Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A-Mei Sweeps Golden Melody Awards

Taiwan's premier music awards night, the Golden Melody Awards (金曲奖), were held on the weekend, and A-Mei (阿妹) was the evening's most successful artist. The "Pride of Taiwan" was named Best Female Mandarin Singer, and she also won Song of the Year and Best Mandarin Album for Amit. Amit, released almost exactly a year ago, also won awards for Best Lyricist, Best Arranger and Best Producer.

It's the second time A-Mei, also known as Zhāng Huì Mèi (张惠妹), has won the major Golden Melody Award; she was named Best Female Singer back in 2002. The sometimes controversial, sometimes cutting edge A-Mei is a regular nominee at the Golden Melody Awards. This year she was a clear favourite going into the ceremony, with the most number of nominations - ten. Her Amit album, more rock-oriented than previous offerings, had already been one of the winners at Hong Kong's Metro Mandarin Awards last year.

In the Male category, David Tao (陶喆; pinyin: Táo Zhé) finally broke a long drought to win Best Male Mandarin Singer, after been nominated eight times in the past. Regarded as a pioneer of Taiwanese R&B, the 40 year-old veteran was born into a show business family. He grew up in Hong Kong and the United States, and first entered the music world as a songwriter for other artists. Tao released his self-titled debut album in 1997 and was named Best Newcomer that year. Subsequent album releases were irregular, and last year he released just his sixth studio album, Opus 69. Ironically, Opus 69 is regarded by critics and fans alike as one of his weaker efforts, so this year's Golden Melody award is probably more in recognition of his overall career.

Best Mandarin Band Award went to 1976, indie rockers now in their fifteen year of playing their Britpop influenced tunes. Hip hop band Da Xi Men (大囍门) were named Best Vocal Group. A special Judges' award was given to the four members of Taiwan super group Super Band (纵贯线): Luo Dayou, Zhou Huajian, Jonathan Lee and Zhang Zhenyue - all legends of the Taiwan music scene.

A full list of winners can be found here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Zhou Bichang Topping Album and Singles Charts

Former Super Girl runner-up Zhou Bichang (周筆暢, also known as Bibi Chou) is the new number one this week on the G Music album charts with her latest album, i魚光鏡. Hopefully the album has an English title that is less odd-sounding than the literal translation, i fish light mirror, though I haven't come across it yet. i fish light mirror is the fifth studio album Zhou has released in the five years since she came second in the very first Super Girl TV singing competition, narrowly losing to Li Yuchun.

Born in Changsha in the central province of Hunan in 1985, she is the first mainlander to have a top-selling album in Taiwan since...well, ages. The reluctant superstar - immediately after the Super Girl contest made her a household name she took a break from singing to return to college - is known for her distinctive R&B vocal style. Another trademark was her tomboyish looks, but judging by the various covers of her latest album it looks like she's traded the anti-idol appearance for a more glamourous one.

Zhou Bichang is also enjoying success with her most recent single, a duet with Han Geng (韩庚) member of Korean boy band Super Junior and their Mandopop offshoots, Super Junior-M. The single, Having Me As Luck (亚运有我精彩之吉) is the theme song for the upcoming Asian Games, and according to reports has reached number one on the charts of at least 20 mainland radio stations, setting new records in the process. A translation of the Chinese-language report can be found at this Super Junior fan blog. The duet may be a first, transitory step towards a solo career for Han Geng, who is disgruntled with Super Junior's record company and is wanting out from his contract.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jet Li's New Film Wins Shanghai Media Award

Ocean Heaven (海洋天堂, pinyin: Hǎiyáng Tiántáng), the latest movie from Jet Li (李连杰, pinyin: Lǐ Liánjié), has picked up its first award after its premiere at the Shanghai International Film Festival. The 7th CCTV Movie Channel Media Awards, chosen from the Chinese films showing at the Festival, awarded Ocean Heaven Best Film. The film, a departure from Jet Li's usual action martial arts movies, is a family drama about an autistic young man. Li plays the father who is suffering from cancer and is trying to teach his son to be more independent.

26 year-old Wen Zhang (文章), whose previous acting experience has mainly been in TV series, plays the autistic son, and his convincing portrayal won him the Best Actor award. Ocean Heaven's first-time director Xue Xiaolu (薛晓路) won the Best New Director - she also wrote the screenplay. The film arose from her personal experiences working as a volunteer with autistic children.

Best Actress Award was given to Lu Liping (吕丽萍) for her performance as a struggling laundry worker and mother in City Monkey. Like Wen Zhang she is best known for her TV performances, and is a familiar face in historical dramas. Lu's City Monkey co-star, veteran Li Bin (李滨) won Best Supporting Actress. 85 year-old martial arts Master Ip Chun (叶准), son of Ip Man, was named Best Supporting Actor for Ip Man 2, the biopic of his father.

The full list of winners can be found at the Film Business Asia website.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Civil War Drama Wins at Shanghai TV Festival Awards

The 16th Shanghai Television Festival was held this month, culminating in the holding of its Magnolia Awards for both Chinese and international productions. The Road We Have Taken (人间正道是沧桑) was the big winner amongst the local productions. The Chinese civil war drama won the TV Series Golden Award, Best Director (Zhang Li and Liu Miaomiao) and Best Actor (Huang Zhizhong). The other major winner was A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era (媳妇的美好时代): it took out the runners-up TV Series Silver Award, Best Actress (Bai Han), and Best Screenplay.

The Road We Have Taken's title can be literally translated as The World is Full of Vicissitude, and is actually a Mao Zedong quotation. The series is also known under the not-so-catchy English title of Vicissitudes: Course of Uprightness (the title used on the official Shanghai TV Festival website), and is based on a book by Jiang Qitao. The storyline spans three decades, and is about a family torn apart during the Civil War. Two brothers (played by Sun Honglei and Zhang Zhizhong) find themselves on opposite sides during the war, one a high-ranking official in the Communist Party, the other also an officer but with the Nationalist Party. The series also, according to the publicity blurb, "shows the historical inevitability of the Communist Party taking the place of the Nationalist Party and establishing the New China". So a little bit of Marxist Historical Determinism theory thrown in with the family feuding.

The Road We Have Taken was one of many productions from last year that were timed to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. It stands out from other civil war dramas because of its realistic battle scenes - special effects were by the same Korean team responsible for the award-winning film Assembly. The Road We Have Taken cost a reported 50 million yuan (or about US$7.5 million) to make, relatively expensive by mainland standards.

The 41 year-old Huang Zhizhong (黄志忠), who was recognised as Best Actor, is almost a staple of mainland historical TV dramas. He made his acting debut back in the 1996 drama Cao Cao, and has gone on to appear in over 30 productions. His series include the all-star Big Family (2000), Great Ming Dynasty 1566 (2006) and Ghost Plan 1950 (2008). The Magnolia Award is his first major acting award.

A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era is another family saga, but set in modern-day Beijing. Mixing comedy and drama it focuses on a newly-married couple and their newly-acquired in-law families. I came across an insightful review of the program, particularly from a Westerner's perspective, at a blog called Mark's China Blog. Bai Han (柏含), winner of the Best Actress award, is a veteran actress - she played the title character's mother in the series.

Awards were also given for animated series, and popular children's show Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf (喜羊羊与灰太狼) won the Golden Award. A PDF link to all the award winners in English, including the international category winners, can be found at the Festival website.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Amber Kuo Ends the Jay Chou Era at the Top

Twenty-four year-old Taiwan singer Amber Kuo (郭采洁, pinyin: Guō Cǎijié) is making a habit of out-selling Mandopop superstars. One year ago, her album i amber displaced Jolin Tsai's Butterfly from the top position on the G Music album charts. Now her latest album Sparklers (烟火, pinyin: Yānhuǒ) has knocked off Jay Chou's The Era from the top, going straight to number one in its first week of release.

