Friday, December 18, 2009

Jay Chou Named One of the Actors to Watch

A US website, ScreenCrave, has named its Top Ten Actors to Watch in 2010, and coming in at number eight is Taiwan's favourite mega-star Jay Chou (周杰伦, pinyin: Zhōu Jiélún). That prediction is staked on his upcoming appearance in the Hollywood adaptation of the comic book The Green Hornet, alongside Seth Rogen and Cameron Diaz. Jay Chou will play the masked vigilante's faithful sidekick/manservant Kato in the Michel Londry directed action film.

The role of Kato was once played by the martial arts legend himself, Bruce Lee, in a television series in the 1960s. Although the series was short-lived, lasting just one season before being axed, it did introduce Bruce Lee to Western audiences for the first time. Now there is hope that Jay Chou might follow a similar path to worldwide stardom. Of course Jay hardly has Lee's martial arts skills that so impressed the world forty years ago. Then again Bruce Lee couldn't sing like Jay Chou.

All this talk of potential international stardom for Jay Chou next year may be a little premature however. The Green Hornet isn't scheduled to be released until December 2010, so world domination may have to wait until 2011.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Last Month's CASH Golden Sail Music Awards

Eason Chan and Kay Tse - two of this year's Golden Sail winners

CASH is the Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong, the association for writers in the Hong Kong music industry. Since 2001 they have been handing out the Golden Sail Awards to recognise the best music works and vocal performances over a 12 month period, usually from August to the following August. The 2008-09 Awards were announced at the end of last month, and - no surprises here - Eason Chan (陈奕迅, pinyin: Chén Yìxùn) was one of the biggest winners. In fact by my calculation Eason Chan has picked up at least one award at eight of the nine Golden Sail ceremonies held, which officially makes him a pop phenomenon.

Chan took home two Golden Sail Music Awards: Best Male Vocal Performance for 700 Years Later (年度之歌), and Best Song Award, again for 700 Years Later. That song also won an award for its lyricist Lin Ruoning. It missed out however on the award for Best Melody, which instead went to singer-songwriter Ivana Wong for The Moon Says (月亮说).

Best Female Vocal Performance - for the second year in a row - was awarded to Kay Tse (谢安琪, pinyin: Xiè Anqí). This year she won it with the aptly titled Song of the Year (年度之歌). Another regular winner, Hong Kong duo Swing, won Best Group Performance for (我有貨, a title that's a little difficult to translate). Best Performance by a Band was awarded to Mr., the emerging Hong Kong rock band (yes, there are Hong Kong rock bands) for their song If I Was Eason Chan (如果我是陳奕迅).

The CASH website has the full list of winners.

Friday, December 11, 2009

China's Most Stylish Entertainers According to MTV

In Shanghai last week MTV Asia held what is turning into an annual event, the MTV Style Gala. Awards were given across the entertainment industry, covering singers, actors, models and, um, charity organisers.

Six singers in total were presented with awards. Jane Zhang (张靓颖, pinyin: Zhāng Liàngyǐng) was named the most stylish female singer from mainland China, then kind of spoiled the effect by turning up in an outfit that would have been laughed at even in the '80s (pictured right). The most stylish female singer from Hong Kong was Karen Mok (莫文蔚, pinyin: Mò Wénwèi), while from Taiwan it went to Tanya Tsai (蔡健雅, pinyin: Cài Jiànyǎ)...although technically that should be Singapore's award.

For the male singers, the awards couldn't have covered a wider range of styles. There's the down-to-earth look of veteran rock singer Xu Wei (许巍, mainland China), the modish R&B star Khalil Fong (方大同, pinyin: Fāng Dàtóng - Hong Kong) and the bad boy aura of Stanley Huang (黄立行, pinyin: Huáng Lìxíng - Taiwan). Two groups won prizes for most stylish group, Taiwanese boy band Farenheit (飞轮海, pinyin: Fēilúnhǎi) and Beijing indie rockers Super VC (果味VC, Guǒwèi VC).

There were also prizes for the actors. Gao Yuanyuan (高圆圆), whose fresh look first got her a start in commercials before hitting the big time, won most stylish actress. Meanwhile Donnie Yen (甄子丹, pinyin: Zhēn Zǐdān), capped off possibly the most successful year in his 25-year career, with the most stylish actor award.

There were also awards given to the most stylish model, Du Juan (杜鵑), a former Miss China and the first ever cover girl for the Chinese edition of Vogue. And in MTV's nod to social activism the "most stylish charity achievement" prize was given to Jackie Chan (成龙, pinyin: Chéng Lóng).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Taiwan Rocker Shin Heads the Album Charts

The outspoken rock singer Su Chien Hsin (苏见信) - better known as A Shin (阿信) or simply Shin - had Taiwan's biggest selling album for the week November 26 to December 3 according to the G Music charts. The new album, While I (趁我), is Shin's third album and was recorded in Los Angeles.

