By Raymond Zhou
Last weekend, China's film industry held its annual Oscar wannabe, also known as the Golden Rooster awards. It was a routine event that even a typhoon wouldn't be able to whip up into a storm. The organizers usually name multiple winners in one category to make everyone happy, and you'd find more suspense in a corporate sing-along contest.
But this time we had a real surprise - from the best rehearsed part of the ceremony, the hosting. Ni Ping, a hostess of CCTV variety shows, cracked a few jokes and people across the nation were flabbergasted: What's wrong with this woman?
Here's the back story: Ni has always elicited ambivalence from television audiences. She employs an emotional style that is said to please the unsophisticated. She uses language that is so mawkish that would make urban people, especially the young, sneer.
If there's logic in the world, we should expect hurrahs for her transformation. But hell no! She was lambasted so viciously, both online and in the press, that she has already apologized.
For what? I might ask. For not informing the public about her intention to shake off her erstwhile persona of corniness? For trying to be funny at a show about entertainment? For injecting life into an event that has long been the butt of cineastes' jokes?
Granted, she goofed up a couple of times. She misidentified the leading lady of a 1940s' movie with the daughter of the director of that movie, neither of whom has been in public eye for the past half century. She also thought Dayyan Eng was Stanley Kwan.
It was not totally her fault. Whoever was whispering to her through her earphones should have done the job for her. That's the nature of the business. Have her critics not seen the movie The Devil Wears Prada?
Let's face it: If a male comedian pulled the same punchlines, such as asking an almost centenarian to explain the new word for "fans" and wishing another "old artist" never catch senile dementia, people would have laughed. These "cruel" jokes might not sound out of place given the right tone and context.
The real culprit is Ni Ping's change. She has over the years conditioned television viewers for tear-jerking, high-pitch sloganeering. She gets criticized for it, but anything less would also get a backlash. Shouldn't she at least get some applause for trying a less bombastic and more humorous style?
If this sounds trivial, let's put the storm in teacup on a larger landscape. There are many who proclaim they want reform and change, but once they are jolted out of their complacency, they'll cry foul. They don't want growing pains, just growing gains.
When the Green Chinese awards doled out its nominations to controversial figures like Chen Kaige, people were also stunned. How can you include in the shortlist someone who made headlines because he reportedly marred a pristine lake while shooting an overblown epic?
The organizers said: Nobody can raise awareness for environmental protection more than someone who had sinned, so to speak. This year, they again nominated big stars who did not maintain a clean record in this regard, and many in the online crowd just yawned.
I bet only a fraction of the current detractors would bother to protest if Ni Ping turns in another cast-against-type performance. But I doubt she would. She'll probably revert to her old saccharine self and smother her inner Ellen Degeneres in its infancy. And the public wouldn't even know what they'll be missing.
Sometimes you need a visionary to break the herd mentality and create a new trend.
(China Daily 11/03/2007 page4)