Actor/Singers: Hong Kong compared to US

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Eric Howell, Jan 6, 2005.

  1. Eric Howell

    Eric Howell Stunt Coordinator

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    Having watched many Hong Kong movies over the past several years, something about the stars of many of these movies has peeked my interest. Why is it that so many of the top Hong Kong actors and actresses are also pop singers? The ones that immediately come to mind are Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Anita Mui, and Sammi Cheng(there are several other examples, but these four were the highest profile crossovers I could think of). The two men appear to have been actors first and singers later, and the two women appear to have been singers first and then actors.

    Heck, when making a list of the most popular HK actors many of them would be pop stars, as the only ones I can think of that would be in the previously mentioned four’s league would be Maggie Cheung, Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow, and Chow Yun-Fat(these four, as far as I know, are not singing stars).
    The reason why this phenomena interests me is that here in the States, a singer trying work their way into movies(Maria Carey/Britney Spears/Bon Jovi) or an actor trying to work their way into music(David Hasselhoff?, can’t think of many examples of this) is almost universally regarded as a joke. The exception to this comes in the form of rap music and the crossovers occurring there, but I’d rather leave that topic for another discussion as I’m more interested in exploring actor/singer crossovers rather than actor/rapper crossovers. Madonna and Jennifer Lopez appear to be the top female actor/singers we have here in the states, and as far as male singer/actors… ahm maybe Tom Waits? Can anyone offer up some better modern day examples, who are close to the top in both acting and singing? Regardless, I don’t think any examples could come close to the cross media popularity of Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Anita Mui, or Sammi Cheng.

    In the past, I’d say Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and maybe Frank Sinatra would probably fit, though I don’t know if Sinatra was ever considered a leading actor(though he was an excellent character actor). Any other examples from the past of people at close to the top of their game in both acting and singing? The death of musicals seems to be a contributing factor to the decline of US actor/singers, but of the four HK artist I mentioned none of them do much if any singing in their movies(Anita Mui does sing in some of her movies, but the other three rarely ever do).

    What factors go towards making crossovers so popular/commonplace in the Hong Kong’s movie/music industry and yet so rare in the States? Is there any significance to how of the four HK actors/singers I brought up, it was the women who went from singers to actors and the men who went from acting to singing? Theories anyone? Also, for other countries, how common are actor/singer crossovers?
     
  2. Ricardo C

    Ricardo C Producer

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    It seems to be an international phenomenon the US has escaped so far. Over here, it's not uncommon for popular actors to launch careers as singers, as the two biggest TV networks in the country also own their own record labels. however, the reverse isn't as common, that is, seeing a singer start an acting career. I've also seen this happen in Mexico, and Europe.
     
  3. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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    Wasn't Mr. Chow's first attempt at American success as a singer?

    As to Americans close to the top in terms of singing and acting... Well, there's Harry Conick Jr., though he's not a big actor. I know you want to exclude hip-hop folks, but I think you really have to include Will Smith in this conversation, if only because he's pretty popular across demographics in both careers. Then there's the Wahlberg brothers, but I don't think they've ever been singers and actors at the same time.

    Bruce Willis and Eddie Murphy have both had albums that (IIRC) weren't actually all that bad, although they're considered novelty items now.

    And, of course, there's William Shatner. [​IMG]

    As to why it's not so common in the US as it is in other countries, I think it's because making a Hollywood movie is a bigger undertaking than making a movie in other parts of the world. It takes longer, then the publicity circuit has you shuttling between New York and LA, then internationally... It's much more of a full-time job than a movie that is made on a budget and opens in your home country. Even if you decide to cut an album, when are you going to tour? Heck, touring the USA itself is a much more daunting prospect than touring Hong Kong.
     
  4. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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    I think while the joke part is true, there are TONS of examples. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Minnie Driver, Jennifer Lopez... it seems any cutsy bimbo with a marginal hit show on fox makes a b-line for a recording studio to try to be B. Spears. With modern technology, just about anyone can sound passable- so why bother with talent when you've got a manager?

    Of course, if consumers aren't buying- I guess it's harmless.

    I always see asian culture as extremely pop-culture consumerism (and maybe incorrectly but...)-- even more so than the USA. As a result it seems natural for the various modes of pop media to be rolled into an easily promotable package. BUY BUY BUY.

    Makes it a whole lot easier, one source for everything. Of course, americans seem to be more obtuse.

    But that doesn't mean that 75% of mid-level Hollywood isn't in the studio, right now, perfecting their debut album.
     
  5. Nick C.

    Nick C. Second Unit

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    In response to Eric's original query, I'm pretty certain most, if not all of the four named, especially Jackie Chan, have recorded and released music albums over their careers, with Chan having done so more sucessfully than the other three.

