Hong Kong and Taiwanese Artists Find Success in Mainland China

Known for achieving impressive rates of economic development, mainland China’s entertainment industry has also witnessed a rapid change. For thirty years, mainland China was closed off to the rest of the world – the country was no longer the star of the Orient, and the nation’s entertainment industry was driven down to become merely a platform to promote propaganda and political art. Unaffected by mainland China’s secluded policies, British Hong Kong and Republic Taiwan thrived economically, and their entertainment industries reached to international recognition in just a matter of years.

By the time mainland China’s entertainment circle opened its doors in the late 1970s, Hong Kong television stars were already traveling around Asia to do promotional tours. For decades, Hong Kong’s showbiz industry was considered to be one of the most profitable entertainment industries in the world, but mainland China’s entertainment sector picked up quickly, and by the 21st century, the Chinese entertainment market became the second largest in the world, after only the United States.

This is why many Hong Kong and Taiwanese artists have left their homelands to pursue much more profitable careers in mainland China.

Better Pay

A decade ago, Hong Kong artists with “damaged” public images were often “banished” to mainland China so they could be temporarily hidden from the Hong Kong media spotlight. It was common knowledge at the time that those who left their Hong Kong careers for mainland China were seen as disappointments of the Hong Kong entertainment industry. Recent examples include Edwin Siu (蕭正楠), who gave up his singing career in Hong Kong after he delivered a controversial speech at the JSG Music Awards in 2003; and Hawick Lau (劉愷威), who failed to land leading roles during his stay at TVB.

But Chinese television culture has changed. As the world’s second largest entertainment sector, mainland China is shining as bright as gold. Those who maintain long-lasting careers in mainland China’s television market are no longer considered as failures and are instead beheld as successful and profitable superstars of the Greater China entertainment sector. Current rising TVB stars often express their hopes to move their careers to mainland China, a place where real money can be truly earned.

Take Hong Kong’s Kevin Cheng (鄭嘉穎), for example. For years, Kevin had to rely on producer Amy Wong (王心慰) to give him juicy leading roles in Hong Kong dramas. The heartthrob broke out in 2009’s palace drama Beyond the Realm of Conscience <宮心計>, which brought him to the interest of many mainland Chinese casting producers. Nonetheless, it was actually 2011’s Bu Bu Jing Xin <步步驚心> that turned Kevin into a big television star in mainland China. His TVB Best Actor win for Ghetto Justice <怒火街頭> in December 2011 further cemented his star status, and Kevin is now earning at least 350,000 RMB per episode in mainland Chinese productions. That is at least ten times more than what he could have earned in an episode of a TVB blockbuster.

A more iconic example is Hawick Lau, who had struggled in TVB’s confined industry of many years. After moving his career to mainland China in 2005, Hawick was pushed from being a second-tier actor to a leading star; the mainland China-based actor now earns at least 350,000 RMB per episode.

Even Taiwanese stars are turning their career prospects to mainland China due to the industry’s higher salary. Nicky Wu (吳奇隆), who also skyrocketed to superstardom after Bu Bu Jing Xin, is now earning at least 500,000 RMB per episode in mainland China. In Taiwan, the actor only has a market value of 80,000 RMB per episode. Another imposing example is two-time Golden Bell winning Ariel Lin (林依晨), who is now paid 400,000 RMB per episode in mainland China; in a Taiwanese production, Ariel is paid at most 80,000 RMB per episode, equal to Nicky’s “superstar” pay. Wallace Huo’s (霍建華) market value in mainland China rose dramatically after he attained critical success for his performance in 2005’s Tian Xia Di Yi <天下第一>. The actor is now reportedly getting paid 350,000 RMB per episode, while only getting paid 50,000 RMB per episode in a Taiwanese television drama.

In a monopolized television industry like Hong Kong’s, greater popular demand for an artist does not necessarily lead to a pay rise. TVB’s strong hold as the leading exporter of Hong Kong television entertainment stagnates their artists’ salaries. In this case, artists who are high in demand elsewhere in Asia like Raymond Lam (林峯) and Gallen Lo (羅嘉良) have no choice but to leave for mainland, where the market is much more competitive and dynamic.

