Friday, September 16, 2011

Screen Idol

Question: Which actor, male or female, has acted in the most films?

The answer will surprise you. According one source, the actors are:

1. Mel Blanc (LA, US) 876
2. Adoor Bhasi (Kerala, India) 549
3. Tom London (US) 512
4. Bud Osborne (US) 505
5. Prem Nazir (Malayalam, India) 483
There's a female in the list at No. 8 (454). Her name is Bess Flowers.

If you didn't know, Mel Blanc was the voice actor behind Bugs Bunny and some other cartoon characters in Loony Tunes. The other actors and actresses on the list have had long careers, so their film credits pile up. Unlike Mel Blanc they were mostly famous in their own part of the world. You might act long but world fame can still elude you. On the other hand, actors who act short can gain disproportionate fame, like James Dean.

Most films in one year
A more intriguing question could be: Who has acted in the most films in one single year?

Aha, now the answer is not so straight forward. These days actors and their agents worry about overexposure (and for young actors: peaking too soon). Movie investors worry about  risk, as more movies tank at the box office than succeed. So finding an actor in three or more films in a single year is rare, even more so if the role is leading-man or -lady.

There's also the fact that a movie takes on average 6 to 36 months to script and film, so it would require special circumstance and deliberate arrangement for an actor to be in so many set locations at the same time. Of course, if a sequel has been planned for a movie, then the film gets made faster - even before the main one  has wrapped up shooting. This was the case in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings The Two Towers and Return of the King.

Economically, it is sensible to sequel a film, especially if it involves loads of special effects, such as the Transformers series. It would be a waste if an expensive f/x team is disbanded after just one movie. The new Hobbit movie is the same - it is filmed at the same time as its sequel. This method of making movies can help also protect 'actor assets'. I doubt the Harry Potter movies would have been made if there was too wide an age gap between sequels.

Which actor?
So, back to our question: Which actor or actress has the most films in a single year? And what is that number?

My instinct is to think of actors and actresses with short careers but big demand. The first thing that comes to mind are the Youtube wannabes. But they act in clips or webisodes, not full-length movies.

Another category of actors and actresses to consider might be those in the porn industry. For example, Tori Black appeared in 200 films during her first three rookie years. It is understandable for a hot actress like her to be in such huge demand given the industry she's in. Two hundred films in three years means 63 films a year, a very high number for any working thespian! Even for one who regularly works in the buff.

I'm not sure if she values such a record but she might be sore losing it or sore about creating a new one! Either way, that's a very productive figure. However, porn films shouldn't count. I think they use the same sets over and over again (what I imagine to be). Maybe even the same script but in a different accent! ("OH MY GOD!" in French, German, Albanian, etc) So maybe 63 films a year is rather easy to achieve.

In the 60s and 70s, the Chinese movies we get on TV were mostly those from Hong Kong. They were in Cantonese mostly. As one of that dialect group myself, I often consider myself privileged to be watching them in my mother tongue. But it was unfair to my friends of the other dialects. In those days, even TV serials were in Cantonese or Mandarin. Only the Chinese operas were in Hokkien, Teochew or Cantonese. I don't think boys in their prepubescence years will be excited by such traditional performances!

Two megastars
The two most popular stars in the 60s and early 70s then were Siu Fong Fong and Chan Po Chu. They were young but incredibly famous. I think it boils down to three reasons:
1. They were young and pretty;
2. They could sing;
3. They had Peking Opera background training as well, which meant they could dance and move well in period films.

These three talents or gifts are what the movie industry folks call a Triple Threat - actors and actresses who could not only act but sing and dance as well. Normal actors are usually very wary of such talented people. They worry their leading man/lady roles will be stolen from them. Or that they end up in supporting roles. But if you are TT-hot, the studio will go all out to make a quick buck off you. And that's what happened to Siu Fong Fong and Chan Po Chu. Incidentally, they are called Josephine Siao and Connie Chan on the international stage.

Of the two, Connie Chan was the most productive. Between 1959 and 1972, she made some 105 movies. In 1967 alone, there were 32 of them. 32??? How does one make 32 movies in a year?! It's mind-boggling! Even A-listers in Hollywood don't make that many, then or now; not even in a whole decade!

Josephine Siao herself made some 62 films, a lesser number but she was no less famous. Her advantage was that she had already made a name for herself as an award-winning child actress starring with mommy-favourites like Toh Tat-Wah and Yu So-Chau, often in period mystical stories. She would be the naughty girl who creates unwitting trouble for everyone.

Opera trained
Both JSiao and CChan studied Peking opera under famous master Fen Juhua. And as they got more popular on stage, they were soon transplanted to wuxia film roles. Interestingly, JSiao would often play the male lead and CChan, the female...often as heroes in love or disciples of opposing kung-fu masters. (I was always tickled why the other characters in the movie couldn't see that JSiao was actually a girl!)

