Archive for February, 2009
After several months of quiescence, the Edison Chen sex photo scandal has reared its salacious head again. I’ve resisted writing about it because God knows you can get plenty of information about it elsewhere, but recently this blog has been slammed with hits from people searching “edison chen sex photos” and related terms, even though a previous post only briefly mentioned our boy Edison. It’s probably not significant traffic but it shows that the the subject is still one of the hottest ones on the internets even a year after the whole scandal broke in January 2008. Last year in China Edison Chen was most-searched subject on google and yahoo, ahead of the Beijing Olympics, facebook and iphone. Suffice to say that the Hong Kong public and the media were pretty overexcited by the whole event since it involved pop stars, nudity, adultery, and sex.
Now that Edison’s in a Vancouver court starting to spill the beans about the incident, his fellow erstwhile naked Hong Kong celebrities Gillian Chung and Cecilia Cheung have also started to surface and blab about the whole thing again. Full details as well as hundreds of images from the scandal can be easily found elsewhere but needless to say that last winter the Hong Kong media had a field day when naked sex pictures of several of their beloved idols flooded the internet, all from the misappropriated laptop of rising pretty-boy actor Edison Chen. After about a monthlong firestorm during which a seemingly endless number of the amateur-porny pictures popped up on the web, the whole incident climaxed (sorry) with a grim-faced Chen announcing his retirement from Hong Kong entertainment in order to devote time to “charity work” in Canada. Not to mention fleeing the pissed-off Hong Kong triad members who wanted to chop off one of his hands for killing the careers of several of golden-egg layers like Gillian and Cecilia.
Gillian, aka Ah Gil, aka one half of the phenomenally popular Cantopop girl group The Twins, is now testing the waters for a comeback after last year’s sleazy & unflattering pictures of her and little Edison in flagrante delicto annihilated her image as a squeaky clean Jade Girl. At a recent fashion shoot several smart-ass Hong Kong truck drivers heckled her as she left the photo studio, calling her “naïve Gil.” Maybe she needs to wait a bit longer until things die down some more.
Meanwhile, Cecilia Cheung, aka 2003 Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actress, aka wife of fellow superstar Nic Tse, has come out of hiding with a high-profile interview on Hong Kong television in which she calls Edison a fake, a hypocrite and a liar. Hey, Cece, what do you really think about him?
For his part, Edison has claimed that he would do “anything” to protect “the ladies” involved, though exactly what that might entail is sketchy. In the meantime he’s publically named five of his partners in the pictures for the first time and claimed that several of the photos were actually taken by the women in question. Way to blame the victim, dude.
He’s also been quietly trying to revive his acting career–his 2008 movie The Sniper, which was delayed after last year’s naughty pictures surfaced, is playing at the Hong Kong International Film Festival next month and he recently made an appearance at a Singapore Carl’s Jr., though of course he’ll be donating all proceeds “to charity.” Edison’s mom has also spoken up in support of her boy, saying that Edison would rather go to jail to protect “the girls.” Huh, no kidding.
Anyways, I doubt that a media ho like Edison will be able to resist the spotlight for long. We’ll see how the Hong Kong public responds and if fans forgive and forget, or if they continue to excoriate poor Edison and his compatriots. Either way I guarantee the Hong Kong media will be all over this story until we’re all heartily sick of it.
More on this as it develops, or not, depending on how intense and tedious the media hype becomes.
UPDATE: A quick shout-out to the venerable Hong Kong Movie Database Daily News forum, which provided most of the links and images in this posting. Thanks for being you.
UPDATE 2: Okay, a quick update after a flurry of useless overreporting. Some killjoy has sent Edison Chen a bullet via the US Mail accompanied by a death threat stating, “We hope Edison Chen will take this warning seriously, otherwise his personal safety will be threatened,” and goes on to make more unfriendly remarks about Edison and his well-being. The ever-sensible Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, who is Edison’s godfather, commented, “This time they send a bullet, next time they send a bomb?… When I meet Edison for a meal he will have to wear a bullet-proof vest and helmet!” Anthony had previously warned Edison to stay out of Hong Kong or he’d kick his ass. Tough love from the Bunman.
Crazy as this may seem, tonight I was rooting for a movie I have yet to see. And when Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture I was jumping-out-of-my-seat happy. Identity politics at its worst? Maybe—but for me it was the joy of seeing Bollywood invade Hollywood, and Asians in the inner circle at last. (My heart was broken a couple years ago when Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash, not only because Brokeback was a much superior film but because I feared that homophobia as well as racism might’ve contributed to its defeat.)
