When it comes to viewers’ taste in male actors, one might say that a different infatuation arises with each generation. As the Chinese entertainment industry has transformed in the past 30 years, it is only natural for the audience’s tastes to shift as well. QQ Entertainment looked at the opinions of a variety of female fans, experienced members of the media, entertainment critics, and directors to come up with six types of male actors that have dominated movie and television screens in the last three decades.
1. The Square-Faced Hero
Representatives: Chow Yun Fat, Tang Guoqiang, Qin Han, John Chiang, Adam Cheng, Ti Lung
In the 1980s, mainland China had just begun to reform and open itself to the outside world. Television dramas from Hong Kong and Taiwan quickly swept the mainland, and the females of this generation became infatuated with stars like Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat (周潤發) and mainland Chinese actor Tang Guoqiang (唐國強), all of whom accorded with the traditional Chinese male aesthetic: a square face, sharp eyebrows, big eyes, and a high nose bridge.
According to a senior television reporter, square-faced actors became popular because “at the time, viewers liked people who looked upright. Men had to have regular features: thick eyebrows, big eyes, and a tall stature.” Since these actors always played the hero, it was important for them to display a positive image that could inspire hope in viewers.
As a result, popular actors never portrayed villains or common villagers, and their heroic image extended to their off-screen lives as well. One entertainment critic remarked, “The idols of that time were put on a shrine. They could not have any flaws. At most, they could smoke and act cool, but once they had a private life, their moral character would be brought down.” Unlike now, when the paparazzi is expected to follow celebrities and report on their everyday lives, management companies then worked hard to ensure that the artists’ images were protected and their personal lives remained private.
For the current youth who have only ever seen these square-faced heroes playing older characters, it may be impossible to imagine the craze they inspired when they were young. But the young women of that time, now considered the Mommy Generation, have fond memories of their male heroes. One 60-year-old female fan recalled her obsession with Chow Yun Fat’s classic image and steadfast nature: “At the time, whenever Hui Man Keung [Chow’s character in The Bund <上海灘>] appeared, I would run over to take a look, no matter what I was doing. I never saw anyone wear a scarf with as much style as he did.”
2. The Down-to-Earth Officer
Representatives: Pu Cunxin, Zhou Lijing, Chen Daoming, Zhang Fengyi, Chen Baoguo
After the wave of square-faced heroes came a new group of young male actors, most of whom hailed from mainland China. Although they, like their predecessors, played mostly positive characters and maintained a serious and upright image, this new group caught the attention of viewers because they looked more like normal folk and seemed more in touch with people’s needs. Moreover, they possessed solid acting skills, quickly endearing them to viewers.
While this new group did not portray traditional heroes, they were still heroes in the eyes of the public – just a different kind. The popular dramas of the time centered on cadre members, soldiers, and policemen. Mainland Chinese actors Pu Cunxin (濮存昕) and Zhou Lijing (周里京), who starred in Hero Without Regret <英雄無悔> and New Star <新星> respectively, became the paradigm for the ideal public service officer. Zhou Lijing was so successful in his portrayal that people would write letters to him, telling him of injustices that he should resolve.
One explanation for the emergence of these officer heroes was that audience members became tired of seeing the traditional, square-faced heroes. One television reporter related the plight of mainland Chinese actor Sun Chun (孫淳), who was told he was “too pretty” when he tried out for a role after his debut. “Beauty had become a burden,” the reporter explained.
These down-to-earth officers also worked to improve their public image by doing interviews, performing in stage plays, and participating in charity work. Many females were touched by Pu Cunxin’s passion for charity, saying they had seen him on TV, chatting and making dumplings with an AIDS victim.
3. The Flower Boy
Representatives: Vic Chou, Jerry Yan, Mike He, Joe Cheng, Wu Chun
Pretty may not have been popular then, but with a new century came a new stage of entertainment – and a new group of young men. In 2001, all of Asia was swept up in the craze over the Taiwanese idol drama Meteor Garden <流星花園> and its four male leads, known collectively as F4. The flower boy – a term used to describe boys who are as beautiful as flowers, pay close attention to their appearance, and often seem more exquisitely wrought than their female costars – had arrived.
Flower boys and idol dramas emerged hand-in-hand, drawing on female viewers’ innate interest in beautiful men and perfect lovers. “Females like pretty men,” said mainland Chinese director Liu Jiang (劉江). “That’s how it’s been since ancient times. Especially in a more mature market like idol dramas, male beauty is worth more than female beauty.”
Flower boys like Taiwanese actors Vic Chou (周渝民) and Jerry Yan (言承旭) stood out from the previous hero types, not just for their looks, but also because their characters were mostly young men hailing from rich families. Thanks to changes in society and the environment, female viewers were now drawn to wealthy young men who looked like they had just stepped out of the pages of a Japanese manga.
Young women were not the only ones cursing themselves for not being lucky enough to net a flower boy. According to one television reporter, “aunts and moms liked [them] as well, because their youth became awakened. I remember one of my teachers had a wife who had already turned 40, but she watched Meteor Garden every day, and watched the whole thing three times.”
Of course, some older women fought against this new trend, saying the F4 boys were nothing like the “real men” of the past. After walking through the first three groups of male actors, do you think “real men” will have made a comeback in the years to come? Or will the trend have continued to favor pretty boys?
This is part one of a two-part article series written by Joanna for JayneStars.com.