Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Strong Opening Week for "Nanking! Nanking!" at Box Office

The new war drama Nanking! Nanking! (南京! 南京!, also known as City of Life and Death) which focuses on the Rape of Nanking in 1937, reported strong box office figures for its opening week. According to the Chinese press it grossed 65 million yuan (just under US$10 million) in its first week, while the director, Lu Chuan, said it took 70 million yuan in its first five days.

Although these figures aren't record-breakers - it would be only the seventh highest weekly figures this year - it's still an excellent result for this time of year. Those other films to break the $10 million mark all did so in the peak holiday period of January and early February. By way of comparison, the average takings for the number 1 weekly earners in March, according to Box Office Mojo figures, were $6.8 million.

Besides the impressive box office showing, Nanking! Nanking! is turning out to be one of the most talked about films in China in recent years. The Wall Street Journal blog China Journal reports that one popular website alone,, has over 1,500 audience reviews of the film. Some people worry that the film will create an ugly backlash against the Japanese, while others have criticised it for humanising the Japanese (part of the film is told from a Japanese soldier's perspective). Seventy years on, and this dark episode in Chinese history can still unleash powerful reactions.

Next week there's a few days' national holiday for May Day, so Nanking! Nanking! is likely to record another strong box-office performance. However this time it will compete head-to-head with another Rape of Nanking based film, John Rabe. Although John Rabe is a predominantly German production, and the only well-known Chinese in the international cast is Zhang Jingchu, it has already received plenty of publicity in China because of its subject matter.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Li Yuchun and Show Luo Win Music Radio Awards

It's raining award trophies this month, as we witness a procession of award ceremonies. Music Radio, the nationally broadcast radio station, handed out its gons to the music industry on Sunday. The Music Radio China Top Chart Awards cover a long list of categories, most of them dual awards - one for mainland artists and one for Taiwan and Hong Kong artists.

Best All-Round Female Artist went to former Super Girl winner Li Yuchun (李宇春). Li won the second season of Super Girl back in 2005, a Chinese version of Pop Idol but limited to female contestants only. Her victory was regarded as a triumph of substance over style, as her tomboyish looks and energetic presence didn't fit the traditional mould of female pop stars in China. She has maintained her popularity ever since, and last year she released her third studio album, Youth of China, and at least half a dozen singles.

Show Luo (罗志祥, Luó Zhīxiáng) from Taiwan was named Best All-Round Male Artist, despite not releasing a studio album in 2008 until the last week of December. His major 2008 release was a DVD of his live show, Show on Cruel Stage. Famed for his high-energy dance moves, he also hosts a popular variety show on Taiwanese TV, 100% Entertainment.

Music Radio also gave out eight awards honouring Most Popular and Best individual artists. They were as follows:

  • Most Popular Mainland Female Artist: Li Yuchun
  • Most Popular Mainland Male Artist: Zhang Jie (张杰)
  • Most Popular Hong Kong/Taiwan Female Artist: Elva Hsaio (萧亚轩)
  • Most Popular Hong Kong/Taiwan Male Artist: Show Luo
  • Best Mainland Female Artist: Wang Zheng (王筝)
  • Best Mainland Male Artist: Xu Wei (许巍)
  • Best Hong Kong/Taiwan Female Artist: Fish Leong (梁静茹)
  • Best Hong Kong/Taiwan Male Artist: Wang Leehom (王力宏)
Likewise there were eight awards for Most Popular and Best Bands and Groups. (I think the distinction between bands and groups is that "bands" play instruments whereas "groups" just sing).
  • Most Popular Mainland Band: Yusiyuan Orchestra & BIZ (俞思远&B.i.Z)
  • Most Popular Hong Kong/Taiwan Band: Mayday (五月天)
  • Best Mainland Band: The Honeys (甜蜜的孩子)
  • Best Hong Kong/Taiwan Band: Sodagreen (苏打绿)
  • Most Popular Mainland Group: BoBo (BOBO组合)
  • Most Popular Hong Kong/Taiwan Group: Fahrenheit (飞轮海)
  • Best Mainland Group: Top Combine (至上励合)
  • Best Hong Kong/Taiwan Group: S.H.E
There were two awards given out for albums. Best Mainland Album was awarded to Xu Wei, the veteran rock-pop singer and his 5th studio album Love Like Youth (爱如少年). The Best Hong Kong/Taiwan Album went to Taiwan's rock band Mayday for Poetry of the Day After (後青春期的詩), their eighth studio album in an eleven-year career.

And where's Jay Chou amonst all these music notables, you may well ask? President Chou didn't miss out, collecting the award for Best Selling Artist of the Year.

The 21CN website provides a full list of all the awards, but in Chinese only.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Beida Student Film Festival Goes Populist

"Forever Enthralled" director Chen Kaige holds the Best Film award - is that a golden duck?

