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, Alivenotdead.com.

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)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Wang Xueqi Named Best Actor at Asian Film Awards

The 4th Annual Asian Film Awards, organised by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, were held last week. Although South Korea took home the most awards, including Best Film (Mother), Chinese actors were also prominent.

Mainland actor Wang Xueqi (王学圻, pictured right accepting his award) was named Best Actor for his performance as a tycoon and financial backer of revolutionaries in the Hong Kong action drama Bodyguards and Assassins. The Beijing-born Wang made his film debut back in 1984 in Yellow Earth, a film that heralded the beginning of the Fifth Generation movement in film. Since then his career has been steady rather than spectacular. However two years ago things really began to take off for him. Last year he was nominated at the 3rd Asian Film Awards for Best Supporting Actor for his memorial performance in Forever Enthralled. He then picked up a Best Actor award for Bodyguards and Assassins in January at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards, and is one of the favourites to win Best Actor at the soon-to-be-announced Hong Kong Film Awards.

Another star of Bodyguards and Assassins, Nicholas Tse (谢霆锋, pinyin: Xiè Tíngfēng), was named Best Supporting Actor. The Hong Kong-born and Canadian and U.S raised Tse started his career as a singer. The 29 year-old has always shown promise as an actor, starting with his debut role in Young and Dangerous: The Prequel in 1998. That performance won him the Best New Performer at the Hong Kong Film Awards, and in 2006 he won Best Supporting Actor at the People's Hundred Flowers Awards playing Jackie Chan's sidekick in New Police Story. His on-screen career however has at times been overshadowed by his off-screen antics, including a short stint in prison for a dangerous driving incident.

Veteran actress Kara Hui (惠英红, pinyin: Huì Yīnghóng), inaugural Best Actress winner at the Hong Kong Film Awards back in 1982, was awarded Best Supporting Actress for her role in At the End of Daybreak, a Malaysian-Hong Kong-Korean co-production. Her performance has already won her a Best Supporting Actress award at Taiwan's Golden Horse awards late last year.

Also in At the End of Daybreak is Malaysia's rising star Jane Ng Meng Hui (黄明慧, pinyin: Huáng Mínghuì), who took home the award for Best Newcomer. Ng, who until recently was better-known in her homeland as an FM breakfast radio announcer, played a 15 year old schoolgirl in the film (in real life she's actually 27). At the End of Daybreak was her film debut.

The powerful City of Life and Death may have missed out on Best Film, but the film's director Lu Chuan (陆川) took home the Best Director award. The war drama which tells the story of the Nanjing Massacre is just Lu's third film, following on from his acclaimed second feature film, Kekexili: Mountain Patrol.

The Asian Film Awards also recognised two of China's most illustrious directors, John Woo (吴宇森, pinyin: Wú Yǔsēn) and Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) . Woo, along with co-producer Terence Chang, was named 2009's Top Grossing Film Director for the historical epic Red Cliff II. Zhang Yimou was honoured with a special award for Outstanding Contribution to Asian Cinema.

The full list of winners and nominees is at the Asian Film Awards website.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Locals Hold Their Own at 2nd Singapore Entertainment Awards

The 2nd Singapore Entertainment Awards were announced last week with awards announced for music, TV and movies. Two types of prizes were given - the most popular awards as voted by the public, and "Best of" awards voted by a panel of judges from the media.

In the popular awards, Singapore's own JJ Lin (pictured left) won two awards - Most Popular Local Singer and Most Popular Music Video. Another Singaporean, Stephanie Sun, was awarded Most Popular Female Singer while Taiwan's Show Luo was named Most Popular Male Singer. Hong Kong's Eason Chan won his usual suitcase-load of awards: Best Male Singer, Golden Chart Male Singer of the Year, Golden Chart Song of the Year (For You) and Best Album (5F/Blissful).

In the TV categories there were awards handed out to Hong Kong and Taiwan small screen stars. Two stars of the hit Hong Kong series Beyond the Realm of Conscience, Moses Chan and Charmaine Sheh, were named Most Popular Male and Female TV Actor respectively. In the Taiwan categories, Most Popular Male TV Actor was Mark Zhao, last seen in the crime drama Black and White. The Actress award went to singer/actor Rainie Yang, who starred in the romantic comedy series Hi My Sweetheart.

