Friday, December 18, 2009

Jay Chou Named One of the Actors to Watch

A US website, ScreenCrave, has named its Top Ten Actors to Watch in 2010, and coming in at number eight is Taiwan's favourite mega-star Jay Chou (周杰伦, pinyin: Zhōu Jiélún). That prediction is staked on his upcoming appearance in the Hollywood adaptation of the comic book The Green Hornet, alongside Seth Rogen and Cameron Diaz. Jay Chou will play the masked vigilante's faithful sidekick/manservant Kato in the Michel Londry directed action film.

The role of Kato was once played by the martial arts legend himself, Bruce Lee, in a television series in the 1960s. Although the series was short-lived, lasting just one season before being axed, it did introduce Bruce Lee to Western audiences for the first time. Now there is hope that Jay Chou might follow a similar path to worldwide stardom. Of course Jay hardly has Lee's martial arts skills that so impressed the world forty years ago. Then again Bruce Lee couldn't sing like Jay Chou.

All this talk of potential international stardom for Jay Chou next year may be a little premature however. The Green Hornet isn't scheduled to be released until December 2010, so world domination may have to wait until 2011.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Last Month's CASH Golden Sail Music Awards

Eason Chan and Kay Tse - two of this year's Golden Sail winners

CASH is the Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong, the association for writers in the Hong Kong music industry. Since 2001 they have been handing out the Golden Sail Awards to recognise the best music works and vocal performances over a 12 month period, usually from August to the following August. The 2008-09 Awards were announced at the end of last month, and - no surprises here - Eason Chan (陈奕迅, pinyin: Chén Yìxùn) was one of the biggest winners. In fact by my calculation Eason Chan has picked up at least one award at eight of the nine Golden Sail ceremonies held, which officially makes him a pop phenomenon.

Chan took home two Golden Sail Music Awards: Best Male Vocal Performance for 700 Years Later (年度之歌), and Best Song Award, again for 700 Years Later. That song also won an award for its lyricist Lin Ruoning. It missed out however on the award for Best Melody, which instead went to singer-songwriter Ivana Wong for The Moon Says (月亮说).

Best Female Vocal Performance - for the second year in a row - was awarded to Kay Tse (谢安琪, pinyin: Xiè Anqí). This year she won it with the aptly titled Song of the Year (年度之歌). Another regular winner, Hong Kong duo Swing, won Best Group Performance for (我有貨, a title that's a little difficult to translate). Best Performance by a Band was awarded to Mr., the emerging Hong Kong rock band (yes, there are Hong Kong rock bands) for their song If I Was Eason Chan (如果我是陳奕迅).

The CASH website has the full list of winners.

Friday, December 11, 2009

China's Most Stylish Entertainers According to MTV

In Shanghai last week MTV Asia held what is turning into an annual event, the MTV Style Gala. Awards were given across the entertainment industry, covering singers, actors, models and, um, charity organisers.

Six singers in total were presented with awards. Jane Zhang (张靓颖, pinyin: Zhāng Liàngyǐng) was named the most stylish female singer from mainland China, then kind of spoiled the effect by turning up in an outfit that would have been laughed at even in the '80s (pictured right). The most stylish female singer from Hong Kong was Karen Mok (莫文蔚, pinyin: Mò Wénwèi), while from Taiwan it went to Tanya Tsai (蔡健雅, pinyin: Cài Jiànyǎ)...although technically that should be Singapore's award.

For the male singers, the awards couldn't have covered a wider range of styles. There's the down-to-earth look of veteran rock singer Xu Wei (许巍, mainland China), the modish R&B star Khalil Fong (方大同, pinyin: Fāng Dàtóng - Hong Kong) and the bad boy aura of Stanley Huang (黄立行, pinyin: Huáng Lìxíng - Taiwan). Two groups won prizes for most stylish group, Taiwanese boy band Farenheit (飞轮海, pinyin: Fēilúnhǎi) and Beijing indie rockers Super VC (果味VC, Guǒwèi VC).

There were also prizes for the actors. Gao Yuanyuan (高圆圆), whose fresh look first got her a start in commercials before hitting the big time, won most stylish actress. Meanwhile Donnie Yen (甄子丹, pinyin: Zhēn Zǐdān), capped off possibly the most successful year in his 25-year career, with the most stylish actor award.

There were also awards given to the most stylish model, Du Juan (杜鵑), a former Miss China and the first ever cover girl for the Chinese edition of Vogue. And in MTV's nod to social activism the "most stylish charity achievement" prize was given to Jackie Chan (成龙, pinyin: Chéng Lóng).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Taiwan Rocker Shin Heads the Album Charts

The outspoken rock singer Su Chien Hsin (苏见信) - better known as A Shin (阿信) or simply Shin - had Taiwan's biggest selling album for the week November 26 to December 3 according to the G Music charts. The new album, While I (趁我), is Shin's third album and was recorded in Los Angeles.

Previously lead singer of the Shin Band (信乐团), one of the most popular rock bands in both Taiwan and the Mainland, Shin quit the band in 2007. It was by some reports an acrimonious break-up, Shin leaving his four bandmates high and dry mid-way through recording their fifth album in order to sign a more lucrative contract with another record company. At the time, the Shin Band had a string of classic hits to their name, including their debut single Love Beyond Death, Farewell Song (离歌), Tian Gao Di Hou (天高地厚) and One Night in Beijing. With their main man gone, many people thought the band was finished, but Shin Band simply replaced him with another powerful singer and carried on their success.

Meanwhile Shin and his distinctive falsetto voice continued to belt out the power ballads in his solo career, and While I is in much the same vein. The first single from the ten-track album is Take Advantage of Me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wayne Lai Reigns at TVB Anniversary Awards

Wayne Lai (黎耀祥: Lí Yàoxiáng) was the biggest winner at the TVB Anniversary Awards, Hong Kong's premier TV award ceremony. The 45 year old took out awards in three major categories for his performance in the costume drama Rosy Business. His role of Chai Kau, a flawed and not always likeable central character, won the Best Actor, Favourite Male Character and the Popularity Awards at the ceremony held last Friday, 4 December.

Although Lai began acting back in 1986 playing countless small roles in TVB productions, it wasn't until he reached his forties that his career began to reach new heights. The first role to catch the public's and critics' attention was in the 2005 series Scavengers' Paradise, a performance that earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at that year's TVB Anniversary Awards. A year later he was nominated again as Best Supporting Actor in the period drama Safe Guards. In 2007 he was again amongst the nominees at the TVB Anniversary Awards, this time for Best Actor in Steps. It was fourth time lucky in 2008 when he won Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Gentle Crackdown II, a comedy series set during the Ming Dynasty. Lai had to play two differenct characters, including the wise assistant to a provincial magistrate, reprising his role from the original series.

Rosy Business (巾幗梟雄) ended up taking out six awards on the night. As well as Lai's awards for Best Actor and Most Popular Character, the drama set in the 19th century won Best Series, Susan Tse's (谢雪心, pinyin: Xiè Xuěxīn) performance was awarded Best Supporting Actress and Pierre Ngo was named Most Improved Actor.

A lot of pre-ceremony attention was focused on who would triumph in the battle of the TVB FaDans (or TVB divas). Rosy Business' Sheren Tang (邓萃雯, pinyin: Dèng Cuìwén) took out the major award of Best Actress, but her main rival Tavia Yeung (杨怡, pinyin: Yáng Yí) from Beyond the Realm of Conscience won the Most Popular Female Character award, as well as the newly created category of Best Performance of the Year. The latter award is meant to honour the performance that was "most outstanding, notable and effective to a series", though more cynical observers regarded it as just a consolation prize for Yeung.

There were few shocks on the night - to no one's surprise, Michael Tse (谢天华, pinyin: Xiè Tiánhuá) won Best Supporting Actor for his memorable performance as Laughing Gor in Emergency Unit. In fact, an alleged winners' list was circulated on the internet a month ago (an English version is at this Asian Fanatics post), and the list got most of the major winners correct. I imagine the list was more likely the product of some journalist's educated guesswork rather than a genuine leak.