The night started with a series of small wins for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and I fretted that it might be business as usual on Oscar night again, with the bland, big-budget, eurocentric Hollywood product taking the evening’s prizes. But at some point in the evening Slumdog started to pick up some awards and I started to feel a bit more hopeful. Then when composer A.R. Rahman won for Best Score and gave his acceptance speech in English and Tamil, followed shortly by Slumdog’s Danny Boyle taking Best Director (plus the film’s five other subsequent awards), I sensed the tide was turning. And, though it had nothing to do directly with Slumdog, when Sean Penn won an upset Best Actor victory against favorite Mickey Rourke, and gave a shout-out to our “elegant’ new President as well as calling shame on those who supported Prop. 8, I knew there was a paradigm shift in the making. Slumdog won the big prize immediately afterwards and the evening was complete.
So tonight was a great win for Asian cinema, even though Slumdog is directed by an Englishman and strictly speaking, isn’t a Bollywood product. But its subject matter, stars, themes, and aesthetic are decidedly South Asian and the fact that the Academy chose to honor it over Brad Pitt’s conventionally Hollywood star vehicle seems somehow significant to me. Dare I say that it reminds me of Barack Obama and the barriers he’s shattered with his election? Some might argue that equating the Best Picture Oscar with the election of the U.S. President is a bit of stretch, but I’m in the business of cultural criticism and I think Slumdog’s victory is pretty relevant. It was thrilling to see the huge Slumdog contingent, British, Indian, and everything in between, up on the stage at the Academy Awards, which is the primary symbol and celebration of Hollywood’s cultural hegemony. So, yeah, I need to watch Slumdog soon, but because of its big win tonight, I feel like I’ve already seen what I need to see. In some small way, tonight the margins have moved a bit closer to the center.
UPDATE: Breaking it down, via The Inspired Economist–a good, measured discussion of Slumdog, including a mention of the the film’s “poverty porn.”
Just got back from the symposium attached to the awesome art exhibition, transPOP! Korea Vietnam remix, which is at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco through March 15. The show looks at the intersections between Korean and Vietnamese pop culture through the eyes of several visual artists from Korea, Vietnam & the U.S. It’s definitely worth a visit for any fans of Korean dramas, Vietnamese movies and Asian pop stars.
Anyways, the symposium today was held at UC Berkeley’s Institute of East Asian Studies and featured heavy hitters like deconstructionist film queen and scholar Trinh T. Minh Ha (who I missed because I had to make pancakes for my kids) and Korean American artist and transPOP co-curator Yong Soon Min. I attended the roundtable discussion about the links between Korean and Vietnamese pop culture, which was pretty great and featured an excellent mashup of Korean and Viet films and dramas that concluded with a music video by The Wonder Girls.
What I loved most, though, was the same moment occurred that almost always happens when I talk with my fellow academics and scholars about Hong Kong films, or Korean soap operas, or any other form of Asian pop culture. At some point the academic/scholar/intellectual will start to talk about his or her favorite drama/film/idol and will get that same dreamy-eyed look as an adolescent girl when she’s discussing Jay Chou or Takeshi Kaneshiro. It’s usually very brief and it’s followed by a fleeting, giddy smile, then the conversation will quickly return to emotional transnationalism or the crisis of modernity or gender politics. But it always proves to me that we academics are people too, and we’re just as vulnerable to the allure of a beautiful face as anyone else.
Gotta say that, despite myself, I really liked this series. It’s one of the most popular dramas ever made in Hong Kong and it made stars out of several of its younger cast members (notably the Solar 4 or S4—Bosco Wong, Sammul Chan, Ron Ng and Kenneth Ma) when it was first aired back in 2003. But it also made Francis Ng into a major idol, which, although he’d won acting awards and starred in many HK movies, he’d never been before in his home territory. His role as Sam Tong, the principled and upstanding pilot of the fictional Solar Airways, was a killer star vehicle for him and allowed him to showcase his great dramatic range to a hometown audience who had been mostly “meh” to the idea of him as a heroic figure.
The show is pretty expensive by TVB standards, with location shoots in Italy, Japan, and Australia, and has a huge and fairly decent cast including TVB queen Flora Chan as well as Francis as star-crossed lovers. Cinematography, art direction, lighting, and direction are all solid and the storyline isn’t too cringeful, although of course there are classic melodramatic moments including several hospital and near-death scenes, many love triangles, and various other common soapy contrivances. But a lot of the show concentrates on the professional training of airline pilots, which is presented in a surprisingly gripping manner and is deftly interwoven with the crisscrossing romantic storylines.