For Jay Chou, it had been a surprisingly modest reign at the top of the album charts - just three weeks at number one. Although Jay won't be crying poor just yet - The Era set records for pre-order sales in Hong Kong for example - his time at the top doesn't compare so favourably to some other stars. Earlier this year, Jay Chou's great rival Show Luo spent an amazing 10 weeks at number one with Rashomon. Even the Butterfly album released last year by Jay's ex, Jolin, had a reign twice as long at six weeks.

Sparklers is just the third album by Amber Kuo. Stand-out tracks are the title track and first single, the up-tempo Cartoon Life (卡通人生getting a lot of TV airplay courtesy of the car ad in which it features), and the power ballad No Meddling (不过问).

Besides her promising singing career, Kuo's acting ventures are also progressing nicely. She recently starred in the award-winning romantic comedy Au Revoir Taipei, and last year was seen in the TTV romance series, The Happy Times of That Year. And if her singing and acting careers were to suddenly and unexpectedly collapse, she could always turn to social work. She majored in the field at the National Taipei University, graduating in 2008.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Taiwan Men Vote: Lin Chi-ling is the Sexiest

Lin Chi-ling (林志玲, pinyin: Lín Zhìlíng) has been voted the sexiest woman in the world by readers of the Taiwanese edition of lads' magazine FHM. It's the fourth year in the row she has topped the 100 Sexiest Women in the World list, confirming her status as Taiwan's number one pin-up girl. Although not well-known outside of Asia, in her home country she is a household name and genuine supermodel.

Lin is now in her second decade as a model, although her popularity only took off in 2004 when she was romantically linked with pop idol Jerry Yan. She has tried to branch out from modelling as a TV host and, more recently, actress. She had a role in the historical epic Red Cliff - although apparently her trademark high-pitched voice was dubbed over. Just last month debuted on Japanese TV screens in the soap opera Tsuki no Koibito (Moon Lovers). Despite appearing alongside one of Japan's most popular actors, Kimura Takuya, ratings have been in steady decline and the series may even face cancellation.

The Top Ten of the FHM list was dominated by local girls, with eight of the ten from Taiwan. The only non-Taiwanese in the top ten were American pop singer Lady Gaga (Number 2) and Victoria's Secret model and Sports Illustrated cover girl, Marisa Miller (Number 5). At number three was Aimee Sun (孫芸芸, pinyin: Sūn Yúnyún), the 32 year-old businesswoman and model probably best known for her ads more than anything else. She's a regular on the FHM lists, featuring in the top 20 the past four years. Last year she came in at number 14.

At number four is Taiwan's Queen of Dance Pop, Jolin Tsai (蔡依林, pinyin: Cài Yīlín), slipping two places from her runners-up position in the 2009 list. A former news anchorwoman, Patty Hou (侯佩岑, pinyin: Hóu Pèicén) was voted number 6. The US educated Hou began her career reading the English-language news on Taiwan cable TV. She has since moved to hosting entertainment and fashion shows and will appear in her first soap opera this year. She is also famous for a short-lived but highly publicised relationship with singing superstar Jay Chou five years ago.

The final four positions in the top ten were taken by Taiwanese models. At number 7, Tia Lee (李毓芬, pinyin: Lǐ Yùfēn), followed by Amber Ann (安心亚, pinyin: An Xīnyà) one of the new co-hosts of popular Taiwanese variety show Guess Guess Guess. Number 9 is Barbara Hsu (许维恩, pinyin: Xǔ Wéiēn), while Jenna Wang (王思平, pinyin: Wáng Sīpíng) rounds off the top 10. And in a shameless attempt to boost my blog hits, I've included photos of them all.

Clockwise from top left: Tia Lee, Barbara Hsu, Jenna Wang and Amber Ann

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Comeback Queen Kara Hui Wins Yet Another Award

Thirty years ago Kara Hui (惠英红, Huì Yīnghóng) was one of Hong Kong's leading martial arts actresses, winning the inaugural Best Actress Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 1981. Her career then went into steady decline in the 80s and 90s, to the point where she admitted battling with depression. However the last 12 months have seen a remarkable turnaround in her fortunes with the release of the arthouse hit, At the End of Daybreak. Her performance as an alcoholic mother whose son is accused of rape has seen her take home awards at all the major Chinese-language awards shows.

Her most recent accolade, a Best Actress trophy, was won at the 10th Chinese Film Media Awards held at the end of May. These awards are organised by the Guangzhou newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily, and awards are voted by media represenatives and film critics from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Best Actor at the Chinese Film Media Awards was given to a first-time actor, Chen Wen-Pin (陈文彬) from Taiwan, for his performance as a working-class father battling bureaucracy to gain custody of his daughter in No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti. The Taiwanese film, like At the End of Daybreak it is based on a true story, was co-written by Chen, and was also named Best Film, following on from its Best Film victory at the Golden Horse Awards last year. Experienced actor now turned director Leon Dai (戴立忍, pinyin: Dài Lìrěn) won Best Director for No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti, only the second film he has directed.

Veteran actor Jack Kao (高捷, pinyin: Gāo Jié) won Best Supporting Actor for the Taiwanese comedy-drama A Place of One's Own. His co-star, another veteran Lu Yi-ching (陆弈静), took home Best Supporting Actress.

The Chinese Film Media Awards also named their Best 10 Films of the New Century's first decade. Regular Best Ten list-makers like In the Mood for Love, A One and a Two and Still Life were all there, as well as favourites such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Infernal Affairs. The full list is:
  • A One and a Two (一一) - 2000, Taiwan drama
  • In the Mood for Love (花样年华) - 2000, Hong Kong romance
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (卧虎藏龙) - 2000, China/Taiwan/Hong Kong martial arts drama
  • My Life as McDull (麦兜故事) -2001, Hong Kong animated comedy
  • Infernal Affairs (无间道) - 2002, Hong Kong thriller
  • Crazy Stone (疯狂的石头) - 2006, China comedy thriller
  • Still Life (三峡好人) - 2006, China/Hong Kong drama
  • Assembly (集结号) -2007, China war drama
  • The Way We Are (天水围的日与夜) - 2008, Hong Kong drama
  • The Message (风声) - 2009, China thriller
The full list of award winners - and there's a lot of them, including awards like Most Versatile Actor and Actress and Film Professional of the Year - can be found at the HKSAR Film No Top 10 Box Office blog.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Mysteries of Love Rates Well, But Japan Cries Foul

TVB appears to have a new hit on its hands with the police drama The Mysteries of Love (谈情说案, pinyin: Tán qíng shuō àn). In its first week on air it had an average rating of 31 and peaked at 33. The last time a TVB series averaged 30 or above was A Watchdog's Tale which debuted in the last week of December 2009. The new series, however, has not been without controversy, with the Japanese claiming The Mysteries of Love plagiarises their country[s 2008 TV series, Galileo.

Like Galileo, which in turn was based on a well-known Japanese mystery novel, The Mysteries of Love pairs a coldly rational physics professor with an emotional policewoman who's a bit of a romantic at heart, to form an unlikely crime-fighting duo. And, as in the Japanese series, romance inevitably develops between the two. It wouldn't be the first time of course that a TVB series has been accused of copying other shows. Barely a new show is released these days without critics and netizens identifying similarities with other shows. In fact, another series currently airing on TVB, Sisters of Pearl, has also been sprung for its strong resemblance to a Japanese series - Matriarchial Family.

