Saturday, October 31, 2009

Beyond the Realm of Conscience Rating Well

Hong Kong TVB's last major series for the year, Beyond the Realm of Conscience (宫心计, pinyin: Gōng xīn jì), got off to a strong start with ratings in the mid 30s for its first week. The show averaged 33 and peaked at 36, drawing in audiences with a cast that includes four of Hong Kong television's leading ladies, both past and present.

Although the English title sounds like a sci-fi or paranormal storyline, Beyond the Realm of Conscience is actually a lavish costume drama set in the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty. The series, which focuses on the intrigues inside the Imperial Household, is based on Jewel in the Palace, a popular Korean drama from 2007 that remains one of Hong Kong's highest rating series ever.

The cast has been billed as a cross-generational clash of the TVB Fadans (fadan can be loosely translated as diva). Representing the new generation are two of Hong Kong TV's most popular actresses, Charmaine Sheh (佘诗曼, pinyin: Shé Shīmàn) and Tavia Yeung (杨怡, pinyin: Yáng Yí). Michelle Yim (米雪, pinyin: Mǐ Xuě) on the other hand is of the older generation; in her hayday during the seventies through to the early nineties she was widely regarded as the queen of TV drama in Hong Kong. Her career has been revitalised recently by playing some memorable small screen villains, particularly her award-winning performance in last year's Moonlight Resonance. The fourth leading actress in Beyond the Realm of Conscience, Susanna Kwan (关菊英, pinyin: Guān Júyīng), is another older star whose stalling career, albeit in the music industry, received a new burst of life playing characters viewers love to hate.

34 year old Charmaine Sheh entered the Hong Kong entertainment scene through a familiar door for aspiring young female stars - the Miss Hong Kong Pageant. In 1997 she was one of the runners-up and started off in small roles in TVB productions. In her first starring role in 2000, she hit the big time with Return of the Cuckoo, winning the TVB Anniversary Award for Favourite Television Character, an award she has gone on to win an additional four times. She also picked up a Best Actress Award in 2006 for her performance in Maiden's Vow. She has made Next Magazine's Annual Top 10 Artistes list for an impressive eight consecutive times and counting, including the number one position in 2007.

Tavia Yeung may not have as many awards as Sheh in her trophy cabinet but in the past couple of years she has emerged as one of Hong Kong's preeminent actresses. In 2007 everything she touched seemed to turn to gold when she appeared in four hit series in a row. Last year she won the Best Supporting Actress trophy at the TVB Anniversary Awards for her performance in Moonlight Resonance. Beyond the Realm of Conscience marks a departure from her usually sweet and innocent roles as she broadens her acting range to play a villain for the first time.

Both Charmaine Sheh and Tavia Yeung have been nominated for Best Actress at the upcoming TVB Anniversary Awards for their roles in Beyond the Realm of Conscience. They are expected to challenge the early favourite Sheren Tang, star of Rosy Business.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Honours Shared in 18th Golden Rooster Awards

Award winners (left to right) Zhou Xun, Wu Gang and Jiang Wenli

The 18th Golden Rooster Awards (金鸡奖, pinyin: Jīn jī jiăng) were announced on the weekend, and the judges were unable to separate the winners in both the Best Film and Best Actress categories. The two most nominated films, the graphic war drama Assembly (集结号) and Peking Opera biopic Forever Enthralled (梅兰芳) (nine and eight nominations respectively) shared the Best Film award.

There were also dual winners in the Best Actress category. Zhou Xun (周迅) celebrated her 35th birthday with a statuette for her portrayal of a lovelorn taxi driver in The Equation of Love and Death, sharing the victory dias with Jiang Wenli (蒋雯丽) who was recognised for her performance as a village woman who dreams of becoming an opera star in And the Spring Comes. It has turned out to be a huge week for Jiang - her directorial film debut, Lan, won the Audience Award at the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea the day before.

The Best Actor award, in something of an upset, went to Wu Gang (吴刚), an actor not well-known outside China. He won for his role as working class hero and socialist role model Wang Jinxi in the film Iron Man. Wu reportedly lost 10 kilograms for the role of the heroic oil worker who played a key role in the early establishment years of the Daqing oil fields.

Other major winners were popular director Feng Xiaogang (冯小刚) for Assembly, finally rewarded after years of being ignored by the Golden Rooster jury, and veteran character actor Wang Xueqi (王学圻) who won Best Supporting Actor for Forever Enthralled. In another upset Yue Hong (岳红) was the winner of the Best Supporting Actress trophy for her performance as a formidable village brigade chief in the comedy A Tale of Two Donkeys. She beat international star Zhang Ziyi who had been nominated for her performance as Mei Langfang's love interest in Forever Enthralled.

