Pretty boy prat­fall?

The in­va­sion of China’s teen idols, amorously called ‘young fresh meat’, has trig­gered a back­lash in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try that in­sists on pro­fes­sional stan­dards.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - RAY­MOND ZHOU Con­tact the writer at ray­mondzhou@chi­nadaily.com.cn

China’s teen idols may be fac­ing a back­lash in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try.

Most of the teen idols have dis­played lim­ited act­ing skills. Very of­ten, they would as­sume one ex­pres­sion — cool — and carry it to the end of a movie.

It seems the “young fresh meat” phe­nom­e­non has reached a tip­ping point.

It is a Chi­nese slang term that refers to teen idols, es­pe­cially male. Think of Justin Bieber when he was first break­ing out.

For sev­eral years now, the an­drog­y­nous faces have been splat­tered all across bill­boards and screens, not to men­tion cy­berspace where their pres­ence is over­whelm­ing. Many started as mem­bers of boy bands and branched off to other plat­forms of show­biz.

Their me­te­oric rise has caught many off guard. For ex­am­ple, some of them are re­port­edly dan­gling ask­ing prices in nine fig­ures for a film role. For those of you not quick with math, that equates to a min­i­mum of 100 mil­lion yuan ($14.7 mil­lion), higher than most A-list su­per­stars with a proven track record.

But in a span of just a cou­ple years, their in­flu­ence on ticket sales may have come full cir­cle.

Take KrisWu. Barely two years have lapsed be­tween Some­where On­lyWe Know, his big-screen de­but, and Sweet Six­teen, both heav­ily de­pen­dent on his idol ap­peal, and the box-of­fice num­bers have de­clined from 286 mil­lion yuan to 149 mil­lion.

One can as­sume his price for the lat­ter was much higher, leav­ing the pro­duc­ers and in­vestors pos­si­bly in the red.

The alarm bell was sounded when L.O.R.D (Leg­end of Rav­aging Dy­nas­ties), amass­ing half a dozen of the big­gest names in­clud­ingWu and one of the TF Boys, grossed only 382 mil­lion yuan when the fore­cast was 2 bil­lion or more.

Where were their loyal fans when they were needed? Per­haps they had over­lap­ping fan bases.

If you care to ex­am­ine the data, movies they starred in usu­ally reg­is­tered be­tween 100 and 400 mil­lion yuan in box-of­fice re­turns, which is re­spectable by nor­mal stan­dard. But once you fac­tor in their newly as­tro­nom­i­cal rates, the projects ap­pear un­prof­itable.

There are ex­cep­tions of course: Time Raiders, this sum­mer’s big­gest hit, touched the mile­stone of 1 bil­lion yuan. It fea­tured Jing Bo­ran and Lu Han, two of the boy­ish ac­tors who, on screen, ban­tered like a cou­ple. But the fact that the book it was adapted from has been a ver­i­ta­ble fran­chise must have ac­counted for some­thing.

Last year’s Mr. Six was both a crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial sen­sa­tion, butWu and Li Yifeng played only sup­port­ing roles and were not viewed as re­spon­si­ble for the sus­tained word of mouth it gar­nered beyond the first few days of re­lease.

Zhang Yi­mou’s upcoming Great Wall, with a starry cast that in­cludes Lu Han, Ed­die Peng, Kenny Lin, Huang Xuan, Chen Xue­dong and Kar­ryWang, may not take flight or crash on the strengths — or lack thereof — of the above heart­throbs alone. They come off more as ic­ing on the cake than the key in­gre­di­ent. Yes, to cat­a­pult a movie beyond the half­bil­lion-yuan mark, you’ll need more than star power. You’ll need word of mouth.

Pam­pered kids

Eco­nom­ics can eas­ily ex­plain their over-the-roof prices: They are too much in de­mand. But it can­not ex­plain why some of them act like spoiled brats. Well, you can. Un­pro­fes­sional be­hav­ior that is nor­mally not tol­er­ated by peers be­comes sim­ply— well, quirky— once they know they are the dra­wof the crowd.

