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… On this day, I see clearly, everything has come to life.

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with 聚言莊﹕The House Where Words Gather.

Looking Beyond “Sexy Photos Gate”

Now that the initial blast waves from the explosive celebrity photos scandal have passed and those involved have started emerging from their fallout shelters, here is some speculation on the damage this “strange, strange ordeal” has inflicted on the careers of the three central figures — Edison Chen Kwoon-Hei, Gillian Chung Yan-Tung and Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi:

Instead of adding my voice to the cacophony of opinions on “Sexy Photos Gate” aka “Celebrity Photos Scandal” aka “Edison-Gillian-Cecilia-Bobo Picture Scandal”, I will be focusing solely on the implications that the scandal may have on the careers of the three major celebrities who are still involved in the entertainment circle. Besides, I really have no thoughts on the scandal at large because my thoughts are mostly with the victims of the snowstorms in China. (Sorry Andy Lau, couldn’t resist. We kid because we love …). To those of you who believe that speculation on the career prospects of these celebrities is inappropriate, I ask you to consider the following: These people have cultivated an interest in themselves and have profited from that interest. It is fair game to discuss how this scandal may effect that interest.

Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi

Career-wise, “Sexy Photos Gate” should not have a major effect on Cecilia Cheung. Before the scandal hit, her popularity had already peaked and she was on the downside of her career. Her last major movie release was in 2006 and her last new Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chisong was recorded in 2005. In the past two years, her career has consisted of advertising and promotional work, television appearances and voiceover roles. Cheung’s most significant project in this period was a biographical Mainland television drama on the life of Zhou Xuan. Her days of being a major box office draw for big budget projects and holiday movies were already over so the scandal should not damage her film career in any significant way as it likely would have continued based upon factors other than star power.

As for her celebrity image, the scandal should not have a detrimental effect because Cheung did not promote herself as a paragon of virtue and it was no secret that she liked to enjoy life. Furthermore, the public perception of Cheung seems to be that — as a wife and mother — she had put her “wild” days behind her and had moved on to the next stage of her life. Among Cheung, Gillian Chung and Edison Chen, Cheung is the one most likely to be perceived by the public as a “victim”. Apart from some desultory comments about her personal grooming habits, the response to Cheung’s part in the scandal — in both discussion forms and media articles — has been mostly sympathetic.

Gillian Chung Yan-Tung

Gillian Chung Yan-Tung“Live by the sword, die by the sword” best describes the predicament of Gillian Chung Yan-Tung. Along with her Twins’ bandmate Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin, Chung made a living by promoting herself and everything from instant noodles to Hong Kong Disneyland using a cute and innocent personna. The scandal has obliterated that image and her reliance on being sweet and squeaky-clean (unlike Charlene Choi, Gillian Chung has not been able to diversify herself from the Twins brand) means that recovering from the scandal will be difficult.

While the release of the first photos was a grave wound to her career, the cause-of-death will be the inept response by her publicity handlers at Emperor Entertainment Group (EEG). Rather than issue blanket denials and have their sympathetic media outlets attempt to debunk the photos by citing unnamed “experts”, EEG should have determined the authenticity of the photos and had Gillian Chung confront the public as quickly as possible. Their response should have been based upon the precedent set by the “Aaron Kwok Love Trap Incident of 1999″.

In August 1999, a videotape of Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing caressing a woman in an Australian hotel room was filmed by con Aaron Kwok Fu-Singartists who hoped to blackmail Kwok with it. Instead of buckling to the demands, Kwok and his manager filed a criminal complaint and an injunction in an Australian court to block the sale of the video. They then held a press conference to publicly address the matter. At the event, Kwok admitted to being attracted by the woman and to caressing her in a hotel room. He went on to emphasize that he was a victim of a scam and that the only thing he was guilty of was being attracted to a woman. Kwok: “I am a victim of love. It is hurtful to be cheated like this.”

At that point in his career, Kwok projected a clean-cut image — though not to the extent of Gillian Chung — so the incident was a definite threat to his carefully-crafted reputation. By confronting the matter directly, rapidly addressing the public and reminding people that he was a victim, Kwok was able to quell wild speculation and minimize the damage. Eight years later, he is nominated for a Hong Kong Film Award and holding a concert series at AsiaWorld-Expo.

If Gillian Chung and EEG reacted similarly to “Sexy Photos Gate”, the blow to her career may have been limited to damaging rather than catastrophic. If the photos were indeed fake, then Chung should have been out in public immediately bemoaning the attack on her good name. If the photos were authentic, Chung should have reacted like Kwok did in 1998. She should have held a press conference and admitted to being in the photos. The plan should have called for her to go “all-in” with her wholesome and innocent image by declaring that Edison Chen was her first love and that she agreed to the photos because she was naive and inexperienced. She then could have reminded the public that she was a victim by reacting like she did during the EasyFinder Scandal of 2006. It may not have been convincing but it would have been better than what happened.

