When Heaven Burns

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When Heaven Burns
Promotional poster
Genre Drama
Written by Chow Yuk-ming
Starring Bowie Lam
Moses Chan
Kenny Wong
Charmaine Sheh
Maggie Shiu
Elaine Jin
Chan Hung-lit
Queenie Chu
Opening theme "天與地" (Heaven and Earth) by Paul Wong
Ending theme "年少無知" (Youthful Ignorance) by Bowie Lam, Moses Chan and Kenny Wong
Composer(s) Paul Wong
Country of origin Hong Kong
Original language(s) Cantonese
No. of episodes 30
Producer(s) Jonathan Chik
Running time 45 minutes
Production company(s) TVB
Original channel TVB Jade, HD Jade
Picture format 576i (SDTV)
1080i (HDTV)
Original release 21 November 2011 (2011-11-21) – 1 January 2012 (2012-01-01)
External links
When Heaven Burns
Traditional Chinese 天與地
Simplified Chinese 天与地
Literal meaning "Heaven and Earth"

When Heaven Burns is a 2011 TVB television serial starring Bowie Lam, Moses Chan, Charmaine Sheh, Maggie Shiu and Kenny Wong. First revealed during TVB's Sales Presentation 2009 in 2008, filming took place in late 2009 to early 2010, with the first episode airing both in Hong Kong and TVB's overseas affiliates and partners on the 21st of November 2011. On December 27, 2011, the show was blacklisted by the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, making it the first Hong Kong television drama to be censored in Mainland China in more than two decades.[1]

Despite being the second lowest-rated TVB drama of 2011, When Heaven Burns gained a strong cult following online and received critical acclaim in Hong Kong, winning Best Drama at the 2012 TVB Anniversary Awards.


Eighteen years after a tragic event drove them apart four friends reunite, and in coming to understand the strangers that they have become to each other and themselves, remember who they once were.

Plot summary[edit]

In their youth Joe (Bowie Lam), Angus (Moses Chan), Ronnie (Kenny Wong) and Ka Ming are good friends and band mates. During a mountaineering trip, the four are stranded on a snow bound mountain and Ka ming dies and gets eaten by the other three. This event has a traumatic effect on them, their friendship, and their friendship with Yan (Charmaine Sheh), Ka Ming's girlfriend, leading the previously close group to go their separate ways and abandon their friendship.

Eighteen years later, Yan remains haunted by the memory of Ka Ming, trying to regain what she had with him in part with her husband and in part with her lover, but finding neither a complete replacement for her lost love breaks with them both. Troubled she loses track of time while alone in the wilderness, sparking a missing persons alert which becomes the catalyst for the four friends to meet again. Though she was Ka Ming's girlfriend all four band mates were in love with her and the three survivors remain in love with her.

In the intervening years Joe, who of the friends had been the most driven by the desire for wealth and fame, has tried to make amends by attempting to be a good person, giving up a promising accounting career and forgoing material gain to become a resolute champion of worker's rights. This has led to the admiration of his co-workers but an estrangement with his wife Gina (Astrid Chan), that although the two remain affectionate for each other, their lives drift along on courses that seldom touch or cross. To further his promotion of worker's rights he decides to stand for Hong Kong's Legislative Council.

Angus, who of the friends was the least driven by wealth and who lived for his music, has become selfish, brutish and avaricious. The events of the mountain has taught him the lesson that even the best of friends will turn on each other to survive, and to survive one has to have the power and means to protect oneself. By using others through seduction and violence Angus has enriched himself his latest target being to marry the wealthy Emma (Maggie Siu).

Suffering from selective amnesia, Ronnie is unable to remember the mountaineering trip, and mentally and socially is the healthiest of the friends, unlike the others he has managed to maintain a healthy family life with his wife Shirley (Angela Tong) and his two children. Out of nostalgia of their past friendship he strives to bring the friends back together. This he achieves by recalling a lost song written by Ka Ming just before his death, although he had strove to do so for eighteen years he is only able to finally do so after encountering Yan again.