A selection of some of the main award winners are:
Most Popular Male Singer - Show Luo (罗志祥)
Most Popular Female Singer - Stephanie Sun (孙燕姿)
Most Popular Local Singer - JJ Lin (林俊杰)
Most Popular Band - Mayday (五月天)
Most Popular Group - S.H.E
Most Popular Regional Newcomer - Alien Huang (黄鸿升)
Most Popular Music Video - JJ Lin (林俊杰), However Many Hundred Days (第几个100 天)

Best Album - Eason Chan (陈奕迅), 5F/Blissful (上五楼的快活)
Best Local Singer - Tanya Chua (蔡健雅)
Best Male Singer - Eason Chan (陈奕迅)
Best Female Singer - Tanya Chua (蔡健雅)

Best Asian Movie - Mother (South Korea)

Most Popular Hong Kong TV Actor - Moses Chan (陈豪)
Most Popular Hong Kong TV Actress - Charmaine Sheh (佘诗曼)
Most Popular Taiwan TV Actor - Mark Chao (赵又廷)
Most Popular Taiwan TV Actress - Rainie Yang (杨丞琳)

Radio 100.3 U Chart Song of the Year - Kelvin Tan (陈伟联), Forever Friends (分手的情书)
Radio 100.3 Most Popular Song - Yoga Lin (林宥嘉), You Are What You Eat (看见什么吃什么)
Global Chinese Golden Chart Male Singer of the Year - Eason Chan (陈奕迅)
Global Chinese Golden Chart Female Singer of the Year - A-Mei (张惠妹)
Global Chinese Golden Chart New Generation Artistes Of the Year - Yoga Lin (林宥嘉) and Rachael Liang (梁文音)
Global Chinese Golden Chart Group of the Year - Mayday (五月天)
Global Chinese Golden Chart Song Of The Year - Eason Chan (陈奕迅), For You (给你)

The full list of winners can be found here (PDF file and in Chinese).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

TVB General Manager Arrested in Corruption Case

Stephen Chan (陈志云, pinyin: Chén Zhìyún), a general manager with Hong Kong's largest TV network, TVB, has been arrested by Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Chan, three other TVB employees and an executive of an advertising and production company were all arrested on Thursday March 11 "in relation to corruption allegations". They are alleged to have cheated TVB out of HK$10 million (about US$1.3 million).

While ICAC has yet to release details of the case, the allegations are believed to centre on the actions of a shell company established by Chan and his cohorts. Chan is suspected of awarding TVB production contracts to his shell company, then outsourcing them to other production companies at a cheaper price and pocketing the difference. A second set of allegations is believed to concern the shell company's charging shopping centres and other promotional outlets appearance fees for TVB stars, but not passing the fees on to the stars. Stephen Chan may also be charged with accepting bribes.

As General Manager of broadcasting, a post he held from 2003, Chan was one of TVB's highest ranking executives. He was also the best known to the public, courtesty of a hosting role on the interview show Be My Guest. His dual role as executive and on-screen star was a controversial one, with critics claiming his hosting duties were distracting him from his management responsibilities. Only last month Chan had denied rumours that he would soon leave TVB.

The other four people arrested were TVB head of business development Wilson Chan, variety department executive producer Wilson Chin, TVB actor Ning Jin, and Edthancy Tseng Pei Kun, the director of Idea Empire advertising production company. ICAC has yet to lay any charges, but all four TVB employees were suspended by the station after the arrests.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Little Tigers Voted Favourite Act at CCTV New Year's Gala

CCTV's New Year's Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会) has become an institution for Chinese viewers, as symbolic of Spring Festival as dumplings and red envelopes. An estimated audience of 700 million tune in to watch the variety show every year on Chinese New Year's Eve. Its popularity may be slowly slipping, especially with the younger generation, but it remains the most talked about TV event in mainland China. Unknown acts can, with an impressive performance on the show, become instant sensations, while established stars vie for guest spots each year.

