Monday, April 26, 2010

Teenagers BY2 Give Up Top Chart Spot for Veteran Rene Liu

Veteran actress-singer René Liu (刘若英, pinyin: Liú Ruòyīng) has this week's best-selling album on G Music's album chart. Her album Together (在一起) - her twelth studio album - displaced last week's number one album Grown Up by Singapore girl group BY2. Grown Up had a short but sweet one-week reign at the top and this week drops to number three.

Liu was born in Taipei in 1969 (or 1970), and went to America after finishing school to study music at the University of California. In 1995 she released her first album, the same year that she made her film debut. Her acting career overshadowed her music career initially with her first two films, Xiao Yu and Don't Cry, Nanking, both critically acclaimed. She has divided her acting between film and television, and probably her best-known performance was in the 2004 film A World Without Films. Her performance as the thief with a heart of gold won her the Best Leading Actress award at the Golden Bauhinia awards.

Her debut single in 1995, Crazy for Love, was a bit hit; however, her music career didn't really take off until the 1998 release of her fourth album Love You More and More. Her fifth album, Waiting for You, cemented her reputation as a talented singer and song-writer of mellow, soulful pop ballads.

Together has been a two-year wait for fans since her last release. The first single from the new album is We're Not Together (我们沒有在一起), which also appears as the end theme song for the currently running TV series P.S Man.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Fistful of Stances is TVB's First Hit Series of 2010

A third of the year has passed, and it has taken that long for Hong Kong's TVB to finally air a series that has drawn in the audiences. A Fistful of Stances (铁马寻桥, pinyin: Tiě Mǎ Xún Qiáo) is a martial arts action series set in Hong Kong around 100 years ago. A family drama in the mould of last year's hit Rosy Business, the story focuses on the Koo family who run a martial arts school.

A Fistful of Stances stars American-born Kevin Cheng (郑嘉颖, pinyin: Zhéng Jiāyǐng) as the long-lost son who returns then sets on a path of revenge against the family's enemies. Cheng started out as a singer and won Best New Artist at the Metro Radio Golden Song Awards in 1994. His acting career was confined to supporting roles until 2004 when he played the lead in the TVB series Hard Fate. In 2006 his performance in the romantic drama series, Under the Canopy of Love, won him Best Actor at the TVB Anniversary Awards.

Despite having the lead role, Cheng's performance in A Fistful of Stances was overshadowed by Kenneth Ma (马国明, pinyin: Mǎ Guómíng) playing his on-screen brother. Ma made his screen debut back in 1999, but his breakout year wasn't until 2006 when he won Most Improved Actor at the TVB Anniversary Awards. In A Fistful of Stances Ma won most of the praise from both critics and viewers, so much so that as the series progressed he received more and more screentime at Cheng's expense. Expect him to feature heavily when the 2010 awards are handed out.

Others in the cast included Tavia Yeung, last year's Best Actress winner at the TVB Anniversary Awards, in a smaller but eye-catching role as the family matriarch. Selena Li, Nancy Wu and Natalie Tong played the love interests, while Dominic Lam made a memorable villain. The series also featured appearances by veteran stars Yuen Qu and Kara Hui (who just last week won Best Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards).

The series had a slow start ratings-wise, averaging just 25 points in its first two weeks. However A Fistful of Stances steadily built an audience and has become the most talked about series of 2010, at least so far. In its second last week it averaged 32 points, and the its two-hour finale averaged 37 with a peak of 43 points, despite being up against the Hong Kong Film Awards ceremony on rival station ATV.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BY2's Grown Up Shoots to the Top of the Charts

It was a case of one girl band toppling another girl band, as Singapore's BY2 pushed Taiwan's S.H.E from the top position on the latest G Music album charts. BY2 are twin sisters Miko and Yumi Bai (白纬芬 and 白纬玲), and their latest release is titled Grown Up (成人礼) - after all, they did just turn 18 last month. Grown Up had 18 percent of all album sales in Taiwan for the period 9 to 15 April, and 33 percent of all Chinese-language sales.

