Hong Kong Headliner Makes Headlines

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Hong Kong Apostasy

 

This is the latest chapter in ‘Hong Kong Apostasy’, a China Heritage series devoted to the 2019 Hong Kong Protest Movement and featured in ‘The Best China’ section of this site.

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Following the release of ‘We Connect’, Episode 17 in its Spring-Summer 2019 season on Friday the 19th of July, Headliner 頭條新聞, a topical and popular Hong Kong TV show that specialises in political commentary and pointed spoofs, went into summer recess. After the dramatic events of the evening of the 21st of July, however, the show’s holiday plans were shelved. Late that night a large mob of thugs dressed in white shirts who were wielding bamboo canes and lengths of PVC pipe indiscriminately attacked anti-Extradition Bill protesters and bystanders at the MTR station in Yuen Long 元朗, a district in Hong Kong’s New Territories. The assault — one immediately decried by the non-Communist Hong Kong media as a ‘terrorist attack’ 恐襲 — saw numerous people wounded as well as the hospitalisation of forty-five others.

The local police and MTR workers failed to respond to calls for assistance throughout the rampage. This lead to speculation that a terrifying line had been crossed: the pro-Beijing Hong Kong authorities now appeared to  be in cahoots with underground mobsters and they were prepared to use street gangs to quell legitimate public protest.

Meanwhile, Carrie Lam 林鄭月娥, the Chief Executive of the territory all but ignored the extent and the significance of the violence. Instead she bewailed the paltry, although purposefully incendiary, attack on symbols of Beijing’s political presence in Hong Kong: that same night, protesters had spattered the Mainland Liaison Office building with volleys of eggs and sprayed black paint on the national emblem of the Chinese People’s Republic. At that press conference Lam spoke in the odious ‘wooden language’ (langue de bois) favoured by Communist bureaucrats and remained recalcitrant in refusing to countenance any of the demands of the protesters, the main one of which was for the authorities to withdraw — 撤回, pronounced ‘cit3 wui4‘ in Cantonese — Lam’s detested Extradition Bill.

In light of these developments, on 23 July, the production team behind Headliner announced with some fanfare that they had decided to ‘Withdraw’ and ‘Rescind’ — mockingly employing the word 撤回 — their earlier decision to take a summer break 抖暑. Or, as they put it on the show’s Facebook page:

宣佈撤回…..最後一集嘅決定。

Below we translate a report on the show and its recent popularity published on 24 July 2019 by TOPic, an online publication produced under the aegis of Hong Kong Economic Times 香港經濟日報.

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TOPic interview with the compères of Headliner:

For more on Headliner, see:

For an ongoing dialogue between Ng Chi Sum 吳志森 and Tsang Chi-ho 曾志豪 of Headliner, see:

And, regarding the tradition of Chinese Communist thuggery, see:

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
24 July 2019

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‘We Rescind! (the decision that we had broadcast our last episode for the season)’, Headliner, 23 July 2019

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Essays on the 2019 Hong Kong Protests in China Heritage:

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Headliner has been unwavering in its support for a culture of comedy, ridicule, outrage and vitriol. For over twenty years, our resolve has remained unshaken in tirelessly promoting a snarky attitude. We regard this as more important than life itself.

We believe that the bedrock of Hong Kong is Freedom of Expression.

We reaffirm our pledge to stand by the people of Hong Kong and to be a voice to conscience. This is the Core Value of Headliner.

《頭條新聞》一直堅持嬉笑怒罵,受了二十多年的考驗,對陰陽怪氣的原則沒有動搖過半寸,甚至好比生命般重要。我們深信,言論自由是香港的基石,我們承諾會繼續站在香港人一邊,講良心話,這是《頭條新聞》的核心價值。

— from the official website of Radio Television Hong Kong
香港電台網站節目介紹
trans. G.R. Barmé

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‘Journalists should call a spade a spade; to be praised for telling the truth is evidence that our society is in very serious trouble.’ — Ng Chi Sum

Truth & Courage —
Headliner in a
Season of Discontent

【頭條新聞】亂世中憑勇氣講真話

Wong Wing-sum 黃泳欣

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé

 

‘We take the pulse of Reality; we are not beholden to Those in Power.’

