Saturday, May 14, 2011

Aftershock Causes Ripples at Udine Festival

In the historical northern Italian city of Udine, they hold the annual Udine Far East Film Festival, dubbed "the film festival for popular Asian cinema". Now in its thirteenth year, the festival goes from strength to strength, with a record number of screenings and audience numbers this year.

This year's Audience Award - the Golden Mulberry - went to the Chinese production, Aftershock, the earthquake drama directed by Feng Xiaogang. The award comes just a couple of weeks after it was named best film at the prestigious Beijing Student Film Festival. For a short time it was the highest-grossing locally-made film ever in China, until it was surpassed at the box office by Let the Bullets Fly this year.

China also took the silver medal in the Audience Awards, with Zhang Yimou's coming-of-age drama Under the Hawthorn Tree set during the Cultural Revolution. Zhang used a cast of unknowns - both Zhou Dongyu and Shawn Dou who played the film's romantic leads were making their acting debuts.

The Festival also announced its inaugural Golden Mulberry Lifetime Achievement Award, with the honour going to a legend of Hong Kong comedy, Michael Hui (许冠文, pinyin: Xǔ Guànwén - pictured right). Hui began his career in the entertainment industry back in 1968 as a TV host, including creating and hosting the popular television variety show Hui Brothers' Show with his two younger brothers. He effortlessly made the transition from small screen to big screen with his film debut, The Warlord in 1972. That film went on to become the number one box office success that year in Hong Kong. Other box office smashes followed: Games Gamblers Play in 1974, The Private Eyes in 1976, and Securities Unlimited in 1981, all of which he also wrote and directed as well as starred in. Securities Unlimited won him the Best Actor award at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

In those earlier films he usually starred alongside his younger brothers, but in the 80s he went solo, so to speak, and created some of Hong Kong's finest satirical comedies, including Inspector Chocolate (1986), Chicken and Duck Talk (1988), Front Page (1990), The Magic Touch (1992) and Always on My Mind (1994). Front Page earned him another Best Actor award, this time from the Hong Kong Artists Guild. The 68 year-old last appeared in a film in 2006, co-starring with Jackie Chan in Rob-B-Hood. He still occasionally performs stand-up comedy shows, most recently selling out the Hong Kong Coliseum in February this year. He will bring his stand-up show to Malaysia later this month.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Jerry Yan Voted No.1 Dream Lover

Taiwan idol Jerry Yan (言承旭, pinyin: Yán Chéngxù), star of the hit idol drama Meteor Garden and member of the boy band F4, came out tops in an online poll asking "Who is your dream lover?" amongst male idol stars. The poll, conducted by Yahoo! Taiwan, was open for one week in the second half of April, and attracted over 55,000 votes. Yan was the clear winner with 12,137 votes, ahead of pop superstar Show Luo (罗志祥, pinyin: Luó Zhīxiáng - 9,871 votes) and former male model turned actor and singer Ming Dao (明道 - 9,765 votes).

Yan was last seen in a TV series almost a year ago in Down With Love, and hasn't released an album since January 2010. However he remains in the spotlight through his public appearances and charity work. The 34 year-old came to fame with his starring role in the Taiwanese romantic drama Meteor Garden in 2001. The series was an adaptation of the Japanese managa series Boys Over Flowers - both of which were squarely aimed at a target audience of teenage girls. Meteor Garden was a massive hit, and resulted in two sequels, Meteor Rain and Meteor Garden 2. It also spawned the boy band F4, made up of Yan and the three other main male cast members.

F4 went on to release two studio albums: Meteor Garden in 2002 and Fantasy in 2003. Both records were the biggest-selling Mandarin albums of the year. The group went into hiatus for several years while band members pursued individual projects, but released a third album in 2007. Yan has also released three solo albums. Since Meteor Garden he has also appeared in three further hit series - The Hospital in 2006, Hot Shot in 2008, and last year's Down With Love.

Original sources (both in Chinese): the Sina entertainment pages and this Macao Daily article.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A-Mei's R U Watching? At Number 1

After almost two years between records, Taiwan pop superstar A-Mei (阿妹) has released a new album, and it went straight to the top of the G-Music album charts. R U Watching? (你在看我吗) is her first release since the Golden Melody-winning album AMIT, released back in June 2009, and like its predecessor went to number one on the charts in its first week of release. According to G-Music it had 28.92 percent of album sales in the week 22 to 28 April, displacing F.I.R's Atlantis who dropped to second spot.

R U Watching? is A-Mei's fifteenth studio album, and also commemorates fifteen years in showbusiness. The 38 year old aboriginal Taiwanese, who is also known by her full name Chang Hui-mei (张惠妹; pinyin: Zhāng Huìmèi), had a number one hit with her first ever single back in 1996, and hasn't looked back since. Her distinctive sultry voice and energetic stage presence made her a star not just in Taiwan but on the mainland as well. Even after singing at the inauguration of pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian in 2000 - a political indiscretion in the eyes of the mainland government that earned her a one year performance ban - her return to the mainland the following year attracted huge crowds of admiring (and forgiving) fans. For a period of time back then she seemed to act as a lightning rod for tensions between Taiwan and the mainland, although A-Mei herself insisted that she had no interest in the political squabbling.

A-Mei is twice winner of the Golden Melody award for Best Female Artist, she has the second biggest-selling album ever in Taiwan (Bad Boy, released in 1997 and sold over 1.38 million copies), has appeared on the cover of Newsweek, and was named one of Time Magazine's Asian Heroes. Although essentially a pop singer, she has never been afraid to incorporate new musical styles, sometimes at the expense of commercial popularity.

R U Watching? contains ten tracks, led off by the first single, What Time Is It Already? (都什么时候了). What Time Is It Already? is one of five ballads on the album, while the title track is a more up-tempo dance track. A-Mei herself co-produced the album, and five of the album's tracks were written by renowned Hong Kong lyricist Albert Leung (林夕). A review of the album can be found here at the jpopasia website.

Monday, May 2, 2011

April Flavour of the Month: Law Lok-lam

Law Lok-lam feels a death scene coming on
Prolific Hong Kong television actor Law Lok-lam (罗乐林, pinyin: Luó Lèlín) caused great alarm amongst those of a superstitious nature earlier this month. In the space of just 24 hours, five different characters he was portraying in various TV series all died. It's unusual enough for an actor to have five different series running concurrently, but to die in all of them, more or less at the same time, is almost spooky. If Oscar Wilde thought one death a misfortune, and two carelessness, what would he have made of Law's situation?

Law's first death, as the founder of the Ming Dynasty, the Hongwu Emperor, was a peaceful one at least - shuffling off this mortal coil via old age in the TVB series Relic of an Emissary. An hour later, he was dead again, this time violently beaten to death in the martial arts series Grace Under Fire. An off-screen death followed a few hours later, in the repeat series Police Station No.7. That evening, in another repeated series, Face to Fate, he kicked the bucket for the fourth time, vomiting blood in the process. Virtues of Harmony 2 is a TVB 2002 sitcom getting a repeat airing, but it was no laughing matter for Law when again the character he was playing passed away - demise number five.

The run of bad luck experienced by Law's characters made international news, and some wits on the net quickly composed a song about him: 同是天涯罗乐林. (The title is basically a play on words of a famous Chinese proverb). There was also criticism from viewers directed at the television station, TVB, or at least their programming department. Wasn't it a bit tasteless to have an actor repeatedly dying, not to mention tempting fate? Law himself, a modest retiring sort who normally shuns the glare of publicity, was non-plussed by the whole thing. "Why would dying in a drama matter? It's not for real" he was quoted as saying in reaction to the sudden media attention.

Law Lok-lam has been acting since 1971, first as an extra before graduating to supporting roles. The high school drop-out has appeared in countless TV series in his forty year career, many of them as villains. Since 1990 he has been acting exclusively in TVB series, and in that 21 year period he would have been in close to a hundred shows. Before that he was with the other major Hong Kong network, ATV, from 1989 to 1999, appearing in almost fifty series.