Understandably, Chung may have been too mortified by the photos to appear in public during the first days of the scandal but EEG should have impressed upon her that it was critical for her to get her message out to the media and control, somewhat, the discussion over the scandal. Aaron Kwok addressed the public after the first “Love Trap” stories broke. Ekin Cheng Yi-Kin held a press conference when news of his relationship with Gigi Leung Wing-Kei surfaced. Jackie Chan spoke to the press about “Dragon Seed” when it became clear the story could not be contained. Facing the public when a scandal breaks is part of the job when you are an HK entertainment idol. Gillian Chung and EEG should have realized this during week one of the scandal.

The only way EEG can be absolved of blame for the way they handled the matter is if they went with the full denial because Gillian Chung told them on day one that the photos were fake. Otherwise, they were extremely foolish for ignoring the old Chinese adage: 紙包不著火 (”paper cannot cover up a fire”).

As it stands now, Gillian Chung has to dig out of a very deep hole if she wants to restore her career. Advertisers may find her too “radioactive” to work with because reaction to her part in the scandal has not been sympathetic. The majority view is that she is a hypocrite for maintaining a cute and chaste image in public while being less than chaste in private. Moreover, the sympathy she garnered from the EasyFinder Scandal has turned into animus as her reaction to the spy-camera photos is now perceived as calculated and disingenuous.

It appears that EEG has adopted a strategy of “keep a stiff upper lip and proceed like nothing happened”. It may be the only option available because to try adopting a different image — “good girl gone bad”, for example — would make Chung appear desperate. The critical question in the coming months will be: How much of her fanbase can Gillian Chung keep? If she can keep enough to still be profitable, then she and Twins will survive. If not, EEG will break Twins up, slowly and quietly marginalize Gillian Chung and send her off to join the ranks of faded HK starlets. If it happens, the move will not be overt. After a suitable waiting period that allows them a little face-saving distance from the scandal, Twins will break up because it is the “natural time” and Gillian Chung will be “taking a break” because she needs to “rest” or because she is going to Japan or the United States or England to take “singing/acting lessons”.

Though the situation may appear bleak, there are a few factors working in Chung’s favour. First, EEG and its publicity machine is solidly behind her. Mani Fok Man-Hei, EEG super-manager, has been spinning the line that Chung is still being offered movie work and advertising jobs. Media outlets sympathetic to EEG have been running stories calling her “sincere” and “brave”. Second, it appears that the powers-that-be in the entertainment circle — investors and producers — see Chung as a “victim” and are willing to give her every opportunity to rehabilitate herself. Will that be enough? The answer will come in a year or so from now but, one thing is certain, Gillian Chung and Twins will never be as popular or as profitable as they were before January 27th, 2008.

Edison Chen Kwoon-Hei

History has shown that if a celebrity is talented, popular or rich, it is possible to weather everything from minor transgressions to serious criminal charges. So, is Edison Chen talented enough, popular enough or rich enough for his career to survive “Sexy Photos Gate”? Conventional wisdom suggests no. However, Edison Chen’s career has defied conventional wisdom so he cannot be written off. Nonetheless, it is difficult to envision a scenario in which Chen’s career does not end up being significantly diminished by the scandal.

Chen’s appeal to the Hong Kong market was based primarily on a hip-hop, bad boy image. He used it to establish himself, with varying degrees of success, in film, music, advertising and business. Not only has the scandal — and Chen’s bizarre Edison Chen Kwoon-Heiresponse to it — severely damaged that “street cred”, he has become a laughingstock to some and an object of scorn to others. On Internet discussion forums, there are some who applaud Chen for his sexual exploits but they are vastly outnumbered by posters who wonder what psychological inadequacy led Chen to record them with such fervour and those who make derisive comments about his genitalia. In addition, being sexually prolific does not carry the same cachet in the conservative HK market as it does in other markets.

Furthermore, Chen’s bizarre response to the scandal — from the blog post about his new film SNIPER to chastising the media for not “getting their facts straight” to the Bin Laden-like video statement from an undisclosed location to the long delay in directly addressing the public — has painted him as a coward in the eyes of most. One poster on a Chinese-language discussion board likened Chen’s response to a person reacting to 9/11 by refusing to acknowledge anything happened then ignoring the magnitude of the situation by complaining that it “ruined a sunny day”. Many have stated that a true “bad boy” would face the public like a “real man” and not act like a 縮頭烏龜 (”turtle hiding inside its shell”). Others question the “bad boy” image by wondering if a real “bad ass” would keep a stuffed animal on his bed or have a pink cotton-candy themed laptop computer.

