L-News Issue #5
April 11th 1998
- - Sony Music Hong Kong has signed Cantopop star Leon Lai to a new
(Billboard Bulletin, March 20),
Rumored by local Chinese-language press reports to be valued at 10 million
Hong Kong dollars. Sony Hong Kong General Manager Sonya Ho-Asjoe says she
cannot comment on the figure but addresses that she is "very excited"
to have a local artist of Lai's stature at the company. Despite the currently
weak economy, Sony's business has been on the rise in Asia due to the strong
showing throughout the region of the "Titanic" soundtrack and
Celine Dion's "Let's Talk About Love," as well as a strong Taiwanese
company under the directorship of managing director Roger Lee. For years,
Sony has strived to find a strong Hong Kong local-repertoire star, and
with Lai, the company believes it has found its man. Sony Music Asia president
Richard Denekamp says, "When I saw Leon perform during one of his
20 sold-out shows in the Hong Kong Coliseum last December, I was blow away."
Lai's star rose in the early '90s at Polygram, the company that developed
his career as one of Cantopop's "four heavenly kings" (along
with Polygram's Jacky Cheung, BMG/Music Impact's Andy Lau, and Warner Music's
Aaron Kwok). Lai became one of Hong Kong's biggest-selling artists, often
racking up several-hundred-thousand sales of both Cantonese and Mandarin
albums. Lai's biggest seller was the 1995 Cantonese title "Perhaps"
which sold more than half a million copies, according to the label.
Lai's switch to Sony comes on the heels of a relatively fallow period for the Hong Kong-born crooner. A time spent largely in the shadow of Polygram superstar Cheung, the biggest-selling artist in Chinese music history and one of the few remaining bright spots in a genre whose selling power is weakening badly. Significantly, Polygram VP of regional marketing (regional pop) Alex Chan says the company has an unreleased Mandarin-language Leon Lai album waiting for the market. Chan says it will be marketed by his company, though details of the release have yet to be confirmed.
If the figures of Lai's deal with Sony prove accurate, the signing comes as the largest in the pan-China market since EMI signed Hong Kong-born Chinese pop diva Faye Wong (Billboard Bulletin, May 21, 1997), reportedly for a similar figure. Wong, like Lai, left a Polygram label, Cinepoly, to join her new Company.
- - SCMP (South China Morning Post)
The Man With The Golden Contract
Watching 10 grown men shuffling after singer Leon Lai Ming as he poses for pictures can be rather entertaining. It is like a game of Simon Says, but would be called Leon Does. It looks as if Lai is being chased round the room by an excited swarm of big black bees.
When $40 million - the price Lai's new record company, Sony Music, is rumored to have paid to get him - walks into a room, it is only natural that men in black armed with walkie-talkies dance in attendance (probably to the accompaniment of the Police's Every Breath You Take). After all, the place must be fraught with danger. All the entrances in this part of The Repulse Bay had been sealed by burly men, but what about the open windows, right? And besides, there were as many as 25 female fans still waiting patiently outside.
Who knows what hysteria may come over them? Who knows if their million-dollar bird in his gilded cage might suddenly decide to make a bid for freedom, or if the photographer might be a secret assassin sent by a rival?
Escorted by the same buzzing swarm to a table for the interview - tossing in one or two more promotions staff for effect - it began to dawn on me how tough life can be for a pop idol. Uh-oh, I've used the dreaded i-word. "Idol singer, yeah, means can't sing. That's all right," Lai huffed, gulping iced water.
The tag "idol singer" has been a sore point for Lai for as long as... well, he has been called an idol singer.
He has long tried to shake off the moniker and even now, the mere mention sends his protective shields up faster than the Starship Enterprise under attack.
"I suppose if I put on a mask one day, they might say that I'm a good singer. I don't know. A lot of people are quite innocent [from accusations].
"I have been lucky - I can't say I am not - but I am also quite innocent. I don't care about what others say. "To me, if you have a firm footing in the market place, that's 'power'. If you don't have market value then it makes no difference whether people call you a 'power singer' or an 'idol singer'."