Two week's after the Gala, on Lantern Festival Day, CCTV hosts another variety program, the My Favourite Spring Festival Evening Show. At this ceremony the favourite acts in a variety of categories from the Gala show are announced. One of the biggest hits of this year's Gala show was the reunion of Taiwan's original boy band, Little Tigers (小虎队, pinyin: Xiǎo Hǔ Duì). The three-member group, made up of Benny Chen, Alec Su and Nicky Wu, formed in 1988 and were an instant success not just in Taiwan but across the Chinese-speaking world. Their career lasted just six years, but their popularity paved the way for a succession of boy bands.

On the New Year's Gala Show Little Tigers performed three of their biggest hits: Love, Fly Butterfly and Green Apple Paradise. They were voted the Favourite Act in the Song and Dance category, finishing ahead of another comeback star, Wang Fei. The wave of nostalgia their act provoked amongst viewers has sparked rumours that the trio may get back together permanently.

The Gala Show is as much about comedy skits as it is about music, and the king of comedy acts for this year, as voted by the viewers, was veteran performer Zhao Benshan (赵本山). It was the Gala Show that gave Zhao his first break back in 1987, and he has been a Gala Show stalwart ever since, appearing every year but one over the past 24 years. Born in 1958 in north-east China - the home of many of China's best comic performers - Zhao has also had a successful acting career. In 2007 he was nominated for Best Actor at Taiwan's Golden Horse awards for his performance in the drama-comedy Getting Home.

A third category awarded at the Lantern Festival show is the "Opera, Folk and Other" category. For the second year in a row Taiwanese magician Lu Chen (刘谦, pinyin: Liú Qiān) was voted the favourite act. The 33 year-old has had his own show on Taiwanese TV since 2003, but really hit the big-time last year on the Gala Show. His appearance launched a craze for magic acts, and magician classes reported a sudden increase in enrolments last year.

This year's performance by Lu Chen was not without its critics, including one of China's most outspoken writers, Han Han. Han criticised Lu's act as "an immense disappointment", "professionally unethical" and put on by "a bunch of swindlers". This outburst in turn provoked a curt but angry response from Lu Chen. The exchange is comprehensively covered by the excellent Danwei blog. To quote from Danwei, it wouldn't be "a proper CCTV Spring Festival Gala without a scandal or two".

(Source, in Chinese: this Yahoo article)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Show Luo: February Flavour of the Month

We're only two months into 2010, but already Show Luo's (罗志祥, pinyin: Luó Zhīxián) latest album Rashomon (罗生门, pinyin: Luóshēngmén) is a hot favourite to be this year's album of the year in Taiwan. Released in mid-January, the dance king's seventh studio album has spent the last six weeks at the top of the G Music album charts. Not only has it been the best-selling album for one and a half months, it's completely dominating album sales in Taiwan. Last week it accounted for a massive 36 percent of all record sales.

The album has also produced four singles, with the latest, Love Doesn't Travel Alone (愛不單行) holding top spot on the KKKBox Mandopop Singles Chart four weeks running. The song is taken from the Hi My Sweetheart TV series which recently finished it's moderately successful run (respectable rather than outstanding ratings). The versatile Luo also played the lead role in the series.

Other songs to chart from Rashomon are the debut single Love's Home Turf (愛的主場秀), an uptempo dance number, the second single, I'll Be Used To It (習慣就好), and Head Over Heels in Love (愛瘋頭), also from the Hi My Sweetheart soundtrack. In one week this month all four songs were in the Top 10 singles (source: this Cpop Access post).

Show Luo started the month winning search engine Baidu's number one prize at the Hot Point Awards. He was crowned Most Popular All-round Entertainer, reward for a very successful 2009. In fact, it would be safe to say that Luo is having the most successful period in his fifteen year career. And to top off the month for Luo, he was also voted "most desired lover" on one online Valentine's Day poll.

Show Luo began his career back in 1996 in a tribute band The Four Heavenly Kings (referring to four of Hong Kong's most popular singers from the 80s and 90s, introduced in this post), and made his acting debut in 1999. He launched his solo singing career in 2003, and around the same time began hosting popular variety show 100% Entertainment. Affectionately known by his fans as Little Pig (apparently he was a bit chubby as a child), Luo has won most of Taiwan's major prizes including the Golden Melody Award for Best Male Singer in 2007.
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