Saturday, May 14, 2011

Aftershock Causes Ripples at Udine Festival

In the historical northern Italian city of Udine, they hold the annual Udine Far East Film Festival, dubbed "the film festival for popular Asian cinema". Now in its thirteenth year, the festival goes from strength to strength, with a record number of screenings and audience numbers this year.

This year's Audience Award - the Golden Mulberry - went to the Chinese production, Aftershock, the earthquake drama directed by Feng Xiaogang. The award comes just a couple of weeks after it was named best film at the prestigious Beijing Student Film Festival. For a short time it was the highest-grossing locally-made film ever in China, until it was surpassed at the box office by Let the Bullets Fly this year.

China also took the silver medal in the Audience Awards, with Zhang Yimou's coming-of-age drama Under the Hawthorn Tree set during the Cultural Revolution. Zhang used a cast of unknowns - both Zhou Dongyu and Shawn Dou who played the film's romantic leads were making their acting debuts.

The Festival also announced its inaugural Golden Mulberry Lifetime Achievement Award, with the honour going to a legend of Hong Kong comedy, Michael Hui (许冠文, pinyin: Xǔ Guànwén - pictured right). Hui began his career in the entertainment industry back in 1968 as a TV host, including creating and hosting the popular television variety show Hui Brothers' Show with his two younger brothers. He effortlessly made the transition from small screen to big screen with his film debut, The Warlord in 1972. That film went on to become the number one box office success that year in Hong Kong. Other box office smashes followed: Games Gamblers Play in 1974, The Private Eyes in 1976, and Securities Unlimited in 1981, all of which he also wrote and directed as well as starred in. Securities Unlimited won him the Best Actor award at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

In those earlier films he usually starred alongside his younger brothers, but in the 80s he went solo, so to speak, and created some of Hong Kong's finest satirical comedies, including Inspector Chocolate (1986), Chicken and Duck Talk (1988), Front Page (1990), The Magic Touch (1992) and Always on My Mind (1994). Front Page earned him another Best Actor award, this time from the Hong Kong Artists Guild. The 68 year-old last appeared in a film in 2006, co-starring with Jackie Chan in Rob-B-Hood. He still occasionally performs stand-up comedy shows, most recently selling out the Hong Kong Coliseum in February this year. He will bring his stand-up show to Malaysia later this month.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Jerry Yan Voted No.1 Dream Lover

Taiwan idol Jerry Yan (言承旭, pinyin: Yán Chéngxù), star of the hit idol drama Meteor Garden and member of the boy band F4, came out tops in an online poll asking "Who is your dream lover?" amongst male idol stars. The poll, conducted by Yahoo! Taiwan, was open for one week in the second half of April, and attracted over 55,000 votes. Yan was the clear winner with 12,137 votes, ahead of pop superstar Show Luo (罗志祥, pinyin: Luó Zhīxiáng - 9,871 votes) and former male model turned actor and singer Ming Dao (明道 - 9,765 votes).

Yan was last seen in a TV series almost a year ago in Down With Love, and hasn't released an album since January 2010. However he remains in the spotlight through his public appearances and charity work. The 34 year-old came to fame with his starring role in the Taiwanese romantic drama Meteor Garden in 2001. The series was an adaptation of the Japanese managa series Boys Over Flowers - both of which were squarely aimed at a target audience of teenage girls. Meteor Garden was a massive hit, and resulted in two sequels, Meteor Rain and Meteor Garden 2. It also spawned the boy band F4, made up of Yan and the three other main male cast members.

F4 went on to release two studio albums: Meteor Garden in 2002 and Fantasy in 2003. Both records were the biggest-selling Mandarin albums of the year. The group went into hiatus for several years while band members pursued individual projects, but released a third album in 2007. Yan has also released three solo albums. Since Meteor Garden he has also appeared in three further hit series - The Hospital in 2006, Hot Shot in 2008, and last year's Down With Love.

