Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Zhou Xun wins best female actor at Asian Film Awards

Chinese mainland actress, Zhou Xun (周迅), was awarded Best Actress at the Asian Film Awards on Monday evening. She won for her performance in the romantic drama The Equation of Love and Death, beating out amongst others her compatriots Zhao Wei (nominated for Painted Skin) and Jiang Wenli (And the Spring Comes).

The Asian Film Awards are presented by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society as part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival; this is just the third year of the awards. The other Chinese winner in the main categories was 16 year-old Yu Shao Qun, who played legendary Peking Opera star Mei Lanfang as a boy in Forever Enthralled.

Two Chinese films were nominated for Best Picture, Forever Enthralled and the historical epic Red Cliff, but both missed out to the Japanese production Tokyo Sonata. Chinese directors Feng Xiaogang (If You Are the One) and John Woo (Red Cliff) were nominees in the Best Director category, but Japanese director Kore-Eda Hirokazu took the prize for Still Walking. China's lone nominee in the Best Actor category, Ge You (If You Are the One), also had to take second place to the Japanese, Motoki Masahiro who starred in the Oscar-winning Departures.

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

The ERS China Top Ten Awards

Jane Zhang poses with her awards including Best Female Pop Singer at the ERS Awards

The ERS awards, organised by the Shanghai Media Group, are described - a little inelegantly - by the Xinhua news service as "one of the most influential pop music ranking for lyrics in Chinese on Chinese mainland". The 16th edition of the awards were handed out last week. The two main awards - for Best Male Pop Singer and Best Female Pop Singer - went to Sun Nan (孙楠) and Jane Zhang (张靓颖 Zhang Liangying) respectively.

Sun Nan, a veteran of the mainland Chinese pop scene, was a predictable winner. Last year was an especially productive year for him. He sang one of the theme songs for last year's Beijing Olympics, a duet with Coco Lee called "Forever Friends", as well as perhaps the best-known of the songs written to raise funds for the Sichuan earthquake relief effort, titled Sheng Si Bu Li (Be Together Alive or Not). Sun Nan has been churning out popular songs for well on twenty years, from his first chart success with the patriotic song called "Red Flag". He's best-known for his love ballads, several of which he wrote himself.

Jane Zhang first came to the public's attention with her appearance on the talent quest program Super Girls in 2005. The hugely popular program is based on the American Idol concept with winners decided by TV viewers' votes. Zhang was second runner-up in the show's second season, and has since gone on to record three solo albums.

Pop duo and perennial award-winners Yu Quan (羽·泉) were named Best Group while Thin Man (瘦人 Shou Ren) won the Best Band award.

There were also special awards for singers from each of the main Chinese-speaking regions. The mainland China award went to Anson Hu, and Show Luo was Taiwan's winner. Joey Yung was the Hong Kong recipient, halting the previous male dominance in this category. Special regional awards also went to JJ Lin from Singapore, and Gary Chaw from Malaysia.

The ERS Awards also listed their 10 Golden Melodies of 2008. They were as follows:
  • 金海心《女人们的咖啡Jin Haixin, Women's Coffee
  • 弦子《舍不得》、Xian Zi, Reluctant
  • 胡彦斌《巴黎铁塔》、Anson Hu (Hu Yanbin), Eiffel Tower
  • 王凡瑞《我是绽放的花》、Wang Fanrui, I am a Blossoming Flower
  • 王筝水木年华《没有人比我更爱你》、Wang Zheng and Shuimu Nianhua, No One Loves You More than I Do
  • 蒲巴甲《爱就是那样简单》、Purba Rgyal (Pubajia), Love is So Simple
  • 尚雯婕羽泉《信以为真》、Shang Wenjie and Yu Quan, Believe
  • 张靓颖《Heroes》、Jane Zhang, Heroes
  • 满文军《鸢尾花》、Man Wenjun, Iris
  • 小柯《北京欢迎你》Various, Beijing Welcomes You (lyricist Xiao Ke)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Moonlight Resonance awarded Next Magazine TV's Best TV Program of 2008

A drama series set in the cutthroat world of the mooncake industry (!) was named Hong Kong's Top TV Program from last year in the Next Magazine TV Awards. The Hong Kong produced Moonlight Resonance (溏心風暴之家好月圓) was shown on TVB in the second half of last year, and ended up being the station's highest ever rating series, reaching a peak of 50 rating points in its climatic episode. The show also picked up 18 nominations at the TVB Anniversary Awards, and took out six awards including Best Drama, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Ha Yu 夏雨), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Michelle Yim 米雪), and Best Supporting Actress (Tavia Yeung 杨怡).