Lai undoubtedly still has market value. His lucrative deal with Sony is said to be worth up to $40 million and will include eight albums up to 2000. The singer is probably hoping his new deal will also give him more credibility: Lai dearly wants to be taken seriously. Lai's career began when he was named second runner-up in TVB's 1987 New Talent Singing Contest. After a two-year recording contract, which led nowhere, he signed with PolyGram in 1989. He was cast in a few TVB dramas and quickly built up a following of fans. The record label was quick to launch him into the inner orbit of Canto-pop superstars. Between records, Lai has also appeared in a number of dramatic films such as Peter Chan's Comrades, Almost A Love Story and Ann Hui's recent Eighteen Springs.
Although Comrades featured one of his best performances, he was overlooked in the Hong Kong Film Awards nomination list last year. He is in the middle of filming a Mabel Cheung production, which sees him as a young Hong Kong University student in the times of businessman and educational philanthropist Sir Robert Ho Tung more than 100 years ago. After seven years with PolyGram, joining Sony must have felt a little like leaving home for the first time, I ventured. "It's the first time I am leaving my old working space to go to a new working space. In the old working space, I've already done what I wanted to do but I haven't worked in the other before," said Lai, gravely.
"I can't always stay in the same place and do the same thing. I've already become good friends with the people in the old space but I think I should give myself the chance to try a new environment. It is fairer to me and to everyone else."
The 29-year-old was attracted to his "new working space" because he felt the company had strong international and internal backing which would be able to provide him with better songwriting material.
But this should not be construed as criticism against his "old working space", he volunteered quickly. "I want to try new things. I don't feel that the old place was not good. It had its good points but I think it is time to try new things and new directions.
"I'm just a worker. I respect the media for being interested in me but my move is already a fact. There is no need to debate which [company] is better or worse. There is still a bond of friendship with my old company."
Whether his move would mean he would demand more control over his work, the Beijing-born Lai was unwilling to say: "I don't have demands. Well, maybe I do, but I don't see the need to tell others."
Of himself, however, he said his demands were "high, very high".
Despite the fact that his deal demands a high turnover of albums, he said quality, not quantity, would be his keyword from now on as far as his album releases are concerned. "Only when we are sure the songs are the best will we release the album. No longer will albums be rushed to coincide with the release of a commercial or whatever, because then the audience will suffer and I will suffer."
Although his producer Mark Lui Chung-tak has already started collecting songs for the new album, Lai's lips were once more sealed as to what the music-buying public can expect from him.
"I feel you should not have expectations of me. You should give yourself time to listen to what I will produce in future. Don't ask me before I do it. That's the straight answer.
"I haven't done anything yet. I can't tell or expect [to have] the answer. Once I have done it, I will let people judge whether it is good or bad. I enjoy the process of making albums but unfortunately only the person who is doing it can feel it. Even if I tell anyone, they cannot share my feelings."
Does one detect a chord of frustration? "The market is biased and there is frustration," he stressed. "But we have to accept that. If you fail the first time, try again. If you try again and you fail again, then it's time to say goodbye. We have to face reality. "The system is like that. I can't help that so I try to use time and sincerity to change things. If I can't, then I just write it off as fate."
Before I could rattle off more questions that Lai could do a barnyard dance around, his minders started to invade our little chat space. I said my goodbyes and wrote it off to fate: after all, the reality is that I could never share the experience of being an i . . . oops, I mean, a Canto-pop star.
But somehow, I get the feeling it must cramp one's style awfully.
** Special Reports **
--Leon in Korea
Leon Lai going forward the world with "Power
interview with TV Guide(One of the most popular Weekly Magazine) ----------------------------------------------------------------------
One of HK four kings, Leon Lai put up "Power wings" for the advance into the world. Leon Lai had a super press conference, inviting reporters from all the countries of the world, in the outdoor stage of HK Repulse Hotel, at 14:00, March 23.
This conference is to celebrate his move from Polygram to Sony Music. Sony Music is an international record company that has Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Michael Bolton, Oasis, Celine Dion etc. Including the Asia Label Manager of Sony Music, the presidents from Korea, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc participated in this conference to celebrate that Leon joined Sony Music.
Over than 100 reporters from a lot of countries of the world proved Leon's popularity.
Leon met TV Guide reporter at 15:30 pm
Reporter: I heard Sony paid 1 million dollars to get you. Are there any special reasons to change your record company?
Leon: Rumor is just rumor.. the price is secret. I decided this move because I need more working space as a singer.
Reporter: That means you have a particular plan to be a international artist when you moved Sony?