Hearing the song again rekindles the groups friendship and unknown to the others and himself saves Joe's life. On opposite sides of a labour dispute, Joe's actions spoil one of Angus' plans and in a rage Angus instructs his triad connections to take care of Joe. For a time the friends learn to live with the past, their friendship a refuge from the realities of their lives, their shared history allowing them to put away the masks and armour of everyday life when together.

Whilst protecting Yan from a mugger Ronnie is stabbed, causing him to remember the events on the mountain. His subsequent arrest for a fatal accident causes him to confess to the police leading the police to suspect that remains previously discovered on the mountain are Ka Ming's. Intent on going to prison to pay for his crimes and unwilling to protect himself, Angus and Joe become desperate to have Ronnie acquitted in part out of friendship and in part out of self-preservation. Joe succeeds by convincing Emma's sister Brenda (Elaine Jin) to use her connections on Ronnie's behalf, with the bargaining chip that he knows how to fulfill her desire that Angus split with Emma. Joe reveals that the only person that Angus has ever truly loved is Yan, and in order to protect Yan from harm Angus is willing to give up the wealth and power he has worked to accumulate. The revelation of the true circumstances of Ka Ming's death and the machinations of Angus and Joe drives the friends apart again.

Angus, Joe and the free spirited Yan all suffer from a crisis of identity. Defeated in the LegCo elections, possibly through electoral fraud, Joe considers that the path he has chosen of righteousness and service to others has been rejected by a public that would rather hear platitudes and lies rather than truth and justice. He is given the opportunity to replace Angus in Brenda and Emma's financial investment company and does so, driven by the desire to make up for lost time, is determined to be as ruthless as Angus has been.

Yan is unable to forgive the others for Ka Ming's death, in a rage she stabs Angus but cannot bring herself to allow him to die. Unable to condemn her friends to prison by conclusively identifying the remains as Ka Mings, she tries to escape by drinking and when this fails by traveling. When she returns she is a changed person, unable to trust other people and as a radio DJ she forgoes her independent and artistic programming for the mainstream and commercial that she loathes.

Freed from his material desires Angus becomes a musician again, playing guitar in a bar for free drinks and change.

Brenda discovers that she has cancer and faced with the possibility of death realizes that she has spent a lifetime in the service of money, that she has never been able to take the time to truly live, love or be herself. She makes a bargain with Joe to buy his time to live a few days of normal life, however instead of cancer Brenda dies in a car crash. Brenda's death leaves Angus and Joe on a collision course as both vie to control the fortune left to Emma, Joe through being left in control of the sister's business' and being in position to take control of an endowment that Brenda has left to charity. Angus's plans are backed by Brenda's former friends and business partners who reveal their predatory nature given the chance to usurp Emma's inheritance. Ronnie, the peacemaker in the group, finds himself a pawn in both Angus and Joe's schemes, their previous friendship making him the only person that either can trust or confide in, despite and because of all that has passed between them.

Despite a willingness to use violence against each other, Joe first manipulates a former triad to seek vengeance against Angus, and when this fails orders a triad hit against Angus, Angus in turn has Ronnie's son kidnapped in order to frame Joe, the three find that the only people that can truly understand themselves are each other. A would be show down between Angus and Joe ends with the three drunk and together reflecting on the paths they have taken, in a blaze of creativity they pen lyrics to Ka Ming's lost song, and for a night their friendship is all that matters. However they observe that the night is just a mirage that the next day Angus and Joe will be enemies again, and that to free himself from their manipulation Ronnie will work with the police to have them arrested.

Slowly accepting that to survive one must sometimes make choices that harm others, Yan makes a final attempt to make peace amongst the three, however they reply that things are too set in their course for them to turn back. During her crisis of identity Yan falls out with her mentor Dr Dylan (Joe Junior), realizing her mistake she attempts to make amends by helping him to complete his lifelong ambition for Hong Kong to have a truly independent rock festival of its own. With tickets sold, the stage built and bands booked, the festival is cancelled at the last minute when the authorities decide that there is a health risk.

