21 October 2016
Huang Yuanshen (inset) plays the lead character in "The Legendary Fok". ATV has now resurrected the old drama series with an English voice-over. Photo: Internet
Huang Yuanshen (inset) plays the lead character in "The Legendary Fok". ATV has now resurrected the old drama series with an English voice-over. Photo: Internet

Why ATV is recycling an old drama series with English voice-over

Asia Television (ATV) wants to us to know that it can get creative even as it faces a host of financial problems.

The company’s English channel, ATV World, is now retelecasting a 34-year-old popular Kung Fu drama series “The Legendary Fok” with English voice-over, taking audiences by surprise.

Loosely based on the life of Chinese martial artist Fok Yuen-kep, who is more commonly known as Huo Yuanjia, the drama series was first aired in 1981 in Cantonese.

The program on Fok, who co-founded the Chin Woo Athletic Association in Shanghai more than a hundred years ago, is being recycled in English.

Through the initiative, ATV hopes to attract viewers among the older generation of expatriates who feel nostalgic for Hong Kong’s 80s-era martial arts entertainment. 

Although many of the actors who essayed roles in the original ATV production are now either retired or dead, the TV station hopes the rerun in the dubbed version will still gain traction.

Some observers, meanwhile, see the move of ATV as its way of promoting China’s “going out” strategy to enhance the nation’s soft power. 

In the last century, it was common for local TV stations to have Chinese voice-overs for foreign drama series like Charlie’s Angels and Dallas.

But now as China has become a major world power and is seeking to boost its cultural influence, the order has reversed — it is the Chinese productions that are getting voice-overs.

For ATV, the dubbed programs also make good commercial sense, as the costs involved would be cheaper compared to buying the rights for foreign films or drama series for the World channel.

The station doesn’t have much budget for programming, given that it has struggled to pay its staff on time for the past two years.

The financial woes and constant media queries could in fact be one reason why ATV’s well-known spokesman and executive director, Ip Ka-po, is jumping ship.

Ip, who has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by some parties in relation to ATV staff salary arrears, is joining Co-Prosperity, a textile company that has media ambitions, at a reported annual salary of HK$1 million.

Now, coming back to the dubbed version of “The Legendary Fok”, many viewers said they found it funny to watch the Chinese characters mouthing English dialogues.

Pronunciations of many words were often off the mark, especially those of the lead character Fok, whose first name incidentally reminds viewers of a commonly used English profanity.

That said, viewers are still largely sympathetic toward ATV, whose fate now lies in the hands of the Communications Authority after the station announced recently that it has found a new white knight from the mainland.

ATV needs to resolve its financial troubles before its broadcasting license expires at the end of March next year.

The dubbing of the “The Legendary Fok” into English, meanwhile, marks an opposite approach to that taken by rival broadcaster TVB in the past.

TVB Pearl had cancelled bilingual voice-overs as local audiences said they prefer to watch the programs in their native language, and that they don’t care much for the English versions.

But now, following the initiative of ATV, will TVB change course and dub its famous drama series such as “The Bund” and “The return of the Condor Heroes” into English to lure non-Chinese viewers?

As for ATV, considering all the weird things that happened there, it might as well come up with a new soap opera – in dual languages.

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EJ Insight writer

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