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.

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