Monday, October 26, 2009

Zhang Ziyi, Li Bingbing, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and foreign men

I find it difficult to write about issue of ethnicity and nationality in countries other than the United States because my own nation is currently going through an often mean spirited debate concerning immigration, a debate that can easily veer into a racist demonizing of immigrants. One of the things that makes it different from other nations is that there is no "American" race or ethnic type, (other than the Native Americans who have been economically and socially marginalized) so the debate here is joined under the generally false premises of economic dislocation, loss of national identity and dilution of language.

So I will rush in where angels fear to tread with a question about the treatment of Chinese actresses and their relationships with "foreign" (which means in this case, I think, western) men. The most obvious is Zhang Ziyi who seems to be the most popular target over the past couple of years. Things weren't helped by the notorious poster for "Memoirs of a Geisha". Much could be attributed to artistic/commercial motives of wanting to produce a striking, memorable poster but the blue eyes in the image annoyed/outraged most Asian people that I knew at the time. In case you don't recall it:

Zhang Ziyi's relationship with Isaeli billionaire Vivi Nevo was a very big deal in China, with breathless reports of them kissing at a New York Nicks game all the way to the semi-public displays of "what the hell" on the beach at St. Barts. This is a relatively low-key and typical "China Daily' story. Another non-incendiary story ran in Yummy Celebrities although clearly a lot of those leaving comments had been waiting to do so for a while. I assume that comments on a celebrity site are more important in China than elsewhere because of the credibility given to the "netizens". A couple of them compared her to Gong Li--I found a few references to a "foreign" boyfriend that Gong Li may have had in 1995 but the articles that contained them were so scurrilous that I won't link to them.

Perhaps the strangest and funniest example ran in Singapore's Straits Times in which she was accused of swearing on live TV to show that she was now an international star.

It isn't just big stars, though. Tongues were wagging when Li Bingbing was accompanied after a hospital stay by a western man although she took pains to explain that they were not in a relationship.

Theses are a couple of screen grabs from "A World without Thieves"--some Chinese actresses my wish for a world without gossip rags.

Singer and actress Coco Lee doesn't have to explain her fiance, although his name (Bruce Richardson) and picture make it clear he is Caucasian--but not, in this case, "foreign". China Daily has the story. She looks great--all one can say about Bruce is that a lot of silkworms died in vain to make that suit and shirt combination.

Perhaps she got a pass on the foreign question because she is (or at least is reported in some outlets as being) Chinese-American born in Hong Kong, raised in San Francisco with dual citizenship.

Two movie icons that have escaped criticism--or at least any recent criticism--over the nationality/ethnicity of their respective fiance/spouse/companion are Michelle Yeoh and Maggie Cheung. I assume that with Michelle Yeoh it is because she is, while ethnically Chinese, is a citizen of Malaysia and may be more Malaysian than anything else. Her parents were from there, she was honored with the title Datuk and when made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French she collected the award at the French embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Here she shares a laugh with the ambassador while he presents the ribbon and medal representing the honor. Perfect dress for the occasion--very formal yet festive and the lack of accessories is a perfect touch since she is having an important one pinned on her. Clearly she doesn't neglect her arms during workouts.

And in a more typical shot, from "Wing Chun"

She has been engaged to or at least the common companion of Jean Todt, newly elected head of FIA, organization that runs the hyper-lucrative and oh-so-social Formula One racing circuit. Interesting couple--she is tall and gorgeous, he is short and toad-like but both are smart, have some money and move easily in almost any company. The only problem in the relationship seems to be that while he is eager to get married--or at least announce their engagement--she seems to be much less so. But at least she doesn't have to put up with a drumbeat of criticism from the press about seeing a foreigner.

Maggie Cheung may have gotten some flack when she first "abandoned" Hong Kong for Paris to make "Irma Vep" with Olivier Assayas and then married him, having made 70 movies in 11 years in the former Crown Colony. Now, divorced from Assayas, living where she wants to live--London, Paris, Hong Kong--and being accompanied by a series of European man the most recent German architect Ole Scheeren, who was based in Beijing and now is working in Bangkok. With her movie career largely behind her and happy, at least for now, being idolized by a new generation of fans and showing up at a few red carpet events and film festvals while trying to keep the top fashion designers in Paris and Milan from dedicating their entire season to her, Maggie must very well armored against the puny slings and arrows of Hong Kong gossip.

And of course:

From "Clean"

From "Irma Vep:

Anyone who stumbles across this entry may well know a lot more about this than I do and I would greatly appreciate those who correct mistakes of fact or emphasis or who can speak more knowledgably about the attitude of the Chinese gossip press toward Chinese actresses with foreign consorts.

Echoing what I began this post with, I realize that the USA is embroiled in a debate on nationality and citizenship that is of life and death importance to millions and which is often used cynically by politicans and can bring out the worst in many citizens here. So I am not criticizing anyone, just wondering about this particular issue. An example: If Natalie Portman become engaged to Chow Yun Fat there would be little outcry because she planned to marry a foreigner.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Teresa Mak in Troublesome Night 11.