During this period of mass unrest in Hong Kong, the spoof program Headliner produced by RTHK 香港電台 is enjoying an uptick in popularity among viewers. Skits that feature ‘The Dowager Empress and The Eunuch’ and ‘The Generalissimo and The Aide-de-Camp’, as well as features like the musical parody ‘Cheng Trap’ by Cuson Law Kai Sun [1965-], offer insights into contemporary social realities and provide a timely emotional outlet for many Hong Kong people. The compères of ‘Headliner’ — Ng Chi Sum [吳志森, 1958-], Brother Sum, and Tsang Chi-ho [曾志豪, 1977-], Ho-chi — believe that to lampoon politics and current affairs you have to be in tune with popular sentiment as well as being empathetic to the full gamut of emotions — the joys and outrage, the heartbreak and delights — of the population at large.

「要為真相把關,而非為政治把關。」

在時局動盪的日子,香港電台製作的《頭條新聞》成為人氣節目,太后與小豪子、大帥與徐副官的對白及改編歌《老年陷鄭》等,呈現真實社會面貌,並成為不少市民的情緒出口。主持吳志森(森哥)和曾志豪(豪仔)認為,諷刺時弊時,先要掌握民情脈搏,感受民眾的喜怒哀樂。

Not a second is wasted when filming the latest episode of Headliner on Friday afternoon. Photograph: 湛斯雅 for TOPick

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Every Second Counts, Though Everyone Mucks In
分秒必爭 兄弟爬山各自努力

From April through July this year, Headliner has been reporting on the Anti-Extradition Law Protests in Hong Kong. As the situation has evolved, the people behind ‘Headliner’ have felt an increasing urgency to make shows that reflect their unique sensibility.

In each weekly episode of Headliner, Brother Sum and Ho-chi are responsible for about six minutes of air time each. In serials skits like ‘The Dowager Empress and The Eunuch’ and ‘The Generalissimo and The Aide-de-Camp’, they deploy comedy and farce to offer a running commentary on current affairs in the city.

The show is broadcast at 18:00 on Friday evenings so, every Thursday afternoon, the two stars get together with the ‘Headliner’ production crew to exchange and discuss the ‘intelligence’ they have all gathered during the week and decide how to compile the latest burlesque report. That evening following the pre-production meeting Ho-chi drafts a script and, following revisions and final drafting the following day, the team film the week’s episode from 14:00 to 16:00 on Friday afternoon. After an intensive period of editing, the show broadcast early Friday evening.

從4月至7月,《頭條新聞》一直圍繞「反送中」議題報道。局勢不斷變化,嬉笑怒罵背後,卻是分秒必爭。森哥、豪仔負責的環節約有6分鐘,透過飾演太后與小豪子,大帥與徐副官,以戲劇形式針砭時弊。節目逢星期五晚6時播放,星期四下午他們就與製作人員開會,交換一週「情報」,選取值得報道的事;星期四晚上由豪仔撰稿,星期五修訂內容後,下午2時許至4時許錄影,然後拼版、剪接,即晚播出。

Changes and additions covering breaking news from the time of the pre-production meeting on Thursday up until filming starts on Friday afternoon can be accommodated. As Brother Sum says:

‘During the Anti-Bill Protests we make changes to the script on a daily basis. News means just that: it has to be both new and up-to-date. Since we all have a background in journalism, we’re used to grabbing every available second to update our stories.’

During the recording of the latest episode [Episode 17 broadcast on 19 July 2019], for example, when reports came in that a few hundred masked pro-government vandals had attacked the ‘Pedestrian Tunnel Lennon Wall’ at Tai Po Market, last-minute changes were made to update the show.