The Beijing University Student Film Festival had its 16th Annual Awards on Sunday night, with mainstream films taking the bulk of the awards. Best Film went to Forever Enthralled (Chinese title: 梅兰芳 or Méi Lánfāng), the biopic of Peking Opera legend Mei Lanfang. Chen Kaige's film with its big-name cast was much hyped as one of 2008's blockbusters. It has garnered several Best Film nominations on the festival circuit but up until now has missed out on the big prize.

Martial arts star Donnie Yen (甄子丹, pinyin: Zhēn Zǐdān) won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Kung Fu master Ip Man in the film of the same name. And Zhou Xun (周迅, pinyin: Zhōu Xùn) added another Best Actress award to her collection for her performance as a lovelorn taxi driver in The Equation of Love and Death. She has already won Best Actress at the Asian Film Awards (see my earlier blog entry) for the same role. Zhou is turning out to be a Beida festival favourite: it's the third time she has picked up an award at this festival (she was previously honoured back in 2001 and 2005).

The only award that was a little bit out of left field was Best Director, which went to Zhang Jiarui (章家瑞) for Red River. Red River has only just being released this month, and so has yet to feature in the main award ceremonies held so far. The film, set on the Sino-Vietnam border, is a transnational love story about a Vietnamese migrant woman traumatised by the (American) Vietnam War when she was a girl.

The Festival prides itself on its "student organised, student judged" philosophy; the film festival jury that selects the films for showing is predominantly represented by university students, along with a handful of "experts". In its sixteen year history it has often honoured some avant-guard and non-mainstream films neglected by the big award ceremonies.

The Festival's student audience also gets a vote for their favourite actor, actress and director. Red River's female lead, the talented Zhang Jingchu (張靜初), was named Favourite Actress, and popular mainland comedian Fan Wei (范伟) took out Favourite Actor. Favourite Director went to Wilson Yip (叶伟信) for his work on Ip Man.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another awards show, another big haul for Jay Chou

Last week another music awards show came and went, this one called the Sprite Original Music Awards. I don't know much about it, but I think it stems from a music TV show, and is sponsored by the soft drink Sprite.

Heading the list of multiple award winners was Taiwan superstar Jay Chou (周杰伦, pinyin: Zhōu Jiélún), yet again. He picked up six awards altogether, including Most Popular Male Artist (Asia Pacific), Outstanding Top Album for Capricorn (魔杰座), and the award for Most Illustrious All Round Artist. The latter award shouldn't be confused with Most Honourable Artist and Most Accomplished Artist, both of which went to Harlem Yu (庾澄庆, pinyin: Yú Chéngqìng), a fellow Taiwanese singer-songwriter.

Eason Chan (陈奕迅, pinyin: Chén Yìxùn) took home five awards, including Most Popular Male Artist (Hong Kong) and Most Outstanding Album for Don't Want to Let Go (不想放手). And no, I don't know what the difference is between Jay Chou's Outstanding Top Album award and Eason Chan's Most Outstanding Album.

Charlene Choi (蔡卓妍, Cài Zhuóyán ), one half of the once hugely popular girl duo, Twins, won three awards as her solo career gets off to a good start. She was named Most Popular Female Artist (Hong Kong), and also picked up the Media Award (Hong Kong). Another to take home three statuettes was Singapore's JJ Lin (林俊杰, Lín Jùnjié), including one for a duet he recorded with Charlene Choi, Little Dimples (小酒窩).

The Sina website has an incomplete list of award winners in Chinese, which has been translated at the Asian Fanatics forum. Where are the awards for bands? I can't find a complete list, but according to the Celsius Thoughts blog, Taiwanese boy band Fahrenheit (飞轮海, Fēi Lún Hǎi) won four awards on the night, including Best Group Award (Asia Pacific).

The ceremony also awarded five Golden Songs for 2008. They were:
  • The Road...Has Always Been There (路...一直都在), Eason Chan
  • Rice Aroma (稻香), Jay Chou
  • Your Promise (你的承諾), Ocean
  • Love and Hope (愛與希望), JJ Lin
  • Wedding Invitation Street (囍帖街), Kay Tse

Ip Man Wins HK Best Film

The 28th Hong Kong Film Awards - arguably the most prestigious of Hong Kong's three main film awards - were given out this week, and Best Film went to the martial arts biopic, Ip Man (叶问, pinyin: Yè Wèn). The film, directed by Wilson Yip and starring Donnie Yen in the title role, beat out the historical epic Red Cliff, the ghost story romance Painted Skin, the family drama The Way We Are, and Stephen Chow's sci-fi film CJ7. .