For a great overview of the actor and his career, the entertainment magazine Mingpao has an excellent in-depth article (BTW brilliantly translated by llwy12, one of the hardworking folk at the AsianFanatics Forum).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Beijing Students' Honour Aftershock

The 18th Annual Beijing Student Film Festival Awards were held on the 28th of April, with Feng Xiaogang's Aftershock (唐山大地震) taking home the main prize of Best Film. The epic drama that starts with the destructive Tangshan earthquake of 1976 and concludes with the 2008 Sichuan earthquake is the second highest grossing mainland Chinese film of all time. However, apart from the top prize at the Australian-held Asia-Pacific Screen Awards, this is its first Best Film award at a major awards ceremony.

The Best Actor trophy was awarded to local star Ge You ((葛优)) for his performance as a conscientious doctor in Chen Kaige's Sacrifice. The veteran actor, who recently turned 54, had a stand-out year in 2010, also appearing in the box office hits, Let the Bullets Fly and If You Are the One 2.

Best Actress was won by emerging superstar Fan Bingbing (范冰冰) for Buddha Mountain. Her performance as a teenager who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a retired Peking Opera singer had earlier this year won her Best Actress at the Tokyo Film Festival. Buddha Mountain was produced by Fan's own production company, Fan Bingbing Workshop, which she established in 2007.

Best Director award went to arthouse favourite Huo Jianqi (霍建起) for White Flower in Autumn, a biopic of one of the earliest leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, Qu Qiubai. A Jury Prize went to the film Biluo Snow (碧罗雪山). Directed by Liu Jie (best known as the cinematographer of Beijing Bicycle), the film also won the Jury Prize at the Shanghai International Film Festival last year. I know little about the film except that it employs a cast of non-professional actors.

The Festival also gave awards in the Most Popular categories. Wen Zhang (文章) won Most Popular Actor for his performance as the autistic son in the moving drama Ocean Heaven. Yao Chen (姚晨), China's most followed micro-blogger, was named Most Popular Actress, on the back of her performance in the television martial arts sitcom, My Own Swordsman. Feng Xiaogang (冯小刚), director of Aftershock, won Most Popular Director.

Television awards were also presented at the ceremony. Best TV Film Award went to the controversial Vegetate (我是植物人), an expose of shady practices in the pharmaceutical industry. Li Naiwen (李乃文), who played a paparazzo turned investigative journalist in the same show, was named Best TV Actor. Best TV Actress was awarded to Wang Liwen (王黎雯) for Moving Hearts.

The full list of winners can be found here - sorry, Chinese only.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

18th Oriental Billboard Awards

Some old news, from a month ago. The Oriental Billboard Awards (东方风云榜, sometimes referred to as the Eastern Billboard Awards) have a place in Mandopop musical history, being the first ever pop music awards ceremony in mainland China. The original awards ceremony was held back in 1993, organised by the Shanghai Media Group through leading radio station FM101. On March 19 this year, the Oriental Billboard Awards were held for the 18th time in Shanghai with many stars of the music scene in attendance.

Best Female Singer, for the third year in a row, was Jane Zhang (张靓颖, pinyin: Zhāng Liàngyǐng - pictured left, courtesy of, establishing herself as a genuine Mandopop superstar. The 26 year-old Sichuan native is a former runner-up in the popular TV talent show Super Girl. Her performance earned her a recording contract with one of China's leading labels, Huayi Brothers Music and her debut EP was released in 2006. She has gone on to record four studio albums, switching to the Universal Music label to record her most recent one, and has had six number one singles. She's best-known in the West for her appearance in 2009 on Opray Winfrey's The World's Got Talent show.

Best Male Singer went to Li Jian (李健), who was once one-half of the popular mainland singing duo, Shui Mu Nian Hua (水木年华) which he formed with a fellow classmate from the prestigious Tsinghua University in 2001. Shui Mu Nian Hua were an immediate success, scooping most of the Best Newcomer awards on the mainland, but after just two albums Li Jian left to embark on a solo career. A talented guitarist, the Harbin-born 36 year-old also writes most of his own songs. He had one of his biggest hits last year with the song Legend (传奇), written several years ago but revived by Faye Wong at last year's CCTV Spring Festival Gala.

The Best Band award was given to Mirror Band (反光镜), the veteran rock band who started off in the Beijing bar scene back in 1997. The three-member Brit-rock influenced band are best-known for their live performances, and have toured all over China as well as the US and Europe. Best Group award went to Milk@Coffee (牛奶咖啡), a duo from Beijing made up of singer-guitarist Kiki (Yan Fu) and keyboard player and producer Ge Fei. They released their debut album in 2005 and have gone on to record a further three albums. Both Mirror Band and Milk@Coffee are first time recipients of an Oriental Billboard Award.

The Oriental Billboard Awards also handed out gongs to non-Mainland artists. This year the Hong Kong award for Most Popular Singer went to Khalil Fong (方大同) and the Taiwan award was given to Kenji Wu (吴克群). There were also awards for Most Popular Singapore Artist (Tanya Chua, 蔡健雅), Most Popular Malaysian Artist (Michael Wong, 光良), and Most Popular Mainland Artist to 29 year-old singer Chen Chusheng (陈楚生), a former winner of a TV singing contest.

There were Asian Singer Awards to Hong Kong's Eason Chan ((陈奕迅) and mainland diva Han Hong (韩红), a Singer of the Year award to Taiwan's "queen of live music" Tiger Huang (黄小琥), and Annual All-Round Entertainer which went to the mainland singer-dancer Han Geng (韩庚).

The Awards also announced their Top Ten Songs of 2010 (in no particular order):
  • My Logo - Han Geng (韩庚)
  • 23 Seconds, 32 Years (23秒,32年) - Shang Wenjie (尚雯婕)
  • Special (特别) - Isabelle Huang (黄龄)
  • How Wonderful (多好啊) - Yu Quan (羽泉)、Xiao Juan (小娟)、Sitar Tan (谭维维)
  • Singing Stone (石头在歌唱) - Wang Feng (汪峰) and Sitar Tan (谭维维)
  • Fu Good - Della Ding (丁当)
  • Lucky Star (幸运星) - Milk@Coffee (牛奶咖啡)
  • Legend (传奇) - Li Jian (李健)
  • 'Love of the Hawthorn Tree' Theme Song (山楂花) - Chen Chusheng (陈楚生)
  • If This Is Love (如果这就是爱情) - Jane Zhang (张靓颖)
The full list of winners can be found here, but only in Chinese.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

F.I.R Rock Their Way to Top of G-Music Charts

Rock-pop band F.I.R (飞儿乐团; pinyin: Fēiér Yuètuán) head the G-Music Album Charts this week with their new album Atlantis - Chapter 6 (第六章 - 亚特兰提斯). Atlantis ends The Next Me by Aaron Yan's three-week stay at the top position, going straight to number one in its first week of release. According to G-Music it had 32 percent of Mandarin-language album sales for the week 15 to 21 April.

Atlantis is F.I.R's sixth studio album - hence the Chapter 6 subtitle - and the fifth F.I.R album to hold the top spot on the charts. The three-member group is made up lead singer Faye Chan, keyboard player and the band's producer, Ian Chen, and lead guitarist Real Huang. They formed back in 2004 as a studio band, gained fame when they performed the theme song of a hit Taiwan TV series, and followed up with a number one album on debut. The next year, 2005, they were awarded Best New Artist at the Golden Melody Awards.

Atlantis contains ten tracks, and its first release is the title track. Parts of it sound a little Celtic-influenced, and it's accompanied by an impressive music video that emphasises the underwater theme of Atlantis. The second single, Let Love Be Reborn (让爱重生) is more mellow-sounding but still rocks along.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lin Chi-ling Has The (Almost) Perfect Face

According to local media reports, Taiwanese plastic surgeons have determined that the face of supermodel/actress Lin Chi-ling (林志玲; pinyin: Lín Zhìlíng) is close to perfection. The finding was reached by looking at the symmetry of women's faces, including the ratio of spacing between the eyes. The study also surveyed one thousand female plastic surgeon customers, and found that they regarded celebrities with the most symmetrical faces as having "the perfect face".