There were a couple of surprises in the variety show awards: Best Variety Show went to Club Sparkle ahead of higher rating shows such as Beautiful Cooking and Super Trio Supreme, neither of which made the top five nominees. Super Trio Supreme did manage to pick up one award - Best Presenter Award collectively to Eric Tsang, Chin Kar Lok, Louis Yen and Wong Cho Lam.

A full list of award winners and nominees is on Wikipedia.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Taiwan's Highest Earnest Entertainers: Jay Chou First, Then Daylight

As we approach this year's end some Taiwanese media outlets have been estimating the value of Taiwan's leading entertainment figures - and the lists make pretty interesting reading. United Daily News (UDN) for example has estimated the ten highest earning singers in 2009, based on record sales, concerts, endorsements and other commercial events - see the article here, but in Chinese.

Leading the pack by the proverbial mile is the megastar of Mandopop, Jay Chou (周杰伦, pinyin: Zhōu Jiélún). His earnings in 2009 were an estimated $550 million (New Taiwan Dollars, equal to about US$17 million), with the largest portion of it coming from endorsements. His earnings were also boosted by his concert tour and film appearances, including the Hollywood production of The Green Hornet. It helps also that he has a (successful) finger in so many pies: singing, songwriting, acting, directing, record producing and, most recently, TV production.

All girl group S.H.E were in second place, earning NT$360 million (US$11.2 million) - obviously a lot of money but well behind Jay Chou's earnings. Again endorsements were the biggest contributers to S.H.E's fortunes, and concerts the next biggest. Surprisingly, neither S.H.E or Jay Chou released an album in 2009, highlighting how actual record sales make up only a small percentage of a singer's overall wealth.

The singer with the biggest album sales in 2009, Jolin Tsai (蔡依林, pinyin: Cài Yīlín), did come in third, but those album sales only contributed NT$20 million in Jolin's overall estimated earnings of NT$350 million (US$10.9 million). Her earnings were also boosted by sales from her recently launched fashion label. Jolin might even have finished in second place, considering she took three months off during the year.

The full list of the highest earning singers according to UDN is:
1. Jay Chou - estimated earnings NT$540 million
2. S.H.E - estimated earnings NT$360 million
3. Jolin Tsai - estimated earnings NT$350 million
4. Leehom Wang - estimated earnings NT$270 million
5. Mayday - NT$268 million
6. Wilber Pan - NT$267 million
7. Angela Zhang - NT$248 million
8. Show Luo - NT$220 million
9. A-mei Zhang - NT$159 million
10. Elva Hsiao - NT$100 million

Honourable mention goes to Super Band (纵贯线), the four music legends - Luo Dayou, Zhou Huajian, Jonathan Lee and Zhang Zhenyue - who got together for a limited time only (this blog post gives more information on the supergroup). They earned an estimated NT$100 million (US$3.1 million) during the past year, almost entirely from sales of concert ticket and record sales as the band shunned endorsements.

Meanwhile Apple Daily has created a list of the five highest earning actors and actresses (Chinese language article here), and it's interesting to see the massive disparity between the money pulled in by the singers compared to that by actors. Perhaps it reflects the esteem (or lack of it) that TV actors are held in by Taiwanese fans.

The TV/pop idol Jerry Yan (言承旭, pinyin: Yán Chéngxù - pictured right) was the richest actor this year. However his earnings of just NT$68 million (US$2.1 million) don't even get him into the top ten of a combined actor/singer chart. The 32 year old member of boy band F4 filled his bank account almost equally from his acting fee for the hit series Down With Love, merchandise sales and commercial events.

Rainie Yang (杨丞琳, pinyin: Yáng Chénglín), nicknamed the Cute Princess, was second on the list, and almost 80 percent of her NT$61.8 million (US$1.9 million) earnings were from endorsements. Love or Bread actor Joe Cheng (郑元畅, pinyin: Zhèng Yuánchàng) was number three, his earnings boosted considerably by some lucrative endorsement deals in mainland China.

Apple Daily's complete list of the five richest is:
1. Jerry Yan - estimated earnings NT$68 million
2. Rainie Yang - NT$61.8 million
3. Joe Cheng - NT$50.7 million
4. Vic Zhou - NT$41 million
5. Joe Chen - NT$35.7 million

Useful English versions of both articles can be found at the Asian Fanatics forum:
The 10 Top-Earning Taiwanese Singers of 2009
The 5 Top-Earning Taiwanese Drama Idol Actors/Actresses of 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

November Flavour of the Month: Sir Run Run Shaw

Sir Run Run Shaw (邵逸夫, pinyin: Shào Yìfū), Hong Kong's preeminent TV and movie mogul, last month announced his retirement after eight decades in the entertainment business. Retirement in this case means stepping back from his executive role, although he will continue to retain the honourary title of company chairman. The decision was first announced in October, but became official at TVB's 42nd Anniversary Gala a few weeks ago.

However, Shaw's retreat from public life has proved short-lived. On November 26, it was announced that the grand old name of Hong Kong movie production houses, Shaw Studios, would crank out films again after a long absence. Three films are already in production, with the first of them, Seventy Two Tenants of Prosperity due to be released in time for next year's Spring Festival.

Shaw, affectionately known as Luk Suk or Sixth Uncle, was born in either 1906 or 1907, possibly October or November - no one seems to be clear on the exact details. In any case it makes him at least a sprightly 101 years old. He was born just outside Shanghai and entered the nascent film business back in 1924 - that's back in the era of silent movies. He and his brothers built up a film distribution and exhibition business with operations on both sides of the Pacific. Eventually Shaw settled in Hong Kong in 1959 and established Shaw Brothers Productions. By the 1970s the company had become the largest privately owned studio in the world churning out around 40 films a year.

Although Shaw Studios produced films across a variety of genres, it was best known for martial arts films, including classics such as The One Armed Swordsman, The Five Fingers of Death, Come Drink With Me and Vengeance. That era is still considered a golden age of Hong Kong cinema. As the movie industry changed and the big movie studios lost their power and dominance, Sir Run Run Shaw shifted his company's focus to the television side of operations with TVB, the television studio he had established in 1967. Today TVB is one of the largest television producers in the world, and Shaw presides over a media empire valued at around US$3.5 billion.

Shaw is also famous for his philanthropy, bequeathing millions to hospitals, educational institutions and the arts, not just in Hong Kong but in greater China and beyond. In 2002 he established the Shaw Prize which awards one million dollars each for research in three science categories: astronomy, life sciences and mathematics.

In recent years Sir Run Run Shaw's health has deteriorated, reducing his role in the day-to-day running of the business. A large proportion of executive control is said to be in the hands of his wife, the 76 year old but still formidable Mona Fong, who holds the title of Managing Director. Nevertheless, Sir Run Run's appearance at last month's TVB Gala Awards where he was one of the presenters, followed by his announcement he was back in the movie-making business, shows he retains to a surprising degree his trademark energy and passion for hard work.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Landy Wen: Dancing Queen of the Album Charts

After a two-year absence, one of Taiwan's pop princesses, Landy Wen (温岚, pinyin: Wēn Lán) is back with a new look (short-cropped red hair) and a new album, Dancing Queen. The album name is a fitting one for a singer unofficially recognised as Taiwan's Queen of Dance Music - though Jolin Tsai would also be a strong challenger for the title.

Dancing Queen is Wen's sixth studio album, and it finally made it to number one on the G Music charts in the fourth week of its release, narrowly outselling last week's number one, Love Moments by Jam Hsiao. As the title suggest, the album has plenty of upbeat numbers, and the first single, D.I.S.C.O, is a cover of a popular Korean dance track by Uhm Jung Wah. In additional there are a couple of tracks that show off Landy Wen's distinctive sultry vocals.

Incidentally her new haircut has a striking resemblance to that donned by A-Mei for her recent album release AMIT (as blogged about here). The two divas share not just similar hairdos and number one selling albums in 2009; both are also from the Atayal ethnic group.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Spanish Film Wins Golden Horse Award!