The Golden Rooster Awards are one of mainland China's big three film awards, the others being the Huabiao Awards (announced in August) and the One Hundred Flowers Award. The Golden Rooster Awards are held every two years and winners are determined by a panel of judges. In alternate years the One Hundred Flower Award is chosen by popular vote for the single category of Best Film. The 2008 One Hundred Flowers Award winner was also awarded to Assembly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Elva Hsiao's Diamond Candy Sparkles on Debut

Taiwanese dance queen Elva Hsiao (萧亚轩, pinyin: Xiāo Yǎxuān) released her tenth album last week, Diamond Candy (钻石糖), and it went straight to the top of the G Music album charts. The 30 year old's new record accounted for almost 30 percent of album sales, and ended the surprising two-week reign at the top of Yao Yao. Meanwhile her first single from the album, Shiny Love (闪闪惹人爱, aka Bling Bling Attracts Love), has commandeered the top position of the Baidu singles chart.

Elva Hsiao began her singing career over ten years ago and her self-titled debut album was an instant hit. In 2001 she was named by the World Music Awards as the best-selling Chinese artist of that year. Since then she has consistently being regarded as one of Mandopop's divas.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Black and White Dominates Golden Bell Awards

Taiwan's main television awards ceremony, the Golden Bell Awards, was held last Friday, and the hit drama series Black and White (痞子英雄) emerged as the night's biggest winner. The police drama, an enormous ratings success (see my blog post here), was awarded five trophies including Best Drama and Best Director (Tsai Yue Xun - 蔡岳勋).

Black and White also took out Best Actor, but the award was not without controversy. Mark Zhao (赵又廷), starring in his first major production beat his co-star, the more experienced and much more heavily-favoured, Vic Zhou. The result was a real shock, surprising even the show's producers, and creating much internet chatter amongst the show's fans, not all of whom agreed with the judges' choice.

The Golden Bell Awards have a history of throwing up surprising choices, and the Best Actress award to Liu Ruiqi (刘瑞琪) for Marriage for Three Woman (女仨的婚事) was also unexpected. Most pundits had expected Cheryl Yang to be announced the winner for her performance in Defeated Queen.

One of the most popular awards of the night was for TV host Hu Gua (胡瓜). On thirteen previous occasions Hu had been nominated but had never won; however this year was fourteenth time lucky for the host of Challenge 101. Best Variety Show went to the satirical current affairs show The Biggest Political Party (全民最大党).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Michelle Yeoh Makes All-Time Screen Beauties List

US gossip magazine, People, is celebrating its 35th anniversary by naming its 35 All-Time Screen Beauties. The list covers eight decades of movie glamour and a roll-call of names ranging from the original blonde bombshell Jean Harlow to this decade's Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lopez. Only one Asian actress made the top 35, action star Michelle Yeoh (杨紫琼, pinyin: Yáng Zǐqióng).

Born in Ipoh, Malaysia, the now 47 year-old took her first step towards stardom when she represented Malaysia in the 1983 Miss World Pageant - the same year that Maggie Cheung represented Hong Kong. Maggie Cheung reached the semi-finals but Michelle Yeoh didn't get past the first round; nevertheless her appearance led to job offers in ads and then some acting gigs.

Her acting career came to a sudden halt when she married entertainment tycoon Dickson Poon, and she might easily have disappeared from public view forever. However when her marriage ended in 1991 after just three and a half years, she returned to acting, reinventing herself as a Hong Kong action heroine.

In 1997 she became known to the wider world with a lead role alongside Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies. Her international fame was cemented with the worldwide hit Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Since then she has appeared predominantly in Western films, but her next movie release will be the big-name martial arts film True Legend. Also starring Vincent Chau, Zhou Xun and Jay Chou, True Legend is set to hit cinemas at the beginning of 2010 and will reprise Yeoh's famous role of Sister Yu from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"The Message" Rings Out Loud and Clear at Box Office

The National Holiday period at the start of October is traditionally one of the peak movie-going periods in China. This year was especially prosperous for the movie industry, with record box office takings raked in. The better than usual performance was generated by two films in particular: the spy drama and whodunnit The Message (风声, pinyin: Fēngshēng) and The Founding of a Republic (建国大业, pinyin: Jiàn Guό Dàyè). The Message was the biggest drawing movie over the holiday period - its box office receipts from its opening on 29 September up until 8 October were a reported 150 million yuan, or about $US22 million.

The Message, set in 1942 during the Japanese occupation of the mainland, stars two of China's best-known actresses, Zhou Xun (周迅) and Li Bingbing (李冰冰), alongside Zhang Hanyu (张涵予) and Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明) as a particularly nasty Japanese interrogator. It's based on a best-selling novel of the same name.