Original sources (both in Chinese): the Sina entertainment pages and this Macao Daily article.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A-Mei's R U Watching? At Number 1

After almost two years between records, Taiwan pop superstar A-Mei (阿妹) has released a new album, and it went straight to the top of the G-Music album charts. R U Watching? (你在看我吗) is her first release since the Golden Melody-winning album AMIT, released back in June 2009, and like its predecessor went to number one on the charts in its first week of release. According to G-Music it had 28.92 percent of album sales in the week 22 to 28 April, displacing F.I.R's Atlantis who dropped to second spot.

R U Watching? is A-Mei's fifteenth studio album, and also commemorates fifteen years in showbusiness. The 38 year old aboriginal Taiwanese, who is also known by her full name Chang Hui-mei (张惠妹; pinyin: Zhāng Huìmèi), had a number one hit with her first ever single back in 1996, and hasn't looked back since. Her distinctive sultry voice and energetic stage presence made her a star not just in Taiwan but on the mainland as well. Even after singing at the inauguration of pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian in 2000 - a political indiscretion in the eyes of the mainland government that earned her a one year performance ban - her return to the mainland the following year attracted huge crowds of admiring (and forgiving) fans. For a period of time back then she seemed to act as a lightning rod for tensions between Taiwan and the mainland, although A-Mei herself insisted that she had no interest in the political squabbling.

A-Mei is twice winner of the Golden Melody award for Best Female Artist, she has the second biggest-selling album ever in Taiwan (Bad Boy, released in 1997 and sold over 1.38 million copies), has appeared on the cover of Newsweek, and was named one of Time Magazine's Asian Heroes. Although essentially a pop singer, she has never been afraid to incorporate new musical styles, sometimes at the expense of commercial popularity.

R U Watching? contains ten tracks, led off by the first single, What Time Is It Already? (都什么时候了). What Time Is It Already? is one of five ballads on the album, while the title track is a more up-tempo dance track. A-Mei herself co-produced the album, and five of the album's tracks were written by renowned Hong Kong lyricist Albert Leung (林夕). A review of the album can be found here at the jpopasia website.

Monday, May 2, 2011

April Flavour of the Month: Law Lok-lam

Law Lok-lam feels a death scene coming on
Prolific Hong Kong television actor Law Lok-lam (罗乐林, pinyin: Luó Lèlín) caused great alarm amongst those of a superstitious nature earlier this month. In the space of just 24 hours, five different characters he was portraying in various TV series all died. It's unusual enough for an actor to have five different series running concurrently, but to die in all of them, more or less at the same time, is almost spooky. If Oscar Wilde thought one death a misfortune, and two carelessness, what would he have made of Law's situation?

Law's first death, as the founder of the Ming Dynasty, the Hongwu Emperor, was a peaceful one at least - shuffling off this mortal coil via old age in the TVB series Relic of an Emissary. An hour later, he was dead again, this time violently beaten to death in the martial arts series Grace Under Fire. An off-screen death followed a few hours later, in the repeat series Police Station No.7. That evening, in another repeated series, Face to Fate, he kicked the bucket for the fourth time, vomiting blood in the process. Virtues of Harmony 2 is a TVB 2002 sitcom getting a repeat airing, but it was no laughing matter for Law when again the character he was playing passed away - demise number five.

The run of bad luck experienced by Law's characters made international news, and some wits on the net quickly composed a song about him: 同是天涯罗乐林. (The title is basically a play on words of a famous Chinese proverb). There was also criticism from viewers directed at the television station, TVB, or at least their programming department. Wasn't it a bit tasteless to have an actor repeatedly dying, not to mention tempting fate? Law himself, a modest retiring sort who normally shuns the glare of publicity, was non-plussed by the whole thing. "Why would dying in a drama matter? It's not for real" he was quoted as saying in reaction to the sudden media attention.

Law Lok-lam has been acting since 1971, first as an extra before graduating to supporting roles. The high school drop-out has appeared in countless TV series in his forty year career, many of them as villains. Since 1990 he has been acting exclusively in TVB series, and in that 21 year period he would have been in close to a hundred shows. Before that he was with the other major Hong Kong network, ATV, from 1989 to 1999, appearing in almost fifty series.

