This is the first TV series that I watched in Cantonese, so it holds a special place for me just because of its importance in my personal language learning journey. But I was also pleasantly shocked by some of the pro-life themes of the show.
“Life on the Line” (跳躍生命線) is a fairly lighthearted drama about the real lives and work of paramedics in Hong Kong. The plot was great, the dialogue was good, and the acting was completely “Hong Kong style”. But despite the serious situations in each episode, there isn’t as much screaming and yelling and overly dramatic acting as a lot of TV shows have!
There was a lot of heroism, and a lot of struggles to figure out messy family/relationship issues, and a lot of life-and-death ethical questions. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but this was a surprisingly good show!
The most surprising thing, though, was the show’s treatment of abortion. In the middle of the series, one of the major plot points involves a doctor who persuades one of his girlfriends to get an abortion. (Spoiler alert: There’s actually a happy ending!)
While the girlfriend is waiting in the hospital room to get an abortion, the audience is made keenly aware of the humanity of the unborn child, because of the words that the pregnant woman uses to talk about the child she’s planning to abort.
Later, the boyfriend/doctor is called a “murderer”. This is what happened: The doctor’s fiancée finds out that he has another girlfriend, and that she’s pregnant, and that she’s getting an abortion. If the fiancée can accept the other woman’s abortion, then she’s free to move ahead with her wedding plans. She loves him and has waited to marry him for 10 years, so this is a very serious moral struggle.
But finally, she tells him that in her career as a medic, all she wants to do is to save people’s lives. And even though she loved him, she “could never sleep with a murderer”.
In this scene, they’re checking out beds at a mattress store before their wedding. She realizes that she cannot sleep with a doctor who would be willing to murder his own flesh and blood.
Honestly, I was kind of shocked. From my perspective as a pro-life advocate, I’m very careful about the words I use. If you’re talking with someone about abortion, using words like “murder” can be a conversation-stopper, and maybe a relationship-ender. To stress the point, I think it’s generally a very bad idea to call people who do abortion “murderers”. It’s counter-productive, and calls to mind the generic image of “Bible-thumping Christians” who yell because they don’t know how to have a real debate. For the record, the pro-life leaders I know try to use language that will actually be persuasive. (Because obviously, this beats trying to shout louder than the people they disagree with.)
But in the context of this TV drama, the issue of abortion did not feel like a philosophical debate. And it had nothing to do with religious or political stances. It was just plainly and refreshingly true: even though this doctor was a hard-working man who saved lives, he was morally a criminal. He was unfaithful to his fiancée, and he wanted to have his mistress’s child killed. So yes, the audience should have no problem calling him a “murderer”.
Fortunately, the doctor does finally have a change of heart about the abortion. He marries the mother, and lives “happily ever after” (and presumably stops keeping any extra girlfriends).
It’s just a TV show, but it meant a lot to me personally. I plan to be here in Hong Kong for decades. And so even though I don’t have a big TV habit, I do need to be able to understand Cantonese-language media. Watching “Life on the Line” was a new experience, and I’m grateful to have gotten to this point in my Cantonese study.
I also was impressed that the characters dealt with life-and-death situations with careful moral judgment. For instance, they brought up the question of when it’s okay to risk your life to save someone else. And they dealt with questions about caring for your family versus saving the lives of strangers, etc.
They also featured a character in the medic training school who had Down Syndrome. He wasn’t a major character, but he was there, and he was part of the team. That was cool, because they gave a positive impression about a young adult with Down Syndrome, working hard to start his career. That’s not something I’m used to seeing on TV.
I was also very happily surprised to see that “Life on the Line” won the award for the best TV drama series of 2018! The TVB Awards Show is broadcast during Chinese New Year, which means that a lot of Cantonese-speaking families saw it during lunch on the second day of Chinese New Year (i.e. one of several big meals for extended family during the week of CNY). I don’t think I’ve ever been interested in watching a TV awards show before. But I made an exception, because my wife’s family was watching it (we had 30 people gathered for lunch in a tiny apartment–with a big TV screen–because this is Hong Kong).
So, cheers for “Life on the Line”. It was a really good series, and I hope more TV producers will promote the value of life in Hong Kong!