Meanwhile The Founding of a Republic, which was released two weeks before The Message continues to roll on its merry money-making way (see this earlier blog post), and is now officially the biggest grossing local film of all time. It has pulled in a total of 350 million yuan at the box office, overtaking the previous number one, the romantic comedy If You Are the One. Both The Message and The Founding of a Republic performed well enough to feature on Screen Daily's top ten global box office list - and it wouldn't be too often that two Chinese films have managed to achieve that feat.

As well as proving a popular hit, The Message has also won praise from some (but not all) critics. It recently gained 6 nominations at the upcoming Golden Horse Awards, including Best Actress nominations for both Zhou Xun and Li Bingbing. Probably not surprisingly, the Taiwan-based Golden Horse Awards instead ignored The Founding of a Republic, which celebrates the victory of the Communists over the Nationalists on the mainland.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ultimate Rescue in the Running for the International Emmys

Nominations for the 37th International Emmys were announced this week. The awards are given to the best television programs produced outside the United States, and amongst the nominees were the mainland Chinese drama Ultimate Rescue (极限救援) in the category of Best TV Movie or Mini-Series. Li Chen (李晨) was also nominated in the Best Performance by an Actor for his role in the show.

Ultimate Rescue, apparently based on a true story, is set in a remote area of North-East China. A one-year old baby in a Heilongjiang township chokes on a chicken bone, and various people band together in a race against time and bad weather to ensure the baby gets to the provincial capital of Harbin for medical treatment. Clearly an uplifting example of what a harmonious society can achieve when we selflessly work together! Li Chen played the lead role of a rough-edged taxi driver who is caught in the thick of the spontaneous rescue mission, and was widely praised for his realistic portrayal.

The 30 year-old Li made his acting debut in the 1997 TV series, Seventeen Year-Olds Don't Cry, (十七岁不哭) which told the story of a group of secondary students and the trials they faced growing up and becoming adults. Li's career went quiet for several years, in which time he embarked on several unsuccessful business ventures and flirted with the idea of becoming a racing car driver (the driving skills later came in handy for Ultimate Rescue). However his career has seen a resurgence over the last couple of years; he has appeared in several high profile movies and TV series including Assembly, My Chief My Regiment and Tangshan Earthquake.

The International Emmys will be held in November in New York City. Ultimate Rescue and Li Chen were the only Chinese candidates across the 14 categories, with the rest of the field dominated by the British and Latin America. China to my knowledge has only ever won one award at the International edition of the Emmys. That was He Lin (何琳) who won a Best Actress Trophy for Slave Mother (为奴隶的母亲) in 2005 when, coincidentally, the head of China's Phoenix TV, Liu Changle, was president of the International Emmy Awards.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Yao Yao Edges Out Angela Zhang on the Album Charts

Last week saw several big name artists release albums, all vying for the top position in Taiwan's G-Music chart. Pop princess Angela Zhang, the multi-award winning Eason Chan and actor-turned-singer Joe Cheng all put out new CDs. However, in a real surprise, it was the debut album from a teenage newcomer, up until now probably better-known for her ample chest measurements than her singing, who took the number one spot. Love's Embrace (爱的抱抱), the mini-album from Guo Shu Yao (郭书瑶), affectionally known as Yao Yao (瑶瑶), grabbed almost 22 percent of album sales in Taiwan for the week September 25 to October 1. This was comfortably ahead of Angela Zhang's much-anticipated The Fifth Season, which accounted for 15 percent of all sales.

19 year old Yao Yao, pin-up girl for Taiwan's geeks, began her short career as a model, and was catapulted into the limelight earlier this year with her eye-catching appearance in a series of ads for a popular online game. The baby-faced but well-endowed teenager created controversy with the censors who considered the ads too risque. However the ads quickly led to a TV hosting job, on Taiwan's second-longest running game show Digital Game King (数位游戏王), and now the successful launch of a singing career.

The immediate impact of Yao Yao's singing debut has taken many by surprise, especially as she has outsold one of Taiwan's biggest singing stars, Angela Zhang, not to mention the reigning king of Cantopop Eason Chan. In Yao Yao's favour, her's was a mini-album and so more affordable for record-buyers. And the free poster of the busty model wouldn't have harmed sales either!