Lin Chi-ling was measured as having a ratio of 1:1.2:1 or almost perfection. So on this issue at least men and women are in agreement. While women admire her facial features, men have voted her sexiest women in the FHM Sexiest Women poll for the last four years. Men also admired another of Lin Chi-ling's features: she was voted in a 2009 online poll as "the Queen of Beautiful Breasts".

Receiving honourable mention were actress and singer Vivian Hsu (徐若瑄; pinyin: Xú Ruòxuān) and socialite Tsai Yi-shan (蔡依珊). Although Hsu (pictured right) started out as a topless model and soft-core porn actress she has for many years now been a mainstream star. She is particularly popular in Japan where she sang in the popular-for-a-time dance band Black Biscuit. Now 36 years old, Hsu still retains her baby face looks which have helped endorse products like Biotherm body care products.

Tsai Yi-shan (left) comes from a wealthy family (her father is a shipping magnate, her mother a restrateur), and became even wealthier when she married businessman and KMT political heavyweight Sean Lien in 2006. The 31 year-old mother of two spent several years studying in Canada and the United States. Although Tsai claims she doesn't like social events, she is a favourite of paparazzi because of her stylish fashion sense and delicate features.

Although Lin Chi-ling's face was rated the closest to perfection amongst Taiwanese stars, Angeline Jolie rated even higher. Taiwan's plastic surgeons gave her a perfect 1:1:1 ratio - clearly they like bee-sting lips. The original media report can be found here, but in Chinese only.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gallants Victory at Hong Kong Film Awards

In a David and Goliath battle, the low budget kung fu comedy Gallants ((打擂台, pinyin: Dǎ Lèi Tái) was named Best Film at the 30th Hong Kong Film Awards, ahead of its big budget rival, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (狄仁杰之通天帝国). An ode to the golden days of Hong Kong martial arts films, Gallants had earlier this year taken out the Hong Kong Film Critics Best Film Award, giving it the double of major Hong Kong film awards.

Gallants features a host of Shaw Brothers kung fu stars from the 60s and 70s, including Siu Yam-yam (邵音音, pinyin: Shào Yīnyīn) who was awarded Best Supporting Actress for her Gallants performance. Her Gallants co-star, veteran singer-songwriter Teddy Robin (泰迪罗宾, pinyin: Tàidí Luóbīn) took home two gongs: Best Supporting Actor for his scene-stealing performance as a martial arts guru, and Best Original Film Score, also for Gallants.

Although Detective Dee missed out on the big prize, it won six awards to make it the most successful film of the night. The judges proved they had a sentimental side by awarding the Best Actress prize to Carina Lau (刘嘉玲, pinyin: Liú Jiālíng - pictured left with Best Actor winner Nicholas Tse) for her performance as China's first female ruler, the Empress Wu Zetian. After six nominations, the 45 year old Lau finally broke through for her first Best Actress award - despite it not being her most memorable performance and, theoretically, probably belonging in the Supporting Actress category. Detective Dee's director, Tsui Hark (徐克, pinyin: Xú Kè) won Best Director, twenty years after his first and only other Best Director award - for the kung fu classic Once Upon A Time in China back in 1991.

Best Actor went to Nicholas Tse (谢霆锋, pinyin: Xiè Tíngfēng) for his performance in the title role of the crime actioner The Stool Pigeon (线人). Tse had previously won Best New Performer at the Hong Kong Film Awards back when he was an 18 year-old in 1998, and also won Best Supporting Actor last year for Bodyguards and Assassins.

This year's Best New Performer was given to Hanjin Tan (陈奂仁, pinyin: Chén Huànrén), the Singaporean singer-songwriter now turned actor. He was recognised for his performance in the otherwise disappointing martial arts biopic, Bruce Lee, My Brother (李小龙). Best Asian Film went to the Japanese drama Confessions, ahead of mainland productions Aftershock and Under the Hawthorn Tree, the Taiwanese gangster flic Monga and the Taiwanese-Australian co-production Seven Days In Heaven. The evening's biggest loser was the martial arts epic Reign of Assassins - nominated in 11 categories but going home empty-handed.

A complete list of award winners can be found at this AsiaOne webpage.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

3D Sex and Zen Steams Up the Box Office

Hong Kong's moribund Category III erotic film genre has been revived with the much-publicised release of 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy (肉蒲团之极乐宝鑑). The film, released on 14 April, has broken box office records in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. Billed as the world's first "IMAX 3-D erotic film" - the honour of being the world's first 3-D erotic film was taken last year by a Korean film - 3D Sex and Zen packed out cinemas despite admittance being restricted to 18 year olds and over.

On its opening day in Hong Kong, the novelty of viewing soft-core porn in 3D attracted box office takings of HK$2.78 million (US$357,000). This made it the most successful debut of a 3-D film in Hong Kong, beating Hollywood blockbuster Avatar's first-day takings of HK$2.5 million. It was also by a large margin the highest opening day earnings of a Category III film, way ahead of the previous best of HK$1.2 million grossed by Ang Lee's spy thriller Lust, Caution.

By the end of the weekend, 3D Sex and Zen had gone on to gross HK$13 million (US$1.7 million), another record for a four-day opening period. It still has a long way to go to top Avatar's final box office grossings of HK$180 million - the most successful box office takings of all time in Hong Kong. The highest grossing Category III film is Lust, Caution which eventually took in HK$40 million - a target that looks achievable for 3D Sex and Zen considering the profitable Easter and May Day holiday periods are coming up. The producers are also expecting a large influx of mainland tourists to visit Hong Kong specifically to catch the movie - not surprisingly, it won't be getting a showing on the mainland.

3D Sex and Zen was also the box office champ in Taiwan last weekend, earning an estimated NT$15 million (US$515,000) for its first three days.

The film is a remake of a 1991 film that, until Lust, Caution, was the biggest grossing Category III in Hong Kong. Both movies are loosely based on a 17th century Chinese erotic novel, the Carnal Prayer Mat.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jay Chou Wins Six at Golden Chart Awards

The inaugural Global Chinese Golden Chart Awards (全球流行音乐金榜) were held in Taipei on 9 April, and Taiwan superstar Jay Chou (周杰伦, pinyin: Zhōu Jiélún) was the biggest winner collecting six awards. The Golden Chart Awards were organised by several Chinese-language radio stations from around the world, including Taiwan, mainland China, the United States, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

Jay Chou's trophies included Favourite Male Singer and Outstanding Global Chinese Artist. His album, The Era ((跨时代), was also named Best Mandarin Album. Another big winner was Jay's former girlfriend and reigning Queen of Dance Music , Jolin Tsai (蔡依林, pinyin: Cài Yīlín), who collected four awards, including Favourite Female Singer and DJs Favourite Artist of the Year.

Best Male Singer went to Leehom Wang (王力宏, pinyin: Wáng Lìhóng), and Best Female Singer to Malaysia's "Queen of Love Songs", Fish Leong (梁静茹, pinyin: Liáng Jìngrú). Show Luo (罗志祥, pinyin: Luó Zhīxiáng) won awards for Best All-round Entertainer and also for his album Rashomon (罗生门) which won Album with the Longest Chart Run. Singapore's JJ Lin (林俊杰, Lín Jùnjié) was awarded Best Singer.

In the group awards, Taiwan's eight-member boy band Super Junior-M, an offshoot of the Korean boy band Super Junior, was awarded Most Popular Group. Best Band went to the indie band from Taiwan, Sodagreen (苏打绿, pinyin: Sūdá lǜ), while Best Group went to the three-piece girl group S.H.E. Former Super Junior-M band member Han Geng (韩庚), who released his debut solo album last year, was named Newcomer of the Year.

Over sixty trophies in 29 categories were handed out on the night. The main award winners follow - this Chinese-language article has the complete list.