Previously lead singer of the Shin Band (信乐团), one of the most popular rock bands in both Taiwan and the Mainland, Shin quit the band in 2007. It was by some reports an acrimonious break-up, Shin leaving his four bandmates high and dry mid-way through recording their fifth album in order to sign a more lucrative contract with another record company. At the time, the Shin Band had a string of classic hits to their name, including their debut single Love Beyond Death, Farewell Song (离歌), Tian Gao Di Hou (天高地厚) and One Night in Beijing. With their main man gone, many people thought the band was finished, but Shin Band simply replaced him with another powerful singer and carried on their success.

Meanwhile Shin and his distinctive falsetto voice continued to belt out the power ballads in his solo career, and While I is in much the same vein. The first single from the ten-track album is Take Advantage of Me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wayne Lai Reigns at TVB Anniversary Awards

Wayne Lai (黎耀祥: Lí Yàoxiáng) was the biggest winner at the TVB Anniversary Awards, Hong Kong's premier TV award ceremony. The 45 year old took out awards in three major categories for his performance in the costume drama Rosy Business. His role of Chai Kau, a flawed and not always likeable central character, won the Best Actor, Favourite Male Character and the Popularity Awards at the ceremony held last Friday, 4 December.

Although Lai began acting back in 1986 playing countless small roles in TVB productions, it wasn't until he reached his forties that his career began to reach new heights. The first role to catch the public's and critics' attention was in the 2005 series Scavengers' Paradise, a performance that earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at that year's TVB Anniversary Awards. A year later he was nominated again as Best Supporting Actor in the period drama Safe Guards. In 2007 he was again amongst the nominees at the TVB Anniversary Awards, this time for Best Actor in Steps. It was fourth time lucky in 2008 when he won Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Gentle Crackdown II, a comedy series set during the Ming Dynasty. Lai had to play two differenct characters, including the wise assistant to a provincial magistrate, reprising his role from the original series.

Rosy Business (巾幗梟雄) ended up taking out six awards on the night. As well as Lai's awards for Best Actor and Most Popular Character, the drama set in the 19th century won Best Series, Susan Tse's (谢雪心, pinyin: Xiè Xuěxīn) performance was awarded Best Supporting Actress and Pierre Ngo was named Most Improved Actor.

A lot of pre-ceremony attention was focused on who would triumph in the battle of the TVB FaDans (or TVB divas). Rosy Business' Sheren Tang (邓萃雯, pinyin: Dèng Cuìwén) took out the major award of Best Actress, but her main rival Tavia Yeung (杨怡, pinyin: Yáng Yí) from Beyond the Realm of Conscience won the Most Popular Female Character award, as well as the newly created category of Best Performance of the Year. The latter award is meant to honour the performance that was "most outstanding, notable and effective to a series", though more cynical observers regarded it as just a consolation prize for Yeung.

There were few shocks on the night - to no one's surprise, Michael Tse (谢天华, pinyin: Xiè Tiánhuá) won Best Supporting Actor for his memorable performance as Laughing Gor in Emergency Unit. In fact, an alleged winners' list was circulated on the internet a month ago (an English version is at this Asian Fanatics post), and the list got most of the major winners correct. I imagine the list was more likely the product of some journalist's educated guesswork rather than a genuine leak.

There were a couple of surprises in the variety show awards: Best Variety Show went to Club Sparkle ahead of higher rating shows such as Beautiful Cooking and Super Trio Supreme, neither of which made the top five nominees. Super Trio Supreme did manage to pick up one award - Best Presenter Award collectively to Eric Tsang, Chin Kar Lok, Louis Yen and Wong Cho Lam.

A full list of award winners and nominees is on Wikipedia.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Taiwan's Highest Earnest Entertainers: Jay Chou First, Then Daylight

As we approach this year's end some Taiwanese media outlets have been estimating the value of Taiwan's leading entertainment figures - and the lists make pretty interesting reading. United Daily News (UDN) for example has estimated the ten highest earning singers in 2009, based on record sales, concerts, endorsements and other commercial events - see the article here, but in Chinese.

Leading the pack by the proverbial mile is the megastar of Mandopop, Jay Chou (周杰伦, pinyin: Zhōu Jiélún). His earnings in 2009 were an estimated $550 million (New Taiwan Dollars, equal to about US$17 million), with the largest portion of it coming from endorsements. His earnings were also boosted by his concert tour and film appearances, including the Hollywood production of The Green Hornet. It helps also that he has a (successful) finger in so many pies: singing, songwriting, acting, directing, record producing and, most recently, TV production.

All girl group S.H.E were in second place, earning NT$360 million (US$11.2 million) - obviously a lot of money but well behind Jay Chou's earnings. Again endorsements were the biggest contributers to S.H.E's fortunes, and concerts the next biggest. Surprisingly, neither S.H.E or Jay Chou released an album in 2009, highlighting how actual record sales make up only a small percentage of a singer's overall wealth.

The singer with the biggest album sales in 2009, Jolin Tsai (蔡依林, pinyin: Cài Yīlín), did come in third, but those album sales only contributed NT$20 million in Jolin's overall estimated earnings of NT$350 million (US$10.9 million). Her earnings were also boosted by sales from her recently launched fashion label. Jolin might even have finished in second place, considering she took three months off during the year.