The Golden Horse Awards, one of the premier film awards for Chinese films, were held on November 29 in Taipei. Best film went to the favourite, the oddly-titled No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (不能沒有你). Based on a true story, the film is about an unemployed single father who battles the authorities in his quest to provide a good education for his daughter. The low budget black and white film set in Kaohsiung has already won several awards on the festival circuit.

No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti's director Leon Dai (戴立忍) was also awarded Best Director at the ceremony. It's just the second directorial effort by the popular actor turned director. Altogether No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti won five awards (incidentally the Spanish title was used because an English tranlation, I Can't Live Without You, sounded too much like a bad pop song).

Best Actor award was shared between two vastly different performances: Nick Cheung (张家辉, pinyin: Zhāng Jiāhuì) as a sympathetic villain in the thriller The Beast Stalker, and Huang Bo (黄渤) in the comedy Cow. Cheung earlier this month was named Best Actor at the Mingpao Awards, and back in April won at the Hong Kong Film Awards. In contrast to Cheung's 20-year career, Bo is a relative newcomer who first garnered public attention with his supporting role in the 2006 comic hit Crazy Stone.

The Best Actress award was won by Li Bingbing (李冰冰) for her role as an intelligence officer in the spy thriller set during the Japanese occupation, The Message. Although the 36 year old actor has won awards before, most recently a Huabiao award two years ago for The Knot, her performance in The Message has been hailed as the best of her career.

The Supporting Actor award was given to veteran Wang Xueqi for his role as an ageing opera star in Forever Enthralled. Another industry veteran, Hong Kong actress Wai Ying Hung won Best Supporting Actress for At the End of Daybreak in which she played the mother of an accused rapist.

A full list of the award winners as well as all the nominees can be found at

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Super Girls to the Fore at Global Chinese Music Awards

The 9th Global Chinese Music Awards (第九届全球华语歌曲排行榜颁奖典礼), organised by seven radio stations spanning the Chinese-speaking world, took place on November 19 at the Exhibition Centre Theatre in Beijing. There were awards for Most Popular Male and Female Singers - Singapore's JJ Lin (林俊杰, Lín Jùnjié) and 2005 Super Girl winner Li Yuchun (李宇春, pictured right). And just a week after their Mingpao Awards for Most Outstanding Singers, Hong Kong superstars Eason Chan (陈奕迅, pinyin: Chén Yixùn) and Joey Yung (容祖儿, pinyin: Róng Zǔér) again triumphed, taking out the Best Male and Female Singer Awards.

Most Popular Band was Taiwan's Sodagreen (苏打绿, pinyin: Sūdá lǜ), while the Most Popular Group award was shared by girl group S.H.E and histrionic duo Shui Mu Nian Hao (水木年华).

Two other former Super Girl contestants also fared well. Jane Zhang (张靓颖, pinyin: Zhāng Liàngyǐng), who finished third in the 2005 season, picked up the award for the Seven Stations Most Outstanding Singer, one of three awards she won. And the girl who finished just ahead of her in 2005, Bibi Zhou (周笔畅 , pinyin: Zhōu Bǐchàng - pictured left), won the Seven Stations Media Award and Best Performer Award.

Jane Zhang and Bibi Zhou also featured amongst the seven regional winners corresponding to the seven radio stations responsible for the awards. Jane Zhang won the Beijing award (even though she's a Sichuan native), and the Guangdong award went to Bibi Zhou. The Shanghai award went to another Sichuan native, Wezei Purba (浦巴甲, Pu Ba Jia), and the Hong Kong award was given to neither Eason Chan or Joey Yung but instead to Jason Chan (陈伯宇). The Taiwan prize was taken out by Sodagreen, Singapore's award went to JJ Lin, and Malaysia's was won by Manhand.

The Best Album Award was jointly won by three artists: Eason Chan for H3M, Wang Feng (汪峰) for Faith is in the Air, and Khalil Fong (方大同, pinyin: Fāng Dàtóng) for Orange Moon. The Best Duet Award was also shared amongst three acts, and a Top 20 singles list was also announced.
(Jane Zhang performing at the Global Chinese Music Awards)

A complete list of all the winners follows (an original Chinese source is here at the Sina portal).

Best Male Singer: Eason Chan
Best Female Singer: Joey Yung
Most Popular Male Singer: JJ Lin
Most Popular Female Singer: Li Yuchun
Most Popular Band: Sodagreen
Most Popular Group: S.H.E and Shui Mu Nian Hua
Most Popular Newcomer: Cong Haonan, BY2, Rachel Liang

Best Lyrics: Wang Feng, In Spring Days
Best Composer: Feng Hsuan, Bad Guys
Best Arranger: Sodagreen, Sunlight
Best Producer: Wang Feng, Faith is in the Air

Most Popular Singer-Songwriter: Hins Cheung, Khalil Fong, Chen Chusheng
Best Performer: Huang Xiaoming, Li Yuchun
Seven Stations Media Award: Bibi Zhou
Seven Stations Most Outstanding Singer: Jane Zhang

Best Album:
Faith is in the Air, Wang Feng
H3M, Eason Chan
Orange Moon, Khalil Fong

Most Popular Duets:
Little Dimples, Charlene Choi & JJ Lin
Good Man Card, Huang Xiaoming & Zhao Wei
Another Heaven, Wang Lee Hom & Jane Zhang

Most Outstanding Regional Singers
Beijing: Jane Zhang
Shanghai: Wezei Purba
Guangdong: Bibi Zhou
Hong Kong: Jason Chan
Taiwan: Sodagreen
Singapore: JJ Lin
Malaysia: Manhand

The Top 20 Songs
Jay Chou - Fragrant Rice (稻香)
Li Yuchun - Why Me
Khalil Fong - Song Written for You (为你写的歌)
Wang Lee Hom - Heart Beat (心跳)
Jane Zhang - Could That Be Love (那不会是爱吧)
Bibi Zhou - Your Love (你们的爱)
Eason Chang - Don't Speak (不要说话)
Jade Liu - Tears Smile (眼泪笑了)
Sodagreen - Sunlight (日光)
Wang Feng - In Spring Days (春天里)
Xue Ziqian - Deeply Loved You (深深爱过你)
Hins Cheung - Daytime (披星戴月)
Fish Leong - No Maybe (没有如果)
Charlene Choi - Two Missing One (二缺一)
Joey Yung - Sleeping With Butterflies (与蝶同眠)
Shui Mu Nian Hua - Departure (启程)
Wang Xiaokun - Fragment Song (残缺的歌)
Wezei Purba - Love is That Simple (爱就是那么简单)
Feng Hsuan - Bad Guys (坏人)
Wang Ziqian - One Person's World Afraid of Loneliness (一个人的世界害怕孤独)

[Photos courtesy of Cao-Ji China news agency]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Hsiaos Dominate Taiwan Album Charts

Two weeks ago Elva Hsiao (萧亚轩, pinyin: Xiāo Yǎxuān) returned to the top of the G Music album charts with Diamond Candy 钻石糖), making it four times the album has held the top spot since its release at the beginning of October. Her return to the top was short-lived however, displaced the following week by the new release from another Hsiao...Jam.

It's the second time this year Jam Hsiao (萧敬腾 pinyin: Xiāo Jìngténg) has had a number one album. Back in July he held the top spot for a couple of weeks with his second studio album, Princess (see my earlier post). Less than five months later he's back with another studio record, Love Moments (爱的时刻 自选辑) which went straight to the top of the G Music charts for the week 13 to 19 November. Oh, and in the intervening period he also found time to put out a 2CD live concert version of Princess plus DVD.