Best Male Artist: Leehom Wang
Best Female Artist: Fish Leong
Favourite Male Artist: Jay Chou
Favourite Female Artist: Jolin Tsai
Most Popular Group: Super Junior-M
Newcomer of the Year: Han Geng
Annual Excellence Award: Kenji Wu (吴克群, pinyin: Wú Kèqún)
Best Stage Performance: Elva Hsiao (萧亚轩, pinyin: Xiāo Yǎxuān)
Album with the Longest Chart Run: Rashomon, by Show Luo
DJs' Favourite Artist of the Year: Jolin Tsai
Media Recommendation Award: Hebe Tien (田馥甄, pinyin: Tián Fūzhēn)
Outstanding Global Chinese Artist: Jay Chou
Best Band: Sodagreen
Best Group: S.H.E
Best Mandarin Album: The Era, by Jay Chou
Best Singer: JJ Lin
Best All-round Entertainer: Show Luo

Top 20 Songs (in no particular order)
  • It's Okay To Be Lonely (寂寞寂寞就好) - Hebe Tien
  • Not So Simple (没那么简单) - Tiger Huang (黄小琥)
  • The Opposite Me (相反的我) - Jing Chang (张芸京)
  • Once In A Lifetime (十年一刻) - Sodagreen
  • The Leading Role (爱的主场秀) - Show Luo
  • SHERO - S.H.E
  • Heartache On Your Heartache (心疼你的心疼) - Farenheit (飞轮海)
  • I Believe (我相信) - Jane Zhang (张靓颖)
  • It's Love (这,就是爱) - Jason Zhang (张杰)
  • What Love Songs Didn't Tell You (情歌没有告诉你) - Fish Leong
  • Play (玩乐) - Khalil Fong (方大同)
  • Meet You at the Next Crossing (下个,路口,见) - Li Yuchun (李宇春)
  • It Doesn't Matter (没关系) - Kenji Wu
  • Honey Trap (美人计) - Jolin Tsai
  • Say No - Han Geng
  • All The Things You Never Knew (你不知道的事) - Leehom Wang
  • Superman Can't Fly (超人不会飞) - Jay Chou
  • Hundred Days (第几个100天) - JJ Lin
  • Grandpa (爷爷) - Gary Chaw (曹格)
  • Wrong Person (错的人) - Elva Hsiao

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Charmaine Sheh Named No. 1 Artist By Next Magazine

Hong Kong's entertainment glossy Next Magazine every year publishes its Top Ten TV Artists and Top Ten TV Shows. This year the number one artist was Charmaine Sheh (佘诗曼, pinyin: Shé Shīmàn), while the series she starred in, TVB's historical romantic comedy Can't Buy Me Love (公主嫁到), was named number one TV program. The awards were dominated by Can't Buy Me Love - Hong Kong's most watched TV program in 2010 - with four of the Top Ten Artists - Sheh, Moses Chan (陈豪, pinyin: Chén Háo), Linda Chung (钟嘉欣, pinyin: Zhōng Jiāxīn) and Fala Chen (陈法拉, pinyin: Chén Fǎlā) - starring in the series.

Charmaine Sheh's number one award may prove to be the crowning achievement of her twelve-year career with TVB. Earlier this year she announced that she would not be renewing her TVB contract in order to pursue opportunites elsewhere. It has been remarkable career for the 35 year-old former Miss Hong Kong runner-up. She has been named in the Next Magazine Top Ten Artist lists for an amazing ten consecutive years, and the second time she has been ranked number one (the previous occasion was in 2007).

No Regrets (巾帼枭雄之义海豪情), 2010's second most watched TV series in Hong Kong, came number two in the Top Ten Programs. And two of the stars of the show, Wayne Lai (黎耀祥: Lí Yàoxiáng) and Sheren Tang (邓萃雯, pinyin: Dèng Cuìwén), were named number two and number three in the Top Ten Artists list. Lai's two ranking was the second year in a row that he has held the runner-up position, while Tang was last year's number one. Fala Chen was No Regret's other Top Ten Artist.

In something of a surprise, Raymond Lam (林峰, pinyin: Lín Fēng), who won the Favourite Male Character at this year's TVB Anniversary Awards, could only finish number eight in the Top Ten Artists. Last year he starred in The Mysteries of Love (谈情说案), which was ranked number three in the Top Ten Programs. And Natalie Tong (唐诗咏, pinyin: Táng Shīyǒng), who appeared in the martial arts drama A Fistful of Stances (铁马寻桥), made her first appearance in the Top Ten Artists list, sneaking in at number ten.

The top ranked variety show on the list was the cooking show, Kitchen Diva Louisa (和味苏), hosted by Hong Kong actress turned celebrity chef Louisa So. The highest ranking non-TVB program was the ATV law drama series The Men of Justice (法网群英)

The Top Ten TV Artists were:
  1. Charmaine Shen (佘诗曼)
  2. Wayne Lai (黎耀祥)
  3. Sheren Tang (邓萃雯)
  4. Moses Chan (陈豪)
  5. Tavia Yeung (杨怡)
  6. Linda Chung (钟嘉欣)
  7. Bosco Wong (黄宗泽)
  8. Raymond Lam (林峰)
  9. Fala Chen (陈法拉)
  10. Natalie Tong (唐诗咏)
And the Top Ten TV Programs:
  1. Can't Buy Me Love (公主嫁到)
  2. No Regrets (巾帼枭雄之义海豪情)
  3. The Mysteries of Love (谈情说案)
  4. The Rippling Blossom (鱼跃在花见)
  5. Kitchen Diva Louisa (和味苏)
  6. A Fistful of Stances (铁马寻桥)
  7. Beauty Knows No Pain (女人最痛)
  8. Fun With Liza and Gods (荃加福禄寿)
  9. The Men of Justice (法网群英)
  10. Ghost Writer (蒲松龄)
The full list of Next Magazine's award winners can be found at this Asian Fanatics post.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Leehom Wang Wins Most at Malaysia's MY Astro Awards

(Leehom Wang has his hands full with awards at the MY Astro Music Awards)

American-born Leehom Wang (王力宏, pinyin: Wáng Lìhóng) picked up six awards at the MY Astro Music Awards held in Kuala Lumpur on 26 March. Other big winners were Taiwan's queen of pop Jolin Tsai (蔡依林, pinyin: Cài Yīlín), and Taiwanese boy band Fahrenheit (飞轮海, pinyin: Fēilúnhǎi). The MY Astro Awards are organised by Astro, one of Malaysia's largest satellite TV networks, and MY FM radio station, and were held for just the second time.

Wang took home the major award of the evening, the Annual Best Award (至尊年度大奖), as well as Best Male International Singer, and Best Male Creative Artist. His songs All the Things You Never Know (你不知道的事) and Bo Ya Cuts the Strings (伯牙绝弦) - both from the movie Love in Disguise which the multi-talented Wang directed and starred in - were amongst the 25 Golden Melody Songs, and he also picked up an award for Best Producer.

Jolin Tsai's awards included Best Female International Singer, Best Dance Song for Honey Trap (美人计), and two songs in the Golden Melody Songs - Honey Trap and Love Player (玩爱之徒). Fahrenheit were named Best Band and Best Professional Performance, and also had two songs in the Golden Melody Songs list - Super Hot (太热) and Heartache on Your Heartache (心疼你的心疼).

Awards were also handed out to local stars, and Gary Chaw (曹格, pinyin: Cáo Gé) was named Best Male Malaysian Singer, while Amy Wang (王明丽, pinyin: Wáng Mínglì) won Best Female Malaysian Singer. Wang, although 30 years old, is a relative newcomer - releasing her first EP in 2009 and her follow-up EP last year. Chaw began his career in 2006 and has gained popularity not just in his country of birth but throughout East Asia. In 2008 he won Best Male Mandarin Singer at Taiwan's prestigious Golden Melody Awards.