Yan finds herself on an empty stage increasingly surrounded by festival goers, some who have not heard that the festival had been cancelled, others who are indignant that the festival has been cancelled and others who have nothing better to do. Phoning in to her colleagues at the radio station Yan urges her listeners to ignore the constraints and fears of the authorities, that "a society at harmony is not one hundred people saying the same thing, harmony is one hundred people still being able to respect each other despite saying one hundred different things". She declares that the festival will go ahead anyway and for any bands, that want to, to come and play. Always drawn to whatever she does the three friends each arrive in turn, Angus with a truck load of instruments, speakers and equipment, and find themselves on stage and again for one night they don again their roles of lead guitar, drummer and bassist accompanied by the memory of Ka Ming and their younger selves. Singing Ka Ming's lost song they are seen by friends and loved ones as their truest and noblest selves, some for the first time.

Of actions and choices there are consequences and the series ends with the authorities reserving the right to hold some one responsible for the unlicensed festival. The policeman investigating Ka Ming's death predicts that because they have broken a taboo each of the friends will suffer the comeuppance that kama demands, that Joe be imprisoned for financial fraud, that Ronnie be ostracised by his peers and go blind and asks of Angus what his comeuppance will be. Learning that Yan has decided to leave Hong Kong and that she will no longer see the friends Angus predicts that his punishment will be that he will be lonely for the remainder of his life, never being able to be with the one woman who he has ever loved, the only woman he can ever love. Despite all his protestations that he is no longer a good person and that it is impossible for him to become one again, Joe cancels his contract to have Angus killed, and when faced with the sight of a child possibly being run over instinctively acts to save the child (revealed later to be also named Ka Ming), giving up his life in the process.


The Lau family[edit]

Cast Role Description Age
Bowie Lam
Ronald Law (youth)
Lau Chun Hung (Joe)
An accountant/A trade union executive/A Legco candidate
A band drummer
Ma Wing Yee's husband
Au Hoi Ching's love interest, later her lover
Yip Chi Yan's admirer
Sung Yee Long and Cheng Chun Hin's friend
Au Hoi Ching's superior, later lover, finally broke up
Yung Cheuk Wah's subordinate, later lover
Killed and ate Hui Ka Ming
Astrid Chan
Joey Mak (youth)
Ma Wing-yee (Gina)
A nurse
Lau Chun Hung's wife
Ivan's mistress, later broke up

The Yung family[edit]

Cast Role Description Age
Elaine Jin Yung Cheuk Wah (Brenda)
Yung Cheuk Tung's older sister
Pointed against Sung Yee Long
Lau Chun Hung's superior, later mistress
Died in a car accident in Episode 25
Maggie Shiu Yung Cheuk Tung (Emma)
Yung Cheuk Wah's younger sister
Sung Yee Long's girlfriend turned wife
Yip Chi Yan and Cheng Kin Sang's friend
Lai Sze Man's love rival
Moses Chan
Yeung Chiu Hoi (youth)
Sung Yee Long (Angus)
A securities agent
Lau Chun Hung and Cheng Kin Sang's friend
Yung Cheuk Tung's boyfriend turned husband
Lam Pui Ling's ex-boyfriend, later lover
Yip Chi Yan's ex-boyfriend
Killed and ate Hui Ka Ming

The Cheng family[edit]

Cast Role Description Age
Kenny Wong
Kelvin Leung (youth)
Cheng Chun Hin (Ronnie)
A former actuary
A bass guitarist
Yeung Suet Mei's husband
Cheng Man-shan and Cheng Man-kei's father
Lau Chun Hung, Sung Yee Long and Yung Cheuk Tung's friend
Killed and ate Hui Ka Ming
Angela Tong Yeung Suet Mei (Shirley)
Cheng Chun Hin's wife
Cheng Man-shan and Cheng Man-kei's mother
Lau Chun Hung's admirer
Yip Chi Yan's good friend, later friendship breaks
Rachel Poon Cheng Man-shan (Katie)
Cheng Chun Hin and Lam Fish's daughter.
Yeung Ka Shing Cheng Man-kei (Frankie)
Cheng Chun Hin and Yeung Suet Mei's son
Cheng Man-shan's brother