Love Moments features mainly cover songs originally performed by some of Mandopop's leading divas such as Faye Wong and Jolin Tsai. Also included on the album is Endless Love (not the Diana Ross classic but a song originally by Taiwanese singer Wan Fang), which Hsiao first performed on the TV talent show that made his name, One Million Stars.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rosy Business Sweeps Ming Pao Awards

The 41st Ming Pao Awards, organised by the Hong Kong weekly magazine of the same name, were held last week. TVB's hit costume drama series from earlier this year, Rosy Business (巾幗梟雄), was the biggest winner, taking home awards in all four categories of the TV division. Sheren Tang (邓萃雯, pinyin: Dèng Cuìwén) was awarded Most Outstanding Female Artiste, while co-star Wayne Lai (黎耀祥: Li Yao Xiang) won Most Outstanding Male Artiste. Not surprisingly, the show won Most Outstanding Television Programme - especially with the absence of Beyond the Realm of Conscience amongst the nominations - and the Rosy Business writers were recognised with the Most Outstanding Behind the Scenes Experts award.

The Ming Pao Awards also present awards in the music and film categories. Eason Chan (陈奕迅, pinyin: Chén Yixùn - pictured right) was the most successful in the music awards, taking out four awards in total. He won Most Outstanding Male Singer and Most Outstanding Album for H3M. He and his production team also took out the Most Outstanding Behind the Scenes Experts award for H3M. Eason Chan was also given a special award, Ming Pao's Ten Year Highest Honour Award. Most Outstanding Female Singer went to Joey Yung (容祖儿, pinyin: Róng Zǔér)

The four film awards were spread evenly across five different films this year. Most Outstanding Movie was the thriller Overheard (窃听风云), beating out a strong field of nominations including Ip Man and Shinjuku Incident. Nick Cheung (张家辉, pinyin: Zhāng Jiāhuì)) won the Most Outstanding Male Artiste award for his performance in Beast Stalker, following up on his earlier Best Actor at this year's Hong Kong Film Awards. The Most Outstanding Female Artiste award was shared by Karena Lam (林嘉欣, pinyin: Lín Jiāxīn) for Claustrophobia and Prudence Liew (刘美君, pinyin: Liú Měijūn) in True Women for Sale. Director Derek Yee (尔冬升) won Most Outstanding Behind the Scenes Expert award for Shinjuku Incident.

The full list of nominations and winners (in bold) were as follows (thanks to hyn5's TVB blog and her translations of the original Mingpao articles):

Television Category
Most Outstanding Television Programme

Rosy Business
Sunday Report
Hong Kong Gossip
You're Hired

Most Outstanding Male Artiste

Wayne Lai, Rosy Business
Ngo Ka Nin, Rosy Business
Dayo Wong, You're Hired
Lo Hoi Pang, Hong Kong Gossip
Michael Tse, E.U.

Most Outstanding Female Artiste

Sheren Tang, Rosy Business
Sandra Ng, Club Sparkle
Charmaine Sheh, You're Hired
Kathy Chow, E.U.
Susan Tse, Rosy Business

Most Outstanding Behind-the-Scenes Expert

Cheung Wah Biu & Chan Ching Yee, Rosy Business, Screenwriters
Chu Geng Kei, Leung Yan Tung & Lee Yee Wah, E.U. Screenwriters
Lee Tim Sing, Rosy Business, Producer
Wong Wai Sing, E.U., Producer
Yip Sing Cheung & Mai Wai Bong, Hong Kong Gossip, Producers

Music Category

Most Outstanding Album

Eason Chan, H3M
Khalil Fong, Timeless
Denise Ho, Ten Days In The Madhouse
Danny Summer, 力量
Juno Mak, 天生地夢

Most Outstanding Male Singer

Eason Chan
Khalil Fong
Hins Cheung & George Lam
Juno Mak

Most Outstanding Female Singer

Joey Yung
Denise Ho
Janie M. Vidal
Kay Tse

Most Outstanding Behind-the-Scenes Expert

Eason Chan & 10 others, H3M Producers
Adrian Chow, Lyricist
Chet Lam, Producer
Hanjin, Ho Bing Sun & Denise Ho, Producers
Swing, Producer

Movies Category

Most Outstanding Movie

The Beast Stalker
Shinjuku Incident
Ip Man

Most Outstanding Male Artiste

Nick Cheung, The Beast Stalker
Louis Koo, Overheard
Jackie Chan, Shinjuku Incident
Donnie Yen, Ip Man
Sean Lau, Overheard

Most Outstanding Female Artiste

Karena Lam, Claustrophobia
Prudence Liew, True Women for Sale
Fala Chen, Turning Point
Shu Qi, Look for a Star
Lynn Xiong, Ip Man

Most Outstanding Behind-the-Scenes Expert

Derek Yee, Shinjuku Incident, Director
Ivy Ho, Claustrophobia, Screenwriter
Dante Lam, The Beast Stalker, Director
Alan Mak & Felix Chong, Overheard, Directors
Wilson Yip, Ip Man, Director

Friday, November 13, 2009

Three Chinese Films Amongst the Decade's 100 Best

As we draw closer to the end of the Noughties, London broadsheet The Times has selected its 100 Best Films of the Decade. As you might expect from the British media, it's very anglocentric and a little eccentric with its odd mix of arthouse and megaplex crowdpleasers.

Although this past decade has hardly been a glory era for Chinese film-making, that only three Chinese films made the list seems an underrepresentation. Perhaps that's more the fault of today's film distribution system rather than The Times critics. It's strange that as the economy becomes increasingly globalised, and a greater range of products from all over the world are available to consumers, the choices of filmgoers in the English-speaking world are steadily being reduced to a bland menu of mainly American fare. In Australia, for example, this year only one Chinese film received a general cinema release, and that was a condensed version of the two Red Cliff movies.

Back to The Times list, and the highest-ranked Chinese film was arthouse favourite In the Mood for Love (花样年华) at number 37. Directed by Wong Kar-Wai (王家卫), the romantic, atmospheric and very stylish love story starred Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung as two neighbours trying to resist their growing love for each other. The Hong Kong produced film was released in 2000.

The second Chinese film on the list was at number 82, Yi Yi: A One and a Two (一一) directed by the late Edward Yang (杨德昌). Set in Taipei, this family drama was completed in 2000, just before Yang was diagnosed with cancer. The film won Yang the Best Director Award at Cannes, amongst numerous other awards.

Finally, at number 93 is The House of Flying Daggers (十面埋伏) from 2004, which for some reason The Times found a better film than Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Presumably the list-makers felt they needed to include at least one Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) film on the list. The martial arts epic, set towards the end of the Tang Dynasty, starred Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Ziyi and Andy Lau.

Incidentally the number one film on The Times list was a French movie, Hidden, which I haven't had the pleasure of seeing. Of course these lists are highly subjective and therefore shouldn't be taken too seriously. After all, what credibility does a list have that puts The Wedding Crashers and Anchorman ahead of Infernal Affairs, which failed to make the list at all?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Yoga Levitates to the Top of the G Music Charts

There's a new number one on the G Music album charts, Yoga Lin (林宥嘉, pinyin: Lín Yòujīa) with his second studio album Senses Around (感官/世界), accounting for 33 percent of all album sales in Taiwan for the week 30 October to 5 November. Lin ends Elva Hsiao's impressive three week reign at the top with the album Diamond Candy which drops to third position. Apart from Jolin with a six-week rule at the top no other artist has had more consecutive weeks at number one.

Yoga Lin, still only 22 years old, was the inaugural winner of the Taiwanese singing contest One Million Stars (超级星光大道) back in 2007. In that competition he obtained a perfect score from all five judges in the final, a performance that included a rendition of Radiohead's Creep, to show off his alt-rock creds. The following year he released his debut album, Mystery, which like Senses Around was an immediate best-seller and critical success.

Lin's musical style is a bit hard to pin down, as he incorporates several genres in his work including Mandopop, R&B, rock and jazz. The first single from Senses Around, You Are What You Eat (看见什么吃什么), is a good example of his eclectic style. Lyrics that ruminate on cannibalism (!) are set to a swinging tune that mixes 12-bar blues and rock with a big brass backing. The music video is pretty out there too. A review of Senses Around can be found on the Urban Voices website.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Singapore HIT Awards Part 2

Taiwanese bands S.H.E and Mayday (五月天, pinyin: Wǔ Yuè Tiān) took home the most awards from the Singapore HIT Awards (新加坡金曲奖), each collecting four awards. Female trio S.H.E (pictured left clowning around after the ceremony) won awards for Best Group, Asia Media Recognition Award (Group) and All-round Entertainers at the main ceremony on Friday night, 6 November. The three-trophy hauled added to their Best Regional Award announced a couple of weeks earlier (see my earlier blogpost). Mayday's awards were for Best Band, Most Popular Group and Asia Media Recognition Award (Band), as well as their earlier announced Shining Artiste award for most chart songs in the year.