The major award winners were as follows (a complete list can be found here, but in Chinese):
Best of the Year: Leehom Wang
Best Male International Singer: Leehom Wang
Best Female International Singer: Jolin Tsai
Best Male Malaysian Singer: Gary Chaw
Best Female Malaysian Singer: Amy Wang
Gold Award for Best Band: Fahrenheit
Best Male Creative Artist: Leehom Wang
Best Female Creative Artist: Lala Hsu (徐佳莹)
Best Album: Eason Chan (陈奕迅) - Time Flies
Best Rock Song: Guardian (守护者) by Y2J (神木与瞳)
Best Dance Song: Honey Trap by Jolin Tsai
Best Love Song: It's Okay To Be Lonely (寂寞寂寞就好) by Hebe Tien (田馥甄)
Best Music Video: You Are Too Savage (你太猖狂) by Hebe Tien
Best New International Act: Alien Huang (黄鸿升)
Best New Malaysian Act: Josh Lai (赖力豪)
Best Professional Performance Award: Fahrenheit
Best TV Theme Song: I Love Him (我爱他) by Della Ding (丁当)
Best Single: Rainbow Family (彩虹的家) by Stephanie & Fyone (刘佩芯、陈慧莹)
Most Popular Singers: Thomas Jack (东于哲)
Best New Interpretation: I'm a Little Bird (我是一只小小鸟) by Della Ding
Best Interpretation: Eason Chan
全台主持联颁至尊歌手(Malaysia): Thomas Jack
全台主持联颁至尊歌手(Internationa): Jolin Tsai
Best Producer: Leehom Wang

25 Golden Melody Songs:
  • World's Most Romantic Song (地球上最浪漫的一首歌) - Alien Huang (黄鸿升)
  • I Love Him (我爱他) - Della Ding (丁当)
  • Fairy Tale (说谎) - Yoga Lin (林宥嘉)
  • Goodbye to Singlehood (再见单身) - Chen Weiquan (陈威全)
  • Grandpa (爷爷) - Gary Chaw (曹格)
  • Back to Back (背对背拥抱) - JJ Lin (林俊杰)
  • All the Things You Never Know (你不知道的事) - Leehom Wang (王力宏)
  • Cry and You'll Be Fine (哭过就好了) - Rachel Liang (梁文音)
  • Desperado - Yise Loo (罗忆诗)
  • Superman Can't Fly (超人不会飞) - Jay Chou (周杰伦)
  • Honey Trap (美人计) - Jolin Tsai (蔡依林)
  • Tourbillon (陀飞轮) - Eason Chan (陈奕迅)
  • Cut Song (切歌) - Sam Lee (李圣杰)
  • Miracle of Love (爱的奇迹) - Thomas Jack (东于哲)
  • If You Can Love Again (如果能重新恋爱) - Zeng Guohui (曾国珲)
  • It's Okay To Be Lonely (寂寞寂寞就好) - Hebe Tien (田馥甄)
  • Nice Guy Card (好人卡) - Hao Ren (朱浩仁)
  • Bo Ya Cuts the Strings (伯牙绝弦) - Leehom Wang (王力宏)
  • Acrophobia (惧高症) - Lala Xu (徐佳莹)
  • Love Player (玩爱之徒) - Jolin Tsai (蔡依林)
  • Super Hot (太热) - Fahrenheit (飞轮海)
  • Forgiveness (宽恕) - Y2J (神木与瞳)
  • Fragile (脆弱) - Kay Tse (谢安琪)
  • Love and Not Love (爱与不爱) - Will Ng (黄威尔)
  • Heartache on Your Heartache (心疼你的心疼) - Fahrenheit (飞轮海)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Farenheit's Aaron Yan Rises to No 1 on Album Charts

Aaron Yan (炎亚纶, pinyin: Yán Yǎlún), a singer in the popular Taiwanese boy band Farenheit (飞轮海), has gone straight to the number 1 position on Taiwan's G Music Album charts with his debut solo record The Next Me (下一个炎亚纶). The new release, an EP, finally displaced Show Luo's Only For You after a marathon five-week stay at the top. The Next Me had an impressive 55.7 percent of all Chinese-language record sales for the week 25 March to 31 March. Show Luo dropped to number 2 on the chart with 7.1 percent of sales.

Yan is the first of the four members from Farenheit to release a solo album. Born in either 1985 or 1986 (depending on which website you read) Yan spent a few years of his childhood in the US before returning to Taiwan to complete his schooling. He started off his entertainment career in 2004, appearing in Taiwanese television dramas before being recruited to the newly-formed Farenheit in 2005. Best-known as the "cute shy one" in the band, his solo foray shows another side to him, including a strip tease on the music video for the title track.

The Next Me is a two-CD EP with CD 1 containing six tracks including the first single, a ballad The Next Me (下一个我) and an instrumental cover, The Truth That You Show, which shows off his piano skills. The second CD contains six live tracks.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

March Flavour of the Month: Mavis Pan

Up until March 16, Mavis Pan (潘霜霜, pinyin: Pān Shuāngshuāng) was a minor model and aspiring actress, best known as a Shu Qi lookalike with a 36D bust. However when phone cell photos were released showing her in bed with Hong Kong's TVB heartthrob Raymond Lam (林峰, pinyin: Lín Fēng), the mainland born Mavis suddenly became a household name. It became news for at that time know one knew Lam was in a relationship. Once the photos were released, an upset Lam admitted that they had once been in an item together but that Lam had called off the relationship months earlier.

Like all good scandals, the revelations didn't stop there. Pan's side quickly counter-claimed that the relationship hadn't ended and indeed Lam had proposed on Valentine's Day. There were further rumours that Lam had visited her Beijing apartment just the day before the photos were exposed. Neither rumour could be confirmed, though gossip magazine Next Magazine, the originally publisher of the photos, showed alleged Valentine's Day photos of the two as a couple.

Then claims were made on the internet that Pan was/is in fact married to a Westerner know only as John. A photo was posted online showing Pan sitting arm in arm with an older Caucasian male, a young boy on her knee. The rumours were contradictory over whether the boy is Pan's son or not - one rumour had them meeting and marrying just two years ago, though the boy is six years old. In any case, Pan's management denied the marriage claims.

Then there was the question of how the photos managed to fall into the hands of Next Magazine. Pan claimed that her mobile phone had been stolen, while Pan's manager put the blame on a sacked personal assistant of Pan's now seeking revenge. Lam's fans on the net took the cynical view, that Pan had leaked the photos herself to gain publicity for her career.

24 year-old Pan was born in Zhejiang province on the mainland and is based in Beijing. She got a big break with her modelling career when she did a photoshoot for online betting agency during the football World Cup in 2008. She made her acting debut in the yet-to-be-released action film Treasure Inn starring big-name Hong Kong stars Nicholas Tse, Nick Cheung and Charlene Choi. Now film production companies are lining up to sign her up for further roles.

China Dominates Asia Rainbow TV Awards

No posts for some time, due to a few weeks' stay in hospital. But I'm now in recovery mode and can resume blogging - and there's a few news items to catch up on over the next few days.

Zhou Yun and Chen Jianbin with their Best Actor awards

We'll begin with the Asia Rainbow TV Awards which were held back on 22 March. The awards, held for the first time, were dominated by Chinese shows and actors. Best Modern Drama was awarded to A Beautiful Daughter-in-law Era (媳妇的美好时代), a family drama which focuses on the relationship between mother and daughter-in-law, a sometimes rocky relationship in Chinese society.

A Chinese production also won in the Best Action Drama category, A Legend of Shaolin Kung Fu: Heroes in Trouble (少林寺传奇). In the Best Comedy category, the award went to the Taiwanese romantic comedy Hi My Sweetheart (海派甜心) starring pop superstars Show Luo and Rainie Yang. The only category in which Chinese productions missed out was Best Historical Drama - won by Japan's The Pleiades. The Chinese nomination, Three Kingdoms (三国) may have failed to win the Historical Drama award, but compensated with the Jury Grand Award for Television Drama Program.

Chinese actors were also to the fore at the ceremony. 40 year old mainland actor Chen Jianbin (陈建斌), a regular in Chinese TV dramas, was named Best Actor in a Drama for his portrayal of the famous warlord and military strategist Cao Cao in Three Kingdoms. Rising actress Zhou Yun (周韵), who had small but important roles in the blockbusters Let the Bullets Fly and Bodyguards and Assassins, took home Best Actress in a Drama. She was recognised for her performance in the popular drama Golden Anniversary of a Stormy Romance.