Grown Up is BY2's third studio album, released on the Ocean Butterflies Music label. The group was created by the record label, who carefully groomed them from the age of 13. They received three years of intensive singing and dance training, even dropping out of high school to concentrate on their musical career. In 2007 they moved to Taiwan and a year later, at the age of 16 the twins released their first album. Their catchy music, a kind of hybrid of bubblegum pop and hip hop, cute looks and energetic dance moves made them an immediate success. Grown Up provides more of the same, with four of the album's songs having "love" in the title. The first single is the track This Is Love (这叫爱).

After just two weeks in the top position, S.H.E's album SHERO dropped to number 2 on the charts but still sold a healthy 20 percent of all Chinese language albums in Taiwan last week. Another Mandopop superstar, Jane Zhang, also debuted on the Taiwan charts last week with her fourth album, Believe in Jane. (Actually the album was released everywhere else almost three months ago; I'm not sure why it's only now surfacing on the Taiwan charts). Believe in Jane holds the number three position on the charts, with a respectable 7.8 percent of sales.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bodyguards and Assassins Wins Eight at HK Film Awards

Bodyguards and Assassins (十月围城), the semi-fictional action drama set in 1905 about a team of bodyguards formed to protect revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen, won eight awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards (HKFA) on Sunday. That made it the equal second most successful film in HKFA history - along with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Warlords. The 1997 film Comrades: Amost A Love Story holds the record with nine awards.

Bodyguards and Assassins' haul of trophies on the night included Best Film and Best Director (Teddy Chen - 陈德森, pinyin: Chén Désēn). It also earned Nicholas Tse (谢霆锋, pinyin: Xiè Tíngfēng) a Best Supporting Actor trophy for his performance as a loyal rickshaw driver enlisted to help save the revolutionary hero from Imperial assassins. The film also won awards for cinematography, art direction, costumes, action choreography and film score.

Best Actress and Best Actor winners, Kara Hui and Simon Yam

Simon Yam
(任达华, pinyin: Rén Dáhuá) was a popular Best Actor winner, after being nominated several times in the past but never taking the prize. He won for Echoes of the Rainbow in which he played a battling shoemaker bringing up a family in the working class district of Sheung Wan in the 1960s. The low-budget film directed by Alex Law has been a surprise hit with audiences, and earlier this year won a Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. Echoes of a Rainbow won four HKFAs in total. In a bit of a surprise, Aarif Lee (李治廷, pinyin: Lǐ Zhìtíng) was named Best Newcomer for his role as the elder son, and the film also won Best Screenplay and Best Song.

Best Actress winner was Kara Hui (惠英红, Wai Ying-hung) for her moving portrayal of an over-protective mother in At the End of Daybreak. Hui, who turned 50 two months ago, began her movie career in the 1970s as a kung fu action heroine. One of her best-known martial arts roles was in My Young Auntie in 1982, for which she won Best Actress at the inaugural Hong Kong Film Award. Hui gave an emotional acceptance speech on receiving her second HFKA, recounting her battle with depression when her career floundered. In a nice piece of symmetry, Lau Kar-Leung (刘家良, pinyin: Liú Jiāliáng), the director and martial arts choreography who discovered Hui, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Best Supporting Actress was awarded to Michelle Ye (叶璇, pinyin: Yè Xuán) in the Johnnie To directed action thriller Accident. Ye, a former beauty pageant winner, is best-known as a TV actress. Her decision to turn her back on a lucrative contract renewal with TVB so as to focus on her film career now appears to be vindicated after the critical success of her Accident performance.

The full list of winners can be found at the Asia One website.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Best-Selling Novelist Nominated for Time's Most Influential People

Time Magazine has generated a lot of publicity, in China at least, with its publication of a list of nominees for its 100 Most Influential People list. Representing China are a handful of politicians, businessmen and dissidents/civil rights activists, but one name alone has generated most discussion.

Han Han (韩寒) - novelist, essayist, blogger, singer, online entrepreneur and rally driver - has attracted controversy from the moment he first burst on the literary scene. That was back in 2000 when as a precocious 17 year old he had his first novel, Triple Doors (三重门), published. That novel went on to become the biggest selling literary work in China in the past 20 years. Triple Doors struck a chord with millions of young Chinese with its scathing criticism of the Chinese education system and the spirit-breaking pressures it places on schoolchildren.

