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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