When talking about their popular appeal ‘headliners’ Tsang and Ng say that the songs reworked by their partner Cuson Law — ‘Cheng Trap’ and ‘Brickbats’ (parodies of Alan Tam’s ‘Love Trap’ and Vivian Lai’s ‘Each of Us Has a Dream’ respectively), both the reworked lyrics and their interpretation were wildly popular and soon went viral.

‘A Basket of Deplorables’ in Episode 15 [broadcast on the 5th of July] was particularly resonant with viewers. In it the Headliners contrasted footage of protesters breaking into the Legislative Council [on the afternoon and evening of the 1st of July] with the commonplace political violence witnessed for years during actual LegCo sessions. The soundtrack of that skit was the [well-known and bitter] song ‘June’ by Pong Nan [Nan Yik-Pong, 藍奕邦]. As Brother Sum says, the whole indecent was truly unforgettable:

‘For us this was the most succinct way we could think of to highlight [all that hypocritical talk about ‘violence’]: to show the constant and garrulous rejection by the Pro-Beijing Camp of various proposed bills in LegCo and pair those scenes with footage of young protesters breaking in to the legislative chamber — contrast and compare: the point couldn’t be more obvious. It was our shorthand for what we regard as being the nub of the issues of the day. There’s no need for lengthy disquisitions; you can say everything you needed to in a two-minute clip.’

Adding songs and sound effects to news footage allows the makers of Headliner to deliver pointed messages, although the onscreen talent emphasises that credit should really go to their team of young colleagues who work behind the scenes.

在開會至節目錄前,若有大事發生,也需修改內容。森哥表示:

『反送中』運動幾乎每天也有更新。新聞要求的是最新資訊,我們又是新聞業出身,有一秒機會更新,也要更新。

在剛過去一集,錄影當日,有數百名戴口罩人士於凌晨破壞大埔「連儂隧道」,令他們即日更新內容。

論到人氣,他們不約而同說是拍檔羅啟新的改編歌《老年陷鄭》及《一人掟磚會受傷》(原曲分別是《愛情陷阱》及《一個有一個夢想》),不論歌詞及演繹獲網民大讚,MV也被瘋傳。

令不少觀眾印象深刻的,還有第15集「譴責暴徒」中,示威者衝入立法會及議會體制的暴力新聞片段,再配以藍奕邦《六月》一曲。此幕也教森哥難忘:

「很顯淺易明,建制派議員粗暴否決(議案),與年輕人衝入立法會作平衡對照,張力很大。這能真正道出目前制度出現的問題,不必長篇大論,那兩分鐘的影片,已把所有東西呈現。」

新聞片段配以合適的歌曲產生很大威力,他們說幕後功臣是一群不願出鏡的年輕同事。

Tsang Chi-ho (left) is aware that Hong Kong people expect the local media to report on what is actually happening and to reflect mass sentiment. Photograph: 湯炳強 for TOPick

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Staying at One’s Post: The News is About Reporting the Truth
堅守崗位:新聞就是講真相

There’s so much breaking news these days that people have a tendency to wonder: ‘Which [TV and Radio] channels can tell the most truth?’ Also, ‘Can they really tell the Truth in full?’

Ho-chi thinks that word-of-mouth is often more important than mere viewer ratings. Recently, apart from praising the show for ‘getting it right and sticking it to them’, many online citizens have praised the show for its courage in Truth Telling. Their views are summed up in such comments as: ‘I never thought you’d be able to tell it like it really is, or be able to say so much!’ Others say, ‘It turns out that your show is about taking the struggle to the Powers-That-Be on behalf of the common people!’