Han Han has since written a further four novels, and although sales have been respectable he has yet to repeat his initial success. Nevertheless his fame has continued to grow through his provocative and controversial essays and blog articles. His blog is one of the most popular in China in terms of hits and page views, with its spats with fellow celebrities, critiques of Chinese society and thinly veiled criticisms of government. He's regarded as a spokesman for the post-1980s generation, and his idol good looks have only added to his strong following amongst many young people.

Not everyone's a fan however, and not just the establishment he takes so much delight in attacking. A lot of goodwill he earned from his first novel has slowly disappeared, with people writing him off as the literary equivalent of a one-hit wonder. In a relatively controlled society like China where public criticism and outspokedness is frowned upon, his opinionated views can also put him offside with the general public.

It's no surprise that such a polarising figure has also divided Chinese with his Time Magazine nomination. Some have questioned whether he is as influential as Time seems to believe, while others wonder whether there are better, worthier writers who should have been nominated. And the Government-run media has seen the nomination as yet another plot by the West to undermine the Communist Party by championing its critics (see this informative China Digital Times article for more details and links to the articles in question).

Meanwhile, Han Han's supporters have rallied to the cause, voting in numbers on Time's online poll to ensure he makes the Top 100. Currently he's ranked number six in online votes. The final Top 100 list will be announced in early May.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

IFPI's Best Selling Singers in Hong Kong

IFPIHK, the Hong Kong arm of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, announced its Top Sales Music Awards for 2009 on April 7. Unfortunately, the four major labels - Sony, EMI, Warner and Universal - belong to a rival industry association, HKRIA, so their record sales weren't considered. This meant that major Hong Kong singers like Eason Chan, Khalil Fong and Hins Cheung, went unrewarded.

There's a little bit of confusion over the winners, with Oriental Daily initially reporting that Joey Yung (容祖儿, pinyin: Róng Zǔér) was named Best Selling Female Singer. Other websites have picked up Oriental Daily's report, including the Asian Fanatics forum. It's probably the logical choice, seeing as Yung's the undisputed Queen of Cantopop. However, it seems that Oriental Daily might have jumped the gun. The official IFPIHK website itself has Janice Vidal (卫兰, pinyin: Wèi Lán) as the Best Selling Female Singer winner, and I guess they ought to know better than anyone.

(Janice Vidal at the IPFI Awards)

The Hong Kong born singer with the exotic heritage - Janice's father is Filipino and her mother Chinese-Korean - released two albums in 2009, Serving You (well, actually released in late 2008) and Wish. Often known by her first name only, Janice began her career in 2004, first coming to the Hong Kong public's attention with her English language cover version of the Leon Lai hit Long Distance. The following year she went on to win Best Newcomer at most of the major Hong Kong award ceremonies. She has recorded six studio albums in total, all of them containing a mix of English and Cantonese language songs.

Best Selling Male Singer was awarded to Raymond Lam (林峯, pinyin: Lín Fēng), who profited from the ineligibility of heavyweight singers like Eason Chan and Khalil Fong. Lam, better known as a TV actor, released his second album in 2009, Let's Get Wet. On that album was the multi-award winning single If Times Comes. Last year he also released a successful Mandarin language single, After Tomorrow.

Best Sales for a Mandarin Release was awarded to Taiwanese singer-songwriter Cheer Chen (陈绮贞, pinyin: Chén Qǐzhēn). The veteran performer - she released her debut EP back in 1997 - tends to stay out of the limelight, and consequently is not as well known as some of her Mandopop superstar compatriots. As well as her skills as a lyricist she is also highly regarded as a concert performer. The IFPI award was given for her album Immortal, released in early 2009 on the WOW Music label.

The List of Top Ten Sales from Local Artistes is:
Raymond Lam
Andy Lau
Joey Yung
Ivana Wong
Charlene Choi
Denise Ho
Justin Lo
Stephanie Cheng

The full list of all 52 winners is at the IPFIHK website.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

S.H.E End Show Luo's 10 Week Reign at Number 1

Finally, after an unprecedented reign at the top of Taiwan's album charts, the King of Dance, Show Luo, has been removed from his throne. And it took one of Taiwan's biggest bands, girl band S.H.E, to dethrone him. The most recent G Music album charts, for the week 26 March to 1 April, had the new S.H.E record, SHERO, go straight to the top in its first week of release. It sold in big numbers too, accounting for more than 45 percent of album sales in Taiwan last week. In fact, it and Show Luo's album Rashomon made up almost two-thirds of all albums sold.