The Yip family[edit]

Cast Role Description Age
Yu Tsz Ming Yip Kwong Loi
Yip Chi Yan's father
Doollou Poon Cheung Pui Kwan
Yip Chi Yan's stepmother
Charmaine Sheh
Angel Chiang (youth)
Yip Chi Yan (Hazel, Yan)
Yip Kwong Loi's daughter
Cheung Pui Kwan's stepdaughter
Yung Cheuk Tung's friend
Hui Ka Ming, Sung Yee Long's ex-girlfriend
Arthur's mistress, later broke up
Lau Chun Hung, Sung Yee Long and Cheng Chun Hin's friend and love interest

Workers' Right Protection Association[edit]

Cast Role Description Age
Lau Dan Kong Siu Chuen
A trade union leader/A Legco candidate
Lau Chun Hung's master, later broke up
Bowie Lam
Ronald Law (youth)
Lau Chun Hung (Joe)
A trade union executive/A Legco candidate
Kong Siu Chuen's apprentice, later broke up
Au Hoi Ching's superior and love interest, later her lover, finally broke up
Cindy Lee Au Hoi Ching (Cloris)
A trade union member
Lau Chun Hung's assistant
Love Lau Chun Hung, later his mistress, finally broke up
Committed suicide on Episode 27

Ching Ho Finance[edit]

Cast Role Description Age
Elaine Jin Yung Cheuk Wah (Brenda)
Hau Chiu Ping's ex-girlfriend
Lau Chun Hung's superior, later mistress
Died in a car accident in Episode 25
Moses Chan Sung Yee Long (Angus)
Chief Operations Officer
Resigned in Episode 20
Bowie Lam Lau Chun Hung (Joe)
Chief Operations Officer
Yung Cheuk Wah's subordinate, later lover
Joined in Episode 20
Chan Hung-lit Hau Chiu Ping (George)
Yung Cheuk Wah's ex-boyfiend
Queenie Chu Lam Pui Ling (Jessica)
Sung Yee Long's subordinate and lover
Yung Cheuk Tung's love rival
Resigned in Episode 20
Cheung Kwok Keung Lui Yiu-bun (Ben)
Triad member
Sung Yee Long's subordinate, later Lau Chun Hung's subordinate
Loved Lam Pui Ling
Kenny Wong Cheng Chun Hin (Ronnie)
Joined in Episode 24

CC Radio[edit]

Cast Role Description Age
Andy Tai Hung Mao Sum (Sam)
Radio Commander
Charmaine Sheh
Angel Chiang (youth)
Yip Chi Yan (Hazel, Yan)
DJ 34
Catherine Chau Mabel DJ
Yip Chi Yan's colleague
Rachel Kan Daisy DJ
Yip Chi Yan's colleague
Bryant Mak Gordon DJ
Yip Chi Yan's colleague
Joe Junior Dr. Dylan A retired DJ that works in Yip Chi Yan's DJ Radio Station
Tai Yiu Ming Rico DJ assistant
Yip Chi Yan's assistant

Other cast[edit]

Cast Role Description
Stanley Cheung Hui Ka Ming
A telecom technician, a band guitarist
Yip Chi Yan's first boyfriend
Lau Chun Hung, Mok Ho Yin and Cheung Kin Sang's friend
Killed and eaten by Lau Chun Hung, Sung Yee Long and Cheng Chun Hin at the snow mountain
Felix Lok Ivan Wong A doctor
Ma Wing-yee's lover, later broke up
Tsui Wing Arthur Yip Chi Yan's lover, later broke up
Ben Wong Bowman A cook
Yip Chi Yan's husband, later divorced
Calinda Chan (陳宛蔚) Sweets Shop owner
Yeung Ching Wah (楊證樺)
Ho Wai Yip (何偉業)
Yiu Ho Ching (姚浩政)
Cheung Hon Pan (張漢斌)
Fu Kim Hung (傅劍虹)
Chung Yuk Ching (鍾鈺精)
Tsang Yuen Sa (曾琬莎)
Wong Lok Yee (黃樂兒)
Janice Ting (丁樂鍶)
Owen Ng (吳雲甫)