The plot revolves around the lives of various people working for Solar Airways in Hong Kong’s International Airport, including pilots, flight attendants, and ground crews. Sam (Francis Ng) and Belle (Flora Chan), the main characters, meet by chance in Rome and, after chasing through the city in a series of coincidental meetings, hook up and have hot (off-screen) sex. But a plot contrivance drives them apart and the next time they see each other Belle is dating Sam’s best friend and fellow pilot Vincent (Joe Ma). The rest of the series pretty much follows Sam and Belle’s attempts to resolve the mess of their relationship and their unrequited desire for each other.
Francis Ng puts in an amazingly disciplined performance—he sustains his character over the course of 40 one-hour episodes and actually shows a believable growth and change, while remaining true to the character’s organic persona. He also proves that he can convincingly play a romantic lead and it’s difficult to imagine that this is the same performer who tore up the scenery playing hard-ass killers in movies like The Mission, Exiled, and Young And Dangerous. The character of Sam could have been an insufferable, controlling bore but Francis makes him intriguing, sympathetic and ultimately loveable despite his restrained personality. This is most evident in Sam’s relationship with Zoe, the younger woman who chases after him and eventually wins his affections. In the hands of a less skillful actor this May-December relationship could have gone horribly wrong but Francis convincingly moves from a reluctant target of Zoe’s affection to gradually becoming a willing partner in the relationship. The show also directly addresses the fifteen-year age difference between the two characters, with running commentary throughout the series on the difficulties of this seemingly mismatched pair finding harmony.
At some point the series basically becomes The Francis Ng Show, with long stretches of the plot devoted to his character’s activities. But it’s a credit to the screenwriters that when the focus shifts to other characters and their storylines the show remains engaging. Francis is clearly the best actor in the program but for the most part the rest of the cast holds up pretty well to his star-power and acting chops. He has an uncanny knack for intently listening to and playing off of his fellow actors, elevating and enhancing their performances by his subtle and effective responses. This almost seems to make the other actors get better as the show progresses, as they rise to the occasion of working with a truly talented performer. Ron Ng, one of the young turks who became a star after appearing in this show, starts out the series as a stilted and wooden performer. By the end of the series he’s learned some skills and exudes a decent amount of on-screen presence. Likewise, Myolie Wu as Zoe, one of Francis Ng’s love interests, begins the show by ceaselessly mugging and overacting her ingénue role–by the series’ end she’s become a much more nuanced and affecting performer. Her concluding scenes with Francis are fairly moving and I can’t help but think that she learned something by working with him. Francis gets to cry a few times, too, which he does with absolute conviction.
There is also an absolutely fabulous cameo by veteran HK actress Helen Law Lan, who was so great in Bullets Over Summer, as a complaining customer of Solar Airways. She and Francis have a couple divine scenes together which showcase their sublime comic timing and acting skills. Young and Dangerous fans will also spot Jerry Lamb, aka Piggy, who is very good in a supporting role.
SPOILER: Francis also gets the opportunity to be happy at the end of this show, and his joyous smiles at the program’s climax made me realize a couple things: a.) he’s got a really nice smile, and b.) I really can’t think of any movies I’ve seen him in where he gets to be genuinely joyful. I’ve seen at least fifty Francis Ng flicks by now and most of them are dark, violent crime dramas where he comes to a bad end. Even the ones where he doesn’t die don’t necessarily end happily (see The Mission; A War Named Desire; A Gambler’s Story). His comedies are a different story, but even so, being in a funny movie doesn’t necessarily mean that you get to be happy. I’m actually getting a little tired of seeing Francis die or be tormented at the end of movies and I definitely don’t want to watch any more movies where he’s the bad guy. Thankfully, he seems to be through with playing villains, though I suspect he’ll die in a few more of his films in the future. So it was great in TITS when he not only survives but lives happily ever after, and he gets to flash his beautiful, happy smile. END OF SPOILER
Strangely enough, the show also addresses, in a soap-opera fashion, the tensions between destiny and free will, delivering a surprisingly cogent and deeply felt commentary on the subject. It was interesting to find thoughtful observations on fatalism versus self-determination in a pop culture production but this was one of the strongest themes running through the show. One of the show’s characters, Belle, believes that life and love are preordained, but it is only through her attempts to take control of her life that she can save herself from despair. Another character, Zoe, feels that she can wrest control of her destiny through the sheer force of her will, but she has to give up control and surrender to her fate before her ultimate triumph. Sam, the character caught between them, is agnostic and rational but he too learns to balance between steering his own life’s path and giving in to forces beyond his control. Not only that but the show also has no real villain to speak of. Instead the characters struggle against their own inner demons and conflicts, and in the end most of them make choices that show honor and growth. This is a refreshing change of pace and, along with the show’s examination of fate and destiny, adds another level of pleasure to the viewing of the program that elevates it beyond the typical television drama.