The two co-stars of the mainland show Marriage Battle (婚姻保卫战), Huang Lei (黄磊) and Ma Yili (马伊琍), were named Best Actor and Best Actress in a Comedy respectively. Huang made his acting debut back in 1991 in the Chen Kaige film Life on a String, in which he played the blind apprentice Chinese lute player. In 1996 he was awarded Best Supporting Actor at the Changchun Film Festival for The Phantom Lover, and is twice Best Actor winner at the Golden Phoenix television awards.

34 year old Ma first came to Chinese TV viewers' attention with her appearance in the 1997 idol drama Black Hole. She became a bona fide star with her leading role in the third series of the historical drama Princess Returning Pearl in 2002, and followed up with another hit historical series, Residence of the Qiao Family. In 2007 she starred in the modern drama, Struggle, and in the same year was awarded Best Actress at the Changchun Film Festival for The Good Man. She then took an extended break from acting when she gave birth to her first child, a daughter. Marriage Battle marked her return to the small screen.

The full list of award winners can be found at the official Asia Rainbow TV Awards website.

Monday, March 21, 2011

China's Oriental Film Festival Awards

The 2011 Oriental Film Festival Awards (2011东方影视盛典), which honour achievements in both film and television, were held at the Beijing National Aquatic Centre last week. The awards are organised jointly by Shanghai TV, Shanghai Oriental Media Group and Oriental TV, and recognise both popular and critical success in the film and television industry over the past year.

In the category of Most Outstanding Film of the Year (年度最具价值电影), the award was taken by the mainland box office hit Let the Bullets Fly (让子弹飞). The action comedy, directed by Jiang Wen and starring Wen alongside Chow Yun-Fat and Ge You, earlier this year became the highest grossing Chinese film of all time. It is also up for multiple nominations at the Asian Film Awards.

Most Outstanding TV series of the Year was given to Three Kingdoms (三国), the big budget series based on the classic Chinese novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The 95 episode series was directed by Gao Xixi (高希希 - pictured left, and looking decidely underwhelmed with his awards), who also picked up an award for Best TV Drama Director (电视剧年度最具实力导演). Feng Xiaogang (冯小刚), who in 2010 directed the earthquake film Aftershock and the romantic comedy If You Are The One 2, was awarded Most Outstanding Film Director.

In the acting awards, Hong Kong martial arts star Donnie Yen (甄子丹, pinyin: Zhēn Zǐdān) was named Most Outstanding Asian Movie Star. 2010 was another big year for the action hero, starring in Bodyguards and Assassins, Ip Man 2, 14 Blades (a hit with the public if not with critics), and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen. In the latter film, as well as starring Yen was also the action director. Nicholas Tse (谢霆锋, pinyin: Xiè Tíngfēng), who last year won Best Supporting Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards for his performance in Bodyguards and Assassins, and who in 2010 also appeared in the rom-com Hot Summer Days and the crime thriller The Stool Pigeon, was named Most Outstanding Hong Kong-Taiwan Actor.

Mainland actor Sun Honglei (孙红雷), who appeared in If You Are The One 2 and the comedy Welcome to Shamatown was named Most Outstanding Film Actor. Xu Fan (徐帆), wife of Aftershock director Feng Xiaogang, and who impressed with her performance as a grieving mother in that film, was awarded Most Outstanding Film Actress.

Most Outstanding TV Actor was given to Wu Xiubo (吴秀波) who acts predominantly on the small screen in China. Last year he appeared in several popular drama series, including Before the Dawn (for which he has already won a Most Popular Actor award at the National Drama Awards) and Shanghai, Shanghai. Hai Qing (海清), who starred in A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era, Dwelling Narrowness and also Before the Dawn, was awarded Most Outstanding TV Actress.

An article on the 163 news portal (but in Chinese) provides a list of some of the award winners. I think there were also several Most Popular Actor/Actress awards handed out as well, and if I can track down a list I'll post them later.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lover's Discourse Wins Top Prize at Osaka Festival

A Hong Kong movie, Lover's Discourse (恋人絮语) was awarded the Grand Prize at the recently completed 5th Annual Osaka Asia Film Festival. The romantic drama explores contemporary relationships between the sexes through four separately told but intertwined stories. The film is co-directed by the son of Hong Kong veteran funny man Eric Tsang, Derek Tsang (曾国祥), making his directing debut. The film's other director, Jimmy Wan (尹志文), also a first-time director, is best-known for his writing credits.

Lover's Discourse stars current King of Cantopop (and no slouch either when it comes to acting), Eason Chan (陈奕迅, pinyin: Chén Yìxùn) alongside Vancouver-born Karena Lam (林嘉欣, pinyin: Lín Jiāxīn), and their relationship is the focus of the story's first episode. Singer Kay Tse (谢安琪, pinyin: Xiè Anqí), although still a newcomer to acting - Lover's Discourse is just her third role - impresses as a shy laundry worker with a crush on a customer (Taiwan idol Eddie Peng - 彭于晏, pinyin: Péng Yúyàn) in the second story.

The third story stars director Tsang's famous father Eric Tsang (曾志伟, pinyin: Zēng Zhìwěi) alongside Singaporean singing star from the 90s Kit Chan (陈洁仪, pinyin: Chén Jiéyí). Jacky Heung (向佐, pinyin: Xiàng Zuǒ) - another son of a famous Hong Kong film luminary - appears in both the third and fourth episode, appearing in the latter alongside singer-actress Mavis Fan (范晓萱, pinyin: Fàn Xiǎoxuān).

The film gets a positive review at the Love HK Film website, though Film Business Asia's reviewer is not so impressed. Lover's Discourse was overlooked for a Best Film nomination at the upcoming Hong Kong Film Awards, although the theme song - penned by Mavis Fan - is a nominee for Best Song.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Asia Rainbow TV Awards Nominees Announced

The inaugural Asia Rainbow TV Awards (亚洲彩虹奖电视颁奖礼), organised by the Hong Kong Television Professionals Association (HKTVA) will be held on 22 March. There will be 24 awards in the following four main categories: TV series; variety shows; documentaries; and animation. Thirteen countries will be competing in the awards, and last week the organisers announced the nominees.

In the TV Series categories it was mainland China that led the way in nominations. It has one nomination in the Best Historical Drama category, Three Kingdoms (三国). In the Modern Drama category, A Beautiful Daughter-in-law Era (媳妇的美好时代) has been nominated, while Marriage Battle (婚姻保卫战) has been nominated for Best Comedy. In the Best Action Drama category, two of the three nominees were from mainland China - The Legend of Bruce Lee (李小龙传奇) and A Legend of Shaolin Kung Fu: Heroes in Trouble (少林寺传奇). The only Taiwanese show nominated in the TV series categories was Hi My Sweetheart (海派甜心) for Best Comedy, while Hong Kong series missed out completely.

Unfortunately there's a little glitch with the official website, and the names of the actor nominees aren't available. The best I can come up with is that Hong Kong actors Pakho Chau (周柏豪, pinyin: Zhōu Bǎiháo) and Ella Koon (官恩娜, pinyin: Guān Ennuó) from the RTHK comedy Room to Let (有房出租) are up for nominations in the Best Comedy Actor and Actress categories. Also nominated for Best Comedy Actor and Actress are Taiwan's Show Luo (罗志祥, pinyin: Luó Zhīxiáng) and Rainie Yang (杨丞琳, pinyin: Yáng Chénglín) who both starred in Hi My Sweetheart. Mainland actor Huang Lei (黄磊) is another Best Comedy Actor contender for Marriage Battle.

Mainland actors Hu Jun (胡军) in Golden Anniversary of a Stormy Romance (金婚风雨情) and Chen Jianbin (陈建斌) for his portrayal of the famous general Cao Cao in Three Kingdoms are contenders for Best Actor in a Drama Series. Actress Zhou Yun (周韵) in Golden Anniversary of a Stormy Romance is competing for Best Actress.

And for fans of TVB series wondering where are their favourites amongst the nominations, the Hong Kong network has shunned the Asia Rainbow TV Awards because they didn't have time in their busy schedule to submit any nominations.

