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).
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