The dominance of S.H.E and Mayday was no surprise, but eyebrows were raised when Jam Hsiao (萧敬腾 pinyin: Xiāo Jìng Téng) took out the main male performer trophies over some more fancied competitors. Hsiao took out both the critics' Best Performing Male Artist award and the publicly voted Most Popular Male Artist ahead of names such as Jay Chou and Wang Leehom.

Rachel Liang (梁文音, pinyin: Liáng Wényīn) was also a surprise winner of the Most Popular Female Artist, one of three awards she won on the night. The 22 year oldTaiwanese actress-singer came to prominence with her starring role in last year's hit movie Cape No 7, in which she also sang the theme song. At the HIT Awards she also won for Outstanding Debut Artist and Most Popular Newcomer. The critics however gave their Best Performing Female Artist award to A-mei (阿妹).

Amongst the local artists, Tanya Chua (蔡健雅 pinyin: Cài Jiànyǎ) was the most successful. For the second year in a row she was named Best Local Musician, one of three awards she collected on the night.

A full list of award winners in English can be found at the Asian Fanatics forum.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Singapore HIT Awards Part 1

Tomorrow, November 6, Singapore's 15th Golden Melody Awards (新加坡金曲奖) will be handed out to honour the best in Mandopop over the past year. More commonly referred to as the Singapore HIT Awards to prevent confusion with the better-known Taiwan Golden Melody Awards, they are organised by one of the main radio stations, Y.E.S 93.3 FM.

This year for some reason, six of the awards were announced a couple of weeks before the official ceremony, perhaps as appetisers for the main course. American-born but Taiwan-based Leehom Wang (王力宏, pinyin: Wáng Lìhóng - pictured right) was awarded Single of the Year for the title track of his most recent album Heart.Beat (心跳). And Taiwanese band Mayday (五月天, pinyin: Wǔ Yuè Tiān) was sucessful in the category of Artiste with Most Chart Hits. They had six songs in the charts over the past year, most of them from the Poetry of the Day After album.

The HIT Awards for Outstanding Regional Artistes (i.e non-Singaporean) were also announced last month. In a commendable display of sharing the glory, neither Leehom Wang or Mayday was the Taiwanese winner. Instead the honour went to girl group S.H.E - the second time they've won the award in the past three years.

The award for Outstanding Regional Artiste from Hong Kong went, for the second year in a row, to Eason Chan (陈奕迅, pinyin: Chén Yixùn). Malaysia's Fish Leong (梁静茹, pinyin: Liáng Jìngrú ) also won for the second successive year. In a bit of an upset, Outstanding Regional Artiste from Mainland China was awarded to Bibi Zhou (周笔畅 , pinyin: Zhōu Bǐchàng). She is yet another singer to emerge from the popular TV show Super Girl - finishing as runner-up in the inaugural contest in 2005. The versatile but reluctant star has taken extended breaks from the music scene in the past, but this year returned with the release of her fourth album, Time.

Monday, November 2, 2009

October Flavour of the Month: Jiang Wenli

Actress Jiang Wenli (蒋雯丽) may be considering a larger trophy cabinet after last month's triumph at two different film award ceremonies. At the prestigious Golden Rooster Awards she shared the Best Actress prize for her moving performance in And the Spring Comes (立春). The day before she won the Audience Award at the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea for her directorial debut, Lan (Chinese title 我们天上见 or We See the Sky).

And the Spring Comes was released back in 2007 - the Golden Roosters are held every second year so 2009 was the first year she was eligible. She had already been honoured for her performance at the Rome International Festival in 2007, where the film received its premiere. The film, directed by Jiang's husband Gu Changwei, takes place in a bleak northern industrial town. The role of a plain-looking woman possessed with a beautiful voice and grand dreams of an opera career required Jiang to put on 30 pounds, and make-up effects to make her face blotchy and teeth uneven.

Lan is a film that has been five years in the making. A labour of love for Jiang, she not only directed it but wrote the original screenplay, and the film has strong autobiographical elements. It's set during the 1960s and 70s, a period which many Chinese from Jiang's generation now view with a certain nostalgia despite the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. It tells the story of the relationship between a young girl and her grandfather who has the responsibility of raising the girl when her parents are sent off to a collective farm.

Jiang Wenli was born in 1969 in a small town in Anhui province, and might have spent her life working in the local waterworks if she hadn't been accepted into the prestigious Beijing Film Academy. From the start she showed a talent for expressing genuine emotion and made a memorable early appearance in the classic Farewell My Concubine in 1992 (she played the prostitute forced to give up her child at the beginning of the film).

It wasn't until 1997 however that she became a household name, starring in the TV drama series Hand in Hand (牵手). At the time the series was the most popular ever shown on Chinese television and her performance won her China's Emmy - the Feitian TV award for Best Actress. It's for her TV roles that she's best-known in China. She played the Miranda character in China's version of Sex and the City, Longing for Tan Ailin (好想好想谈恋爱) in 2003. She then won multiple awards for her performance as a long-suffering wife in Golden Anniversary (金婚) - a series that showed through a couple's 50-year marriage the changing face of China itself.

Jiang has yet to feature in a blockbuster film that might win her the global popularity her acting probably deserves. And as she enters her forties the chances of her being cast in a James Bond film or martial arts epic are quickly diminishing. Hopefully her blossoming directing career can win her further plaudits and wider international recognition of her talents.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Beyond the Realm of Conscience Rating Well

Hong Kong TVB's last major series for the year, Beyond the Realm of Conscience (宫心计, pinyin: Gōng xīn jì), got off to a strong start with ratings in the mid 30s for its first week. The show averaged 33 and peaked at 36, drawing in audiences with a cast that includes four of Hong Kong television's leading ladies, both past and present.

Although the English title sounds like a sci-fi or paranormal storyline, Beyond the Realm of Conscience is actually a lavish costume drama set in the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty. The series, which focuses on the intrigues inside the Imperial Household, is based on Jewel in the Palace, a popular Korean drama from 2007 that remains one of Hong Kong's highest rating series ever.

The cast has been billed as a cross-generational clash of the TVB Fadans (fadan can be loosely translated as diva). Representing the new generation are two of Hong Kong TV's most popular actresses, Charmaine Sheh (佘诗曼, pinyin: Shé Shīmàn) and Tavia Yeung (杨怡, pinyin: Yáng Yí). Michelle Yim (米雪, pinyin: Mǐ Xuě) on the other hand is of the older generation; in her hayday during the seventies through to the early nineties she was widely regarded as the queen of TV drama in Hong Kong. Her career has been revitalised recently by playing some memorable small screen villains, particularly her award-winning performance in last year's Moonlight Resonance. The fourth leading actress in Beyond the Realm of Conscience, Susanna Kwan (关菊英, pinyin: Guān Júyīng), is another older star whose stalling career, albeit in the music industry, received a new burst of life playing characters viewers love to hate.

34 year old Charmaine Sheh entered the Hong Kong entertainment scene through a familiar door for aspiring young female stars - the Miss Hong Kong Pageant. In 1997 she was one of the runners-up and started off in small roles in TVB productions. In her first starring role in 2000, she hit the big time with Return of the Cuckoo, winning the TVB Anniversary Award for Favourite Television Character, an award she has gone on to win an additional four times. She also picked up a Best Actress Award in 2006 for her performance in Maiden's Vow. She has made Next Magazine's Annual Top 10 Artistes list for an impressive eight consecutive times and counting, including the number one position in 2007.