An incomplete list of nominees can be found at the offical website (link above).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Rippling Blossom's Ratings Bloom

Hong Kong's TVB had its first major hit TV series of the year with the screening of the modern love story, The Rippling Blossom (鱼跃在花见). The film stars actor-singer Julian Cheung (张智霖, pinyin: Zhāng Zǐlín) as a masterchef of Japanese cuisine and heir to a Hong Kong sushi restaurant. Although Cheung has a big fan base his TV roles have been rare over recent years as acting takes a back seat to his singing career.

Other stars in the series are Michael Tse (谢兴华, pinyin: Xiè Xīnghuá) as his half-brother and rival, and Myolie Wu (胡杏儿, pinyin: Hú Xìng'ér) and Tavia Yeung (杨怡, pinyin: Yáng Yí) as the love interests. (Both actresses were recently featured in an article by Hong Kong's The Sun newspaper as future Fa Dans or TV divas.) The series also features veteran actor-director Damien Lau (刘松仁, pinyin: Liú Sōngrén) as a Japan-based chef known as the God of Fish.

Although the storyline follows the well-worn route of TVB's family business dramas with their sibling rivalry and double-crossing, The Rippling Blossom started strongly in the ratings. It not only kept its initial audience but also continued to build in viewer numbers. The 20-episode series commenced on 7 February, and its first week of screening attracted a healthy average rating of 29. Each subsequent week its ratings grew by an additional point, and its final two episodes had an average of 34, peaking at 38. This makes it the highest rating series so far on TVB this year, although of course we're not even a quarter of the way into the year.

As well as the strong cast, the series' appeal no doubt was also due to the beautiful scenery, with a substantial part of the story taking place in Japan in autumn and winter. Numerous cooking and eating scenes also left viewers' mouths watering, and Julian Cheung may have stamped himself as an early front-runner for this year's My Favourite Actor awards. For those interested, here's an informative review from Chen's Just Me blog.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Who Will Succeed Charmaine Sheh as TVB Fa Dan?

TVB's reigning Fa Dan - Charmaine Sheh

Hong Kong television actress Charmaine Sheh (佘诗曼, pinyin: Shé Shīmàn) has for the past decade being the number one star at TVB, Hong Kong's premier TV network. She has earned the title Fa Dan (best translated as "diva" and given to actresses whose popularity guarantees them the best roles), and is a six-time winner at the TVB Awards in the Favourite TV Character category. A former runner-up in the Miss Hong Kong Pageant, the 35 year old has appeared in some of TVB's most popularly-acclaimed series, including War and Beauty (2004), Maiden's Vow (2006), Beyond the Realm of Conscience (2009) and last year's Can't Buy Me Love. However last month Sheh announced that she would not be renewing her TVB contract in April, with rumours that she would take up acting opportunities in mainland China.

Sheh's departure has now fuelled speculation on who will replace her as TVB's number one star. One article, in Hong Kong's The Sun newspaper and translated in this Asian Fanatics Forum post, has nominated five possible successors to her Fa Dan title: Fala Chen, Kate Tsui, Tavia Yeung, Linda Chung and Myolie Wu.

29 year old Fala Chen (陈法拉, pinyin: Chén Fǎlā) was born in Chengdu before moving to the United States when she was 15 years old. After winning several titles in the US beauty pageant circuit she took part in the Miss China International pageant in 2005 in Hong Kong where she was a runner-up. Despite missing out on the crown, it led to a contract with TVB and she made her acting debut in the 2006 series Forensic Heroes. She appeared in TVB's biggest series of 2007, Heart of Greed, and in the same year won Best Supporting Actress at the TVB Awards for her performance in Steps. In 2008 she appeared in another major TVB hit, Moonlight Resonance, and also 2010's Best Drama Series, Can't Buy Me Love, for which she was nominated in My Favourite Female Character category. She also won her second Best Supporting Actress award in 2010, for No Regrets which was Hong Kong's highest rating series last year.

Kate Tsui (徐子珊, pinyin: Xú Zǐshān) is another beauty pageant graduate, winning the 2004 Miss Hong Kong title. She has appeared in hit series La Femme Desperado (2006 and Hong Kong's answer to Desperate Housewives) and Moonlight Resonance (2008), and in 2007 won the TVB Awards Most Improved Actress award for On The First Beat and Steps. The 31 year old however tends to divide audiences with her sexy roles, which more conservative viewers consider a little unsuitable for a true Fa Dan. She has also embarked on a singing career, again with divided opinions about her ability.

Probably the leading candidate for future Fa Dan is Tavia Yeung (杨怡, pinyin: Yáng Yí). The 31 year old actress began her career in 1999 after graduating from a TVB training school. She started off in minor roles before attracting attention for her performance in The Awakening Story in 2001, and Eternal Happiness the year after. In 2003 she won Most Improved Actress at the TVB Awards, and has since appeared in many of TVB's most popular and awarded TV series. In 2008 she was awarded Best Supporting Actress for Moonlight Resonance, then followed it up a year later with Best Performance of the Year for both Sweetness in the Salt and Beyond the Realm of Conscience. She's currently starring in TVB's highest rating series so far of 2011, The Rippling Blossom.

Former winner of the Miss China International Pageant in 2004, Linda Chung (钟嘉欣, pinyin: Zhōng Jiāxīn) is the youngest on the list at 26 years old. Although born and raised in Canada, she moved to Hong Kong to pursue an acting career, and with just her third series role, Always Ready, she was named Most Improved Actress at the 2006 TVB Awards. The following year she was again awarded Most Improved Actress for two shows, The Biter Bitten and Forensic Heroes. She has also been nominated in the Favourite Female Character category in three of the past four years: Heart of Greed (2007), Legend of the Demigods (2008) and Can't Buy Me Love (2010).

Tavia Yeung's main contender for the successor title may be Myolie Wu (胡杏儿, pinyin: Hú Xìng'ér). Born in Hong Kong but educated in Northern Ireland, the 31 year old is yet another actress to break into the Hong Kong TV business via a beauty pageant, finishing runner-up in the Miss Hong Kong content in 1999. Her early career looked promising, winning TVB's Most Improved Actress for Golden Faith, and coming close to winning Best Actress in 2005 for Wars of In-Laws (she lost out to her co-star Linda Wang). The following year she was again in the top five nominees for Best Actress for To Grow With Love, a role for which she reportedly put on 50 pounds. Wu was particularly good in comedies, but her career has fallen away a bit in recent years with few stand-out roles. She is another who also polarises viewers' opinions regarding her acting skills. Her appearance in this year's hit series The Rippling Blossom may see her career on the rise again.

Monday, March 7, 2011

2011 HK Directors Guild Four-Way Tie for Top Prize

The Hong Kong Film Directors Guild had their annual Spring Banquet and Awards Ceremony on March 5, and were unable to find a clear winner for their Most Recommended Film of 2010 award. Honours were shared between the historical adventure film Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (狄仁杰之通天帝国), the detective thriller The Stool Pigeon (线人), the retro kung fu comedy Gallants (打擂台) and the romantic comedy Love in a Puff (志明与春娇). The directors were similarly undecided on their Best Director award - it was shared by three of the Most Recommend Film directors, Detective Dee's Tsui Hark (徐克), Stool Pigeon's Dante Lam (林超贤) and Love in a Puff's Pang Ho-cheung (彭浩翔).

The Directors Guild doesn't hand out Best Actor gongs, but instead acknowledges new acting talent. Its 2010 New Actor Gold Prize went to Dennis To Yu-hang (杜宇航, pinyin: Dù Yǔháng - pictured left) who played the title role in the martial arts biopic The Legend is Born - Ip Man. The 30 year old To has been hailed as a natural successor to the current martial arts leading man Donnie Yen, to whom To also has a remarkable physical resemblance. He has also made appearances in Ip Man, Ip Man 2 and Bodyguards and Assassins, but The Legend is Born is his first starring role.