Better Filming Environments

Twenty years ago, Taiwan’s Jimmy Lin (林志穎) described his filming experience in mainland China as “terrible, lonely, and harsh.” He recalled, “[Hengdian World Studios] was empty and desolate, with poor hotel service and terrible traffic. But now, let’s just say that I am always excited to come back.”

Taiwanese actress Ady An (安以軒) also agreed with Jimmy about Hengdian’s improved working environments. “When I first came, Hengdian was completely empty. The cast and crew would rather eat take-out or home lunches than to eat at the restaurants on the streets. The electricity at the hotels we lived in always went out. The first night I screamed. The second night I also screamed. I got used to [the darkness] on the third night. The environment in Hengdian now is much better. More relaxing and less stressful.”

Limitations: Typecasting, Poor Scripts, and Cultural Differences

The mainland Chinese television industry may be regarded to be the next California Gold Rush, but the market is not without its flaws. Typecasting remains to be a troubling issue for many Hong Kong and Taiwanese artists, and thus, acting performances and creative brainstorming would have to be compromised.

After fourteen years, Jimmy Lin is still struggling to find roles that stray away from his Xiaoyu’er role in the 1999 wuxia drama, The Legendary Siblings <絕世雙嬌>. Jimmy said, “I had a lot of scripts offered to me after [The Legendary Siblings], but most of them were costume dramas. It got to the point where I was beginning to hate my work. Costume dramas are tiring with long filming schedules. It is also a lot harder for me to find another break in my acting. When I was offered to do a Republican-era drama, I immediately said yes. It’s neither an idol drama nor a historical drama, and I was able to test the waters, to see if I would be able to search for another breakthrough in my acting career.”

Besides professional limitations, the high-paying mainland Chinese television industry also entices the Hong Kong and Taiwanese actors to disregard script quality for money. After Bu Bu Jing Xin, most of Kevin Cheng’s later mainland Chinese dramas were deemed as critical disasters.  Ex-TVB actress Charmaine Sheh (佘詩曼) also failed to gain critical momentum in mainland China with the forgetful receptions of Marry Into the Purple <嫁入豪門> and Justice! My Foot <新審死官>.

In addition, Hong Kong and Taiwanese actors have to stress through cultural and language differences when pursuing a career in mainland China. Taiwanese actor Steve Ma (馬景濤) disclosed that whenever he filmed in mainland China, two separate scripts had to be provided for the crew – one written in simplified Chinese, the other in Traditional Chinese. Furthermore, Hawick Lau confessed that besides struggling with reading simplified Chinese characters, he also wrestled with learning Mandarin. “When I first came, the only thing I knew how to say in Mandarin was my name. It was hard to communicate with others. I practiced Mandarin with the crew members and forced myself to watch the news every chance I had.”

Hawick added, “It was also hard for me to order food at a restaurant. If the menu doesn’t have a photo of a certain dish I wanted, I would try to communicate with the waiter by using hand motions or just draw them out on a piece of paper. For example, if I wanted to eat chicken drumsticks, I would draw out a chicken and then point at my thigh.”

Going for a medical checkup was just as irritating and inconvenient. Hawick said, “I went to the hospital for my gastroenteritis and tried to explain to the doctor that I was vomiting and had diarrhea, but the doctor thought I told him that I was vomiting blood!”

Overcoming Limitations

Creative setbacks for Hong Kong and Taiwanese artists are imminent in mainland China, but with perseverance and patience, such limitations can easily be overridden. Recently, an increasing number of Hong Kong and Taiwanese artists have established their own production studios in mainland China, securing their influences in behind-the-scenes efforts of a production. Taiwan’s Ruby Lin’s (林心如) Ruby Studios has invested in six television dramas since its formation in 2008. Nicky Wu’s production studio was also the main creative force behind 2012’s The Bride with White Hair <新白髮魔女傳>. Their productions received mixed to negative reviews from critics, but the popularity of their series have fully established Ruby and Nicky to be top earners in the industry.