Viewership ratings[edit]

Week Originally Aired Episodes Average Points Peaking Points References
November 21, 2011
November 21–25, 2011
1 — 5
November 28 - December 1, 2011
6 — 9
December 6–9, 2011
10 — 13
December 12–16, 2011
14 — 18
December 19–23, 2011
19 — 23
December 26–30, 2011
24 — 28
January 1, 2012
29 — 30

Theme songs[edit]

The opening and closing theme songs of When Heaven Burns were composed by Paul Wong, formerly of the Hong Kong band Beyond. Paul Wong is the guitarist for both songs and is the vocalist for the opening theme. The closing theme is sung by the three male leads and serves as the reconstructed lost song.

The plot line of a band returning home with one of their member dead has led to comparisons between the fictional band and Beyond.

Censorship in mainland China[edit]

On December 27, 2011, with four episodes to go, China's State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television ordered the sub-licensees to withdraw the video streaming on 11 websites based on the pretext of cannibalism, making When Heaven Burns the first Hong Kong soap opera series to be censored in Mainland China in over two decades.[1] The real-time relay in Guangdong province was unaffected, however, and the remaining episodes were shown on television without hindrance in that province.[10] The underlying reason for this withdrawal was thought to be because of the show's underlying allusions to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and non-mainland China media considered this move as censorship.[11] The storyline and the characters demonstrated similarities to the Tiananmen Square protest. When interviewed by Hong Kong's Apple Daily, the show's screenwriter agreed that the story was inspired by the government crackdown on the student democracy movement.[1]

Awards and nominations[edit]

On December 17, 2012, When Heaven Burns won the TVB Anniversary Award for best drama in 2012, the award was a result of a popular vote.

2012 TVB Anniversary Awards

  • Best Drama
  • Nominated - Best Actress (Charmaine Sheh) - Top 5
  • Nominated - My Favourite Female Character (Charmaine Sheh) - Top 10

My AOD Favourite Awards 2012

  • Nominated - Best Drama
  • Nominated - Best Actress (Charmaine Sheh) - Top 5
  • Nominated - Top 15 Character (Charmaine Sheh)
  • Nominated - Top 15 Character (Bowie Lam)
  • Nominated - Best Theme Song (年少無知 by Bowie Lam, Moses Chan and Kenny Wong)

CASH Golden Sail Music Awards 2012

  • Best Chorus Performance (年少無知 by Bowie Lam, Moses Chan and Kenny Wong)

17th Asian Television Awards 2012

  • Best Actor - Moses Chan

Metro Radio Hits Music Awards 2012

  • My Most Appreciated Song (年少無知 by Paul Wong)

Ultimate Song Chart Awards 2012

  • WeChat Chit Chat Most Popular Song (年少無知 by Bowie Lam, Moses Chan and Kenny Wong)
  • My Favourite Song (年少無知 by Bowie Lam, Moses Chan and Kenny Wong)

RTHK Top 10 Gold Songs Awards 2012

  • Top 10 Gold Songs
  • Nominated - Top 10 Singers (Bowie Lam, Moses Chan and Kenny Wong)


"This city is dying, you know?" is a sentence from the seventh episode of TVB teleplay When Heaven Burns when Dr. Dylan (played by Joe Junior) speaks to Yip Chi Yan (played by Charmaine Sheh). "Take a look at our world, look at the state of our city, apart from the word money we can no longer differentiate between black and white we have all been shaped by environment to be as if we were all the product of the same mould. To like to eat the same food to like the same television program, to support the same political viewpoint, to subscribe to the same life path from birth to death, this city is dying, you know?"[12]


External links[edit]