    In addition to the Asian consumerism-mindedness noted by Vince, in Hong Kong, especially, the degree of fandom is particularly feverous. Once the star achieves fame or becomes a Hong Kong darling (think Julia Roberts after PRETTY WOMAN), it's virtually impossible to fall off that public pedestal--it's almost akin to a Supreme Court justice's life tenure. As such, singers and actors can switch mediums at will and have a built in fanbase and audience following him or her. Even without success on both arenas, actors/singers can sustain financially off just that fame for years to come. In a nice New York Times Magazine article (reproduced on a news site here), Maggie Cheung speaks of how she can go years without a movie role, and live very fashionably in Europe off of a few endorsements such as fashion and makeup products.

    This rampant consumerism just doesn't translate, fortunately, here in the states, such that talent (or in the case of pop/dance singers such as J.Lo, record producers) actually plays a role in determining their success in the marketplace. Also, I think there are only so many fish in the sea in terms of Hong Kong mega-stardom. Here in the states, a new Hollywood darling pops up each year, and usually only lasts that long before fading with a thud as his or her 15 seconds runs out.
     
  6. Eric Howell

    Eric Howell Stunt Coordinator

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    Ricardo, thanks for the info, it sounds like the US is at one extreme and Hong Kong is the other, and of the folks in between lean more towards Hong Kong’s view of stars.

    Jason, you are correct that Will Smith really should be included in this discussion, since he has probably come the closest to achieving the kind of success in both industries. Nobody else in the US, even if you include other rappers are anywhere close to him.

    Nick, I’m no connoisseur of canto-pop so I really have no idea the heights to which Maggie Cheung, Yun-Fat, Stephen Chow, or Jackie Chan have reached in that arena, but it is good to know that even they have at least cut some records. [​IMG]

    Pop-culture consumerism: Are we saying that HK just doesn’t have distinguishing tastes for their entertainment media as compared to the US? I really can’t accept that as the only reason why we don’t have much crossovers. The US consumer eats up just as much junk as the rest of the world, it just happens to be from more different artists apparently.

    I won’t pretend to understand the US music industry, but it seems like they have a more vested interest in creating stars rather than exploiting someone’s current stardom, and I bet that’s why movie to music crossovers are so uncommon here. I don’t believe it is because the talent level of the current pop singers is that much better than the singing talents some of our Hollywood stars. Vince and Nick both address the fact that in today’s music industry talent isn’t as important as the production itself, so the fact that they are trying to create and develop their stars out of nowhere instead of exploiting someone’s existing fame leads me to believe that there must be much more money to be made if you do it from scratch. This of course is only a theory.

    As far as music to movie crossovers? It would be in the film industry’s best interest to cast “stars” in their movies in order to more easily market them(assuming the product cost and quality could be maintained). The stigma against such practice in the US is probably something to be happy about, overall, but it is curious that the same stigma doesn’t exist in Asia (and apparently a lot of the rest of the world). All that being said, looking at the quality of acting these HK singers turned actresses have been able to accomplish on a constant basis, I’m glad the same stigma is not present in HK. For example, can you imagine anyone other than Faye Wong in her role in Chungking Express. Would a pop star of her profile ever be given such a role in a film like that here in the States? If so, would we immediately discredit the film as a result of the casting?
     
  7. SteveBro

    SteveBro Agent

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    Andy Lau, Anita Mui and Sammi Cheung were all pop stars before they got into acting. Jackie Chan has crossed over into music. Many HK stars are also involved with TV and commercials.

    This is an interesting phenomenon, and it might have to do with the fact that Hong Kong is so small - around 7 million people or so. Not only that, but the pool of Cantonese-speaking talent is not that big (limited pretty much to HK, Macau and China's Guangdong province).
     
  8. Danny Tse

    Danny Tse Producer

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    Nooooooo......first, a little background info.

    Both Andy Lau and Tony Leung, as well as Maggie Cheung (1983 Miss Hong Kong runner-up), Stephen Chow (host of a children's program, taking over for Tony Leung), and Chow Yun-fat, were products of Hong Kong's TVB. And TVB was founded and owned by Sir Run-run Shaw, of Shaw Brothers Studios fame. TVB is the most dominant TV broadcaster in Hong Kong, so much so that, until recent years, it also has its own record label, Capital Artists. TVB created its own "New Singing Talent Contest" back in 1983, with Anita Mui being the eventual winner, to jump start Capital Artists. You can say that this particular contest was the forerunner of "American Idol". Amongst Capital Artists' roster was a "has been", Leslie Cheung, who made his solo debut on a English language album on Hong Kong Polygram Records. Both Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung (John Woo's "A Better Tomorrow" series and the Cannes Film Festival award-winning "Happy Together") became huge singing stars while at Capital Artists, which by the late 80s, also debuted Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Jackie Chan, and Sammi Cheng as singers. Chow Yun-fat and Tony Leung have both recorded a couple of albums, but they never made serious efforts at pop stardom; they are always considered actors.