Silver Prize was given to Jennifer Tse (谢婷婷, pinyin: Xiè Tíngtíng), who co-starred in another kung fu biopic, Bruce Lee, My Brother. 23 year old Tse, also known as Tse Ting-ting, is the sister of the popular Hong Kong actor Nicholas Tse, and daughter of another famous Hong Kong actor-director, Patrick Tse. Bruce Lee, My Brother was her screen debut, playing Bruce Lee's girlfriend. She began her career as a model. Also from Bruce Lee, My Brother, Singapore singer, songwriter and record producer now turned actor Hanjin Tan (陈奂仁, pinyib: Chén Huànrén) was awarded the Bronze Prize.

The Directors Guild Award for 2010 New Director was given to Felix Chong (庄文强) for the action-comedy Once a Gangster. The 43 year old Chong had previously been a writer for some recent Hong Kong classics such as the Infernal Affairs trilogy, Confessions of Pain and Overheard. Once a Gangster is his directing debut.

The Directors Guild also handed out an honourary award to veteran martial arts star and director Sammo Hung (洪金宝, pinyin: Hóng Jīnbǎo). The 59 year old star, known for his big build and surprisingly agile martial arts skills, went to the same China Drama Academy as Jackie Chan and like Chan began as a child actor. His acting credits include Iron-Fisted Monk, Project A, The Prodigal Son, Pedicab Driver and SPL.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Yao Chen - China's Most Popular Microblogger

It's probably the only thing they share in common but Lady Gaga and Chinese TV actress Yao Chen (姚晨) have the most followers on their respective microblogging services. Lady Gaga has long been recognised as Twitter's number 1 in terms of followers with over 8 million fans. In China however, where Twitter is officially banned if not entirely blocked, its Weibo that rules the microbloggersphere, and Yao Chen is the Queen of Weibo. Weibo, which is very similar in features to Twitter, is owned by Sina Corporation, China's biggest web portal. Although the social networking site was launched only 18 months ago, it already has an estimated 100 million users.

It's not entirely clear why Yao Chen has garnered such a large following. She's hardly a so-called "idol star" with a devoted and fanatical teenage fan-base, but rather a 31 year old respected TV actress. One explanation is that she interacts more than most celebrity bloggers with her followers. The frequency of her posts - often as much as 10 a day - is another factor. She was the first Weibo user to gain 1 million followers mid last year, and that number has since climbed to almost 6.4 million. Currently she is the 7th most popular microblogger in the world, but will most likely leap-frog Twitter users like Ashton Kutcher and Kim Kardashian over the coming weeks/months.

Yao Chen first came to prominence in the hit TV series My Own Swordsman in 2006. The martial arts comedy was one of the most popular TV series of that year and made her a star. In 2009 she starred in another hit series, the spy drama Lurk set in 1945, her performance winning her several acting awards. She is set to star in the movie version of My Own Swordsman this year.

In second place on Weibo's most popular list is Taiwan's TV host and actress, Dee Hsu (徐熙娣, pinyin: Xú Xīdì). She hosts the popular comedy talk show Here Comes Kangxi, and before that co-hosted 100% Entertainment with her older sister, Barbie Hsu. Known simply as Xiao S (or Little S), Hsu is often outspoken in her views, including those posted on Weibo. She currently has 5.47 million followers, which now puts her in the top ten global microbloggers. Just last week she added an additional 168,000 fans, and so it seems it's only a matter of time before she too reaches the 6 million mark.

Just behind Hsu is popular movie actress Zhao Wei (赵薇) with 5.3 million followers, and she too is on the verge of breaking into the global Top Ten list. The most popular Hong Kong blogger on Weibo is the singer-actress Gigi Leung (梁咏琪, pinyin: Liáng Yǒngqí). Again, her popularity might be considered surprising, as her acting career probably reached its pinnacle in 1996 with the hit romantic comedy Feel 100%, and she is also reportedly struggling to fill concert halls on her current singing tour. She has around 3.25 million followers, although that number received a further boost after her microblogging exploits were featured in a Wall Street Journal article.

The most recent numbers for microblog followers can be found at this The Independent on Sunday post.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Night Market Hero Breaks NT$100 Million Barrier

Taiwanese comedy drama Night Market Hero (鸡排英雄) has become just the third local film to earn over NT$100 million (US$3.4 million) at the Taiwanese box office. The film is the debut work of director Yeh Tien-lun and stars several actors who although largely unknown outside Taiwan are familiar faces from Taiwanese television. They include TV host Chu Ko-Liang, model turned actor Blue Lan Cheng-Lung, Ke Jia-Yan, and TV presenter and surprise pop star Lotus Wang.

Night Market Hero was released during the Spring Festival holiday period which would have boosted its ticket sales, although it also opened up against the formidable presence of Jay Chou's Green Hornet. The movie's producers, which include the Taiwan branch of 20th Century Fox, were clearly hoping to emulate the success of the Hong Kong Spring Festival comedies which are almost an institution in that city. However unlike the lightweight Hong Kong froth usually served up for New Year, Night Market Hero also contains a harder edge with a storyline that targets political and bureaucratic corruption.

Night Market Hero has in the period up to the end of February earned over NT$110 million, making it the third highest grossing local film ever at the Taiwan box office. Those takings still fall well short of the record box office return from the 2008 romance Cape No.7, which earned NT$530 million, and the gangster hit of last year Monga (NT$258 million).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

February Flavour of the Month: Barbie Hsu

Barbie Hsu (徐熙媛, pinyin: Xú Xīyuàn), Taiwanese actress and TV show host, had a busy February that included a wedding announcement, a retirement and an award (albeit of the wrong kind).
Barbie Hsu in (Photoshopped) wedding dress - thanks Xinmin website

Earlier last month Hsu announced a wedding date for her marriage to multi-millionaire restaurateur Wang Xiaofei - to be held in the Chinese resort city of Sanya on Hainan island on March 22. It's actually the second ceremony for the two; in November last year they also got married, but in a low-key affair in Beijing almost immediately after announcing their engagement. Low-key understates it - not even the couple's parents attended the civil ceremony. The second ceremony will be much more extravagant, with Wang reportedly planning to spend NT$2.5 million (or US$85,000) on the occasion.

The Mainland-born Wang is an executive director with the restaurant chain South Beauty Restaurants. His father is the founder and chairman of the group, a business that reportedly has a net worth of NT$11.5 billion. The 29 year old Wang certainly has a way with the women. Previous girlfriends include actresses Zhang Ziyi and Kitty Zhang, and he can now add Hsu to the list of photogenic conquests.

Soon after the wedding announcement, Barbie Hsu also revealed that she would take a break from movies for an indefinite period. She said that she hoped to have children soon, adding fuel to the rumours that she is already pregnant. Those rumours first surfaced after her surprise engagement announcement in October last year and subsequent hasty initial marriage. Although Hsu has said she won't be making any movies or TV shows, she hasn't closed the door on lucrative TV commercials. She is already a serial endorser of products and services; Wikipedia's entry on her lists 21 brands that she promotes.

Not everyone will mourn the halt to her acting career. The Golden Broom awards, China's equivalent to the Golden Raspberries, last month nominated Hsu in the Most Disappointing Actress category. Hsu wasn't nominated for just one performance but three: Future X-Cops, Adventure of the King, and Reign of Assassins. I haven't seen the first two so can't comment, although she has already won a Golden Donkey, Taiwan's version of the Golden Raspberries, for Adventure of the King. The nomination for Reign of Assassins however seems a bit harsh, but unfortunately for Hsu, she has built a reputation over the years. Say the name Barbie Hsu and Chinese almost inevitably comment on her bad acting, and at times it seems like an almost knee-jerk reaction.

Hsu started her showbiz career initially as a singer, in a girl group called ASOS with her younger sister Dee Hsu. The two went on to acheive greater fame as co-hosts of the Taiwanese TV variety show, 100% Entertainment, a gig they held from 1998 to 2005. Hsu's career really took off in 2001 when she starred in the hit Taiwanese idol drama Meteor Garden and its sequel Meteor Garden II the following year. She is a regular on the FHM's Sexiest Women in the World lists and was also voted one of PETA's Sexiest Vegetarians in 2009.
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