For a great overview of the actor and his career, the entertainment magazine Mingpao has an excellent in-depth article (BTW brilliantly translated by llwy12, one of the hardworking folk at the AsianFanatics Forum).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Beijing Students' Honour Aftershock

The 18th Annual Beijing Student Film Festival Awards were held on the 28th of April, with Feng Xiaogang's Aftershock (唐山大地震) taking home the main prize of Best Film. The epic drama that starts with the destructive Tangshan earthquake of 1976 and concludes with the 2008 Sichuan earthquake is the second highest grossing mainland Chinese film of all time. However, apart from the top prize at the Australian-held Asia-Pacific Screen Awards, this is its first Best Film award at a major awards ceremony.

The Best Actor trophy was awarded to local star Ge You ((葛优)) for his performance as a conscientious doctor in Chen Kaige's Sacrifice. The veteran actor, who recently turned 54, had a stand-out year in 2010, also appearing in the box office hits, Let the Bullets Fly and If You Are the One 2.

Best Actress was won by emerging superstar Fan Bingbing (范冰冰) for Buddha Mountain. Her performance as a teenager who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a retired Peking Opera singer had earlier this year won her Best Actress at the Tokyo Film Festival. Buddha Mountain was produced by Fan's own production company, Fan Bingbing Workshop, which she established in 2007.

Best Director award went to arthouse favourite Huo Jianqi (霍建起) for White Flower in Autumn, a biopic of one of the earliest leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, Qu Qiubai. A Jury Prize went to the film Biluo Snow (碧罗雪山). Directed by Liu Jie (best known as the cinematographer of Beijing Bicycle), the film also won the Jury Prize at the Shanghai International Film Festival last year. I know little about the film except that it employs a cast of non-professional actors.

The Festival also gave awards in the Most Popular categories. Wen Zhang (文章) won Most Popular Actor for his performance as the autistic son in the moving drama Ocean Heaven. Yao Chen (姚晨), China's most followed micro-blogger, was named Most Popular Actress, on the back of her performance in the television martial arts sitcom, My Own Swordsman. Feng Xiaogang (冯小刚), director of Aftershock, won Most Popular Director.

Television awards were also presented at the ceremony. Best TV Film Award went to the controversial Vegetate (我是植物人), an expose of shady practices in the pharmaceutical industry. Li Naiwen (李乃文), who played a paparazzo turned investigative journalist in the same show, was named Best TV Actor. Best TV Actress was awarded to Wang Liwen (王黎雯) for Moving Hearts.

The full list of winners can be found here - sorry, Chinese only.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

18th Oriental Billboard Awards

Some old news, from a month ago. The Oriental Billboard Awards (东方风云榜, sometimes referred to as the Eastern Billboard Awards) have a place in Mandopop musical history, being the first ever pop music awards ceremony in mainland China. The original awards ceremony was held back in 1993, organised by the Shanghai Media Group through leading radio station FM101. On March 19 this year, the Oriental Billboard Awards were held for the 18th time in Shanghai with many stars of the music scene in attendance.

Best Female Singer, for the third year in a row, was Jane Zhang (张靓颖, pinyin: Zhāng Liàngyǐng - pictured left, courtesy of, establishing herself as a genuine Mandopop superstar. The 26 year-old Sichuan native is a former runner-up in the popular TV talent show Super Girl. Her performance earned her a recording contract with one of China's leading labels, Huayi Brothers Music and her debut EP was released in 2006. She has gone on to record four studio albums, switching to the Universal Music label to record her most recent one, and has had six number one singles. She's best-known in the West for her appearance in 2009 on Opray Winfrey's The World's Got Talent show.