    As to why these HK entertainers crossover back and forth between film to music, the main reason is $$$. The market for Cantonese pop is relatively small because Cantonese is only considered a regional dialect of Chinese. After all, the population of HK is about 7 million people. Back in the late 80s, the number of HK pop singers singing in Mandarin can be counted on the fingers of one hand. So to supplement income, everyone crosses over. Another reason is that the HK audience is very fickled; an entertainer's name is not in the newspapers for a couple of weeks, he/she is forgotten. And thus, these entertainers have to be constantly be seen in the mass media....even in TV commercials and printed ads. And of course, when an actor/singer becomes successful, the management, most likely TVB, will want to "milk" the cash cow for all its worth.

    There are exceptions, of course. As far as I can remember, the late Teresa Teng, without a doubt the most popular Chinese pop star ever (Time magazine quoted her sales at over 100 million records when she died about 10 years ago at age 42), never made a movie.

    Now that William Hung's movie bombed BIG TIME in HK, I am so glad he will not follow in the footsteps of Andy Lau, Sammi Cheng, etc....
     
  9. Eric Howell

    Eric Howell Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks so much for your efforts in setting me straight Danny. Keep in mind I’m not a follower of the canto pop music, so the information I have on the relative stardom of these singers is limited to the supplements on DVDs and the bio info I could find on the net(if it happened to be in English). So to summarize, please check me on this, of the eight actors I listed all have recorded records, some concentrate on their singing stardom more so than others. Would this breakdown of music concentration look something like this?:

    Heavy Concentration: Sammi Cheng, Anita Mui, Andy Lau, Leslie Cheung
    Medium Concentration: Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow
    Low Concentration: Chow Yun-fat, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung

    Looks like to summarize the reasons HK does crossovers:
    1. Low Cantonese Population(7 mil). Entertainers all fighting for the same audience, so they diversify to maximize income.
    2. Some of the major media companies have stakes in both film/TV and music and encourage their stars to crossover to maximize $$.
    3. HK population likes to see their stars keeping busy(ie always finding their way to their audience, be in it TV/film/music/advertising)

    As far as how the above 3 reasons relate in the US to the ability to crossover:
    1. Films require a much loner time commitment in the US than HK, so Singers might not want to block out that much time for an acting gig, and actors wont have much time to cut an album.
    2. By now, I’m pretty sure the huge corporations that own the film industry also have stakes in the music industry, so you’d think it would create an environment conductive to crossovers. My previous comments on the US music industry and how it is apparently better for them to create stars from scratch rather than exploit someone’s stardom are possible reasons why crossovers aren’t encouraged by these studios as much here in the US.
    3. I think the US is no different, we like to hear about our favorite stars morning day and night as well(Access Hollywood, The Inquirer, E!). The only difference is the whole stigma attached to changing your artistic medium here in the US. For example, a Film Actor doing commercials is very rare here in the States, mainly because commercials are considered the bottom of the acting totem pole in terms of prestige(Commercials
     
  10. Danny Tse

    Danny Tse Producer

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    Eric,

    Stephen Chow and Maggie Cheung never recorded any albums, to the best of my knowledge. While Chow Yun-fat and Tony Leung have both recorded albums, they did it as side projects.

    As for the others, my opinion is that they concentrate on both film and music evenly as much as possible. In fact, while I want to say they alternate between film projects and albums on a regular basis, the reality is that they do films and music at the same time. This is one way to constantly have one's name in the entertainment press all the time. On top of the film and music projects, these entertainers also do concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum, where the number of shows done is a measure of one's popularity and of bragging rights. Then there are concerts in mainland China and overseas (i.e. SE Asia, Taiwan, the US, and Canada). BTW, none of the stars mentioned so far holds the record at HK Coliseum.

    Another reason why some stars have time to crossover is that they don't really fully commit themselves to a certain project. For example, back in the 80s and early 90s, Jackie Chan never dubbed his own voice in his movies. No, not even in his native Cantonese. It was always some guy, the same guy, that do Jackie Chan's voice in Cantonese. JC will write, direct, produce, and do all the stunts, but he doesn't have the time to record his own dialog in post-production. For the most part, the HK audience accepts this type of practice. To be fair, actors like Chow Yun-fat, Stephen Chow, and the Hui Brothers always insisted on recording their own dialogs themselves.

    In HK, the music industry is basically controlled by the "Big 4" (Sony/BMG, Universal Music, Warner Music, and EMI). Local labels like Capital Artists come and go. The only instance of a HK movie studio having a close relationship with a record company was back in 1985, when HK movie company Cinema City (home of John Woo and Tsai Hark) formed Cinepoly Records with HK Polygram Records. The creation of the record company allowed cross-promotion between films and music. During the mid 80s to early 90s, the label had artists such as Leslie Cheung, Shirley Wong (you know her as Faye Wong today), and the biggest of all crossover stars, Sam Hui. While Cinema City has folded and Polygram Records is now part of Universal Music, the Cinepoly label continues.
     

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