In the role of the physics professor, Raymond Lam (林峯, pinyin: Lín Fēng) returns to the small screen after more than a year's break. It's his first role since his award-winning 2008 series Moonlight Resonance. He is teamed with one of his Moonlight Resonance co-stars, Tavia Yeung (杨怡, pinyin: Yáng Yí), who seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to hit TV series. She has appeared in the most-watched programs from each of the past three years: last year's Beyond the Realm of Conscience, Moonlight Resonance in 2008 and its 2007 prequel Heart of Greed.

Perhaps to differentiate The Mysteries of Love from its Japanese version, the show's producers have added a subplot in which they give the policewoman's superintendent a love interest. Kenneth Ma (马国明, pinyin: Mǎ Guómíng) plays the superintendent, who also happens to be the best friend of Lam's professor character. Canadian-born actress-singer-model Bernice Liu (廖碧, pinyin: Liào Bì'ér) plays a journalist who captures the womanising superintendent's heart.

Liu got her entertainment career off to a start when she won Miss China International in 2001, leading to a TVB contract. In recent years she has been one of TVB's highest-earning stars. Ma was just recently seen in another successful TVB series, A Fistful of Stances, in which he earned praise from critics for his performance.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

May Flavour of the Month: Cross Dressers

In the month of May and a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, or, in China's case, putting on women's clothes. There were a spate of cross-dressing episodes last month, the most notorious involving Liu Zhu (刘著), a contestant on the mainland's Super Boy talent show. Although in the Mandopop world pretty boys are as common as lip-synching, Liu Zhu took it to the next level when he appeared on Hunan TV's popular singing contest.

His appearance in full drag provoked a now notorious response from one of the guest judges, Anni Meigui. Meigui kept interrupting the hapless Liu, questioning whether he was eligible for the all-male contest, even summoning the internet's human-flesh searchers to check his background. Ironically, netizens turned on the rude and abrasive judge and sympathised with Liu Zhu instead - a reflection perhaps of changing mores in Chinese society.

Liu progressed past the early rounds of the Super Boy competition, but was eliminated before reaching the final 25. Immediately a conspiracy theory sprang up, that the Chinese government through its State Administration of Radio, Television and Film (SARTF), had ordered the show's producers to remove Liu from the contest. (The EastSouthWestNorth website has translations of media coverage of the conspiracy theory). The theory goes that Liu is hardly a poster boy for wholesome values and mainstream culture, so SARTF - as guardians of mainstream culture - intervened. But then, if you started banning every man who dressed up as a woman and sung, it would mean the end of that bastion of Chinese culture, Peking opera. Perhaps a more plausible theory for Liu's elimination is that, despite his admirable courage in putting himself out so to speak, he just wasn't a good enough singer.

Another "is-she-a-boy?" scandal, this time in Hong Kong, erupted when B-grade movie producer Stephen Siu alleged that a former Miss Hong Kong placegetter had been in fact a Mister. Siu claimed in a radio interview that a transsexual had finished in the top three of a past Miss Hong Kong Pageant. The Pageant, organised by TV station TVB, is one of the premier events on the Hong Kong show business pageant, and has been the launching pad for dozens of acting and singing careers. Notable finalists in the Pageant's 37-year history include Maggie Cheung, Ada Choi, Charmaine Sheh and Anita Yuen.

Unfortunately Siu declined to reveal the name of the transsexual, the only clue given that she/he was a contestant from sometime in the past 12 years. This immediately sparked a frenzy of groundless conjecture from the media, with Anne Heung (pictured left) and Hoyan Mok - both former winners - pronounced the chief suspects. Alex Fong, husband of Mok, will no doubt be surprised by the revelation.

Even Taiwan had its own "fake girl" episode. (伪娘 or wěi niáng, literally "fake girl" is a neulogism that has only become popular in recent months to describe the fad/fashion of men dressing as females). Former Taiwanese Super Idol winner Eison had a public appearance interrupted by a cross-dressing fan. The fan presented the singer, celebrating his birthday that day, with a birthday bun...from her chest. At least Eison appears to be enjoying his close-up experience with transgenderism. (Photo and story courtesy of CpopAccess).

Monday, May 31, 2010

Jay Chou Makes Most Creative Business People List

Jay Chou in businessman pose

US business magazine, Fast Company's most recent editition put together a list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business 2010. The list was headed by the suddenly ubiquitous Lady Gaga, and includes filmmakers James Cameron and Spike Jonze, several company CEOs, CIOs and CTOs, a celebrity chef (Jamie Oliver) and, coming in at number 70, Taiwan's biggest-name entertainer Jay Chou (周杰伦, pinyin: Zhōu Jiélún).

Jay Chou was recognised for his skill in turning a singer-songwriting career into a multi-million dollar business that encompasses TV, films, theme restaurants and dessert shops selling Jay Chou memorabilia. Fast Company reports his earnings last year at US$17.5 million - and that was in a year when he didn't release an album. With a just released CD, upcoming world concert tour, and a starring role in the Hollywood blockbuster Green Hornet, he should more than match those earnings in 2010.

It's been quiet a month for Jay. Two weeks ago he released his new album, The Era, which promptly went straight to number one on the charts. Earlier Forbes China magazine had named him China's second most powerful celebrity behind Jackie Chan. However, the 31 year-old also experienced the flipside of fame this month when B-list celebrity Honey Chen claimed that Jay Chou tried to kiss her despite her refusals - accusations that the singer laughed off. The revelations were made on the aptly-named Gossip Queen TV show, and most observers felt it was more an exercise in self-promotion by the 20 year-old model.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jay Chou's The Era

No surprises when Jay Chou's (周杰伦, pinyin: Zhōu Jiélún) new album The Era (跨时代, pinyin: Kuà shí dài) went immediately to the number one position on the Taiwan charts. The album has been over 18 months in the making, with music having to share time with Jay Chou's other entertainment ventures like acting, directing and producing. The built-up anticipation amongst his legion of fans meant the album had more than 20 percent of all record sales in Taiwan for the week 14 to 20 May - especially impressive considering the album was only released on the 18th.

The Era is Jay Chou's tenth studio album in a career that began back in the late nineties. He actually began writing songs for others, before releasing his debut album, Jay, in 2000. Since then he has sold over 25 million records and won countless awards (Wikipedia estimates it's around 350), including four times Best Selling Chinese Artist at the World Music Awards.

As is characteristic of Jay's work, The Era mixes up the styles: pop, rap, blues and ballads, electronic rock, he even sings a bit of Peking Opera. The album opens with the title track, which has also been getting a lot of airplay on the music shows with its costly music video. It ends with the single, Superman Can't Fly (超人不会飞), and also includes the controversial Hip-Hop Stewardess (嘻哈空姐) which managed to get banned on the mainland for its risque lyrics. The Urban Wire website has a proper review of the album.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ip Man 2 Packs Box Office Punch

Ip Man 2 (叶问2:宗师传奇, pinyin: Yè Wèn 2: Zōng Shī Chuán Qí), the sequel to the 2008 biopic of one of China's most famous martial arts grandmasters, has proved a winner at the box office. Released at the end of April, the film grossed over 100 million yuan (or just under US$15 million) on the mainland in its first week. Box office figures were boosted by the timing of its release, during the profitable May Day holiday break. In its second week of release it went head-to-head against the Hollywood blockbuster Iron Man 2, with the Chinese press reporting that the local film more than held its own.

So far, mainland box office takings are over 200 million yuan (according to its producer Raymond Wong), which makes it the most profitable Chinese-language film so far in 2010. It has also more than doubled the earnings of the original Ip Man. Whether Ip Man 2 reaches the ambitious target of 300 million yuan set by director Wilson Yip remains to be seen. If it does, that could push it close to being the second biggest grossing Chinese film of all time, behind The Founding of a Republic (which earned more than 400 million yuan) but alongside Bodyguards and Assassins.