Moonlight Resonance is a kind of sequel to the 2007 hit series Heart of Greed, in that it featured most of the same cast members and was set against the backdrop of a family business (in Heart of Greed it was abalones not mooncakes). In a nutshell, a family is torn apart by the evil machinations of Michelle Yim who seduces the family patriarch, bringing on a divorce, then spends the rest of the series turning other family members against each other. The series has murder, blackmail, bribery, miscarriages and abortions, adultery and even a romance between adopted siblings.

Next Magazine also named its Top Ten TV Artists of 2008, headed by one of Moonlight Resonance's stars, Raymond Lam (林峯 Lin Feng). Lam played the dissipated eldest son who fights a gambling addiction, has an affair with his boss and gets diagnosed with a possibly terminal illness.

Lam is one of Hong Kong's most popular TV actors. He was nominated for Best Actor at the TVB Anniversary Awards for his role in Moonlight Resonance, losing out to co-star Ha Yu, but was awarded Favourite Male Character Role. This year he was also awarded Best Actor in a Drama Series at the Asian Television Awards, for another 2008 TV series, The Master of Tai Chi. Lam in recent years has also begun a successful singing career.

Number 2 on Next TV's Top Ten Artists is Ada Choi (蔡少芬 Cai Shaofen), who has been appearing in TVB drama productions since the early 1990s. Last year she starred in the series The Gem of Life, which was also number two in Next Magazine's Best TV Programs list.

The following website, Simply Fungyi, devoted to all things Raymond Lam and Tavia Yeung, has a full list of the Next Magazine Top Ten TV Programs and Top 10 TV Artists. (By my count six of the top ten actors appeared in Moonlight Resonance, showing the program's dominance last year).

Forbes names Yao Ming China's biggest celebrity...again

Every March Forbes magazine publishes its list of mainland China's top ten celebrities, and this year, for the sixth year in a row, Houston Rockets basketball star Yao Ming was ranked number one. The magazine compiles its ratings based on a combination of press coverage, commercial value and web hits.

Athletes fill four of the top five positions, reflecting no doubt sport's global appeal unhindered by cultural or language barriers. The only non-athlete in the top five was film star Zhang Ziyi at number two. Another NBA basketballer Yi Jianlian, who used to play for the Milwaukee Bucks but now plays for a New York team which I'm too lazy to google, came in third, Olympic diving queen Guo Jingjing was next, followed by track star Liu Xiang.

The bottom half of the top ten are all actors. Jet Li, a familiar name in the West, came in at number six, followed by four female stars. Zhao Wei, Fan Bingbing and Li Bingbing were amongst the seven "shining stars" listed in a China Radio International web article last month, while Zhou Xun was in a string of well-received movies last year including Painted Skin and The Equation of Love and Death.

Forbes confines its rankings to those born on the mainland, so no Jackie Chan (born in Hong Kong) or Taiwan's Jay Chou.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Leehom Wang back at Number 1

Leehom Wang (王力宏 Wang Lihong) made a return to the number one position on G-Music's album chart for the week 27 February to 5 March. His album Heart.Beat (心·跳) displaced Show Luo's Trendy Man, which had held the top position for one week. Previously Heart.Beat had been at number one for two weeks.

Leehom Wang is American-Taiwanese, born and raised in New York state. He began his professional singing career in 1995, and has since released thirteen CDs. His music style has been a mixture of pop and R&B, but Heart.Beat marks a departure with a more rock-influenced sound in several of the songs. There are still, however, the obligatory pop ballads like the title track and Everything.