Apparently audiences throughout Asia felt similarly enthusiastic about Triumph In The Skies. In its first broadcast in Hong Kong in 2003 it had more than a 35% share throughout the run of the series, meaning that more than one-third of all households watching television at the time were tuned in to it when it aired. During its rebroadcast last year in a late-night slot it gained almost a 10% share, nearly unheard of for such a time slot. In most polls it’s consistently rated as the favorite show of Hong Kong television audiences and rumors of a sequel (nixed by most of the cast, including Francis Ng) continue to swirl six years after its debut. It also finally made Francis Ng into a romantic leading man.
NOTE: Francis Ng has a hella weird hairstyle in this show, kind of an asymmetrical pompadour that looks like a throwback to the 1950s crossed with a poodle. It gets a little less absurd and more toned-down as the show progresses but it’s definitely funny to see, especially in contrast to the ultrahip shaggy and dyed-out coifs of the rest of the cast. Of course Francis makes the retro hairdo work, and ultimately it becomes an unspoken commentary on the character’s somewhat anachronistic sense of honor and the way that he’s out of step with many of the other characters in the show. Not surprisingly, Francis purportedly designed the hairstyle himself–
UPDATE: Apparently back in December 2008 TVB put both Ron Ng & Myolie Wu on what they call the “retrenchment” list, which means they’ve moved back from lead to supporting roles. I’m not sure about the specifics but it looks like their fifteen minutes are over. Hasta la vista, baby–
UPDATE 2: For my comments and review of Triumph In The Skies 2 go here.
Learned a new phrase today that I love—salty pork hand. It’s the literal translation of the term for pervert in Cantonese and it’s been featured in the latest television idol kerfuffle in Hong Kong, wherein a blind gossip item has implicated a mysterious male TVB “artiste” in groping a couple female starlets. It’s got the internets abuzz over there, with top male stars like Joe Ma and Moses Chan avidly denying that they are the salty pork hand in question.
So who else is a salty pork hand?
Edison Chen? For being a raging exhibitionist and non-consensually exposing his many girlfriends’ ungroomed pudenda to international scrutiny?
Father John Geoghan and too many of his fellow priests, for serially molesting little boys?
Sen. Larry Craig, for denying he likes sex in public toilets?
R. Kelly, for liking it like that with underaged girls?
Who’s your nominee for salty pork hand?
UPDATE: Looks like whistleblower Kingdom Yuen (gotta love those English names the HK stars pick) has backed down from her original accusations and that TVB is trying to sweep the whole salty pork hand incident under the rug. Which means the speculation can continue unabated, of course, since Hong Kong pop culture loves a sex scandal. But it seems like without solid incriminating evidence this one may not get as much mileage as last year’s Edison Chen sex picture incident, which was the best scandal to come along in decades.
UPDATE 2: If anyone knows the Cantonese etymology for the term “salty pork hand,” please let me know. We are all dying to find out.
UPDATE 3: Looks like TVB’s Salty Pork Hand is Ellesmere Choi.
And my friend Jay Chan in Hong Kong translates the term as “salty wet hands.” Eeeewww.
UPDATE 4: Another “salty pork hand” has emerged on the Hong Kong scene, through another mysterious blind item. The start of a trend?
UPDATE 5: Wongsaurus over at LoveHKFilm breaks it down like this:
Not familiar with “salty pork” only “salty wet” but this sexual harassmen thing is obviously about non-consensual touching and groping.
Salty = Hom
Wet = Sup
Sow/Sou = Hand
Hom + Sup = Compound word (slangy) for Horny, Dirty (as in sexually dirty), pornographic, lewd and lascivious. [There are other more proper terminology for tawdry and sexual nasties and one example is uttered in the movie Crazy “N The City during the double-decker bus scene with Eason Chan, Chloe Chiu, and the masturbating pervert passenger.]
Please note that my romanization of Cantonese may not be accurate Yale or Wade-Giles.
Thus Hom + Sup + Sou suggests that someone did some nasty fondling. We’re all adults here so we leave it to your imagination.