每天有很多新聞,現在趨勢是『究竟哪一個台可以講出最多的真相』又或者『是否可以講出真相的全部』。相比收視,豪仔認為口碑更重要。近來不少網民除了讚他們「抽水抽得很全面」,更讚他們有勇氣講真話,說「想不到你們還會站在真相那邊說更多」,也有人說「原來你們這個節目是為民請命」。

Brother Sum has been working in the media — both as a front man on TV and behind the scenes — for a good thirty years. He says:

‘To me, that people put it like that is actually incredibly sad. News should by its very nature be about reporting the truth, and those involved in journalism have a particularly crucial responsibility to report the truth about sensitive issues. This should be the basic responsibility of all journalists in a free society. Liars have good reason to be afraid; why should you need courage to tell the truth?

‘Journalists should call a spade a spade; to be praised for telling the truth is evidence that our society is in very serious trouble.’

Brother Sum also made the point: ‘We should regard holding to the truth as our duty; not being beholden to the power-holders’, and every episode of Headliners is about doing just that scrupulously. The most recent episode of the show titled ‘We Connect’ [and broadcast on 19 July] trenchantly touches on the violent protester-police clashes at a shopping mall in Sha Tin on 14 July. Ho-chi is completely frank: When I was working on the script I had to remind myself that protesters had thrown things down at the police from the galleries surrounding the atrium of the shopping mall and we could not ignore the fact that these were forms of violent resistance; if  we did so we would err on the side of partiality. [Equally, we had to point out that] Before that policeman’s finger was bitten, he’d been using his other fingers to gouge the eye of the protester who bit him: our account had to reflect both sides of the story.

Initially, there were reports that the policeman who had used a ‘straight-arm takedown’ on a protester had been a child star and Ho-chi considered that they should somehow include it in the skit but, in the end, since they were unable to verify the story the producer suggested they drop it. Ho-chi readily agreed:

‘We are a public media company, and we represent a particular stance. This kind of attention to detail and editorial care is of crucial importance at times of crisis like the present.’

森哥嘆謂,台前幕後同事已堅持了30年:

這種講法挺悲哀。新聞就是講真相,尤其愈敏感的問題,我們愈要向大家呈現真相。這是在自由社會,新聞工作者堅守的責任。說謊的人才會害怕,為何講真話也要勇氣呢?

我們從事新聞業,是『有碗話碗,有碟話碟』,講真話也被人讚,就代表這個社會出了很大的毛病。

要為真相把關,而非為政治把關。

森哥強調,每一集也嚴謹把關。在剛過去一集「We Connect」,他們提及7月14 日沙田衝突一事。豪仔坦言,寫稿時也提醒自己,當日有示威者高空擲物,不能省去示威者暴力反抗一事,否則變得偏頗;也有警員被咬手指之前,曾挖示威者的眼睛,他認為兩方面的事實也需呈現。

有傳180度扭曲示威者手腕的警察是某位童星,豪仔曾想過報道,最終監製提醒:未經證實的,不應報道。他深表認同:

「我們是公營媒體,代表著一種力量,這種謹慎態度在現時紛亂的局勢是很重要的。」

Tsang Chi-ho (left) says Headliner depicted the Sha Tin clashes through burlesque. ‘We showed how a protester had their eye gouged [by a policeman] and then bit a finger [of the cop’s hand].’ Photograph: 湯炳強 for TOPick

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Social Therapists: Letting Hong Kong Take a Breath
作社會治療師:讓市民舒一口氣

Since June this year, many people have been feeling increasingly anxious and distressed. Brother Sum recently encountered a viewer who said they were feeling depressed and anxious but felt some relief when watching Headliner, although they added: ‘I was not only laughing as I watched, I also felt like crying.’ They hoped they would keep up the good work. Brother Sum was touched and said that Headliner was akin to the Lennon Walls which gave an outlet, a form of therapy for the public. They had ended up providing a kind of therapy:

‘Audiences get a feeling of relief from watching our shows. When we make fun of someone or other, saying what so many people are feeling, they have a sense of relief.’