Hawick Lau is also achieving success as a producer – his first television drama as producer, Sheng Xia Wan Qing Tian <盛夏晚晴天>, is a number one hit in the nation, entrenching Hawick’s critical success in the ever-growing entertainment industry. Kevin Cheng is also jumping onto the producer bandwagon as well, and the award-winning actor is now on his way to open up his own production studio.

Source: QQ.com

This article is written by Addy for JayneStars.com.

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  1. I love Ruby, Hawick and Nicky’s dramas <3
    Much love.

    1. I have not found a single one of the drama’s produced by Ruby to be good at all and are highly overrated..

      1. I only watched her in Beauties of the Palace and Princess return pearl. :/

      2. I am talking about the series that she did as a producer and acted in them too. She did a few series that more new as a producer and acted in them too, but none were good. Princess pearl she just acted in and gained popularity from that.

      3. Oh okay. I haven’t had the time to watch her dramas..

      4. Qui Shi Huang Fei was absolutely wonderful. You should watch it some time. It was produced and acted by Ruby.

      5. I saw Qin Shi Huang Fei and did not like it at all. It was just another typical series that became draggy. My mom and I did not enjoy it at all and feel it is overrated.

      6. QSHF was not the best or greatest but it has very very great moments and some majorly great performances. Can still remember Kara Hui and her magnificent performance. Such a role unseen in TVB and it takes a mainland tv series to show me that.

        The costumes to me was also a great highlight but yes, the story was draggy when one major character died. Then the ending was rushed.

  2. It depends on the series because there are many that are NOT good at all, but some are really good just like with any company/countries series.

  3. Never watched Bu Bu Jing Xin but honestly, Ip Man IS a disaster. The script was truly disappointing. Kevin Cheng acted alright though.

    1. Bu Bu Jing Xin is one of my favourite Ancient Chinese drama

    2. RLF Lover,

      You HAVE to watch BBJX!!! It’s the best, and eps 26 to End gets really intense when cecilia’s character had to go back to the future.

      I also agree with you on Ip Man. I watched the first few eps and got bored

    3. you mean Ip Man the movie or the drama that kevin is in right now?

      1. I mean the TV drama, of course. Donnie Yen can never go wrong in an action movie!

    4. Bu Bu Jing Xin is really good so I also highly recommend that. There are other China series that are good too but you have to watch the right ones. Also, everyone’s taste varies so you may really like a drama while others may hate it and vice versa.

    5. Wow, sounds like BBJX is a real hit. I will definitely go check it out now. Thanks!

      1. Yes, you should and even many who never saw China series before loved BBJX.

  4. Dang, Kevin, you look hella fine there. Come back to America.

    1. I agree
      Has he played any villan roles? I haven’t watched all his dramas besides bu bu jing xin.

  5. if kevin has to rely on amy for leading role ruco going through the same thing ruco.. ruco might be the next kevin

  6. I wish TVB releases their Cantonese dubbed mainland series they air on their other channels on DVD or something. I don’t understand mandarin and I certainly don’t want to read English subtitles. Things just lose meaning being translated from Chinese to English. I remember when Tai Seng use to dub so many mainland dramas 10-15 years ago but they rarely release any Cantonese dubbed shows anymore.

    1. Its not TVB’s fault, the distributor Tai Seng is garbage. They have different contracts or licensing issue. You may have to buy products in Hong Kong for Cantonese dubbed.

      1. ATV also dubs some korean dramas as well.

      2. TaiSeng’s packaging sucks now too. They used to have more decent packaging and less compressed disks. But now disks are more compressed with cheap packagaing.

  7. Hawick really resemble Danny Chan Bak Keung

  8. Love BBJX and honestly it’s the first drama I finished from China! Normally drama from China doesn’t hold any appeal because of poor quality and the redubbed voices.. but it’s getting better and scripts are much better these days!

  9. Reading news like this makes me happy, esp if they’re from tvb. that’s pretty much the middle finger to them.

  10. “Ex-TVB actress Charmaine Sheh (佘詩曼) also failed to gain critical momentum in mainland China with the forgetful receptions of Marry Into the Purple and Justice! My Foot .”