Poor old Angela Zhang has had something of a rough time of it lately. First a heart condition kept her out of the recording studio for 2 years. Then the promotional efforts for her long-awaited sixth album were hampered when she became embroiled in a very public family dispute with her mother who accused her of being unfilial and on drugs, amongst other things. To top things off, her first single from the new CD, White, was accused of ripping-off an Avril Lavigne tune. Some consolation for Zhang, however, is that The Fifth Season has reportedly had Asia-wide sales of 200,000, and topped two of Taiwan's major online charts, KKBOX and ezPeer.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

September Flavour of the Month: Andy Lau and Secret Marriages

Andy Lau and Carol Chu - finally, after 24 years, they can hold hands in public

Andy Lau (刘德华, pinyin: Liú Déhuá ), one of the biggest names in the Hong Kong entertainment industry, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently. The celebrated actor and singer, regarded as one of Cantopop's Four Heavenly Kings, tarnished his reputation when it was revealed he was secretly married to Carol Chu (Zhu Liqian). It may go down as one of Lau's finest acting performances - successfully presenting to the world an image of a carefree, unattached bachelor for the past 24 years, when all the time he was in a relationship with the former Malaysian beauty queen.

There has long been media speculation regarding Lau's relationship with Chu. However the rumours have always been denied by the actor or his representatives. Presumably the thinking behind this ruse was that a married Andy Lau made a less bankable commodity than a single (and available - keep that flame of hope burning, ladies) Andy Lau.

Lau's lie began to unravel in late August, at the funeral of Carol Chu's father in Kuala Lumpur. Lau tried to attend the funeral incognito, with the less than successful ploy of having several minders shield him from prying eyes at the ceremony with big black umbrellas. This despite the funeral being held on a glorious sunny day. The media then went on an Andy Lau hunt and several more sightings were made of the star in the company of the woman he had for 24 years denied being involved with. Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily took the initiative of searching US marriage registries, and finally it was revealed - Lau and Chu had in fact tied the knot back in June 2008. You may not necessarily approve of the ethics of the Hong Kong tabloids, but you have to admire their investigative skills.

A tearful and apologetic Lau confirmed the news at a press conference soon after and asked fans for forgiveness. He said that he had chosen to hide his relationship for so long to protect Chu from the media - though more cynical observers believed it was to protect his image as an idol. Others felt sympathy for the woman, forced to hide herself away for 24 years as if in some domestic arrangement from the feudal period.

As negative publicity towards Lau increased, the star was forced to extend the rationale for all the secrecy. It wasn't just the Hong Kong media he was protecting his wife from, it was also the Hong Kong triads. He reasoned that if his relationship to Chu had been revealed, it would have exposed her to mafia threats, even made her a kidnapping target.

The Andy Lau Secret Marriage scandal took a tawdry turn when one media outlet decided to track down Lau's most notorious/infamous fan. Yang Lijuan was obsessed with Lau and she and her family spent a small fortune - her father was even prepared to sell his kidney - trying to satisfy this obsession, travelling long distances to attend Lau's concerts and public appearances. The obsession led to tragedy in 2007 when she finally got the chance to meet her idol. However the brief time allotted to her, around five minutes, only served to create more anguish for her. Then her harrowed, and by this time broke, father committed suicide, partly in protest and partly in shame that he had failed to help his daughter. Two years' on, and Yang was asked for her comments on Lau's secret relationship. A clearly still bitter Yang demanded an apology from Lau, claiming if only he had come clean about his relationship her father might still be alive. (For the definitive account of the Yang Lijuan saga you can't go past this article, translated on EastSouthWestNorth.)

The fall-out from Lau's secret marriage continued to spread with other stars also suddenly needing to update their marital status. More "investigative journalism" uncovered that another Heavenly King, Leon Lai had married the model Gaile Lai in March last year. And singer Miriam Yeung also 'fessed up to marrying actor Gary Tang in August without letting the public or media know. The imaginative Taiwan media also got into the act - their perusals of the Las Vegas marriage records unearthed from several years ago a name similar to Ariel Lin, and speculated that the actress had married a Korean boyfriend when she was still a teenage university student. Not surprisingly, Lin denied the allegations.

Secret marriages have always been part of the Hong Kong entertainment industry. The most famous example was Jackie Chan who kept his marriage to actress Joan Lin plus the existence of a son secret for over 15 years. One reason for the secrecy was the fear that a heartbroken fan might take the news badly - fears that had some basis in reality. Two of his fans had already committed suicide after hearing rumours that Jackie was married. Chan too had fears that his son could be the target of kidnappers.

It seems doubtful that Andy Lau's career as a leading man will suffer because of the now public knowledge he is married. Even his reputation as a man of integrity is unlikely to suffer permanent damage. At the height of the scandal, it was announced that he would be cast in an upcoming romantic comedy, Kiss, alongside Zhou Xun. And the media has moved on from the secret marriage to news that he and his wife were in the process of having a baby through artificial insemnination. If and when Carol Chu becomes pregnant, we can safely assume it won't be kept a secret.
Site Meter