"Troublesome Night 11" might have been forgotten about by those who made it as soon as it wrapped. It looks like a project in which the actors showed up, did their parts, got paid and looked for the next job. The only "names" in the cast were Teresa Mak, playing a ghost, and Helena Law who is first her nemesis, then her ally and who casts spells on people by spitting milk on them.

Teresa's character, Lan, is dead before the opening credits role, murdered by a foul beast of a boyfriend who leaves her body where it falls on the beach. Her spirit is very much present and is restless, demanding revenge on him.

She appears to some young women who are volunteer workers cleaning up the beach and who are accompanied by young men who are more interested in them than in saving the environment. While working they discover her body although in keeping with the conventions of this kind of film it is no longer there when they return with the police. Her after death demeanor makes it difficult for the spirit to convince anyone of anything, other than they should run like hell, since she is green and bleeding from a huge gash in her head.

After fighting it out with old supernatural hand Helena Law (here Mrs. Bud Long, matriarch and chief spell-caster of the group who discovers her body, Lan is convinced to work with them. She tells her story of being seduced

(you want me to do what with that?)

making a loan to her lover of all the money she has and then abandoned.

Despite pleading for her live on the beach she is murdered, not only for the money but because he likes killing people.

And is now interested only in avenging her murder and counts on rallying Helena's family to help her.

Although there are always a few things to work out when the newly dead try to work closely with the living world, even with the intervention of someone with a foot in both camps:

Another hitch comes up when the worse of the two loutish cousins decides to make a play for Lan before realizing that she is not exactly what she seems:

His most outrageous fantasies have been fulfilled! He meets an attractive woman, asks her out and has her volunteering to jump into bed with him.

But there is a problem. There is always a problem. In this case it is that she is dead. Big problem.

Which puts a merciful end to that bit of almost funny comic relief. Everything is fine by the end of the movie, though, as the murderous boyfriend tastes his own medicine--in this case an extremely unscary skeleton that looks like it was rented from ACME Medical Supply.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gossip, Hong Kong style

One of the many distractions and drawbacks of making one's living in public is the constant drumfire of gossip that is part of the price of fame. Young female entertainers--singeres and actresses--seem to be particular targets and the gossip items themselves don't have to be true or even credible. This was made clear in a story from the United Kingdom that reported on how easy it is to dupe the tabloids there into running false stories. Chris Atkins, working on a film, simply called the newspapers with outrageous (and outragously false) stories, ones that could be fact checked and disproven with one or two phone calls. No calls were made, most the stories were run the next day. Some of the embarrassing details are here. The subjects of the published gossip aren't always victims, of course. Some court the gossip rags, some have publicists who alert websites like PerezHilton or TMZ of the comings and goings of their clients. But much of it can be vicious, hurtful and dangerous.

The gossip surrounding film and singing stars in the Chinese press, particularly Hong Kong and Singapore has a different texture and tone than what one might be familiar with from the United States. I was thinking of this upon seeing that Kelly Chen's son, Chace, met the press for the first time. It was covered, as is everything of note to fans of Hong Kong movies (and Chinese movies generally) by Dennis Lee in his invaluable blog. The Hong Kong celebrity press--not sure if one should call it the "gutter" press--abetted by outlets in Singapore and elsewhere decided to cover the happy news of the birth of Chace by speculating that he was not her son but that a surrogate had given birth to him and that Kelly and her husband, Alex Lau, had gone to the hospital only to pick up the infant. Some of the stories or accounts of them are here and here (this forum post refers to and paraphrases a story from Yahoo! Singapore that is no longer available).

To a western observer--or at least this one--unsourced (or based on the speculation of the ubiquitous "netizens") and fantastic stories concerning the birth of a child is what might be found in the scummiest of supermarket tabloids. In this case the story ran in CRIEnglish, the English language web portal for CRI, which, according to its website, "is the only overseas broadcaster in the People's Republic of China. CRI was founded on December 3, 1941 and is owned and operated by the state." One assumes they had more important issues to report in 1941.

The venue may be the main difference between Chinese celebrity gossip and that in the USA--here it can be more easily dismissed if it shows up in "The New York Post" or Perez Hilton while in China, because of the scarcity of outlets for any type of reporting, it appears on a state owned and controlled website. Clearly this doesn't make it any more real but it may have more credibility due to its placement.

Fortunately the Chinese media also reports the silly ephemera that should be the stock in trade of the gossip business--a lovely example is the brief but intense outcry over Rachel Kum, currently serving her island nation as Miss Universe Singapore, 2009. It began with a story disputing her reported bust size after she won the title. According to this report her measurements might not have done in "accordance with international standards". What might be more shocking is that anyone would believe that such standards exist. But at least it brings things back to where they belong in the scurrilous world of peeping at the famous and infamous--discussing the breasts of attractive young women who are happy to have them discussed (and seen) by as many people as possible.