Tavia Yeung may not have as many awards as Sheh in her trophy cabinet but in the past couple of years she has emerged as one of Hong Kong's preeminent actresses. In 2007 everything she touched seemed to turn to gold when she appeared in four hit series in a row. Last year she won the Best Supporting Actress trophy at the TVB Anniversary Awards for her performance in Moonlight Resonance. Beyond the Realm of Conscience marks a departure from her usually sweet and innocent roles as she broadens her acting range to play a villain for the first time.

Both Charmaine Sheh and Tavia Yeung have been nominated for Best Actress at the upcoming TVB Anniversary Awards for their roles in Beyond the Realm of Conscience. They are expected to challenge the early favourite Sheren Tang, star of Rosy Business.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Honours Shared in 18th Golden Rooster Awards

Award winners (left to right) Zhou Xun, Wu Gang and Jiang Wenli

The 18th Golden Rooster Awards (金鸡奖, pinyin: Jīn jī jiăng) were announced on the weekend, and the judges were unable to separate the winners in both the Best Film and Best Actress categories. The two most nominated films, the graphic war drama Assembly (集结号) and Peking Opera biopic Forever Enthralled (梅兰芳) (nine and eight nominations respectively) shared the Best Film award.

There were also dual winners in the Best Actress category. Zhou Xun (周迅) celebrated her 35th birthday with a statuette for her portrayal of a lovelorn taxi driver in The Equation of Love and Death, sharing the victory dias with Jiang Wenli (蒋雯丽) who was recognised for her performance as a village woman who dreams of becoming an opera star in And the Spring Comes. It has turned out to be a huge week for Jiang - her directorial film debut, Lan, won the Audience Award at the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea the day before.

The Best Actor award, in something of an upset, went to Wu Gang (吴刚), an actor not well-known outside China. He won for his role as working class hero and socialist role model Wang Jinxi in the film Iron Man. Wu reportedly lost 10 kilograms for the role of the heroic oil worker who played a key role in the early establishment years of the Daqing oil fields.

Other major winners were popular director Feng Xiaogang (冯小刚) for Assembly, finally rewarded after years of being ignored by the Golden Rooster jury, and veteran character actor Wang Xueqi (王学圻) who won Best Supporting Actor for Forever Enthralled. In another upset Yue Hong (岳红) was the winner of the Best Supporting Actress trophy for her performance as a formidable village brigade chief in the comedy A Tale of Two Donkeys. She beat international star Zhang Ziyi who had been nominated for her performance as Mei Langfang's love interest in Forever Enthralled.

The Golden Rooster Awards are one of mainland China's big three film awards, the others being the Huabiao Awards (announced in August) and the One Hundred Flowers Award. The Golden Rooster Awards are held every two years and winners are determined by a panel of judges. In alternate years the One Hundred Flower Award is chosen by popular vote for the single category of Best Film. The 2008 One Hundred Flowers Award winner was also awarded to Assembly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Elva Hsiao's Diamond Candy Sparkles on Debut

Taiwanese dance queen Elva Hsiao (萧亚轩, pinyin: Xiāo Yǎxuān) released her tenth album last week, Diamond Candy (钻石糖), and it went straight to the top of the G Music album charts. The 30 year old's new record accounted for almost 30 percent of album sales, and ended the surprising two-week reign at the top of Yao Yao. Meanwhile her first single from the album, Shiny Love (闪闪惹人爱, aka Bling Bling Attracts Love), has commandeered the top position of the Baidu singles chart.

Elva Hsiao began her singing career over ten years ago and her self-titled debut album was an instant hit. In 2001 she was named by the World Music Awards as the best-selling Chinese artist of that year. Since then she has consistently being regarded as one of Mandopop's divas.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Black and White Dominates Golden Bell Awards

Taiwan's main television awards ceremony, the Golden Bell Awards, was held last Friday, and the hit drama series Black and White (痞子英雄) emerged as the night's biggest winner. The police drama, an enormous ratings success (see my blog post here), was awarded five trophies including Best Drama and Best Director (Tsai Yue Xun - 蔡岳勋).

Black and White also took out Best Actor, but the award was not without controversy. Mark Zhao (赵又廷), starring in his first major production beat his co-star, the more experienced and much more heavily-favoured, Vic Zhou. The result was a real shock, surprising even the show's producers, and creating much internet chatter amongst the show's fans, not all of whom agreed with the judges' choice.

The Golden Bell Awards have a history of throwing up surprising choices, and the Best Actress award to Liu Ruiqi (刘瑞琪) for Marriage for Three Woman (女仨的婚事) was also unexpected. Most pundits had expected Cheryl Yang to be announced the winner for her performance in Defeated Queen.

One of the most popular awards of the night was for TV host Hu Gua (胡瓜). On thirteen previous occasions Hu had been nominated but had never won; however this year was fourteenth time lucky for the host of Challenge 101. Best Variety Show went to the satirical current affairs show The Biggest Political Party (全民最大党).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Michelle Yeoh Makes All-Time Screen Beauties List

US gossip magazine, People, is celebrating its 35th anniversary by naming its 35 All-Time Screen Beauties. The list covers eight decades of movie glamour and a roll-call of names ranging from the original blonde bombshell Jean Harlow to this decade's Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lopez. Only one Asian actress made the top 35, action star Michelle Yeoh (杨紫琼, pinyin: Yáng Zǐqióng).

Born in Ipoh, Malaysia, the now 47 year-old took her first step towards stardom when she represented Malaysia in the 1983 Miss World Pageant - the same year that Maggie Cheung represented Hong Kong. Maggie Cheung reached the semi-finals but Michelle Yeoh didn't get past the first round; nevertheless her appearance led to job offers in ads and then some acting gigs.

Her acting career came to a sudden halt when she married entertainment tycoon Dickson Poon, and she might easily have disappeared from public view forever. However when her marriage ended in 1991 after just three and a half years, she returned to acting, reinventing herself as a Hong Kong action heroine.

In 1997 she became known to the wider world with a lead role alongside Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies. Her international fame was cemented with the worldwide hit Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Since then she has appeared predominantly in Western films, but her next movie release will be the big-name martial arts film True Legend. Also starring Vincent Chau, Zhou Xun and Jay Chou, True Legend is set to hit cinemas at the beginning of 2010 and will reprise Yeoh's famous role of Sister Yu from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"The Message" Rings Out Loud and Clear at Box Office

The National Holiday period at the start of October is traditionally one of the peak movie-going periods in China. This year was especially prosperous for the movie industry, with record box office takings raked in. The better than usual performance was generated by two films in particular: the spy drama and whodunnit The Message (风声, pinyin: Fēngshēng) and The Founding of a Republic (建国大业, pinyin: Jiàn Guό Dàyè). The Message was the biggest drawing movie over the holiday period - its box office receipts from its opening on 29 September up until 8 October were a reported 150 million yuan, or about $US22 million.

The Message, set in 1942 during the Japanese occupation of the mainland, stars two of China's best-known actresses, Zhou Xun (周迅) and Li Bingbing (李冰冰), alongside Zhang Hanyu (张涵予) and Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明) as a particularly nasty Japanese interrogator. It's based on a best-selling novel of the same name.

Meanwhile The Founding of a Republic, which was released two weeks before The Message continues to roll on its merry money-making way (see this earlier blog post), and is now officially the biggest grossing local film of all time. It has pulled in a total of 350 million yuan at the box office, overtaking the previous number one, the romantic comedy If You Are the One. Both The Message and The Founding of a Republic performed well enough to feature on Screen Daily's top ten global box office list - and it wouldn't be too often that two Chinese films have managed to achieve that feat.

As well as proving a popular hit, The Message has also won praise from some (but not all) critics. It recently gained 6 nominations at the upcoming Golden Horse Awards, including Best Actress nominations for both Zhou Xun and Li Bingbing. Probably not surprisingly, the Taiwan-based Golden Horse Awards instead ignored The Founding of a Republic, which celebrates the victory of the Communists over the Nationalists on the mainland.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ultimate Rescue in the Running for the International Emmys

Nominations for the 37th International Emmys were announced this week. The awards are given to the best television programs produced outside the United States, and amongst the nominees were the mainland Chinese drama Ultimate Rescue (极限救援) in the category of Best TV Movie or Mini-Series. Li Chen (李晨) was also nominated in the Best Performance by an Actor for his role in the show.