Ho-chi adds: ‘It is as though we are saying what people are feeling deep inside.’ He recalls that when he put on a Warrant that was controversial, and when playing the Generalissimo and his Aide-de-Camp, all of the dialogue was spoken on behalf of Hong Kong people: ‘Did they really say this before they set out? Why don’t they display the warrants? Why not all of them?’ Or, in the episode titled, ‘Mother and Father Officials who love their People Like their Children’, the Dowager Empress [played by Ng Chi Sum] was representing Carrie Lam being interviewed by TVB when she shed tears supposedly out of concern for the students, even though it was a manifestly insincere performance; she doesn’t give a damn about Young Hong Kong.

6月以來,不少人也因時局動盪而感到壓抑。近日森哥遇到一名觀眾,對方直言最近很壓抑、抑鬱,看了《頭條新聞》才開心一點,更稱「看的時候,除了笑,還哭了」,著他們繼續堅持。森哥聽後無不感觸,他形容《頭條新聞》現時彷如連儂牆,具社會治療作用,而他們則是社會治療師:

「觀眾看完之後,覺得鬆了一口氣,諷刺了某某,講出心底話,舒服多了。」

豪仔說:「我們就像代替民眾道出他們的心聲。」他憶述,佩戴委任證一事曾引起很大爭議,扮演大帥及徐副官時,所說的對白就像為市民提出疑問:「他們出發之前真的這樣說的嗎?為何不用佩戴委任證,而且集體不用佩戴?」又如「愛民如子父母官」一集,他們用太后影射特首林鄭月娥,扮演她接受TVB訪問時,稱關心學生而落淚,實則毫不真誠,並非關心年輕人。

Tsang Chi-ho and Ng Chi Sum have worked on Headliner for fourteen and twelve years respectively. Photograph: 湯炳強 for TOPick

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Keep On Keeping On
未來將繼續守護真相

‘Luckily for us, you can express what we are feeling and thinking’ — these are words that a viewer shared with the makers of Headliner, and Ho-chi very much takes them to heart. When we ask if there has been pressure on the TV station from ‘upstairs’ the Headliner team responds that they frankly have no idea. They are, however, aware that sooner or later their ‘historical duty’ will most probably be terminated without notice. Anyway, they know that, sooner or later, they’ll have to hand the baton on to others. ‘Let’s just make one episode of Headliner at a time and see how that goes’, Brother Sum constantly reminds them. Ho-chi adds that it wouldn’t really matter if they were replaced by others, as long as the style and spirit of the show is maintained. The most important thing is that Hong Kong enjoys freedom of expression and people can still speak out. As Brother Sum emphasises, Headliner is just like a slapstick onscreen version of a political caricature or cartoon:

‘As long as satirical political cartoons are still permitted, it doesn’t really matter who makes them. They’re an expression of freedom, so nothing should be off limits.’

「幸好還有你們,講出我們的心聲」,是觀眾近期留下的一字一句,令豪仔重拾使命。問到上層曾否施加壓力,他們坦言不得而知,但明白歷史任務有可能突然完結,也總有交棒的一天。「做得一集得一集」是森哥常掛在口邊的一句話,豪仔則說,若要更換班底,只要能延續節目風格就無問題。

最重要的是,這地方仍有言論自由,民眾仍然可以講真話。森哥強調,《頭條新聞》就如戲劇化的政治漫畫:

「假如這地方仍有政治漫畫,甚麼人製作也好,代表這地方仍有言論自由,百無禁忌。」

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Headliner Broadcast Schedule:

  • Fridays 6:00pm on TVB Jade
  • Fridays 8:00pm on RTHK Channel 31/31A
  • Episodes simultaneously available online at: tv.rthk.hk and RTHK Screen

《頭條新聞》播放詳情:

  • 星期五 6pm 無綫電視翡翠台
  • 星期五 8pm 港台電視31/ 31A
  • 港台網站tv.rthk.hk、流動程式RTHK Screen同步播放並提供節目重溫。

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