Evidence of Chen’s falling status has emerged rapidly. The release of his Columbia Pictures/Star Overseas film, JUMP, has been pushed back to October 1st from May 1st. Reportedly, Columbia Pictures called for the delay because they wanted Chen excised from the film. Earlier this month, Chen’s ads for the Manhattan Titanium credit card were pulled. This past weekend, Sing Tao Daily reported that the cashless payment system, EPS, has dropped him from its roster of celebrity spokespersons — pulling all billboards and television spots that featured Chen. It appears then that investors and producers have seen the emphatically negative reaction to Chen and decided to disassociate themselves from him. If that is the case then it will be extremely difficult for Chen to re-establish himself in the entertainment circle.

On the positive side of the ledger, Chen is not without resources. He still has sympathetic media outlets willing to proclaim that his trip away from Hong Kong was a planned Lunar New Year holiday. They have also tried propping up Chen’s image by dropping reminders that Anthony Wong Chau-Sang is his “godfather” and Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah is his “godsister”. The release of THE DARK KNIGHT this summer may get him some favourable media coverage. Moreover, it is impossible to dismiss Chen entirely because he accomplished the remarkable feat of building a career in the Hong Kong market based on a hip-hop, bad boy image that would have been dismissed as laughable in the West (given the history of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry and the multiple murders and arrests that it spawned). He beat the odds once, it is possible that he might do it again. The odds, however, are even longer this time around and most gamblers would probably not make that bet.

IMAGE CREDITS: Reuters (Cecilia Cheung), Associated Press (Gillian Chung), Sil-Metropol Organization (Aaron Kwok), Edison Chen (Edison Chen)

14 Responses to “Looking Beyond “Sexy Photos Gate””

  1. CHW Says:

    Sorry, I don’t quite get it — what does Edison Chen have to do with THE DARK KNIGHT?

  2. tt Says:

    the pencil dick loser has a cameo in dark knight. i read on asianfanatics that he’s cut out of that too. i think it was easy to do because the part was as small as his dick.

  3. nicole Says:

    Well said Kozo, bravo!

    Personally I think Gillian Chung will survive this scandal by changing her image slowly and Wong Jing probably can help by casting her in his next movie. As for the fate of Twins, it’s about time their split up and go solo.

    Cecilia Cheung will be the good and obedient Mrs Nicholas Tse serving tea to Patrick Tse and listening to the good advice of Deborah Li.

    As for Edison Chen, well … he enjoyed himself and have a whole bunch of ‘personal collection’ to view once in a while. He just ain’t getting the $$$ after this.

  4. ed Says:

    i thought cecilia’s film career hit a snag due to the dirth of good roles? it seemed she went back and forth between derek yee and wong jing. although anthony wong said she’s “not” a good actress without solid directors behind her, i’m still surprised her career has lost some steam earlier than isabella leong and esp maggie q.

  5. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    Hi Nicole,

    I didn’t write this piece. It was written by Sanney Leung, whose grasp on this topic is much more fair and balanced than mine could ever be. I wish I could write as intelligently as he can on this subject, but I usually end up making jokes instead. It’s my way.

    Sanney’s take on this is very reasonable. The only wrench in the works I could see is A) the pictures return, and they’re far, far worse than anyone imagined, or B) something bad happens to Edison Chen, as has been rumored occasionally here in Hong Kong.

    A lot of people here talk about how Edison is in “danger” from various types, i.e. triad types or pissed off investors and fans. There are even coalitions of mothers who want his “weapon” taken away to render him harmless to future generations of females. FYI, when they say “weapon”, they’re not talking about his camera.

  6. eliza bennet Says:

    Thank you for your insights Sanney. As a fan of Cecilia’s acting I never saw that her career is having a downslide (I blame The Promise!!!). Your post sure was a wake up call as far as I’m concerned. If your predictions come true, it will be sort of a waste of a good actress.

    And for Edison, it’s not a secret that I have never liked him (neither as an actor, nor as an entertainment personality) but now I find myself feeling sorry for him since I actually believe that there is a change that he may not survive this with all his organs intact.

  7. Will Says:

    Sanney,

    “No thoughts because of the snowstorms in China”? Damn snowstorms! I was hoping to hear what you thought of everything. Surely, you must have SOME opinions.

  8. glenn Says:

    Personal grooming aside, I have always been a fan of Cecilia’s acting based on her work in Failan and One Nite in Mongkok and other films. She has that kind of tough personality that will allow her to make a comeback when she is older. She can take off a few years and then return when the next good project surfaces.

    Eliza is right; The Promise and Shopaholics hurt her career as much as these pictures.