Ultimate Rescue, apparently based on a true story, is set in a remote area of North-East China. A one-year old baby in a Heilongjiang township chokes on a chicken bone, and various people band together in a race against time and bad weather to ensure the baby gets to the provincial capital of Harbin for medical treatment. Clearly an uplifting example of what a harmonious society can achieve when we selflessly work together! Li Chen played the lead role of a rough-edged taxi driver who is caught in the thick of the spontaneous rescue mission, and was widely praised for his realistic portrayal.

The 30 year-old Li made his acting debut in the 1997 TV series, Seventeen Year-Olds Don't Cry, (十七岁不哭) which told the story of a group of secondary students and the trials they faced growing up and becoming adults. Li's career went quiet for several years, in which time he embarked on several unsuccessful business ventures and flirted with the idea of becoming a racing car driver (the driving skills later came in handy for Ultimate Rescue). However his career has seen a resurgence over the last couple of years; he has appeared in several high profile movies and TV series including Assembly, My Chief My Regiment and Tangshan Earthquake.

The International Emmys will be held in November in New York City. Ultimate Rescue and Li Chen were the only Chinese candidates across the 14 categories, with the rest of the field dominated by the British and Latin America. China to my knowledge has only ever won one award at the International edition of the Emmys. That was He Lin (何琳) who won a Best Actress Trophy for Slave Mother (为奴隶的母亲) in 2005 when, coincidentally, the head of China's Phoenix TV, Liu Changle, was president of the International Emmy Awards.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Yao Yao Edges Out Angela Zhang on the Album Charts

Last week saw several big name artists release albums, all vying for the top position in Taiwan's G-Music chart. Pop princess Angela Zhang, the multi-award winning Eason Chan and actor-turned-singer Joe Cheng all put out new CDs. However, in a real surprise, it was the debut album from a teenage newcomer, up until now probably better-known for her ample chest measurements than her singing, who took the number one spot. Love's Embrace (爱的抱抱), the mini-album from Guo Shu Yao (郭书瑶), affectionally known as Yao Yao (瑶瑶), grabbed almost 22 percent of album sales in Taiwan for the week September 25 to October 1. This was comfortably ahead of Angela Zhang's much-anticipated The Fifth Season, which accounted for 15 percent of all sales.

19 year old Yao Yao, pin-up girl for Taiwan's geeks, began her short career as a model, and was catapulted into the limelight earlier this year with her eye-catching appearance in a series of ads for a popular online game. The baby-faced but well-endowed teenager created controversy with the censors who considered the ads too risque. However the ads quickly led to a TV hosting job, on Taiwan's second-longest running game show Digital Game King (数位游戏王), and now the successful launch of a singing career.

The immediate impact of Yao Yao's singing debut has taken many by surprise, especially as she has outsold one of Taiwan's biggest singing stars, Angela Zhang, not to mention the reigning king of Cantopop Eason Chan. In Yao Yao's favour, her's was a mini-album and so more affordable for record-buyers. And the free poster of the busty model wouldn't have harmed sales either!

Poor old Angela Zhang has had something of a rough time of it lately. First a heart condition kept her out of the recording studio for 2 years. Then the promotional efforts for her long-awaited sixth album were hampered when she became embroiled in a very public family dispute with her mother who accused her of being unfilial and on drugs, amongst other things. To top things off, her first single from the new CD, White, was accused of ripping-off an Avril Lavigne tune. Some consolation for Zhang, however, is that The Fifth Season has reportedly had Asia-wide sales of 200,000, and topped two of Taiwan's major online charts, KKBOX and ezPeer.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

September Flavour of the Month: Andy Lau and Secret Marriages

Andy Lau and Carol Chu - finally, after 24 years, they can hold hands in public

Andy Lau (刘德华, pinyin: Liú Déhuá ), one of the biggest names in the Hong Kong entertainment industry, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently. The celebrated actor and singer, regarded as one of Cantopop's Four Heavenly Kings, tarnished his reputation when it was revealed he was secretly married to Carol Chu (Zhu Liqian). It may go down as one of Lau's finest acting performances - successfully presenting to the world an image of a carefree, unattached bachelor for the past 24 years, when all the time he was in a relationship with the former Malaysian beauty queen.

There has long been media speculation regarding Lau's relationship with Chu. However the rumours have always been denied by the actor or his representatives. Presumably the thinking behind this ruse was that a married Andy Lau made a less bankable commodity than a single (and available - keep that flame of hope burning, ladies) Andy Lau.

Lau's lie began to unravel in late August, at the funeral of Carol Chu's father in Kuala Lumpur. Lau tried to attend the funeral incognito, with the less than successful ploy of having several minders shield him from prying eyes at the ceremony with big black umbrellas. This despite the funeral being held on a glorious sunny day. The media then went on an Andy Lau hunt and several more sightings were made of the star in the company of the woman he had for 24 years denied being involved with. Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily took the initiative of searching US marriage registries, and finally it was revealed - Lau and Chu had in fact tied the knot back in June 2008. You may not necessarily approve of the ethics of the Hong Kong tabloids, but you have to admire their investigative skills.

A tearful and apologetic Lau confirmed the news at a press conference soon after and asked fans for forgiveness. He said that he had chosen to hide his relationship for so long to protect Chu from the media - though more cynical observers believed it was to protect his image as an idol. Others felt sympathy for the woman, forced to hide herself away for 24 years as if in some domestic arrangement from the feudal period.

As negative publicity towards Lau increased, the star was forced to extend the rationale for all the secrecy. It wasn't just the Hong Kong media he was protecting his wife from, it was also the Hong Kong triads. He reasoned that if his relationship to Chu had been revealed, it would have exposed her to mafia threats, even made her a kidnapping target.

The Andy Lau Secret Marriage scandal took a tawdry turn when one media outlet decided to track down Lau's most notorious/infamous fan. Yang Lijuan was obsessed with Lau and she and her family spent a small fortune - her father was even prepared to sell his kidney - trying to satisfy this obsession, travelling long distances to attend Lau's concerts and public appearances. The obsession led to tragedy in 2007 when she finally got the chance to meet her idol. However the brief time allotted to her, around five minutes, only served to create more anguish for her. Then her harrowed, and by this time broke, father committed suicide, partly in protest and partly in shame that he had failed to help his daughter. Two years' on, and Yang was asked for her comments on Lau's secret relationship. A clearly still bitter Yang demanded an apology from Lau, claiming if only he had come clean about his relationship her father might still be alive. (For the definitive account of the Yang Lijuan saga you can't go past this article, translated on EastSouthWestNorth.)

The fall-out from Lau's secret marriage continued to spread with other stars also suddenly needing to update their marital status. More "investigative journalism" uncovered that another Heavenly King, Leon Lai had married the model Gaile Lai in March last year. And singer Miriam Yeung also 'fessed up to marrying actor Gary Tang in August without letting the public or media know. The imaginative Taiwan media also got into the act - their perusals of the Las Vegas marriage records unearthed from several years ago a name similar to Ariel Lin, and speculated that the actress had married a Korean boyfriend when she was still a teenage university student. Not surprisingly, Lin denied the allegations.

Secret marriages have always been part of the Hong Kong entertainment industry. The most famous example was Jackie Chan who kept his marriage to actress Joan Lin plus the existence of a son secret for over 15 years. One reason for the secrecy was the fear that a heartbroken fan might take the news badly - fears that had some basis in reality. Two of his fans had already committed suicide after hearing rumours that Jackie was married. Chan too had fears that his son could be the target of kidnappers.