Heart.Beat was released at the end of last year, and has been in the charts ever since. Trendy Man dropped to number 6 position in the charts. The G-Music charts are listed here (in Chinese) and are based on weekly retail sales.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Super Band Tour Begins on Saturday

Super Band performing live (photo courtesy of Hunan TV)

A Taiwanese super group, comprised of four of Taiwan's biggest rock and pop legends, begin their tour of greater China, starting with Taipei on Saturday. The super group calls itself Super Band, an English name I'd prefer to credit to deadpan humour rather than a lack of imagination. (Actually the Chinese name, 纵贯线 Zong Guan Xian is the name of the main railway line in Taiwan). Super Band is made up of four veterans of the Taiwan music scene - Luo Dayou, Zhou Huajian, Jonathan Lee and the relatively younger Zhang Zhenyue (who's still been around for 15 years). In April they will commence their mainland tour with concerts in Beijing, Hangzhou, Xi'an, Chongqing and Chengdu.

The band's formation was announced back in the middle of last year, and they released a single, Desperado (亡命之途) in August. Last month they appeared on CCTV's New Year Gala show, the most watched show of the year on Chinese TV. The group has said Super Band is just a one-off project that will probably disband later this year.

Luo Dayou (罗大佑) is one of China's foremost singer-songwriters. Born in Taipei, his career began in the early 1980s, and his early records, sung in a kind of student folk style, were striking for their critical social and political commentary. He's also known for his melodic love songs, and is sometimes referred to as the Godfather of Mandopop. Now in his fifties, his recording output has slowed down in recent years, but he can still sell-out concerts to an increasingly middle-aged audience who grew up with his music.

Zhou Huajian (周华健 and he also has the English name Wakin Chau) was born in Hong Kong but moved to Taiwan in his teens. He began as a pop songwriter before getting an opportunity to record his first album in 1985 when he was 25. He's since released over 40 albums, mostly in Mandarin, but also in Cantonese and English. Known for his smooth, middle-of-the-road style he was awarded Taiwan's Golden Melody Award for Best Male Singer in 1993.

Jonathan Lee (李宗盛 Li Zongsheng) is another singer-songwriting legend in Taiwan music circles, as well as a very successful music producer. Several of his songs - including Song of the Ordinary People, Understanding, and When Love Passes By - are regarded as Mandopop classics. He's also another one to get the nickname "Godfather of Pop".

Zhang Zheyue (张震岳) is also known as A-Yue, and has experimented with different styles in his career, from rock to folk, to dance and hip hop. He has also featured Taiwan aboriginal music in his work. Zhang released his first album in 1993 when he was twenty years old. His first albums were pop-rock, but 2001 marked a change in style with "Orange", a dance album. He has maintained his popularity and critical acclaim through the years, and last year won Best Male Singer (Taiwan and Hong Kong) at China's Music Chart Awards, as well as Best Producer and Best Song Arrangement. He'll take on the drumming duties with the band.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Most Watched HK TV Show Last Week: Super Trio Supreme

Long-running variety/game show Super Trio Supreme (鐵甲無敵獎門人) was TVB's most watched TV program for the week 23 February to 1 March. The show, now nearing the end of its eighth season, is regularly at the top of the ratings charts compiled by CSM Research. Last week it reached 30 points and 1.91 million viewers.

The show, which airs on Sunday nights, is hosted by veteran performer Eric Tsang, along with Chin Ka Lok, Wong Cho Lam and Louis Yuen. Each week different guest celebrities take part and make fools of themselves competing in a series of ridiculous contests.

The second most watched program was the police drama series E.U (學警狙擊). The show runs every week night in the late timeslot of 9:30 to 10:30. Last week, the second week of its 6 week run, it averaged 1.86 million viewers and 29 ratings points.

The latest ratings can be found at the TVB website (in Chinese).

Monday, March 2, 2009

Who are the Four Heavenly Kings?

(from left to right: Aaron Kwok, Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau and Leon Lai, at the 22nd Hong Kong Film Awards in 2003)

The Four Heavenly Kings
(四大天王 Si da tian wang) are Jacky Cheung, Aaron Kwok, Leon Lai and Andy Lau. More accurately, they're the Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop, to distinguish them from the Four Young Heavenly Kings of Mandopop, the New Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop, and so on. The Four Heavenly Kings actually comes from Buddhist theology, and refers to the deities who protect the four corners of the world.

The Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop were given their title in the 1990s, a catchphrase created by Hong Kong television station TVB when they dominated the Hong Kong pop scene. All four of them have also forged successful acting careers.

Jacky Cheung (张学友 Zhang Xueyou) is perhaps the best-loved and most lauded of the four. He has the two best-selling CDs in Hong Kong, as well as the biggest selling Mandarin language album. His many awards include twice Best-Selling Chinese Artist at the World Music Awards, and Radio Television Hong Kong's Golden Needle award for his contributions to the music industry. Although best known for his romantic ballads, Cheung has always been adventurous in trying new music styles including rock and rap. He still remains incredibly popular even after more than 20 years in the music business, and last year completed a year-long World Tour mostly playing to packed houses. His next project is a romantic comedy, Crossing Hennessy, alongside actress Tang Wei.

Andy Lau (刘德华 Liu Dehua) has combined equally successful singing and acting careers. According to Wikipedia he made the Guinness Book of Records in 2000 for "Most Awards Won By a Canto-Pop Male Artist" (292 awards at the time). He was also recognised as the "No.1 Box Office Actor 1985-2005" for the success of his films in terms of box office takings. Both his acting and singing have not been without their critics, yet through his renowned work ethic and determination, he of the Four Heavenly Kings has been the one to remain on top the longest. This year he just released his 58th album Love.Hope, and a new romantic comedy, Look for a Star.

Aaron Kwok's (郭富城 Guo Fucheng) background was in dancing, before breaking into the pop scene in the early 90s. His songs were mainly in the dance-pop style, and he was well-known for his elaborate and energetic live performances, earning him the nickname “Hong Kong’s Michael Jackson”. His singing career began to flounder in the next decade, but he successfully reinvented himself as a serious actor. Shedding his flamboyant pop idol persona, he played some downtrodden and, at least in After This Our Exile, extremely unlikeable characters. In the process he won consecutive Taiwan Golden Horse Awards for Best Actor. His most recent movie, Empire of Silver, has been released to lukewarm reviews. Later this year he will star in the martial arts action film Storm Warriors, a sequel to his 1998 success Storm Riders.

Leon Lai (黎明 Li Ming) reached the peak of his singing popularity in the mid to late 1990s. He won TVB’s Most Popular Male Singer in 1993 and 1995, then commercial radio’s Best Male Artist in 1996 and 1997 as well as runner-up in 1998. He’s best known for his romantic ballads, but had some success venturing into electro-pop. This decade his singing career has taken a back-seat to his acting. Although best suited to simple and likeable roles, he has played some more dramatic performances as well. In 2002 he won Best Actor at the Golden Horse Awards for his acting in Three: Going Home. Most recently he starred as legendary Peking Opera performer Mei Lanfang in Forever Enthralled.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Jay Chou Tops Taiwan's Digital Charts for 2008

KKBOX is a kind of Taiwan Napster, and the most popular music subscription service in Taiwan. It recently released its digital music charts for 2008, giving us an indication of what were the most popular songs in Taiwan for last year.

Jay Chou (周杰伦 Zhou Jielun) topped the singles chart with Where's the Promised Happiness? (说好的幸福呢). It was the second single from his album Capricorn (魔杰座), which incidentally also topped KKBOX's album chart.
Cover of Jay Chou's Capricorn album (Source: Wikipedia)
In second place was Claire Guo (郭靜 or Guo Jing) with the title track from her second album The Next Dawn (下一個天亮). At third position, the Jay Chou influenced pop group Nan Quan Mama (南拳妈妈) with the single Rainy Day (下雨天). Fourth place went to newcomer Xiao Yu (小宇), who began his music career writing song arrangements and providing backing vocals before releasing his debut album last year. Rounding off the top five was Sam Lee ( 李圣杰 Li Shengjie), a ten year veteran of the Mandopop scene with yet another of his love song specialities, A Brief Encounter (擦肩而).

KKBOX's Top 5 Single Downloads in 2008
1. Where's the Promised Happiness? - Jay Chou
2. The Next Dawn - Claire Guo
3. Rainy Day - Nan Quan Mama
4. Finally Said It Out Loud - Xiao Yu
5. A Brief Encounter - Sam Lee
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