but not shaken it off entirely).

The sisters have an unhappy history dating to their early years, when their mother chose to send the younger girl to Hong Kong on the older girl's visa.

Although Meitian is now somebody in Dongguan, with a business and a mansion, she still resents Anson's feeling of superiority.

The show neither takes sides nor gives either woman the upper hand, however.

Anson looks unassailable in Hong Kong.

She is the sort of bride who, when abandoned by a groom, empties a bottle of champagne into a toilet, goes to a gym and gets over him.

But in Dongguan, she seems naive.

She is shocked to learn her sister and brother-in-law (Savio Tsang) have rigged her property project to profit from it themselves. But Meitian isn't made the villainess.

It appears to puzzle her why she can't engineer a win-win situation for everyone and also rebuild her relationship with her sister.

Why can't she want both? The sisters stand for their cities too.

For all her outrage at her sister, Anson has to keep dealing with her for the sake of the project.

Their relationship - like that of their cities, maybe - is a mix of necessity, familiarity and contempt. They're family and they don't have to like it.

The year of SG50 - Singapore's 50th birthday - will be upon us and I'd like to strike a note of hope.

So I will have to talk about The Journey: Tumultuous Times, Channel 8's historical drama in commemoration of SG50, without quite talking about it.

Andie Chen and Shaun Chen are believable as an independence fighter and a gangster in 1950s Singapore, because they have the weariness of men who live in turbulent times.

Felicia Chin, too, is credible as a passionate teacher taking to the streets.

When I see them, I am able to hope for a better show: a drama that is less stagy and has less of the wooden, expository historical dialogue that turns to sawdust in most actors' mouths; a show that will be as bold and beautiful as that chapter in our history.


This article was first published on December 25, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

Purchase this article for republication.

VIDEOS YOU SHOULD WATCH

  • #Joeyjios: We try bubble tea mala hotpot and bubble tea toast

    Full story: http://www.asiaone.com/food/we-try-bubble-tea-mala-hotpot-and-bubble-tea-toast-guess-which-ones-got-us-hooked Mala and bubble milk tea within the same hotpot? What about bubble tea on toast? Who even comes up with these ideas?! This week on #Joeyjios, we give these dubious food creations a taste-test to see if they're worth your time, money and calories. #bubbletea #bbt #boba --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Thirstdays: Where we talk weird dates and wild fantasies

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/entertainment/thirstdays-where-we-talk-weird-dates-and-wild-fantasies Ooo, it's been a hot week and the thirst is real at AsiaOne. Join Le En and Bryan as they chat about weird dates, constant 'cravings', and Beyonce's thigh gap! And they are quenching that thirst with a cup of root beer float to celebrate the return of a certain fast food restaurant. Thirstdays is a fortnightly AsiaOne #entertainment series where our hosts Le En and Bryan give you a peek into their personal lives while they satisfy their thirst over a drink, have a no-holds-barred chat, and do fun things. #gossip #confessions #realness --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Don't Say Cannot Ep4: He beats people up, but for the country

    Full story: http://www.asiaone.com/singapore/dont-say-cannot-delinquent-national-wrestler He used to beat people up, simply because he had "too much energy" to expend. Now, he still beats people up - but for the country. Meet 24-year-old #Singapore national wrestler Toh Xin Ran. Seeing the number of medals that he has been awarded and the respectful manner in which he now interacts with his wrestling coach, it is hard to imagine that Xin Ran used to be a troubled kid in his younger days. #wrestling #sportsman --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • #Joeyjios: Taste-testing The Alley Luxe and CHICHA San Chen

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/food/alley-luxe-and-chicha-san-chen-opens-week-heres-what-try A Michelin-standard bubble tea for $4.70? A drink that looks like the Northern Lights? This week, #Joeyjios her colleague Le En to check out two new bubble tea (BBT) stores that are opening along Orchard Road. Which will they prefer? Watch to find out. #Thedeerishere #TheAlley #Chichasanchen #Boba --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Office Tea Episode 5: Bosses and Things

    It’s been a few weeks - let’s find out if the higher-ups of AsiaOne have any regrets about hiring Le En. Efforts were made to make nice, charity is involved and work is never-ending still. Follow and subscribe so you won't miss a single episode of our new series, Office Tea! To catch more of her antics, follow her @goofy_feline! --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • #Joeyjios: DIY your way into mum's heart this Mother's Day

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/women/joeyjios-diy-your-way-mums-heart-mothers-day Mother’s Day is this Sunday! Have you gotten mum a gift yet? This week on #Joeyjios, Joey tries her hand at DIY projects that’s thoughtful, useful and inexpensive. #Mothersday #DIY --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Don't Say Cannot Ep3: He 'sees' the world with the help of tech

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/dont-say-cannot-he-may-be-blind-he-can-text-faster-you Edwin Khoo, 43, surprises friends with the speed at which he types on his phone. The reason? He's been blind since birth. But #technology has been the game-changer for Edwin in navigating the world around him despite his #disability, allowing him to #travel and even host his own online #podcast. --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Office Tea Episode 4: The Dress Code

    It’s in the employee handbook - but does ANYONE actually read and follow the dress code? Are calves too scandalous? Le En puts on Athleisure and tries to get away with it! Follow and subscribe so you won't miss a single episode of our new series, Office Tea! To catch more of her antics, follow her @goofy_feline! --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Caryn Cheng finds the best deals at IMM's Greater Savings Home and Furnishing Sale

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/5-couples-share-most-expensive-items-they-have-ever-bought-their-home AsiaOne challenges Caryn Cheng to find the best deals at the upcoming #IMM Greater Savings Home and Furnishing #Sale. IMM's Greater Savings Home & Furnishing Sale will start May 13 to 19. With 20 per cent off storewide at Best Denki and discounts of up to 50 per cent at stores such as INKAGU Outlet by Picket & Rail, Linen Gallery Outlet and Red Apple from May 17 to 19, this epic sale is not to be missed. Address: 2 Jurong East Street 21, Singapore 609601 Opening hours: 10am to 10pm #brandedcontent --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • #Joeyjios: I try a ballet-inspired workout despite my two left feet

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/joeyjios-i-try-ballet-inspired-workout-despite-my-two-left-feet Tendu, Arabesque and Grand Pliés? This week on #Joeyjios, I found out that these are in fact, not edible food dishes, but dance moves in ballet.  Watch as former professional ballerinas and co-founders of #BalletBody, Lisha Chin and Alison Carroll, take me through a snippet of their hour-long ballet-inspired workout while I try my best to keep up.  #Ballet #Barre #Fitness --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com

SERVICES