Ip Man 2 has also been a hit in both Hong Kong and Singapore. In Hong Kong, it was released at the same time as Iron Man 2 but surprisingly out-grossed it at the box office. In its first week, it took in HK$13 million (US$1.7 million), and so far has taken a total of HK$40 million. In Singapore, Ip Man 2 has become the highest-grossing Hong Kong film of all time. It has now taken in S$4.5 million (US$3.15 million), beating the previous record-holder, the Stephen Chow classic, Kung Fu Hustle.

In Ip Man 2, Donnie Yen (甄子丹, pinyin: Zhēn Zǐdān) returns in the title role, with Simon Yam (任达华, pinyin: Rén Dáhuá) and Lynn Hung (熊黛林, pinyin: Xióng Dàilín) also appearing again as his close friend and wife respectively. It also features Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明), recent winner of Most Popular Actor at the Beijing Student Film Festival, and Hong Kong kung fu film legend Sammo Hung (洪金宝, pinyin: Hóng Jīnbǎo). Set in post-war Hong Kong, Ip Man 2 continues where Ip Man left off, focusing on his struggles to establish a Wing Chun martial arts school in the then British colony.

The original Ip Man movie, besides doing well at the box office, was also a critical success. It won Best Film at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2009, while Donnie Yen's awards included Best Actor at last year's Beijing Student Film Festival.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Show Luo's Third Number 1 Album in Less than 18 Months

Show Luo (罗志祥) might have been ignored when nominations were announced for the Golden Melody Awards, but he'll still be laughing all the way to the bank. Taiwan's King of Dance has just released a new album of remixes, Remix Collection (舞者為王REMIX混音极选), and like so many of his records, it's gone straight to the top of the album charts. For the week 6-13 May, the album had 22 percent of album sales, knocking Jaycee Chan's Chaos from the number one position.

It's Show Luo's third number one selling album in the space of less than 18 months, following on from the mega-selling Rashomon earlier this year, and 2009's second-biggest selling album, Trendy Man. As the name says, Remix Collection is a collection of some of his best-known songs remixed in various styles. We get Hot Shot, the single from Trendy Man, in a "violent electro" remix, Rashomon gets a Euro techno make-over, while When We Are Together from the Show Your Dance album is given "Nu Jazz Downtempo" treatment.

Despite Show Luo's popularity and proven track record in selling albums, expect his stay at the top of the charts to be short. For this week, Jay Chou releases The Era, his much anticipated studio album.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A-Mei Is Most Nominated at Upcoming Golden Melody Awards

The Golden Melody Awards (金曲奖), the biggest music awards event in the Mandopop world, announced the nominations for the 21st edition of the award. Unlike many other awards shows that are little more than idol popularity contests, Taiwan's Golden Melody Awards actually reward artistic merit. This year's nominations, 124 in total competing in 14 categories, are headed by one of Taiwan's most respected singers, A-Mei (阿妹). She has 10 nominations, including Best Female Singer, Best Song and Best Album.

A-Mei's competitors for Best Female Singer are two-time previous winner Tanya Chua (蔡健雅, pinyin: Cài Jiànyǎ) from Singapore, another previous winner in Hong Kong's Karen Mok (莫文蔚, pinyin: Mò Wénwèi), Taiwan's Tiger Huang (黄小琥, pinyin: Huáng Xiǎohǔ) and Cheer Chen (陈绮贞, pinyin: Chén Qǐzhēn), also from Taiwan. All but Tiger Huang were also nominated for Best Album; the fifth Album nominee is Lala Hsu (徐佳莹, pinyin: Xú Jiayíng), making it an all-female affair. Lala Hsu is also a hot favourite for Best Newcomer.

In the Male Singer category, the contenders for the prize will be Singapore's JJ Lin (林俊杰, Lín Jùnjié), Hong Kong's Eason Chan (陈奕迅, pinyin: Chén Yixùn), Hawaiian-born Khalil Fong (方大同, pinyin: Fāng Dàtóng), and Taiwan's David Tao (陶喆, pinyin: Táo Zhé) and Jam Hsiao (萧敬腾 pinyin: Xiāo Jìng Téng). Revealingly, neither of Taiwan's biggest-selling singers from last year, Jolin Tsai and Show Luo, were nominated for Best Singer.

Nominations for Best Song of the Year are Lala Hsu's Riding On a White Horse, Come If You Dare by A-Mei, Singing in the Trees by Taiwanese Mandopop star Claire Kuo, and Fish by Cheer Chen. Another Best Song nominee is Desperado by Superband. The Taiwanese super group, formed for a limited time by four veterans of the Taiwanese rock/pop scene, will be hoping they can finish on a high as winners.

The main nominees are as follows:

Best Mandarin Male Singer
JJ Lin
David Tao
Eason Chan
Khalil Fong
Jam Hsiao

Best Mandarin Female Singer
Tanya Chua
Karen Mok
Tiger Huang
Cheer Chen

Best Mandarin Band
Kou Chou Ching (拷秋勤)
Superband (纵贯线)
Sodagreen (苏打绿)
Mavis Fan & 100% (范晓萱, 100%乐团)
Totem (图腾乐团)

Best Vocal Group
katncandix2 (棉花糖)
Come On! Bay Bay! (来吧! 焙焙!)
Da Xi Men (大囍门)
Super Junior M
Power Station (动力火车)

Best Mandarin Album
If You See Him (若你碰到他) - Tanya Chua
Hui Wei (回蔚) - Karen Mok
Lala Hsu (徐佳莹LALA创作专辑) - Lala Hsu
AMIT - A-Mei
Immortal (太阳) - Cheer Chen

Best Song of the Year
Riding a White Horse (身骑白马) - Lala Hsu
Come If You Dare (好胆你就来) - A-Mei
Singing in the Trees (在树上唱歌) - Claire Kuo
Desperado (亡命之徒) - Super Band
Fish (鱼) - Cheer Chen

The full list of nominations are here, but in Chinese. Winners will be announced on June 26.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chaos at the top of the Taiwan Album Charts

There's chaos in the Taiwan album charts this week. That's Chaos (乱), the new album by Jaycee Chan (房祖名, pinyin: Fáng Zǔmíng), which climbed to the number one spot on the G Music charts last week. It accounted for a massive 27 percent of all album sales in Taiwan for the week April 25 to May 1, and 41 percent of all Mandarin album sales. Chaos displaced Together by Rene Liu after two weeks in the top position.

It's been a big last couple of weeks for the Chan clan. First, father Jackie Chan was named by Forbes magazine China's most powerful celebrity, and now son Jaycee has a number one selling album with just his second studio album. It's been a long wait between albums: his debut record was back in 2004, although he released an EP in 2007. The light output is no doubt the result of dividing his time between singing and songwriting, acting, running a company and, I guess, enjoying a multi-millionaire's lifestyle.

Twenty-seven year old Chan was born in the United States, raised first in Hong Kong and then in the US, and, after dropping out of college there, is now based back in Hong Kong. His mother is the former actress from Taiwan, Joan Lin, hence his fluency in Mandarin. His show business career hasn't exactly set the world on fire, either in movies or music. He did receive critical acclaim, however, for his acting performance in the 2006 film The Sun Also Rises, and his first album Jaycee is seriously underrated.