The full list of the highest earning singers according to UDN is:
1. Jay Chou - estimated earnings NT$540 million
2. S.H.E - estimated earnings NT$360 million
3. Jolin Tsai - estimated earnings NT$350 million
4. Leehom Wang - estimated earnings NT$270 million
5. Mayday - NT$268 million
6. Wilber Pan - NT$267 million
7. Angela Zhang - NT$248 million
8. Show Luo - NT$220 million
9. A-mei Zhang - NT$159 million
10. Elva Hsiao - NT$100 million

Honourable mention goes to Super Band (纵贯线), the four music legends - Luo Dayou, Zhou Huajian, Jonathan Lee and Zhang Zhenyue - who got together for a limited time only (this blog post gives more information on the supergroup). They earned an estimated NT$100 million (US$3.1 million) during the past year, almost entirely from sales of concert ticket and record sales as the band shunned endorsements.

Meanwhile Apple Daily has created a list of the five highest earning actors and actresses (Chinese language article here), and it's interesting to see the massive disparity between the money pulled in by the singers compared to that by actors. Perhaps it reflects the esteem (or lack of it) that TV actors are held in by Taiwanese fans.

The TV/pop idol Jerry Yan (言承旭, pinyin: Yán Chéngxù - pictured right) was the richest actor this year. However his earnings of just NT$68 million (US$2.1 million) don't even get him into the top ten of a combined actor/singer chart. The 32 year old member of boy band F4 filled his bank account almost equally from his acting fee for the hit series Down With Love, merchandise sales and commercial events.

Rainie Yang (杨丞琳, pinyin: Yáng Chénglín), nicknamed the Cute Princess, was second on the list, and almost 80 percent of her NT$61.8 million (US$1.9 million) earnings were from endorsements. Love or Bread actor Joe Cheng (郑元畅, pinyin: Zhèng Yuánchàng) was number three, his earnings boosted considerably by some lucrative endorsement deals in mainland China.

Apple Daily's complete list of the five richest is:
1. Jerry Yan - estimated earnings NT$68 million
2. Rainie Yang - NT$61.8 million
3. Joe Cheng - NT$50.7 million
4. Vic Zhou - NT$41 million
5. Joe Chen - NT$35.7 million

Useful English versions of both articles can be found at the Asian Fanatics forum:
The 10 Top-Earning Taiwanese Singers of 2009
The 5 Top-Earning Taiwanese Drama Idol Actors/Actresses of 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

November Flavour of the Month: Sir Run Run Shaw

Sir Run Run Shaw (邵逸夫, pinyin: Shào Yìfū), Hong Kong's preeminent TV and movie mogul, last month announced his retirement after eight decades in the entertainment business. Retirement in this case means stepping back from his executive role, although he will continue to retain the honourary title of company chairman. The decision was first announced in October, but became official at TVB's 42nd Anniversary Gala a few weeks ago.

However, Shaw's retreat from public life has proved short-lived. On November 26, it was announced that the grand old name of Hong Kong movie production houses, Shaw Studios, would crank out films again after a long absence. Three films are already in production, with the first of them, Seventy Two Tenants of Prosperity due to be released in time for next year's Spring Festival.

Shaw, affectionately known as Luk Suk or Sixth Uncle, was born in either 1906 or 1907, possibly October or November - no one seems to be clear on the exact details. In any case it makes him at least a sprightly 101 years old. He was born just outside Shanghai and entered the nascent film business back in 1924 - that's back in the era of silent movies. He and his brothers built up a film distribution and exhibition business with operations on both sides of the Pacific. Eventually Shaw settled in Hong Kong in 1959 and established Shaw Brothers Productions. By the 1970s the company had become the largest privately owned studio in the world churning out around 40 films a year.

Although Shaw Studios produced films across a variety of genres, it was best known for martial arts films, including classics such as The One Armed Swordsman, The Five Fingers of Death, Come Drink With Me and Vengeance. That era is still considered a golden age of Hong Kong cinema. As the movie industry changed and the big movie studios lost their power and dominance, Sir Run Run Shaw shifted his company's focus to the television side of operations with TVB, the television studio he had established in 1967. Today TVB is one of the largest television producers in the world, and Shaw presides over a media empire valued at around US$3.5 billion.

Shaw is also famous for his philanthropy, bequeathing millions to hospitals, educational institutions and the arts, not just in Hong Kong but in greater China and beyond. In 2002 he established the Shaw Prize which awards one million dollars each for research in three science categories: astronomy, life sciences and mathematics.

In recent years Sir Run Run Shaw's health has deteriorated, reducing his role in the day-to-day running of the business. A large proportion of executive control is said to be in the hands of his wife, the 76 year old but still formidable Mona Fong, who holds the title of Managing Director. Nevertheless, Sir Run Run's appearance at last month's TVB Gala Awards where he was one of the presenters, followed by his announcement he was back in the movie-making business, shows he retains to a surprising degree his trademark energy and passion for hard work.
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