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Archive for the ‘Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi’ Category

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) Copyright © 2002-2021 Ross Chen