Sales for Chaos have been helped by the strong title track and first single. Chaos includes some older tracks from his first album, and has a few English-language songs as well as in Mandarin. Here's an album review from the Let's Spread the LOVE for Chinese Music blog (a good source for album reviews, by the way).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Message Wins Best Film at Beijing Student Film Festival

The World War II spy thriller, The Message (风声, pinyin: Fēngshēng), was named Best Film at the 17th Beijing Student Film Festival on the weekend. The Message, an intriguing and suspenseful whodunnit set in 1942 during the Japanese occupation of the mainland, was both a critical and popular success when it was released back in September.

The Beijing Student Film Festival, which runs annually, culminates in an awards ceremony where winners are selected by a jury of film critics and academics. Students are also given the opportunity to select a handful of "most popular' awards. In total 39 films were shortlisted for the awards and a total of 21 awards were handed out.

Best Actor was won by Huang Bo (黄渤 - pictured right) for his performance in the comedy Cow. The 35 year old with the anti-idol looks, has already collected a Golden Horse Award for his role as a bumbling farmer. Bo made his film debut just four years ago in the black comedy/heist film Crazy Stone, followed it up with another popular comedy Crazy Racer and has become hot property. Cow was just one of six films he appeared in last year, and already this year has three movies to his credit.

In a decision that came out of left field, the relatively unknown (at least outside China) Tao Hong (陶红) was awarded Best Actress. She won for her performance in a film called Fragrance of Rice (米香), of which I know absolutely nothing. Tao is known mainly as a TV actor; in fact I think Fragrance of Rice might be her film debut. Best Director was given to Wang Quan'an (王全安) for Apart Together which, like The Message and Cow, was also set during the Second World War. Wang is a two-time winner at the Berlin Film Festival, winning a Best Director prize in 2007 for Tuya's Marriage, and Best Screenplay this year for Apart Together.

In the student-voted awards Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明), who gave a scene-stealing performance as a sadistic interrogator in The Message, was voted Most Popular Actor. Vicki Zhao (赵薇, pinyin: Zhào Wéi) was named Most Popular Actress, the third time she has won this particular award.

For the second year in a row Hong Kong director Wilson Yip (叶伟信) has won Most Popular Director, although this year he had to share it with another Hong Kong native, Teddy Chen (陈德森, pinyin: Chén Désēn). Ye was recognised for Ip Man 2, the sequel to the martial arts drama that won him the award the previous year. Chen was the director of the multi-award winning Bodyguards and Assassins, and follow his success at the recent Hong Kong Film Awards.

The main award winners were:
Best Film: The Message (风声)
Best Director: Wang Quan'an (王全安), Apart Together (团圆)
Best Actor: Huang Bo (黄渤), Cow (斗牛)
Best Actress: Tao Hong (陶红), Fragrance of Rice (米香)
Best Newcomer: Jing Boran (井柏然)
Most Popular Actor: Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明)
Most Popular Actress: Vicky Zhao (赵薇)
Most Popular Directors: Wilson Yip (叶伟信), Ip Man 2 (叶问2); Teddy Chen (陈德森), Bodyguards and Assassins (十月围城)
Jury Award: Bodyguards and Assassins (十月围城), Labyrinth (迷城)
Outstanding Contribution Award: The Founding of a Republic (建国大业)
Best Television Movie: No Cicada Summer (无蝉的夏天)
Best Television Actor: Lu Yulai (吕聿来), No Cicada Summer
Best Television Actress: Dong Ling (董玲), The Camel Circle (骆驼圈)
Best Television Director: Jin Ge (金戈), The Camel Circle

Source (in Chinese) here.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Music Radio TOP List Award Winners

Some Awards news from two weeks ago, but better late than never. Music Radio, one of the most popular syndicated radio stations in China, announced its annual awards on April 24 in Beijing. It attracted a host of big name performers, and awards were handed out to artists from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The dozens of awards were evenly distributed with no artist dominating.

Amongst the female singers, former Super Girl winner Li Yuchun (李宇春) took home two trophies. She was named Best Mainland Female Singer, and also the Mainland Record of the Year with her self-titled album, her third studio album. The Super Girl runner-up to Li Yuchun back in 2005, was Zhou Bichang (周笔畅), and she won two awards. She was awarded Most Popular Mainland Female Singer, and also Best All-round Mainland Entertainer.

In the Hong Kong/Taiwan categories, Best Female Singer went to Jolin Tsai (蔡依林, pinyin: Cài Yīlín - pictured left in eye-catching outfit), and Most Popular Female Singer went to Elva Hsiao (萧亚轩, pinyin: Xiāo Yǎxuān). Jolin also took out the Hong Kong/Taiwan Record of the Year with the top-selling Butterfly album, while Elva was Hong Kong/Taiwan's Best All-round Entertainer.

Twenty-five year-old Shanghai-born pop singer Anson Hu (胡彦斌, pinyin: Hú Yanbīn - pictured right) was named Best Mainland Male Singer, while the Most Popular award was given to another former TV talent show winner, Zhang Jie (张杰). Best Hong Kong/Taiwan Male Vocalist was won by Taiwan rocker Shin (信), former lead singer of the band of the same name. In the Most Popular category, Hong Kong's Eason Chan (陈奕迅, pinyin: Chén Yìxùn) was the winner.

A host of bands/groups took home awards. Soft rock duo and perennial winners Yu Quan (羽泉) won Best Mainland Group, and Most Popular Mainland Group was given to the Chinese franchise of Korean boy band Super Junior, Super Junior M. In the Hong Kong/Taiwan categories, Most Popular Group was another boy band, Taiwan's Fahrenheit (飞轮海, pinyin: Fēilúnhǎi), while the Best Group award went to Taiwanese hip hop outfit, Da Mouth (大嘴巴, pinyin: Dà Zuǐ Bā). The group, who formed in 2007, is comprised of four performers, three men and a women.

Best Mainland Band was given to a three-piece group who I admit to knowing next to nothing about: 橘红色乐团, which I'll translate as The Orange Red Band. Most Popular Mainland Band went to the Brit-pop influenced Beijing rock band Future Bicycle (未来脚踏车, pinyin: Wèi Lái Jiâo Tà Che - pictured left). Best Hong Kong/Taiwan Band was won by Taiwan's pop-rock group Mayday (五月天, pinyin: Wǔ Yuè Tiān). In the Most Popular category, it was another Taiwanese group, F.I.R (飞儿乐团, pinyin: Fēiér Yuètuán). The trio , two men and a women, formed back in 2004 and had an immediate hit with the theme song to a popular Taiwanese idol drama that year, The Outsiders.

A more comprehensive list of winners can be found at this site, but in Chinese only.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jackie Chan Rated China's Most Powerful Star by Forbes

Forbes China Magazine released its annual 100 Chinese Celebrities List, which aims to measure China's most powerful stars. It uses a formula based on annual income, number of search engine hits, press coverage and magazine cover appearances. For the first time, the List has been extended to cover not just the mainland but Hong Kong and Taiwan as well. Which has meant a new number one, Hong Kong's action star Jackie Chan (成龙, pinyin: Chéng Lóng) muscling NBA basketballer Yao Ming (姚明) from the top position.

Jackie Chan earned his top position through his consistently high ranking across all four categories Forbes used to measure celebrity status. Chan was the second highest earning Chinese celebrity, and also number two in terms of press coverage. He was the fifth ranked for search engine hits, and seventh for magazine and TV appearances. Despite this, 2009 was a relatively quiet year for the actor: Shinjuku Incident was a moderate success, while The Spy Next Door, released at the beginning of 2010, was critically panned. However, his latest release, the historical action film Little Big Soldier, has been a big earner at the box office.

