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).
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