Rachel's story continued for a few months until she was threatened with the loss of her tiara and sash since "sexy" pictures of her had surfaced. They were less sexy than stupid but that is in the eye of the beholder. Behold a story with some of the sexy/stupid pictures here. Everyone wins: Miss Kum gets a lot more press than she would have as just the current Miss Universe Singapore; the diva-starved masses get another scandal to contemplate; I get to post a few pictures of Rachel Kum--although not the sexy/scandalous/stupid ones, of which there is no shortage on the web. You know you have found them when you run across and image of a young woman doing something with a penis shaped birthday cake.

Rachel Kum, Miss Universe Singapore, 2009, posing with a fresh-faced Miss Philipines, a "who ya lookin' at" Miss Russia and a suspiciously bright eyed Miss Unknown, her identifying sash not visible.

Another generic but still lovely shot.

And because this post started with Kelly Chen and because this is one of the most striking and insanely sexy photographs I have ever seen of anyone, here is Kelly Chen picking up some pocket money modeling lingerie for Triumph.

One more:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gong Li--C'est magnifique

Twice a year Fashion Weeks show up in Paris, finishing the exhausting cycle that starts in New York, travels to London and then Milan before hitting the City of Light. Gong Li hasn't taken the Paris versions of this barely organized madness by storm--with a surplus of actresses, slumming models, faded beauties, not so faded beauties and just gorgeous people around, no one does. But she is noticed in a big way by the press, the fashionistas and people simply on the prowl for a great look. 2009 is in the books and here are a few images indicating why Gong Li is a hit in Paris--and lots of other places--and why she is courted by huge fashion houses with money to burn and more snob appeal than one can imagine.

First, though, two pictures from Cannes in 2007, simply because the combination of Gong Li and the dress she was wearing could hardly have been more perfect. The cut, color and overall look were exquisite and she wore the dress perfectly.

A view from the back:

Here she is last March at the Louis Vuitton Autumn/Winter show. One commentator mentioned that the combination of tightly fitted blouse, wide belt and wide legged trousers showed off her hourglass figure without really showing anything off. Which was right on the money. Here is how one hails a cab in Paris. Or anything else anywhere else:

This is a very poorly photoshopped image by me, getting rid of the background and, along with the perfect angle of the photograph, showing how it all works at the waistline:

From two weeks ago at the Spring/Summer 2010 show, Gong Li was wearing a short evening dress designed by Marc Jacobs, the type of outfit that a few hundred years ago in Paris would have men competing to see who could fight the first duel over her. Lending a bit of calm to the backstage chaos of models, dressers, hair and make-up people:

Here she is with enfant terrible designer Marc Jacobs with yet another illustration of how tiny her waist is. Jacobs is by no means a tall man and it looks as if he could get one arm around Gong Li's waist a coupld of times--if he had the extra elbow joints, of course:

Being an icon/muse for designers and the "face" of a huge company with lots of money and an international cachet isn't all just looking good, though. Sometimes there is real work to do--for example getting a picture taken with the boss and a few other people. From left to right: Rinko Kikuchi, Gong Li, random rich guy, Yves Carcelle (chairman, CEO and all that), Freida Pinto. A tough life.

Why Gong Li is loved in France--and everywhere else.

The beauty of Gong Li lies somewhere between heart-stopping and traffic-stopping: not quite fatal but more than enough to paralyze a large section of a city. So it was not surprise when Yves Carcelle, chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH), a person who had grown rich and powerful in no small part to his eye for beauty, elegance and how to sell them, asked Gong Li to be the "face" of the flagship Louis Vuitton brand. The pictures above are Gong Li the LV ready-to-wear show at the Paris Fashion Week in March of this year, at the LV show in Paris a few weeks ago and at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.

While her film career is the basis for this fashion icon status, her beauty as much as anything made the world, or at least a significant part of it, take notice when she burst upon the scene. In the United States that was with "Raise the Red Lantern", her fourth film (and her fourth with Zhang Yi-Mou). Some can still recall when they first saw her image on a 20 foot screen during the trailer for "Raise the Red Lantern". While it might not have been love at first sight it certainly was instant fanboy. A screen grab from a DVD release:

In "Shanghai Triad" Gong Li played a character of endless malevolence and casual cruelty, Bijou, a showgirl and mistress of a very dangerous Triad chief. It is an amazing role in an amazing film and we are kept wondering why it centers around such an unsavory (if unspeakably beautiful) character until, literally, the last few seconds of the movie. Here are two screen grabs from the terribly transfered DVD with soft, almost "pastelized" colors:

Bijou's act:

Their last--or at least most recent--collaboration was in the decolletage-fest, "Curse of the Golden Flower" where, as can be seen in a screen grab from a dvd and a publicity shot from Sony that Gong Li is still a most formidable force in the beautiful actress world.

With Chow Yun-Fat who is being evil:

One of my favorite shots from Gong Li's recent movies this very unglamorous on from "Zhou Yu's Train" in which she plays two roles, both of them perfectly. There are three cinematographers credited on this movie and whichever of them lit this shot should have a place in camera heaven:

Pictures from Cannes and Louis Vuitton shows in a later post.