At number two on the List is Taiwan's superstar singer, actor, director and producer Jay Chou (周杰伦, pinyin: Zhōu Jiélún). The past twelve months haven't been a great period for Jay, with the much hyped TV series Panda Men failing to win an audience. There were also no record releases in that period, though his latest album, The Era, will be out this month. Despite the barren run, Forbes estimated he was China's third highest earner, and he also rated highly for internet searches and press coverage.

Another Hong Kong star, actor-singer Andy Lau (刘德华, pinyin: Liú Déhuá), was at number three. He was the sixth highest earning celebrity, but ranked number 2 and number 3 in terms of internet searches and press coverage. Unfortunately for Lau, most of that coverage was of the negative kind, when it was revealed that Andy was secretly married , after years of strenuous denials.

Yao Ming, at number four, was the highest ranking mainlander, as well as the highest earning celebrity (255 million yuan, or about US$37 million). Yao was also the number one in terms of newspaper coverage. Number one in magazine and TV coverage was mainland actress Zhang Ziyi (章子怡), although again not all of it would have been positive as she too endured a rocky past twelve months. Overall Forbes rated her number five on their list of powerful celebrities. The number ranked for internet searches was popular mainland comedian Xiao Shenyang (小沈阳), though overall he was well down on the list at number 30.

Another comedian, veteran performer Zhao Benshan (赵本山), was number 6 on the list, while Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai (蔡依林, pinyin: Cài Yīlín) made number 7. Two actors, Donnie Yen (甄子丹, pinyin: Zhēn Zǐdān) and Fan Bingbing (范冰冰) were number 8 and 10 respectively, while track star Liu Xiang (刘翔) came in at number 9.

The full list of all 100 celebrities can be found at the Forbes China website, but in Chinese.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Teenagers BY2 Give Up Top Chart Spot for Veteran Rene Liu

Veteran actress-singer René Liu (刘若英, pinyin: Liú Ruòyīng) has this week's best-selling album on G Music's album chart. Her album Together (在一起) - her twelth studio album - displaced last week's number one album Grown Up by Singapore girl group BY2. Grown Up had a short but sweet one-week reign at the top and this week drops to number three.

Liu was born in Taipei in 1969 (or 1970), and went to America after finishing school to study music at the University of California. In 1995 she released her first album, the same year that she made her film debut. Her acting career overshadowed her music career initially with her first two films, Xiao Yu and Don't Cry, Nanking, both critically acclaimed. She has divided her acting between film and television, and probably her best-known performance was in the 2004 film A World Without Films. Her performance as the thief with a heart of gold won her the Best Leading Actress award at the Golden Bauhinia awards.

Her debut single in 1995, Crazy for Love, was a bit hit; however, her music career didn't really take off until the 1998 release of her fourth album Love You More and More. Her fifth album, Waiting for You, cemented her reputation as a talented singer and song-writer of mellow, soulful pop ballads.

Together has been a two-year wait for fans since her last release. The first single from the new album is We're Not Together (我们沒有在一起), which also appears as the end theme song for the currently running TV series P.S Man.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Fistful of Stances is TVB's First Hit Series of 2010

A third of the year has passed, and it has taken that long for Hong Kong's TVB to finally air a series that has drawn in the audiences. A Fistful of Stances (铁马寻桥, pinyin: Tiě Mǎ Xún Qiáo) is a martial arts action series set in Hong Kong around 100 years ago. A family drama in the mould of last year's hit Rosy Business, the story focuses on the Koo family who run a martial arts school.

A Fistful of Stances stars American-born Kevin Cheng (郑嘉颖, pinyin: Zhéng Jiāyǐng) as the long-lost son who returns then sets on a path of revenge against the family's enemies. Cheng started out as a singer and won Best New Artist at the Metro Radio Golden Song Awards in 1994. His acting career was confined to supporting roles until 2004 when he played the lead in the TVB series Hard Fate. In 2006 his performance in the romantic drama series, Under the Canopy of Love, won him Best Actor at the TVB Anniversary Awards.

Despite having the lead role, Cheng's performance in A Fistful of Stances was overshadowed by Kenneth Ma (马国明, pinyin: Mǎ Guómíng) playing his on-screen brother. Ma made his screen debut back in 1999, but his breakout year wasn't until 2006 when he won Most Improved Actor at the TVB Anniversary Awards. In A Fistful of Stances Ma won most of the praise from both critics and viewers, so much so that as the series progressed he received more and more screentime at Cheng's expense. Expect him to feature heavily when the 2010 awards are handed out.

Others in the cast included Tavia Yeung, last year's Best Actress winner at the TVB Anniversary Awards, in a smaller but eye-catching role as the family matriarch. Selena Li, Nancy Wu and Natalie Tong played the love interests, while Dominic Lam made a memorable villain. The series also featured appearances by veteran stars Yuen Qu and Kara Hui (who just last week won Best Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards).

The series had a slow start ratings-wise, averaging just 25 points in its first two weeks. However A Fistful of Stances steadily built an audience and has become the most talked about series of 2010, at least so far. In its second last week it averaged 32 points, and the its two-hour finale averaged 37 with a peak of 43 points, despite being up against the Hong Kong Film Awards ceremony on rival station ATV.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BY2's Grown Up Shoots to the Top of the Charts

It was a case of one girl band toppling another girl band, as Singapore's BY2 pushed Taiwan's S.H.E from the top position on the latest G Music album charts. BY2 are twin sisters Miko and Yumi Bai (白纬芬 and 白纬玲), and their latest release is titled Grown Up (成人礼) - after all, they did just turn 18 last month. Grown Up had 18 percent of all album sales in Taiwan for the period 9 to 15 April, and 33 percent of all Chinese-language sales.

Grown Up is BY2's third studio album, released on the Ocean Butterflies Music label. The group was created by the record label, who carefully groomed them from the age of 13. They received three years of intensive singing and dance training, even dropping out of high school to concentrate on their musical career. In 2007 they moved to Taiwan and a year later, at the age of 16 the twins released their first album. Their catchy music, a kind of hybrid of bubblegum pop and hip hop, cute looks and energetic dance moves made them an immediate success. Grown Up provides more of the same, with four of the album's songs having "love" in the title. The first single is the track This Is Love (这叫爱).

After just two weeks in the top position, S.H.E's album SHERO dropped to number 2 on the charts but still sold a healthy 20 percent of all Chinese language albums in Taiwan last week. Another Mandopop superstar, Jane Zhang, also debuted on the Taiwan charts last week with her fourth album, Believe in Jane. (Actually the album was released everywhere else almost three months ago; I'm not sure why it's only now surfacing on the Taiwan charts). Believe in Jane holds the number three position on the charts, with a respectable 7.8 percent of sales.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bodyguards and Assassins Wins Eight at HK Film Awards

Bodyguards and Assassins (十月围城), the semi-fictional action drama set in 1905 about a team of bodyguards formed to protect revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen, won eight awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards (HKFA) on Sunday. That made it the equal second most successful film in HKFA history - along with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Warlords. The 1997 film Comrades: Amost A Love Story holds the record with nine awards.

Bodyguards and Assassins' haul of trophies on the night included Best Film and Best Director (Teddy Chen - 陈德森, pinyin: Chén Désēn). It also earned Nicholas Tse (谢霆锋, pinyin: Xiè Tíngfēng) a Best Supporting Actor trophy for his performance as a loyal rickshaw driver enlisted to help save the revolutionary hero from Imperial assassins. The film also won awards for cinematography, art direction, costumes, action choreography and film score.

