Twenty years ago, on November 30, 1998, the hit Hong Kong television drama My Date with Vampire <我和殭屍有個約會> premiered on ATV at 9:05 p.m. It became an unexpected pop culture sensation—when it first premiered, it was running up against TVB’s anniversary drama Burning Flame <烈火雄心>, which was also a hit in its own right. When My Date with a Vampire first premiered, Burning Flame was airing its last few episodes.
With TVB holding a strong monopoly on the thriving Hong Kong television market, no one expected ATV’s My Date with a Vampire to do so well, let alone become a cultural phenomenon. The fantasy series, which blends traditional Chinese mythology with western vampires, stars Eric Wan (尹天照) as the hundred-year-old vampire Fong Tin-yau, who originally fought in Second Sino-Japanese War. The show famously costars Joey Meng (萬綺雯) as Ma Siu-ling, the 40th heiress of a family of ghostbusters. The story of My Date with a Vampire was intended to be the sequel of the 1995 TV drama Vampire Expert <殭屍道長> starring Lam Ching-ying (林正英), which in turn was based on the 1985 hit film Mr. Vampire <殭屍先生>. My Date with a Vampire spawned two more sequels, becoming a well-received trilogy. The final installment aired in 2004.
Even 20 years after its initial broadcast, My Date with a Vampire is still deserving to hold the title as “legendary drama,” and it is absolutely one of a kind. In the last few years, TVB attempted to emulate the supernatural success of the Vampire, with dramas such as Kevin Cheng’s (鄭嘉穎) Blue Veins <殭> and Kenneth Ma’s (馬國明) The Exorcist’s Meter <降魔的>—but all have failed to produce the same magic as the 20-year-old fantasy romance.
What was the secret to My Date with a Vampire, and in a time when the fantasy genre has yet to make a mark on Hong Kong television, why was ATV so ready to accept such an outlandish series?
TVB Rejected “My Date with a Vampire” Pitch
According to screenwriter Chan Sap-sam (陳十三), the original idea he had for My Date with a Vampire was very different from what it turned out to be. “At its very early stage, Joey Meng was not part of the picture at all,” he said. The screenwriter met Joey while finishing up on the post-production of My Date with a Vampire. They fell in love and married in 2000.
Chan Sap-sam continued, “Joey wasn’t even part of the cast list. At the time, we only had Kristy Yang (楊恭如) and Annie Man (文頌嫻). We didn’t consider [Joey] at the time, because she wasn’t a managed artiste. She was too expensive.”
On why the producers decided to cast Joey anyways, Chan Sap-sam said, “We needed to sell this idea to the boss.”
The screenwriter also shared that My Date with a Vampire was actually originally for TVB. “I was still writing for TVB at the time, but when I pitched this idea to them, the executives didn’t want it. Maybe it’s because they found the idea outlandish. No guarantee of success!”
From Buddy Concept to Epic Romance
The central focus of My Date with a Vampire was the forbidden love story between the vampire Fong Tin-yau and the ghostbuster Ma Siu-ling. However, Chan Sap-sam revealed that the original plan was entirely different.
“We wrote the story for Lam Ching-ying,” he said. Lam Ching-ying was best known for his Taoist priest and vampire hunter roles in numerous 1980s Hong Kong films and television dramas. “He agreed to do the drama, which is how I started to write the show with him in mind. I still remember that I wanted Lam Ching-ying to partner up with Chapman To (杜汶澤), so they could form a team similar to the Men in Black (MIB). I wanted to used that concept for a modern-day vampire story.”
With the cast already in place and a title given (Vampire Expert III), Chan Sap-sam was ready for the final green light from ATV. Unfortunately, Lam Ching-ying became bed-ridden, as he was suffering from the final stages of liver cancer. When he passed away, ATV told the crew to scrap the project completely. “ATV executive weren’t very confident about the show anyways,” said Chan Sap-sam. “The concept was still too out there.”
Unwilling to give up the project that they had worked so hard on, Chan Sap-sam and his cowriter Leung Lap-yan (梁立人) decided to redo the show—for a different audience. “Ching-ying was the soul of Vampire, but without him, we were forced to face our reality. Let’s change it! Instead of a male ghostbuster, we’ll get a female one. I’ll have her wear a skirt, boots, and very greedy with money! After selling that idea, our producer suggested Joey Meng.”
It was a rush call for help. Joey said, “I wasn’t even part of their production meeting. They suddenly called me, asking me to start work. When I first got the part, I had no idea what was going on. I still remember on my first day of costume fitting, I told the designers to put me in whatever they think would look pretty on me. Wearing a skirt in Japan in February? Wouldn’t that be cold? But the results turned out great. Everything was worth it!”
This article is written by Addy for JayneStars.com.