A Step into the Past (Chinese: 尋秦記; Jyutping: Cam4 Ceon4 Gei3; literally "Records of the Search for Qin") is a 2001 Hong Kong television series produced by TVB and based on Huang Yi's novel of the same Chinese title. The series tells the story of a 21st-century Hong Kong VIPPU officer who travels back in time to the Warring States period of ancient China. He is involved in a number of important historical events that leads to the first unification of China under the Qin dynasty. The series' first original broadcast ran from 15 October to 7 December 2001 on the TVB Jade network in Hong Kong.
Hong Siu-lung is a 21st-century VIPPU special agent in Hong Kong. In the first episode, Hong and his colleagues stand guard at an exhibition of the First Emperor's Terracotta Army. One of Hong's colleagues notices that one of the terracotta warriors bears a striking resemblance to Hong. Moments later, wealthy businessman Lee Siu-chiu is attacked and held hostage at the museum by a madman who had suffered losses in the stock market. Hong rescues Lee and defuses the crisis.
Hong is unhappy despite his success in his career. He has just broken up with his girlfriend, Chun Ching, after a seven-year-long relationship. She insisted that they wed but he preferred to continue their relationship without a proper marriage. Chun married another man and Hong becomes depressed.
Impressed with Hong's rescue attempt, Lee Siu-chiu and Doctor Wu Yau recruit him for a secret time-travelling experiment. Hong agrees to help them in exchange for an opportunity to travel back in time to salvage his failed relationship with Chun Ching. He is tasked to travel back more than two thousand years to the Qin dynasty, half an hour prior to the coronation of Ying Ching in 247 BC, and document the event with a digital camera before a swift departure. However, a critical error occurs during the traveling stage and Hong is sent further back in time three years earlier than originally planned. He is now trapped in the Zhao state of the Warring States period in 250 BC.
In order to return to the future, Hong has to make an arduous journey across thousands of miles in ancient China to activate a device at a specific location and time. He was warned that making even a slight change in the grand scheme of events will trigger a chain reaction of catastrophes that will alter history.
Hong enjoys a series of adventures in history. His knowledge of the 21st century, intelligence and experience as an elite special agent, as well as his prowess in martial arts, enables him to make a strong stand in history. He enters the service of various lords and nobles, and becomes a valuable ally to them. Concurrently, he becomes involved in romantic relationships with four women. The first, Sin-yau, is a wandering female assassin and the first person he meets after travelling back in time. The second, Wu Ting-fong, is the beautiful but spoiled daughter of a wealthy noble. The third is a pretty female scholar named Kam Ching, who resembles his 21st century girlfriend Chun Ching in appearance and shares a similar name (completely homophonic in Standard Mandarin). The last is Princess Chiu Sin, the daughter of the king of Zhao, who dies in a tragic incident later. He also befriends the king's sister Chiu Nga and her son Chiu Poon. Meanwhile, he foils the evil plans of Chiu Muk, a secret agent from the Chu state, and becomes Chiu's enemy. Chiu Muk's henchman Lin Chun also sees Hong as his greatest rival.
Ying sees Hong as a valuable ally in his future endeavours and wants to retain him as an adviser. However, Hong begins to feel regret when he sees the evil creation of his efforts, fulfilling the predestination paradox. He is aware that he is not destined to leave his mark in history and refuses to stay in the imperial court. He leaves with Wu Ting-fong and Kam Ching, who are both happily married to him at last. Ying sends his troops to pursue Hong and eventually decides to exile Hong and decrees that the name "Hong Siu-lung" shall henceforth be purged from history. All books and historical records pertaining to Hong are ordered to be destroyed, which leads to Chun Chi Wong's notorious practice of the burning of books and burying of scholars.
Hong and his family find paradise in the plains far from the urban regions. Hong and Wu Ting-fong have a son. In the final moments of the last episode, Hong's son tells him he wants to change his name from Bowie to Hong Yu, a man who historically become a prominent military general who overthrew the Qin dynasty. Hong then exclaims in English "Shit!"Note: Some of the characters' names are in Cantonese romanisation.