    And Twins were due to break up anyway and both Charlene and Gillian have done good work solo — Charlene in Simply Actors and others and Gillian in Beyond Our Ken and other flicks.

    I think Edison’s career is probably done; as much as I was/am transfixed by the photos, I dislike the guy for feeling the need to take that many of so many famous women.

    And after his cameo in Trivial Matters, I like him even less.

    He was okay in Dog Bite Dog but he didn’t have to speak in that did he?

  9. Etchy Says:

    great analysis, you’re right, denying those photos the way they did was a joke, and whoever it was that stole them made them look like idiots for it.

  10. nicole Says:

    Hi Sanney, I apologize for my mistake and thanks for giving an excellent view on this scandal. Well done.

    Hi Kozo, thanks for thought. Appreciate it. I also admire your work.

  11. MW Says:

    Good post and observations.

    For Cecilia, her career was slowing down and the marriage/son helped too. But from a PR image point, Cecilia has always been a bit wild so it’s no surprise she partook in these pictures. Career, I think she’ll be fine after the heat dies down a bit. Her relationship with Nic and the Tse family might be a bit rockier though.

    The Twins should have separated a while back anyways but they continued to print money for EEG, their individual acts are much better anyways. I think Gillian is done, her image superseded her talents and even her looks. EEG will probably wait a year or so and separate them but can corporate sponsors and the audience ever see Gillian the same again? Every time you see her face on TV or on an ad, would you not think of the pictures?

    Edison’s career in HK is over. He was already backing up to a producer/behind the scenes role. But no corporate investors would want to go close in fear of a PR disaster again. Plus, Twins fans and anyone who felt offended by the pictures and his actions won’t forgive easily.

  12. Lester Mak Says:

    Sanney,

    Good piece, and to a certain extent, I agree with the short term stuff. Cecilia Cheung has been out of the limelight enough and with a reputation already of not being squeaky clean that she may well survive it.

    For Edison Chen, I think it’s much the same, but he’ll have to lie low for a while.

    For Gillian Chung, she is the one in the worst position, and it all has been badly managed in the public. Given the Malaysia bra photo incident, EEG really didn’t get this right at all. But I reckon she is going to have to reinvent herself. I hope EEG don’t try to fix it all by thrusting her into the limelight right now. The dust needs to settle, and people need to forget (most of) what happened. In some ways, I think about her character in the film Beyond Our Ken.

    Ironically, it tells the story of a girl whose ex-boyfriend posts up nude photos of her and she tries to get back at his new girlfriend. Not to give the story away, but it isn’t as straightforward as that, but if I were to reinvent her, it’s that other side of her we need to see. An added dimension that says she isn’t that innocent…

    Anyway, it’s a real shame that basically 9 peoples’ careers are ruined by someone who did something they shouldn’t have. Let the books be thrown at the cuprit(s)!

  13. rick Says:

    Being a Chinese-American living in the U.S. and hearing about this Sexy Photo Gate was big news. The US have Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Robert Downey Jr., Rob Lowe, etc. etc. The Japanese have anime porn by the billions. It seems like the Western influenced countries are sex-obsessed. Who would think that the Chinese would do such a thing? Outrageous!

    Beautiful Asian women have it made in the U.S., being lust after by white men who think they are superior to Asian men. So in this respect, with their sweet puppy blue eyes and humble exterior, they can win any Asian woman’s heart. Asian men in the U.S., however, are stereotyped as suppressive husbands, controlling chauvinists who treat their own women like slaves. Asian men in the U.S., no matter how talented and good looking they are, have it hard (unless they are in computers or finance). They are no match for white men, or any men for that matter. And now Edison Chen comes around! Making Asian men look like they are not sexually-handicapped after all! Asian men are actually wanted by beautiful Asian women! I cannot believe it! Damn you, Edison! How can you go down on Asian women like a sex slave? How can you show tons of photos of naked beautiful women sucking on your limp dick? Aren’t you afraid white men will laugh? I guess size doesn’t matter anymore! It’s what you do to the woman that counts! Damn you, Edison!

    If the Chinese people will not forgive these people in the scandal, then I guess we will never move forward. For crying out loud, the U.S. forgave Bill Clinton, the president of the United States! Sure it all leaves a bad taste. Clinton will forever be scorned, Paris Hilton may never get a real actress job. But they are not publicly condemned or killed off. It is just old news, old gossips. Can the Chinese people do the same?

    I am not saying that this scandal was innocent. It was kind of sleazy. But if their lives are forever destroyed without any second chances, then the U.S., Japanese, Europeans will think that the Chinese will never be a free-spirited country. Of course, we should have a moral code. But let the people decide, not the media, not the industry, not the government.

  14. lurve Says:

    i think that both of them is sweet together. aaron and cecilia

 
 
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