Most of the teen idols have dis­played lim­ited act­ing skills. Very of­ten, they would as­sume one ex­pres­sion— cool— and carry it to the end of a movie.

Li Yifeng was widely panned for not mastering the Bei­jing di­alect while play­ing a na­tive kid from the hu­tong (al­ley) in Mr. Six. It was an irony that he got an award from the Hun­dred Flow­ers Award for it, which in­stantly turned the event into a joke and showed how much the es­tab­lish­ment was court­ing them be­cause they have the power to whip up a house of scream­ing fans. They have a much eas­ier time than The Don­ald— they just smile and wave, no need to use nasty words.

It has been re­ported that some of them— and this in­cludes hot young fe­male stars— don’t give ad­e­quate time to each role. Any shots that are not close-up are done by stand-in look-alikes. Direc­tors and pro­duc­ers have to beg them for an ex­tra take.

Some don’t even take the trou­ble to mem­o­rize the lines. In­stead of the text in the script, they sim­ply mouth a string of nu­mer­als, usu­ally one through seven and then back­ward, so that the ac­tual lines can be dubbed in post­pro­duc­tion by some­one else.

Such an ap­palling de­gree of un­pro­fes­sion­al­ism has an­tag­o­nized even the most mild-man­nered peers.

Di­rec­tor Yee Tung-shing has vowed never to hire any­one who si­mul­ta­ne­ously takes on mul­ti­ple gigs and in­sists the in-de­mand star be ded­i­cated to just one project at a time.

Fem­i­nism run­ning amok?

There is one sil­ver lin­ing around the “young fresh meat” cloud and that is the rise of girl power.

Call it equal-op­por­tu­nity ex­ploita­tion. In the old days, beau­ti­ful young women were— and still are — ob­jec­ti­fied by the male au­di­ence. While good-look­ing male stars have been in ex­is­tence since the ad­vent of movies or theater, the bla­tant ex­ploita­tion of them just for the sake of their phys­i­cal beauty is rel­a­tively new in China. It tes­ti­fies to the bur­geon­ing eco­nomic power of to­day’s women.

Ur­ban white-col­lar fe­males are heav­ily in­flu­enced by cul­tural im­ports like Sex and the City and refuse to con­tinue play­ing the prim and proper role of women dic­tated by thou­sands of years of tra­di­tion.

The term “young fresh meat” it­self smacks of such brazen­ness. It is said to be an ex­cla­ma­tion from fe­male pa­trons who screen and vet gigo­los. Whether it was used tongue-in-cheek, tens of mil­lions of women, who prob­a­bly never guessed its ori­gin, just gid­dily called their idols by this moniker — and in the case of South Korean stars—“hus­bands”.

Kai Ko, one such boy toy, saw his ca­reer go­ing down the drain when ex­treme fan fer­vor in the af­ter­math of his dop­ing in­ci­dent alarmed the au­thor­i­ties, who banned him from pub­lic ap­pear­ances.

How­ever, it is un­fair to la­bel all of them as spoiled. Some will emerge as rep­utable ac­tors. But oth­ers seem to be acutely aware of their own lim­ited po­ten­tial as any­thing other than pretty poster boys and just want to cash in be­fore reach­ing their ex­pi­ra­tion date. By the time the next pack of fresh meat rolls around, they’ll be sit­ting on a moun­tain of nest eggs.

As for the mar­ket de­mand for im­mac­u­late fa­cial fea­tures and per­fect physiques, hope­fully it will be sep­a­rated from art and get its own cat­e­gory of en­ter­tain­ment. We won’t hate you be­cause you’re beau­ti­ful. Just don’t call your­self an ac­tor. Be­ing an ac­tor re­quires cer­tain prin­ci­ples of con­duct and ca­pa­bil­ity other than a pro­fu­sion of makeup.

WANG SHUQI / FOR CHINA DAILY

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