It was also a night when industry veterans trumped the younger stars in the acting categories. The acting prizes were split between The Way We Are and the crime thriller Beast Stalker. Veteran Hong Kong actress Bau Hei-Jing (鲍起静, pinyin: Bào Qǐjìng), who has appeared in a host of films since 1969, mainly in supporting roles, won the Best Actress award for her performance as a working mother in The Way We Are. Another veteran, Chan Lai-Wun, whose career dates back to 1966, won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of an elderly neighbour in the same film.

Best Actor went to Nick Cheung (张家辉, pinyin: Zhāng Jiāhuì) who played a sometimes menacing, sometimes sympathetic villain in Beast Stalker. Cheung has been dividing his 20-year working life between TV, movies and singing, and the award tops of what has been a pretty versatile career. (In the nineties he was better known for his comedy roles, before moving towards more dramatic ones). Another Beast Stalker actor, veteran character-role player Liu Kai-Chi (廖启智. pinyin: Liào Qǐzhì), was named Best Supporting Actor.

Best Director went to Ann Hui (许鞍华, pinyin: Xǔ Ānhuá), the director of The Way We Are. The 61 year-old Hui, who shot the film on HD video, has forged a critically acclaimed career out of simple, realistic docudramas like The Way We Are. This year's award is the third time she has taken the Best Director prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards; her previous wins were for Boat People in 1983 and Summer Snow in 1996. She also collected the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award for Best Director for The Way We Are earlier in the year.

The Hong Kong Film Awards also have a Best Asian Film category. This year it went to Assembly (集结号, pinyin: Jí jié hào), a war film from Mainland China that is set during the Chinese Civil War and Korean War. Assembly beat two other Mainland films, the biopic Forever Enthralled and the romantic comedy If You Are the One, Taiwan's box-office smash Cape No. 7, and the Japanese production Suspect X.

Friday, April 17, 2009

IFPI Hong Kong Awards

The Hong Kong edition of the IFPI awards - or to give it its full title, the IFPI Hong Kong Top Sales Music Awards - were held last week. The biggest winners were Andy Lau (刘德华, Liú Déhuá ) and Joey Yung (容祖儿, Róng Zǔ'ér), who took out the awards for Highest Album Sales of the Year for Male and Female Singer respectively. Andy Lau also was the recipient of the Best Selling Cantonese Album award with Wonderful World Concert Tour Hong Kong. Best Selling Mandarin Album award went to Taiwanese boy band Fahrenheit (飞轮海, Fēilúnhǎi) for Two-sided Fahrenheit (双面飛輪海).

Andy Lau, the singer-actor whose successful career has stretched over twenty five years, shows no signs of waning popularity with three big selling albums in 2008. As well as the live concert album Wonderful World Concert Tour Hong Kong, he also released Everyone is No. 1. Both albums were in the IFPI Top Ten Cantonese Album Sales. His Wonderful World Concert Tour Shanghai was also in the Top Ten Mandarin Album Sales.

This year is the fourth time Joey Lung, the unofficial queen of Cantonese pop, has won the Best Selling Female Singer award; she also won it three consecutive years from 2004 to 2006. In 2008 she had two albums in the IFPI Top Ten Cantonese Album Sales list. Starlight is a live album from her 2008 ten concert series at the Hong Kong Coliseum, while the oddly title, oddly punctuated Love: Joey: Love: Four (喜歡祖兒4) is a compilation album. The Starlight concert series was so successful, she repeated it at the end of the year with a further four Hong Kong concerts, and has embarked on a world tour of North America and Asia.

Fahrenheit, the four-member Taiwanese boy band, are relative newcomers to the music scene, releasing their debut album in 2006. Their good looks and bubblegum pop have created legions of teenage girl fans throughout Asia. Two-sided Fahrenheit is their second album, and sporned two number 1 singles, New Home (which also featured girl group S.H.E) and Existing for You.

IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) represents the recording industry organisation. The Hong Kong Group of IFPI has been presenting its Top Sales Music Awards, which are based on audited retail sales, since 2001. For a full list of the 2008 winners including the Top Ten Album Sales and Top Ten Singers, see the IFPI website. The Asian Universe website has English translations of the award list.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cooking Show Heads the TVB Ratings

Beautiful Cooking II, a sequel to TVB's hit show of 2006 and 2007, made its debut on Hong Kong screens last week, and immediately topped the ratings for the week 30 March to 5 April. The new show doesn't tamper with the successful format of its predecessor: each week three guest female celebrities are required to cook up several (usually difficult) dishes, and two guest judges taste the results and award points accordingly. The best results, in terms of entertainment value, are when the contestants are inept in the kitchen, and the judges cutting in their remarks. The show is hosted by Ronald Cheng, Alex Fong and Edmond Cheong, all of whom return from the 2007 show.