    I didn’t get this point until I re-read the entire sentence. Either Charmaine didn’t gain critical momentum thanks to viewers who were forgetful or maybe you actually mean dismal receptions. And I wonder what critical momentum? Maybe the better word is critical praise? Critical success? Critical acclaim? Sorry to be nitpicking but unless I rearrange or use different words, I really don’t think I get your original meaning.

    1. Basically, compared to Yang Mi, Celicia Liu and them, Charmaine Sheh didnt gain momentum for her series.

      How hard is it to interpret, Ms. I-know-it-all?

  11. Wallace Huo is definitely more popular in China than Hawick Lau , can’t believe they are earning the same amount though… And why is there no mention of Wallace Chung, he is from Taiwan and is very popular in China as well…

    1. Personally, I like Hawick Lau better and I too can’t believe he was able to make it big in the mainland when he has practically an unknown in TVB HK. I am surprised also the fact that Wallace Chung was not mentioned here. haha He also was an unknown in HK but made in big in China as well. Both of these guys are actually good looking former TVB stars that they missed out on. As for Hawick Lau, I still tend to think he gets so much exposure b/c hes picked the right girl to be his g/f. If not that ‘IT’ girl at the moment from china, i really doubt he gets all this exposure.

    2. @coconut, yes you are right Wallace is from HK. Agree that Harwick Lau has gotten more exposure because of Yang Mi – They are a cute couple. Hawick Lau’s acting was quite good in Sealed with A Kiss however his other dramas have been so so …

      1. =Nglady,
        I never knew Wallace is from HK? I always he’s a taiwanese star. Oh well, he’s ok i guess i don’t like her or dislike him, he’s average.
        I know, don’t you agree about Hawick Lau. Obviously, he’s smart enough to pick an “IT” girl at the moment or else how can he have so much exposure after announcing their relationship? It’s not like he’s dating a China star the first time, there was a pic of him holding hands w/a china actress before this YANG MI, obviously an ex but he never hit the news? But now, we hear about him all the time. I agree he was good in Sealed W/a Kiss. Wow, looks like hot looking psycho for sure in that role. haha

      2. Wallace Huo is from Taiwan and Wallace Chung is from HK.

        Yes Hawick Lau was dating some China starlet before Yang Mi. Have to admire his courage in going after Yang Mi though, she is like one of the hottest TV stars in China and he braved all those criticisms when they were outed. Anyway I like Yang Mi , seems like she is really in love with him, nice to see an actress who is not materialistic and does not date only rich businessmen!

      3. There are many actresses that did not marry rich businessmen and married other actors, so it is nothing new and does not mean she is not materialistic.

      4. “that did not marry rich businessmen and married other actors, so it is nothing new and does not mean she is not materialistic.”

        Define materialistic to me please. If someone chooses someone of much lesser wealth over someone of great wealth, then that is not materialistic. OF course she can’t marry dirt poor, but to say she is materialistic for marrying someone of lesser wealth to someone of greater wealth is by definition wrong.

  12. at least Malaysian Chinese actors can also cash in on this – but Korean, Japanese, Thai actors no matter how long they have been in China and learnt to speak Chinese fluently cannot tap into this HUGE income generator – HUGE.

  13. Thanks for posting this article; it was a good read. Nice analysis of the current trend of HK and TW artistes flocking to the mainland.

    Anyway, I clicked the link to read the source article as well and was kinda amused that somewhere in the middle of the article there was a picture of a house with a pool, with an accompanying caption, “All the rich people in TVB series live in this villa.”

  14. BBJX is indeed worthy of a watch. I’m currently watching Legend of Zhen Huan (aka Empresses in the Palace) with Sun Li and Ada Choi and it’s pretty good too. There are so many mainland actresses that are gorgeous and talented (unlike those fadans in TVB at the moment).

    1. Most mainland actresses are from Beijing Film Academy or Shanghai theatre academy. They are well-trained.

      1. Yes, many of the actresses from China are all well educated and well trained in acting and even dancing in some cases.