Leon: I heard Sony proposed me because of the popularity of the film that I performed. Sony suggested me co-work with other artists, who belong to Sony... for example, Michael Jackson.... the lifecycle of foreign country is quite short. So it is a good opportunity to be able to have a various experiences. Besides I'm a International Youth Charity Ambassador of UNICEF, so Sony also want me to do Charity activities in Sony. I will do it together.
Reporter: This time you sang the theme songs of STV drama, "Take my heart". How do you feel about that?
Leon: I got to record two Korean songs - a theme song and a inserted song through the introduction of Jung Woo Sung's Manager. One is a ballad, "Till you come back to me again" composed by Choi Sung Wook, and the other is quite a quick song. It was so good to sing songs composed by Korean composers. Those kind of songs are not the styles which we can easily listen to in HK. I will translate them into Chinese and include them in my new album. I wonder how fans respond to them when they listen to them.
Reporter: You sang your first Korean song, "What a lovely day like this (Yireoke Joeun nale) in your best album, "the world of Leon Lai" last year. it is the second time that you sing Korean songs. How is your Korean skill?
Leon: Last year I sang "What a lovely day like this" using the pronunciation symbols for foreigners. I was embarrassed that I found I mispronounced "promise" as "unkind, heartless". a consonant placed under a vowel always occurs problems. so this time I memorized all Korean alphabets. But It was quite tough to sing the quick song. I had a Korean teacher up till recently. But I did it all by myself now. I can read and write Korean.
Reporter: It was issued that you fell in love with a Korean actress, Kim Hee Sun. is it true?
Leon: In a word, I was so funny. I don't know where the rumor came from. It was so ridiculous. I've never met her before. Would you introduce her to me?
Reporter: And then do you have any Korean entertainer to get along with?
Leon: Jung Woo Sung. We met each other in Pusan International Film Festival last year. I went to meet him often but, both of us are so busy. He is a good friend.
Reporter: "Tianmimi", the film you did not only acting but also singing, was chosen the second place of the world best film by TIME. What are you plans for films this year?
Leon: Now I'm currently filming "City of Glass" directed by Mable Cheung. It is about the story of a self-made man when HK was a British colony. I sing its theme song, "Try to Remember". It will be released in May.
Reporter: Do you have a plan to visit Korea?
Leon: I don't have now. But I think I will visit Korea when my album is released. I want to eat "Korean Chicken Soup". It is so delicious.
Following interview from KBS Entertainment Tonight,
Interview with a Korean Reporter after the press conference for the signing of the contract on March 23, 1998, Hong Kong.
I marked the language in which he spoke in
Leon: Hello, KBS Entertainment Tonight Fans..(Korean)
I'm Leon... Thank you (Korean)
Reporter: How many times did you visit Korea? What do you want to do in Korea first?
Leon: I've visited Korea several times.(Mandarin) Especially I want to eat Korean food if I visit Korea this time(Korean) Reporter: Do you like Kimchi?
Leon: Kimchi No.(Korean) Boolgogi(Korean BBQ) OK..(Korean) I like meat.(English) Korean Chicken Soup tastes good!!!(Korean)
Reporter: Have you seen any Korean movies?
Reporter: Do you know Jung Woo Sung(The main character of Beat)?
Leon: Yes, Jung Woo Sung!!! My good friend? My good boyfriend? Sorry!! My friend..(Korean)
Reporter: I heard the rumor that you fall in love with Kim Hee Sun, a Korean actress. Is it true?
Leon: I just saw her in the newspapers and magazines after the rumor. I've never seen her face to face.. I say again.. I saw only her pictures, not her.. (Mandarin, English) when I visit Korea again, would you introduce her to me? (English)
Reporter: Do you have something to tell your Korean fans?
Leon: I miss you a lot. I'll see you soon in Korea. Take care!! Good-bye!!! (Korean) ----------------------------------------------------------------------
-- Leon in Japan
Leon Lai was in Japan with Peter Chan on Nov. 7 - 11, 1997 for "Comrade, Almost a Love Story" which was shown as an invited film at "The Tokyo International Film Festival. As this was Leon's first official visit to Tokyo, he was interviewed by more than 20 magazines and other publications. The contents of these interviews were carried in respective issues so as to coincide with the opening of "Comrade, Almost a Love Story" on Feb. 7. As the number of articles, each comprising 1 to 2 pages, go up to nearly 30, all cannot be put here. Therefore here are the translations of the parts that impressed me the most. These are all Leon talking about "Comrade, Almost Lover".