Best Actress and Best Actor winners, Kara Hui and Simon Yam

Simon Yam
(任达华, pinyin: Rén Dáhuá) was a popular Best Actor winner, after being nominated several times in the past but never taking the prize. He won for Echoes of the Rainbow in which he played a battling shoemaker bringing up a family in the working class district of Sheung Wan in the 1960s. The low-budget film directed by Alex Law has been a surprise hit with audiences, and earlier this year won a Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. Echoes of a Rainbow won four HKFAs in total. In a bit of a surprise, Aarif Lee (李治廷, pinyin: Lǐ Zhìtíng) was named Best Newcomer for his role as the elder son, and the film also won Best Screenplay and Best Song.

Best Actress winner was Kara Hui (惠英红, Wai Ying-hung) for her moving portrayal of an over-protective mother in At the End of Daybreak. Hui, who turned 50 two months ago, began her movie career in the 1970s as a kung fu action heroine. One of her best-known martial arts roles was in My Young Auntie in 1982, for which she won Best Actress at the inaugural Hong Kong Film Award. Hui gave an emotional acceptance speech on receiving her second HFKA, recounting her battle with depression when her career floundered. In a nice piece of symmetry, Lau Kar-Leung (刘家良, pinyin: Liú Jiāliáng), the director and martial arts choreography who discovered Hui, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Best Supporting Actress was awarded to Michelle Ye (叶璇, pinyin: Yè Xuán) in the Johnnie To directed action thriller Accident. Ye, a former beauty pageant winner, is best-known as a TV actress. Her decision to turn her back on a lucrative contract renewal with TVB so as to focus on her film career now appears to be vindicated after the critical success of her Accident performance.

The full list of winners can be found at the Asia One website.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Best-Selling Novelist Nominated for Time's Most Influential People

Time Magazine has generated a lot of publicity, in China at least, with its publication of a list of nominees for its 100 Most Influential People list. Representing China are a handful of politicians, businessmen and dissidents/civil rights activists, but one name alone has generated most discussion.

Han Han (韩寒) - novelist, essayist, blogger, singer, online entrepreneur and rally driver - has attracted controversy from the moment he first burst on the literary scene. That was back in 2000 when as a precocious 17 year old he had his first novel, Triple Doors (三重门), published. That novel went on to become the biggest selling literary work in China in the past 20 years. Triple Doors struck a chord with millions of young Chinese with its scathing criticism of the Chinese education system and the spirit-breaking pressures it places on schoolchildren.

Han Han has since written a further four novels, and although sales have been respectable he has yet to repeat his initial success. Nevertheless his fame has continued to grow through his provocative and controversial essays and blog articles. His blog is one of the most popular in China in terms of hits and page views, with its spats with fellow celebrities, critiques of Chinese society and thinly veiled criticisms of government. He's regarded as a spokesman for the post-1980s generation, and his idol good looks have only added to his strong following amongst many young people.

Not everyone's a fan however, and not just the establishment he takes so much delight in attacking. A lot of goodwill he earned from his first novel has slowly disappeared, with people writing him off as the literary equivalent of a one-hit wonder. In a relatively controlled society like China where public criticism and outspokedness is frowned upon, his opinionated views can also put him offside with the general public.

It's no surprise that such a polarising figure has also divided Chinese with his Time Magazine nomination. Some have questioned whether he is as influential as Time seems to believe, while others wonder whether there are better, worthier writers who should have been nominated. And the Government-run media has seen the nomination as yet another plot by the West to undermine the Communist Party by championing its critics (see this informative China Digital Times article for more details and links to the articles in question).

Meanwhile, Han Han's supporters have rallied to the cause, voting in numbers on Time's online poll to ensure he makes the Top 100. Currently he's ranked number six in online votes. The final Top 100 list will be announced in early May.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

IFPI's Best Selling Singers in Hong Kong

IFPIHK, the Hong Kong arm of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, announced its Top Sales Music Awards for 2009 on April 7. Unfortunately, the four major labels - Sony, EMI, Warner and Universal - belong to a rival industry association, HKRIA, so their record sales weren't considered. This meant that major Hong Kong singers like Eason Chan, Khalil Fong and Hins Cheung, went unrewarded.

There's a little bit of confusion over the winners, with Oriental Daily initially reporting that Joey Yung (容祖儿, pinyin: Róng Zǔér) was named Best Selling Female Singer. Other websites have picked up Oriental Daily's report, including the Asian Fanatics forum. It's probably the logical choice, seeing as Yung's the undisputed Queen of Cantopop. However, it seems that Oriental Daily might have jumped the gun. The official IFPIHK website itself has Janice Vidal (卫兰, pinyin: Wèi Lán) as the Best Selling Female Singer winner, and I guess they ought to know better than anyone.

(Janice Vidal at the IPFI Awards)

The Hong Kong born singer with the exotic heritage - Janice's father is Filipino and her mother Chinese-Korean - released two albums in 2009, Serving You (well, actually released in late 2008) and Wish. Often known by her first name only, Janice began her career in 2004, first coming to the Hong Kong public's attention with her English language cover version of the Leon Lai hit Long Distance. The following year she went on to win Best Newcomer at most of the major Hong Kong award ceremonies. She has recorded six studio albums in total, all of them containing a mix of English and Cantonese language songs.

Best Selling Male Singer was awarded to Raymond Lam (林峯, pinyin: Lín Fēng), who profited from the ineligibility of heavyweight singers like Eason Chan and Khalil Fong. Lam, better known as a TV actor, released his second album in 2009, Let's Get Wet. On that album was the multi-award winning single If Times Comes. Last year he also released a successful Mandarin language single, After Tomorrow.

Best Sales for a Mandarin Release was awarded to Taiwanese singer-songwriter Cheer Chen (陈绮贞, pinyin: Chén Qǐzhēn). The veteran performer - she released her debut EP back in 1997 - tends to stay out of the limelight, and consequently is not as well known as some of her Mandopop superstar compatriots. As well as her skills as a lyricist she is also highly regarded as a concert performer. The IFPI award was given for her album Immortal, released in early 2009 on the WOW Music label.

The List of Top Ten Sales from Local Artistes is:
Raymond Lam
Andy Lau
Joey Yung
Ivana Wong
Charlene Choi
Denise Ho
Justin Lo
Stephanie Cheng

The full list of all 52 winners is at the IPFIHK website.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

S.H.E End Show Luo's 10 Week Reign at Number 1

Finally, after an unprecedented reign at the top of Taiwan's album charts, the King of Dance, Show Luo, has been removed from his throne. And it took one of Taiwan's biggest bands, girl band S.H.E, to dethrone him. The most recent G Music album charts, for the week 26 March to 1 April, had the new S.H.E record, SHERO, go straight to the top in its first week of release. It sold in big numbers too, accounting for more than 45 percent of album sales in Taiwan last week. In fact, it and Show Luo's album Rashomon made up almost two-thirds of all albums sold.

S.H.E are a three-member girl group who formed back in 2001, after being discovered on a televised talent show. They had immediate success with their first album, and by 2002 they were named by one radio station as Taiwan's Top Pop Group. In 2003 they won Best Group at Taiwan's major awards ceremony, the Golden Melody Awards, although despite repeated nominations they have yet to repeat that success. They reached their peak in popularity in the mid-2000s with albums like Super Star and Once Upon a Time, and set records with their Fantasy Land and Perfect World 3 concert tours.

SHERO is their tenth studio album, after an 18 month wait since their last record. It contains Loving You, one of the theme songs from the TV drama series Down With Love, and a duet with One Million Stars singing contest runner-up Judy Chou titled Two Person's Desert Island. Mayday lead singer and songwriter Ah Shin has also written a song for them for the first time, the title track.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rosy Business Stars Head Next Magazine Awards

Hong Kong's Next Magazine announced its annual TV awards last week, and the winners list was dominated by the two most popular shows of 2009 - Rosy Business (巾帼枭雄) and Beyond the Realm of Conscience (宫心计). The first two spots on Next Magazine's Top Ten Artistes of 2009 went to Rosy Business's two leads, Sheren Tang (邓萃雯, pinyin: Dèng Cuìwén) and Wayne Lai (黎耀祥: Lí Yàoxiáng). However Beyond the Realm of Conscience was named number 1 in the Top Ten TV Programs, with Rosy Business in second position.