    1. Me too and don’t know why many say series she produced are good. I have seen pretty much all of the series that she has produced and none of them are good.

      1. I know, exactly what overrated means. But it has always been like that thou.
        In Hollywood, some critics says this movie is the bomb or the best of everything but turns out to be boring and crappy and yet they got an oscar. So I think whether it’s HK or Hollywood, it has a lot to do w/connections these celebs have not just by how good or crappy they produced.

  15. To me, BBJX is an overrated serie. I just like the scenery in that serie. The story wasn’t good.

    1. WHAT?! Name me one which you feel is better than BBJX?

    2. Well, regardless of how popular any series, it cannot be liked by everyone. There are bound to be some that will not like it but of course it is a small percentage of people versus the bigger percentage of people who do like it…

    3. honestly i was surprised when i read your comment. haha, i think it is my first time reading that BBJX is not a good story. On the contrary, i found myself don’t like the scenery except the mountainous scene at the end of the series where 4th scattered RX’s ashes. Cause those Cherry Blossoms were just too fake, the Lotus Pool also and the grassland where 4th taught RX horse riding (it is forgiven though for they were filming in the winter, BUT the Lotus pool and grassland were just too rough). Still, it is just my thought, everyone is different.

      1. hotNcold-
        Actually, since I don’t watch historic/period dramas I can’t really compare it but my cousin saw it and she says it’s just an ok drama, does not deserve that kind of hype but it was extremely popular for some reason. She loves the soundtrack n the sceneries are great but the actors she was ok w/it. Not everyone loves it.
        Agree, everyone has differences preferences. There are some TVB not at all popular TV series and I happened to find it so very interesting so everyone is different. I for one have never like a certain series just because everyone says it’s great. If I don’t like it, I dont like it and I don’t care what the critics says.

  16. Mainland TV series are still propaganda cr*p, full of shows about the Japanese invastion, Unequal treaties, Century of Humiliation etc., although their actors and crew are quite talented.

    1. Not every series is like that and from what you are saying, I wonder if you have seen any good ones???

  17. HK and TW series any day of the week.

  18. And it’s Republic of China or Taiwan, not Republic Taiwan.

  19. where we can find Legend of Zhen Huan online? I would like to watch, lots people said it is a good series. some people said Kevin Cheng Ip Man TV series bored but I enjoy this series, Kevin act good there and the story lines was ok.

    1. Have you tried youtube? You can find most mainland series on youtube. You can try Legend of Lu Zhen, seems like that is the latest series Mainland drama fans are raving about… you can watch it on youtube , but I don’t think anyone has subbed it yet…

  20. I remember when I was a kid I used to hate watching mainland dramas because they’d be so bad. At that time, the quality of the script, the cast, the costumes, etc. were all subpar when compared to TVB (at least that’s how I saw it).

    Flash forward to now…I cannot stand watching any of TVB’s period dramas. Everything I see looks crappy — low quality costumes with bad design, fake sceneries, lack of fresh faces. For my period drama fix, I prefer to watch China’s productions. Certain agencies are much better than others in term of script, costumes, and scenery. I absolutely looooove the costumes in some of the recent products — eye-catching and amazingly detailed (e.g. BBJX, Schemes of a Beauty). Sometimes the script can be really addicting as well.

    I’ve become so used to what I see in mainland productions that TVB’s lack in quality has seriously become off-putting. BBJX’s attention to detail and authenticity was amazing (jade stones used as buttons, amazing embroidery on the clothes, real antiques used as props)…When I saw the costumes and headpieces for Beauty at War I was just though, “WTF is this crap?”

  21. I don’t think Hong Kong actresses can ever become top fadan mainland actresses. Most TVB actresses are either from: tvb’s acting class or pageant winners.

    Mainland actresses are more “certified”, as in they are educated in acting or even as HeTieShou pointed out, dancing in some cases. Moreover, the right role portrayed by the right person and if it makes a lasting impression in viewers, then the artiste may get recognition. Ex. Kevin Cheng and his role in BBJX.

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