Best Male Singer went to Li Jian (李健), who was once one-half of the popular mainland singing duo, Shui Mu Nian Hua (水木年华) which he formed with a fellow classmate from the prestigious Tsinghua University in 2001. Shui Mu Nian Hua were an immediate success, scooping most of the Best Newcomer awards on the mainland, but after just two albums Li Jian left to embark on a solo career. A talented guitarist, the Harbin-born 36 year-old also writes most of his own songs. He had one of his biggest hits last year with the song Legend (传奇), written several years ago but revived by Faye Wong at last year's CCTV Spring Festival Gala.

The Best Band award was given to Mirror Band (反光镜), the veteran rock band who started off in the Beijing bar scene back in 1997. The three-member Brit-rock influenced band are best-known for their live performances, and have toured all over China as well as the US and Europe. Best Group award went to Milk@Coffee (牛奶咖啡), a duo from Beijing made up of singer-guitarist Kiki (Yan Fu) and keyboard player and producer Ge Fei. They released their debut album in 2005 and have gone on to record a further three albums. Both Mirror Band and Milk@Coffee are first time recipients of an Oriental Billboard Award.

The Oriental Billboard Awards also handed out gongs to non-Mainland artists. This year the Hong Kong award for Most Popular Singer went to Khalil Fong (方大同) and the Taiwan award was given to Kenji Wu (吴克群). There were also awards for Most Popular Singapore Artist (Tanya Chua, 蔡健雅), Most Popular Malaysian Artist (Michael Wong, 光良), and Most Popular Mainland Artist to 29 year-old singer Chen Chusheng (陈楚生), a former winner of a TV singing contest.

There were Asian Singer Awards to Hong Kong's Eason Chan ((陈奕迅) and mainland diva Han Hong (韩红), a Singer of the Year award to Taiwan's "queen of live music" Tiger Huang (黄小琥), and Annual All-Round Entertainer which went to the mainland singer-dancer Han Geng (韩庚).

The Awards also announced their Top Ten Songs of 2010 (in no particular order):
  • My Logo - Han Geng (韩庚)
  • 23 Seconds, 32 Years (23秒,32年) - Shang Wenjie (尚雯婕)
  • Special (特别) - Isabelle Huang (黄龄)
  • How Wonderful (多好啊) - Yu Quan (羽泉)、Xiao Juan (小娟)、Sitar Tan (谭维维)
  • Singing Stone (石头在歌唱) - Wang Feng (汪峰) and Sitar Tan (谭维维)
  • Fu Good - Della Ding (丁当)
  • Lucky Star (幸运星) - Milk@Coffee (牛奶咖啡)
  • Legend (传奇) - Li Jian (李健)
  • 'Love of the Hawthorn Tree' Theme Song (山楂花) - Chen Chusheng (陈楚生)
  • If This Is Love (如果这就是爱情) - Jane Zhang (张靓颖)
The full list of winners can be found here, but only in Chinese.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

F.I.R Rock Their Way to Top of G-Music Charts

Rock-pop band F.I.R (飞儿乐团; pinyin: Fēiér Yuètuán) head the G-Music Album Charts this week with their new album Atlantis - Chapter 6 (第六章 - 亚特兰提斯). Atlantis ends The Next Me by Aaron Yan's three-week stay at the top position, going straight to number one in its first week of release. According to G-Music it had 32 percent of Mandarin-language album sales for the week 15 to 21 April.

Atlantis is F.I.R's sixth studio album - hence the Chapter 6 subtitle - and the fifth F.I.R album to hold the top spot on the charts. The three-member group is made up lead singer Faye Chan, keyboard player and the band's producer, Ian Chen, and lead guitarist Real Huang. They formed back in 2004 as a studio band, gained fame when they performed the theme song of a hit Taiwan TV series, and followed up with a number one album on debut. The next year, 2005, they were awarded Best New Artist at the Golden Melody Awards.

Atlantis contains ten tracks, and its first release is the title track. Parts of it sound a little Celtic-influenced, and it's accompanied by an impressive music video that emphasises the underwater theme of Atlantis. The second single, Let Love Be Reborn (让爱重生) is more mellow-sounding but still rocks along.
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