Monday, March 2, 2009

Who are the Four Heavenly Kings?

(from left to right: Aaron Kwok, Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau and Leon Lai, at the 22nd Hong Kong Film Awards in 2003)

The Four Heavenly Kings
(四大天王 Si da tian wang) are Jacky Cheung, Aaron Kwok, Leon Lai and Andy Lau. More accurately, they're the Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop, to distinguish them from the Four Young Heavenly Kings of Mandopop, the New Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop, and so on. The Four Heavenly Kings actually comes from Buddhist theology, and refers to the deities who protect the four corners of the world.

The Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop were given their title in the 1990s, a catchphrase created by Hong Kong television station TVB when they dominated the Hong Kong pop scene. All four of them have also forged successful acting careers.

Jacky Cheung (张学友 Zhang Xueyou) is perhaps the best-loved and most lauded of the four. He has the two best-selling CDs in Hong Kong, as well as the biggest selling Mandarin language album. His many awards include twice Best-Selling Chinese Artist at the World Music Awards, and Radio Television Hong Kong's Golden Needle award for his contributions to the music industry. Although best known for his romantic ballads, Cheung has always been adventurous in trying new music styles including rock and rap. He still remains incredibly popular even after more than 20 years in the music business, and last year completed a year-long World Tour mostly playing to packed houses. His next project is a romantic comedy, Crossing Hennessy, alongside actress Tang Wei.

Andy Lau (刘德华 Liu Dehua) has combined equally successful singing and acting careers. According to Wikipedia he made the Guinness Book of Records in 2000 for "Most Awards Won By a Canto-Pop Male Artist" (292 awards at the time). He was also recognised as the "No.1 Box Office Actor 1985-2005" for the success of his films in terms of box office takings. Both his acting and singing have not been without their critics, yet through his renowned work ethic and determination, he of the Four Heavenly Kings has been the one to remain on top the longest. This year he just released his 58th album Love.Hope, and a new romantic comedy, Look for a Star.

Aaron Kwok's (郭富城 Guo Fucheng) background was in dancing, before breaking into the pop scene in the early 90s. His songs were mainly in the dance-pop style, and he was well-known for his elaborate and energetic live performances, earning him the nickname “Hong Kong’s Michael Jackson”. His singing career began to flounder in the next decade, but he successfully reinvented himself as a serious actor. Shedding his flamboyant pop idol persona, he played some downtrodden and, at least in After This Our Exile, extremely unlikeable characters. In the process he won consecutive Taiwan Golden Horse Awards for Best Actor. His most recent movie, Empire of Silver, has been released to lukewarm reviews. Later this year he will star in the martial arts action film Storm Warriors, a sequel to his 1998 success Storm Riders.

Leon Lai (黎明 Li Ming) reached the peak of his singing popularity in the mid to late 1990s. He won TVB’s Most Popular Male Singer in 1993 and 1995, then commercial radio’s Best Male Artist in 1996 and 1997 as well as runner-up in 1998. He’s best known for his romantic ballads, but had some success venturing into electro-pop. This decade his singing career has taken a back-seat to his acting. Although best suited to simple and likeable roles, he has played some more dramatic performances as well. In 2002 he won Best Actor at the Golden Horse Awards for his acting in Three: Going Home. Most recently he starred as legendary Peking Opera performer Mei Lanfang in Forever Enthralled.

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