Sheren Tang, now in her mid-forties, has been considered unlucky in the past - or the victim of entertainment politics - for not picking up as many awards as she might have deserved. Although she made her acting debut in 1985, it wasn't until 2002 that she won her first major award, a TVB Best Supporting Actress trophy. Two years later, her performance as an evil concubine in the hit series War and Beauty made her one of Hong Kong TV's biggest stars. However, in what was considered a maor upset at the time, she missed out on Best Actress for her performance, having to settle for Best Supporting Actress again instead.

She has received further Best Actress nominations for the TVB series La Femme Desperado (2006), The Family Link (2007) and Your Class or Mine (2008). She finally broke through for a Best Actress award at the Ming Pao awards last November, swiftly followed by victory at the TVB Anniversary awards the following month, beating Beyond the Realm's Charmaine Sheh in what was dubbed the Battle of the FaDans (or Divas).

The forty-five year old Wayne Lai (pictured left) is somewhat of a late bloomer in the business. Although he has appeared in over 50 TV series, and over 20 films, it wasn't until three years ago that he earned his first award. He was named Best Supporting Actor from Malaysian pay-TV channel Astro Wah Lai Toi for his performance in the TVB costume drama Safe Guards. The following year he followed up with a TVB Best Supporting Actor trophy for The Gentle Crackdown II, a comedy series set in the Ming Dynasty. His performance in Rosy Business won him Best Actor trophies at the Ming Pao and TVB Anniversary Awards.

In total Rosy Business had four of its stars in the Top Ten list - Ron Ng was at number eight and series villain Susan Tse was placed ninth. Beyond the Realm of Conscience also accounted for four of the Top Ten artistes: Charmaine Sheh, Tavia Yeung, Moses Chan and Susan Tse, who was in both series.

The full list of the Top Ten TV Artistes is:
1. Sheren Tang
2. Wayne Lai
3. Charmaine Sheh
4. Tavia Yeung
5. Moses Chan
6. Linda Chung
7. Bosco Wong
8. Ron Ng
9. Susan Tse
10. Fala Chen

The Top Ten TV Programs are:
1. Beyond the Realm of Conscience
2. Rosy Business
3. You're Hired
4. E.U
5. A Chip Off the Old Block
6. Burning Flame III
7. Off Pedder
8. A Watchdog's Tale
9. Hong Kong Gossip
10. The Voice

Next Magazine also gave out several other awards including Most Promising Male and Female Artists. The full list of award winners can be found at this Asian Fanatics forum post.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hong Kong's Most Beautiful Leading Men, According to CNN

Three journalists from CNN's Hong Kong bureau recently sat down and compiled an intriguing list of "the most talented, charismatic leading men of Hong Kong cinema". They came up with a selection of nineteen actors, headed by the late and sadly missed Leslie Cheung (张国荣, pinyin: Zhāng Guóróng) - a timely choice as we approach the 7th anniversary of his death.

Cheung was only 46 and still at the height of his career when he committed suicide on April Fool's Day, 2003. Like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, two other tragic and troubled stars who met untimely demises, Cheung has if anything become even more of a cult figure after his death. Already a superstar in his lifetime, he won numerous Best Actor and Best Singer trophies, and in 2000 was named by China's national TV network, CCTV, as Asia's Biggest Superstar.

Cheung was born in Hong Kong in 1956 and endured an unhappy childhood, including a less than pleasant stint in an English boarding school. He got his first break as a singer, performing on a talent show in 1977 and earning a recording contract with Polydor Records. His entertainment career had an unpromising beginning however, with mediocre record sales and an acting debut in a soft porn film. But a combination of persistence and talent won out in the end, and by the mid 80s he was one of Hong Kong's biggest selling pop stars.

The period spanning the mid 80s to the end of the 90s is considered by many as Hong Kong's Golden Age of cinema, and Leslie Cheung was one of the foremost actors of that time. His film credits include A Better Tomorrow and its sequel, A Chinese Ghost Story and its sequel, The Eagle Shooting Heroes and Days of Being Wild for which he won Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards. In 1993 he gave another memorable performance in the mainland production Farewell My Concubine, and in 1994 another Best Actor award, this time from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society for Ashes of Time.

Openly gay in his later years, he progressed from teen idol to serious artist known for taking on risky and emotionally challenging roles. He moved on to directing, but this next stage was cut short when he finally lost his ongoing battle with depression and from the 24th floor of a Hong Kong hotel jumped to his death.

Number 2 on CNN's list of Most Beautiful Men from Hong Kong Cinema is another impossibly photogenic star, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (梁朝伟, pinyin: Liáng Cháowěi). As well as being blessed with matinee idol good looks, which he combines with a soulful almost melancholy presence, Leung is one of Hong Kong's most decorated actors. He has won Best Actor five times at the Hong Kong Film Awards, and taken home the Golden Horse and Golden Bauhinia Best Actor awards three times each.

At number 3 is another Tony Leung, Tong Leung Ka-Fai (梁家辉 , pinyin: Liáng Jiāhuī) - affectionately known as Big Tony to distinguish him from his namesake. It's perhaps a surprising choice with his unconventional good looks and chiselled features. Moreover his versatility meant he was as often as not playing bumbling bespectacled sidekicks or devious crooks rather than traditional leading role heroes. Now in his fifties, Leung Ka-Fai was most recently seen in last year's blockbuster Bodyguards and Assassins.

Representing the new generation at number 4 is Daniel Wu (吴彦祖, pinyin: Wú Yànzǔ). The 35 year-old Californian born actor started his career as a model. In his early career his roles were very much in the teen idol category, but Wu has constantly strived to break out of that teenybopper mould with some ambitious and unconventional role choices. Wu's many caps include writer, director and producer, and he has also set up the social networking site for artists,

One of Hong Kong's greatest action stars, Chow Yun-Fat (周润发: Zhōu Rùnfā), rounds out the top 5. The towering giant with the languid, easy-going demeanour actually started his career as a soap opera star. In 1980 his career reached new heights when he starred in the gangster series The Bund in which he played a 1930s triad leader. By the mid-80s he was one of Hong Kong film's biggest names with the action blockbusters A Better Tomorrow and City on Fire, then in 1989 starred in what was at the time Hong Kong's biggest grossing film God of Gamblers. Unfortunately he never quite made the leap to international superstar - his Hollywood films were by and large mediocre offerings.

The full list of "19 Most Beautiful Men from Hong Kong cinema" comprises:
1. Leslie Cheung (张国荣)
2. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (梁朝伟)
3. Tony Leung Ka-Fai (梁家辉)
4. Daniel Wu (吴彦祖)
5. Chou Yun-Fat (周润发)
6. Lui Kei (吕奇)
7. Nicholas Tse (谢霆锋)
8. Patrick Tse (谢贤)
9. Aaron Kwok (郭富城)
10. Kenny Bee (锺镇涛)
11. Danny Chan (陈百强)
12. Ti Lung (狄龙)
13. Daniel Chan (陈晓东)
14. Ekin Cheng (郑伊健)
15. Andy Lau (刘德华)
16. Leon Lai (黎明)
17. Louis Koo (古天乐)
18. Bruce Lee (李小龙)
19. Donnie Yen (甄子丹)
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