Later, as both grew into young pretty women, they would be paired off with handsome actors like Lui Kei, Cheh Yin (Patrick Tse), Wu Fong and Shek Kin. With them, during the second half of the 60s, the studios churned out numerous musicals, rom-coms and action movies. I particularly remember the cat burglar or Robin Hood 'do-good' movies with JSiao as Bat Girl and CChan as Black Cat. These films were actually influenced by the James Bond genre which took off with a bang in the 60s. Even Japan was not immune, as characterised by their own 70s spy films. There were send-ups also such as the hilarious "What's Up, Tiger Lily?".

Singers too
As JSiao and CChan driffted into their own respective leading lady roles so too did their fans segregate into two rabid camps. They would scream and fight whenever these two stars dropped into a city for a visit. I wonder how they will behave in this day and age with social media like Facebook and Twitter. The fact that JSiao could sing English covers of popular songs was one up against CChan. This particular ability of JSiao was featured in a number of her movies. She could speak English quite well too.

Watching such thief and spy movies should have encouraged me to become one; and they kind of did. And they were reflected in the toys I bought and played with. Two favourites were a gun and torch concealed in dug-out books. They were small and could easily be concealed in the palm. You can see pictures of them in the link Paraphernalia From My Mattar Primary School Days. I had also a pair of collapsible spy binoculars too, you know, the one that collapsed into a flat case no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. They were popular in the 70s for watching soccer at the National Stadium. You can still buy a pair of them today. (Laughingly I saw one used as a futuristic tool in JJ Abrams' Fringe in Season 1, by one of those mysterious men in a fedora hat no less!)

A charming aunt
Of my two screen idols then, my favourite had always been JSiao. She had big eyes, a nice profile and high cheek bones. She could easily have become a model! She was skinnier and taller than CChan and looked more sophisticated.

You might think growing up with so many of JSiao's movies was a blessing, but in my case life was rather difficult. Probably "uncomfortable" would be a better word. You see, I had a young aunt who looked like her, and so every time she visited, I would look at her funny. She must have wondered often if there was anything wrong with this nephew-kid of hers. To make matters worse, like JSiao, she also had a rather unique voice. I would listen to her and become spellbound.

One day, the dream broke. This aunt went and got married. I remember regretting not growing up fast enough at the time. I was curious as to who this handsome guy was who stole my 'idol' away. I mean, he better be better looking than the grown-up me! Perhaps someone looking like Lui Kei or Patrick Tse?

Turns out that he was rather crap-looking. His face was pockmarked and chubby - features I thought not possible on the same face. Tough guys (like Charles Bronson) have pockmarked faces and square jaws. Chubby guys got smooth skin and puffy cheeks. But he had them both, which was rather weird. My other aunts nicknamed him "fatt sui meen pow", which is Cantonese for waterlogged bread.

I don't think my aunts were mean about it; they just have nicknames for everybody then.

Though my young aunt's new hubby had these weird facial features, he was actually rather pleasant. He was a nice and friendly man generous with his ang pows during Chinese New Year. So overtime, this nephew was rather appeased and became less disappointed with him for being so incompatible with his beautiful screen idol stand-in.

A yen for education
Despite their star power, JSiao and CChan retired at the peak of their popularity. Both went on to further their studies, which had been put on hold because they started acting young. CChan came from an impoverished family and was given away to begin a career in Peking opera. She would return some 25 years after her retirement to perform again on stage opera or modern. Stage seemed to be her favourite medium. Her latest outing was in 2006 with Adam Cheng in the stage play, Only You.

After her retirement, JSiao had a brief marriage. She remarried again and furthered her studies. JSiao did make a return to acting in 1977 and a few more times in the 80s. She even did well as a director once. But to many people, her real comeback was in1993, in Jet Li's wildly successful Fong Sai Yuk. She played his mom in that historical dama. During this time, the media discussed her absence from the silver screen again and brought to light the real reason for her leaving the Hong Kong movie scene. JSiao, who was born deaf in her left ear, was slowly going full deaf in the other. She had such a tough time concentrating on her role in FSY, that she had to rest between takes.

I am very sure she has gotten better since. There have been tremendous improvements in audio technologies for the deaf or near-deaf. Cochlear implants are safe, effective and common. But I am sure deafness will not slow down someone like JSiao. She has now a masters in Child Psychology and has founded in 1998 a movement to end child sexual abuse. Today, she leads the ECSAF as president. I read my first book on child abuse not long after leaving Geylang, so she is my idol in more ways than one. Then and now.

[I've only just found out that JSiao was the original singer of that children song classic 'Mama Hao' (see Anecdotal Links). We have a copy of that record still, which we often played living in Geylang! My oh my!)

Note: I don't care much for the porn industry, but economically and technologically, it is interesting. Many advances in the IT field have been driven by their need to send content over high-speed networks and with video-on-demand. Now, they are driving next-gen Web interactivity and visuals through stuff like remote sensorial devices (moving actuated dildos at $7 a minute) and 3-D augmented reality. As one insider commented, "Any 18-year-old with a high-definition camera can make a sex film. The studios need to provide more interactivity and depth in content." By depth of content, I think he means more parodies in both film and computer games. "Bonecraft" is a parodied game of "Starcraft" and "World of Warcraft". The aim of the game? To have more sex with Elvin women. I think JRR Tolkien will turn in his grave. Or maybe chuckle?

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