Louis Koo as Hong Siu-lung (Chinese: 項少龍; pinyin: Xiàng Shàolóng), the protagonist of the story. Born in 1975, Hong was orphaned at the age of three and spent most of his childhood in an orphanage. He becomes a VIPPU officer after spending one year in training, owing to his excellent social skills, diligence, and intelligence. After separating with his girlfriend of seven years, Hong agrees on a time travelling project organised by Lee Siu-chiu on the condition that he will see his girlfriend again when he returns.
Raymond Lam as Chiu Poon / Ying Ching (Chinese: 趙盤 / 嬴政; pinyin: Zhào Pán / Yíng Zhèng), the son of Princess Chiu Nga. He is despised and often bullied by the other nobles because his mother behaves like a prostitute. After Hong successfully rescues Lady Chu from the Zhao state, Chu mistakes Chiu for her deceased son, Ying Ching. Through Hong's coercion, also compounded by his personal lust for power and vengeance, Chiu becomes the crown prince of Qin and ascends to the throne, subsequently, becoming Chun Chi Wong, the First Emperor of a unified China.
Kwong Wa as Lin Chun / Lo Oi (Chinese: 連晉 / 嫪毐; pinyin: Lián Jìn / Lào Ǎi), a swordsman who used to serve Chiu Muk. He is abandoned by Chiu after Hong injures his right arm in a duel. During his banishment, Lin meets Lo Oi, a left-handed swordsman. After convincing Lo to teach him left-handed swordplay, he kills Lo and takes his identity.
Sonija Kwok as Chun Ching / Kam Ching (Chinese: 秦青 / 琴清; pinyin: Qín Qīng / Qín Qīng). Chun Ching was Hong's girlfriend of seven years, but broke up with him after he reneges the wedding promise. Hong agrees to participate in a time-travelling project after he was assured that Chun Ching would return to him. After Hong is transported to two thousand years back, he meets Kam Ching, a female scholar who resembles Chun Ching in appearance and they develop a romantic relationship.
Jessica Hsuan as Wu Ting-fong (Chinese: 烏廷芳; pinyin: Wū Tíngfāng), the impulsive and spoiled daughter of the Qin loyalist Wu Ying-yuen. Although disgusted by Hong's flirtatious nature, she gradually becomes jealous of her own accord when she sees him with other maidens. Nonetheless, Wu develops a close friendship with Princess Chiu Sin and often visits her.
Joyce Tang as Sin-yau (Chinese: 善柔; pinyin: Shànróu), a female assassin. She was the daughter of a noble from the Qi state, but later flees the state after her parents were killed by Chiu Muk. She becomes the apprentice of Mohist practitioner Cho Chau-to, also becoming an assassin who kills people for money. She is the first person Hong meets after he is transported back in time.
Michelle Saram as Princess Chiu Sin (Chinese: 趙倩; pinyin: Zhào Qiàn), the daughter of King Hao-sing of Zhao. She develops feelings for Hong after he "rescues" her from the palace. She is also Hong's first love after he returns in time.
Waise Lee as Chiu Muk (Chinese: 趙穆; pinyin: Zhào Mù), a secret agent who works for the Chu state as a spy in Zhao.
Sicney Yim as Chiu Nga (Chinese: 趙雅; pinyin: Zhào Yǎ), the younger sister of the king of Zhao. She is Chiu Poon's mother and a close friend of Hong Siu-lung.
A Step into the Past received high ratings during its initial run in 2001, and continued to be successful during its midnight re-runs in the summer of 2005, leading to another trend of late-night television watching after At the Threshold of an Era.
This was the last television drama that Louis Koo acted in, as he had decided to concentrate on his film career. He has since worked on films such as Election and its sequel.
Raymond Lam, in his first major role, was highly praised for his breakthrough performance as Ying Ching, and rose to fame quickly. He has starred in numerous leading roles ever since.
While filming in Zhuozhou, Hebei, Jessica Hsuan was stricken with cholera, causing her to enter a local hospital. She remained in bed for over a month until she was able to leave and start filming again. This caused Hsuan's character to be absent for a while in the series. During her hospital stay, many of her co-stars, including Koo, visited her regularly.
After its 2005 midnight re-run, TVB decided to release the complete series on DVD and VCD for the first time on November 18 in the same year. It also became the second TVB drama to be released on DVD after War and Beauty, and the first to receive a non-limited release.