S.H.E are a three-member girl group who formed back in 2001, after being discovered on a televised talent show. They had immediate success with their first album, and by 2002 they were named by one radio station as Taiwan's Top Pop Group. In 2003 they won Best Group at Taiwan's major awards ceremony, the Golden Melody Awards, although despite repeated nominations they have yet to repeat that success. They reached their peak in popularity in the mid-2000s with albums like Super Star and Once Upon a Time, and set records with their Fantasy Land and Perfect World 3 concert tours.

SHERO is their tenth studio album, after an 18 month wait since their last record. It contains Loving You, one of the theme songs from the TV drama series Down With Love, and a duet with One Million Stars singing contest runner-up Judy Chou titled Two Person's Desert Island. Mayday lead singer and songwriter Ah Shin has also written a song for them for the first time, the title track.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rosy Business Stars Head Next Magazine Awards

Hong Kong's Next Magazine announced its annual TV awards last week, and the winners list was dominated by the two most popular shows of 2009 - Rosy Business (巾帼枭雄) and Beyond the Realm of Conscience (宫心计). The first two spots on Next Magazine's Top Ten Artistes of 2009 went to Rosy Business's two leads, Sheren Tang (邓萃雯, pinyin: Dèng Cuìwén) and Wayne Lai (黎耀祥: Lí Yàoxiáng). However Beyond the Realm of Conscience was named number 1 in the Top Ten TV Programs, with Rosy Business in second position.

Sheren Tang, now in her mid-forties, has been considered unlucky in the past - or the victim of entertainment politics - for not picking up as many awards as she might have deserved. Although she made her acting debut in 1985, it wasn't until 2002 that she won her first major award, a TVB Best Supporting Actress trophy. Two years later, her performance as an evil concubine in the hit series War and Beauty made her one of Hong Kong TV's biggest stars. However, in what was considered a maor upset at the time, she missed out on Best Actress for her performance, having to settle for Best Supporting Actress again instead.

She has received further Best Actress nominations for the TVB series La Femme Desperado (2006), The Family Link (2007) and Your Class or Mine (2008). She finally broke through for a Best Actress award at the Ming Pao awards last November, swiftly followed by victory at the TVB Anniversary awards the following month, beating Beyond the Realm's Charmaine Sheh in what was dubbed the Battle of the FaDans (or Divas).

The forty-five year old Wayne Lai (pictured left) is somewhat of a late bloomer in the business. Although he has appeared in over 50 TV series, and over 20 films, it wasn't until three years ago that he earned his first award. He was named Best Supporting Actor from Malaysian pay-TV channel Astro Wah Lai Toi for his performance in the TVB costume drama Safe Guards. The following year he followed up with a TVB Best Supporting Actor trophy for The Gentle Crackdown II, a comedy series set in the Ming Dynasty. His performance in Rosy Business won him Best Actor trophies at the Ming Pao and TVB Anniversary Awards.

In total Rosy Business had four of its stars in the Top Ten list - Ron Ng was at number eight and series villain Susan Tse was placed ninth. Beyond the Realm of Conscience also accounted for four of the Top Ten artistes: Charmaine Sheh, Tavia Yeung, Moses Chan and Susan Tse, who was in both series.

The full list of the Top Ten TV Artistes is:
1. Sheren Tang
2. Wayne Lai
3. Charmaine Sheh
4. Tavia Yeung
5. Moses Chan
6. Linda Chung
7. Bosco Wong
8. Ron Ng
9. Susan Tse
10. Fala Chen

The Top Ten TV Programs are:
1. Beyond the Realm of Conscience
2. Rosy Business
3. You're Hired
4. E.U
5. A Chip Off the Old Block
6. Burning Flame III
7. Off Pedder
8. A Watchdog's Tale
9. Hong Kong Gossip
10. The Voice

Next Magazine also gave out several other awards including Most Promising Male and Female Artists. The full list of award winners can be found at this Asian Fanatics forum post.
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