It seems doubtful that Andy Lau's career as a leading man will suffer because of the now public knowledge he is married. Even his reputation as a man of integrity is unlikely to suffer permanent damage. At the height of the scandal, it was announced that he would be cast in an upcoming romantic comedy, Kiss, alongside Zhou Xun. And the media has moved on from the secret marriage to news that he and his wife were in the process of having a baby through artificial insemnination. If and when Carol Chu becomes pregnant, we can safely assume it won't be kept a secret.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Korea's Super Junior Invades Taiwan Chart

Korean boy band Super Junior - or at least their sub-group/Chinese franchise Super Junior-M - launched a foray on the Taiwan charts, going straight to the top for the week 18 to 24 September with their new EP Super Girl. (See the latest G-Music album chart here, but in Chinese).

Super Junior-M (the M is for Mandarin) were created, or manufactured might be the better word, last year to cash in on Super Junior's popularity in the Chinese-speaking world. The band has seven members, made up of five original Super Junior members including the group's only Chinese member Han Geng. Another two newcomers were then added to the mix: a Chinese-Canadian who goes by the name of Henry, and Wuhan-born Zhou Mi.

Super Junior-M's debut album titled Me (迷) featured mainly covers of Super Junior's Korean hits but sung in Mandarin. The musical arrangements were also tailored to suit Chinese audiences. The result: a kind of hybrid K-Pop "with Chinese characteristics". The new mini-album Super Girl in contrast contains some original material, though the title track and first single was written by the same man who composed the similar-sounding Sorry Sorry, Super Junior's latest hit.

Super Junior the original are part of a recent fad for boy (and girl) bands the size of football teams - Super Junior for example has 13 members. And like a musical amoeba, the group has regularly subdivided to fill particular niche markets. Super Junior has sporned at least four sub-groups: as well as Super Junior-M there's Super Junior-K.R.Y (which specialises in slow, sorrowful ballads), Super Junior-T (T standing for "trot music", a style of dance music dating back to the 1930s), and Super Junior-Happy whose music style is, well, happy. Super Junior-T recently morphed into Super Junior-T X Moeyan, joining forces with a Japanese girl act in an attempt to conquer the Japanese market.

Super Junior itself is a carefully planned and manufactured product, just one in a long line of pop groups created by the Korean record company and talent agency, SM Entertainment. The group were unleashed on the Korean public after massive fanfare and publicity back in 2005. Members are known for their versatility: as well as singing, they are expected to be dancers, actors and presenters. Of course good looks are also an essential selection criteria.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Founding of a Republic Breaking Box Office Records

A new film commemorating the founding of the People's Republic of China is drawing in large audiences, many of them attracted by the star-studded cast. The Founding of a Republic (建国大业, pinyin: Jiàn Guό Dàyè) tells the story of the civil war between Communists and Nationalist between 1945 and 1949, culminating in the Communist Party's coming to power. Its release is timed to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the foundation of New China, or the People's Republic.

A cast of 175 or so actors, including over 80 A-list stars and directors, make appearances in the film, most of them small cameos with just a line or two to deliver. The big names include Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat, Zhang Ziyi, Vicky Zhao and Andy Lau, although noticeably absent are any Taiwanese stars. Most cast members provided their services for free in what has been described as a patriotic gesture.

Amidst all the big names is an actor relatively unknown outside of China, Tang Guoqiang (唐国强), who plays the film's central character, Mao Zedong. Tall and handsome, Tang was something of a matinee idol in his heyday back in the 70s and early 80s. He was also well respected for his acting abilities, and his resemblance to Mao has seen him play the Great Helmsman at least a dozen times. (Ironically he has also played several of China's best-known emperors, the regal bearing he brings to his characters apparently serving him in good stead for both imperial and communist leaders). Expect his performance in this latest high-profile film to further revitalise his career.

On the back of a large-scale publicity campaign The Founding of a Republic has chalked up impressive box office earnings in its opening week. It boasts the best half-day sales ever for its premiere - RMB14 million, or about US$1.9 million. This compares favourably with China's best-ever opening day box office takings, the RMB25 million earned by Red Cliff, which was over a full day.

Takings for the first week (actually just four and a half days) were 124 million, the highest first week box office haul for a mainland movie. The film's producers, the State-owned China Film Group, are hopeful that The Founding of a Republic will eventually go on to be China's highest grossing film ever, an honour currently held by the Hollywood blockbuster, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Planning is also well underway for a prequel, to focus on the founding of the Communist Party itself. The Founding of a Republic's co-director, Han Sanping - who is also the chairman of China Film Group - is promising that the prequel will also feature a cast of well-known names.

For an interesting outlook on the film see this post at CNReviews. And NPR deconstructs the film in this semi-review.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Summer Fever by Sodaspring Heats Up the Album Charts

This week's best-selling album in Taiwan, according to the G Music charts, is the latest release by indie band Sodagreen (苏打绿, pinyin: Sūdá lǜ). Summer Fever (夏/狂热) is the band's sixth studio album and their second release of 2009.

The album is part two in Sodagreen's ambitious plan to release four albums over the two years. Known as the Vivaldi Project, the band will record in four different cities with the four seasons providing the theme for each album. The first record in the project, Spring Daylight (春/日光), was recorded in Taiwan earlier this year. Sodapop then travelled to London to put down their second record, and critics have noted the new album's distinctive Brit-pop style as a result. And as you might expect from an album with a summery theme, the tracks tend to be bright and upbeat. The first single from the album is the title track, Fever (狂热).

The next two albums, representing autumn and winter, will be recording in Beijing and Berlin respectively. Inside reports are that they will have a correspondingly darker, more sombre tone.

Sodagreen were formed way back in 2001, and their current six-member lineup dates from 2003. However they didn't release their self-titled debut album until 2005. Definitely unique in the Taiwanese music scene, it has only been in the last few years that have started to reach a mainstream audience, culminating in successive Best Band prizes at the Golden Melody Awards in 2007 and 2008.

The band's central figure is lead singer and songwriter, Wu Qing Feng (吳青峰, or "Greeny"). He's known for his distinctive feminine-sounding vocals, and many people hearing him for the first time have mistaken him for a female singer.He also attracts attention with his out-there haircuts: to coincide with the Spring Daylight album he died his hair pink, and now it's bright green for Summer Fever.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Overheard: Hong Kong's Biggest Summer Hit

Crime thriller Overheard (窃听风云, pinyin: Qiè Tīng Fēng Yún) from the makers of Infernal Affairs, and the Shaw Brothers comeback film Turning Point (also known as Laughing Gor's Defection or Laughing Gor 之变节) fought a two-way battle for the honour of Hong Kong's biggest grossing local production this summer. It was Overhead that came out tops, earning HK$15.3 million for the two peak months of July and August. Turning Point earned HK$14.7 million over the same period, though it was disadvantaged by opening two and a half weeks after Overheard.

The box office figures were provided earlier this month by Hong Kong's Motion Picture Industry Association. Although the list of films was dominated by Hollywood blockbusters like Transformers 2 and the latest Harry Potter, which were the number 1 and number 2 grossing films of the summer respectively, four Hong Kong-produced films managed to make the top ten. The other two were Murderer, a thriller starring Aaron Kwok which grossed HK$11.7 million, and the period comedy On His Majesty's Secret Service ($HK8.8 million).

Overhead, written and directed by Alan Mak and Felix Chong, stars the versatile Lau Ching-Wan - last seen in Mad Detective - as well as Louise Koo and Danny Wu, and is about a surveillance operation investigating insider trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The film also features Mainland actress Zhang Jingchu (张静初).

Turning Point marks the return to movie-making after a lengthy absence of the legendary Shaw Brothers studio - 22 years away from film-making according to some reports such as this Hollywood Reporter article, though Shaw Brothers were listed as producers for Drunken Monkey (2002), so in fact only a seven-year absence. The film is a prequel to this year's hit TVB series E.U (see my earlier blog article), and cashes in on the popularity of the supporting character "Laughing Gor" played by Michael Tse. It also stars prominent Hong Kong acting identities Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang and Francis Ng. Direction is by prolific Hong Kong movie-maker Herman Yau.

Despite the good box office returns, are the films actually any good? My favourite source for Hong Kong film reviews, Love HK, gives both Overheard and Turning Point positive reviews albeit with some reservations.
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