Beautiful Cooking II - the Chinese title is 美女廚房 which actually means "Beautiful Girls' Kitchen" - averaged 30 rating points, and reached a peak of 31. One reason it made number one is that TVB's current crop of drama serials, The Winter Melon and King of Snooker, and the nightly sitcom Off Pedder, are delivering only modest ratings for the station. The Winter Melon could register just 27 points for its season finale, while the disappointing King of Snooker continues to lose audience.

Twins' Charlene releases solo album

Charlene Choi (蔡卓妍, pinyin - Cài Zhuóyán), one half of the Hong Kong girl group, Twins, has released a solo album titled Two Missing One (二缺一). The Canadian-born but Hong Kong-raised singer says the album will present a mixture of styles: pop, R&B and ballads.

With Twins seemingly in hiatus as the other member, Gillian Chung, deals with the fall-out of her involvement in "Sexy Photosgate" (see my earlier blog entry), Charlene has been forging ahead with her own solo career. Her acting continues to keep her busy - last year she starred in Kung Fu Dunk with Taiwan superstar Jay Chou, and a modern re-make of the classic Chinese Romeo and Juliet story, The Butterfly Lovers. Although neither were critically acclaimed, they did at least please her less demanding fans. In 2008 she also made her first steps towards a solo singing career with the release of two singles, Little Sister and Make a Wish.

As for Twins, the hugely successful singing duo who have been together for eight years, their future remains in doubt, despite Charlene's claims that they will "definitely" stay together. (Charlene had also said that she wouldn't sing without Gillian, so she's known to change her mind.) Although their record company, EEG, would be understandably reluctant to break up an act that has brought them so much success (and profit), much will be depend on the public's willingness to forgive Gillian Chung for her, ahem, indiscretions.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Jolin Breaks Records with New "Butterfly" Album

Taiwan's dance pop queen, Jolin Tsai (蔡依林, Cai Yilin), went straight to the top of Taiwan's music charts with the release of her new album, Butterfly (花蝴蝶). Butterfly, Jolin's tenth studio album, knocked off Fish Leong's Fall in Love and Songs which enjoyed a short one-week reign at Number 1.

According to Taiwan's G Charts which measure album retail sales in Taiwan, Jolin's Butterfly accounted for a massive 68 percent of all Mandarin album sales in the week March 27 to April 2. Compare that to the number 2 album, Power Station's Moving On (also making its debut on the charts), which had just 3.3 percent of sales. In fact, Butterfly had the largest first-week sales of any album for the past two years. Already Butterfly had set records for most pre-order sales, beating Jay Chou's Capricorn although his record company disputed the figures. Nevertheless, Butterfly looks set to be one of the biggest sellers for 2009.

Butterfly is Jolin's first CD with her new record company, Warner. It's the fourth record company she has recorded with, after previously releasing records with Capitol, Sony-BMG, and Universal.

Friday, April 3, 2009

E.U is TVB's Most Watched Program this week

Now that the eighth season of the Hong Kong variety show Super Trio Series has come to the end of its run, it has left room for a new show to head first place in TVB's ratings (website in Chinese). The police vs triads drama, E.U (学警狙击), was Hong Kong's most watched program during the week 23-29 March, with an impressive average rating of 34 for five shows (episodes 25-30) run from Monday to Friday evenings.

The ratings period covered the last week of E.U's five-week season, and reached a peak of 43 points in the last episode when, kind of bizarrely, the popular character of gang leader Laughing Gor (played by Michael Tse) came back to life as a police officer. Reportedly these final scenes were hurriedly included after viewers complained about Laughing's demise back in episode 22.

E.U also starred Michael Miu, Kathy Chow, Ron Ng and Sammul Chan. E.U is a sequel to two other popular TVB series: The Academy, shown in 2005, and On the First Beat shown in 2007.

A New Number One on the G Charts

For seven weeks Leehom Wang and Show Luo engaged in a leapfrogging contest for the number one position on Taiwan's G Music album charts. Finally someone else has broken their stranglehold. For the week 20 March to 26 March, Malaysia's Fish Leong (梁静茹 Liang Jingru) has reached the top spot with Fall in Love and Songs (静茹&情歌-别再为他流泪 ). The album, released back in January, had been hovering in the top five for the past couple of months, including two weeks at number one in mid January.

Fish Leong, also known as Jasmine Leong - incidentally in my opinion a nicer name than Fish - is sometimes called "the Queen of Love Songs". Not surprisingly, Fall in Love and Songs has plenty of light and easy-listening love songs to keep fans happy, and also features a duet with fellow Malaysian pop star Gary Chaw. Fall in Love and Songs, Fish Leong's tenth studio album, also marks the tenth anniversary of the 30 year old singer's career in the pop business.

The G Music charts measure weekly album sales in Taiwan.
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