#1 about films <Magazine Name>
<H2O> I was very happy for the three month that this film was being shoot. It was so much fun that, in fact, Peter, Maggie and I once said to each other, "When you're enjoying something, time passes by so fast. We're really going to miss this when it's over." It really did pass by so fast.
<SWITCH> We (Peter & Leon) met four to five times before the actual shooting. When we met for the first time, I think Peter had already written the script but didn't show it to me. He wanted me to speak very frankly about myself. He didn't force the script on me but instead asked me to talk about my own experience, which eventually was incorporated into the script. This was a totally new experience for me. What I shared with him then was put into the film in the way he understood my story. We will never tell anybody what we shared with each other then. That's our promise. I had never told anybody, in public, about my life in China and that of coming to Hong Kong. But I told Peter everything about it. The parts that I don't mind other people knowing are all put in the film. The parts that I do care are not. That's how you can look at it.
<HANAKO> As an actor, there's nothing more frustrating than to be unable to respond to the director's requests. It's a tragedy for both when this happens. This did happen during the shooting of this film. Both Peter and I could not be satisfied. So there had to be one-month interval before we went into shooting again. As a result, we could create a very good scene. I will never tell you which scene I'm talking about, though.
<ASIA POP> (About "18 springs") Even though I played the role because it's work, you know, to tell the truth, I hated that man (the main character). He's like a cow fast asleep. You kick him but he wouldn't budge.(laughter)
<JJ> Peter Chan speaks about Leon Lai.
Interviewer: What do you regard are as Leon Lai's weaknesses?
Peter: Leon is always trying to be someone else. He tries very hard to maintain the image that's been created and people around him expect him to do so as well. He himself thinks that image he's creating is more attractive than what he really is. Leon is a sweet, simple man. But he doesn't want to admit that - which I believe is Leon's weaknesses. During the shooting when Maggie and I were conversing in English, Leon, with a dictionary in his hand, and asked "what did you just say?" He didn't pretend that he understood what we were saying, but rather was honest in showing that he wasn't good in English. He's beginning to be more himself in front of other people, too. This is one aspect of Leon, which I think so sweet. He's come down one step from being a star and is now more human.
*** Some interesting stories from the press conference
(At that time, Leon didn't come there yet.)
Q: Why is Lai Siu Kwan wearing blue swimming trunks?
Is there any special meaning to it - any interesting secret - which could
not be understood by the Japanese but which only the people in Hong Kong
would understand? (This silly question was, by the way, asked by myself.)
Peter: I don't think the people in Hong Kong would understand it, either. That was based on my friend's story, so I don't want to tell you about it in front of other people. I can answer your question later personally, though.
As I ran across Peter outside the room after the press conference, I dared to ask him the question. Peter explained, "A friend of mine told me that Chinese who immigrated from Mainland China to Hong Kong don't have many friends and are lonely. So they tend to get very close when they get to know each other, especially men and women. He told me that he wear swimming trunks which fit tightly on his body to remind himself not to get too deeply involved in a relationship."
When the same question was asked of Leon;
Several of the magazine reporters were my friends. One of them threw questions at Leon after the interview.
Q: Why are you wearing blue swimming trunks in the film?
Leon: Do you want to know why?
Q: I certainly would.
Leon: According to Peter, Lai Siu kwan is an athlete and has strong sexual desire. So he wears the swimming trunks to control it.
I want to add some comments with these articles.
These articles were written in Japanese, and I translated in English. But
originally Leon was interviewed in Cantonese, and Peter was in English.
Peter's: English => Japanese => English
Leon's: Cantonese => Japanese => English
So there might be some difference from original.
(Cantonese interpreter was not good in Japanese, so that Leon's reply was sometimes strange. I went to press conference and wrote a article about that, but it was difficult to write Leon's first compliments. Because interpreter's Japanese was bad! I was very angry with that!)
If any of you have any news, comments, encounters, funny stories or
just information on Leon you would want to share just email us:
We want to provide as much news related to Leon as possible for everybody to read. We would really appreciate any help we can get.
If you have any questions, e-mail address changes, or you just want
to request old issues of L-News feel free to email us: L_news@hotmail.com
L-news staff: Jessie and Kim
**Special Thanks to Hana and Lucy for their reports from Korea and Japan and Christine for her comments**
Thank you for your support!
**Note: all news was taken from Apple Daily, Ming Pao, Sing Tao, Next Magazine and Mingpao Magazine
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