For a man who scandalized a billion people, Edison Chen is a surprisingly sympathetic character. On Feb. 21, the 27-year-old, Vancouver-born pop star — and the protagonist of the biggest celebrity sex scandal China has ever seen — sat at a small table facing 400 reporters and photographers gathered at the Hong Kong International Trade and Exhibition Centre in Kowloon. His head hung low, his eyes were downcast, his shoulders slumped. Even his hair — usually worn spiked, and now slicked to his forehead — appeared to be atoning. He sighed deeply into the microphone. "Today, I have come back to Hong Kong to stand before you and account for myself," he said, in his native English. Camera flashes conjured a lightning storm.
In the preceding weeks, hundreds of sexually explicit photographs of Chen and many of Hong Kong's most beloved female teen idols had been leaked onto the Internet. Millions had viewed Chen engaged in some of the most intimate and acrobatic positions imaginable with more than half a dozen different partners. For almost a month, there had been non-stop press coverage as images leaked out in a seemingly endless stream, despite the best efforts of police to contain them.
"I admit that most of the photos being circulated were taken by me," Chen said, adding that they were stolen from him, and never intended for public consumption. "This matter has deteriorated to the point where society as a whole has been affected by this and in this regard, I am deeply saddened." He appealed for forgiveness from "the ladies" and their families, from his parents, from the police and, most importantly, from the people of Hong Kong. "I know young people in Hong Kong look up to many figures in our society and in this regard, I have failed. I have failed as a role model." He announced his resignation from the industry to search his soul. "I will be away from Hong Kong entertainment indefinitely," he said. "There is no time frame."
Outside, the paparazzi, which had been pursuing Chen with a Watergate-esque zeal, were in a frenzy. News reports claimed the actor was receiving round-the-clock police protection. His life was being threatened by Triad gangsters, they said, who allegedly control the Hong Kong entertainment industry and who did not appreciate the ruin of some of their most lucrative stars. (It also happens that Chen's current girlfriend, and one of the women in the pictures, is the niece of mob-connected music mogul Albert Yeung, chairman of Chen's former record label, Emperor Entertainment Group.) Posters affixed to downtown locales reportedly offered a reward of HK$500,000 (US$91,000) to whoever could produce his dismembered hand. More than 200 police officers were mobilized for the press conference, and at least 80 formed a human chain around Chen's parked car to ensure his safety coming in and out of the building. One angry legislator told reporters, "They don't go to such great lengths to protect even the chief executive." Weeks after the apology, across mainland China, thousands of anti-fans held protests, with banners that read "Reject Edison Chen, give back modern civilization."
It may at first seem difficult to understand all of this fuss over a bunch of dirty pictures, especially in North America, where between Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson, having Internet access is tantamount to joining the Hollywood sex-tape-of-the-week club. The Edison Chen incident was covered in the North American press, but primarily as salacious scandal. In the West, we're more cynical about our celebrities — we've come to expect and enjoy their frailties as part of the entertainment experience. But moral standards in China are decidedly different. In 2006, for example, when a tabloid published a photo of Gillian Chung, of the squeaky clean female pop-duo Twins — and one of Edison Chen's co-stars in the photo scandal — adjusting her bra backstage during a concert, it sparked a national controversy about indecency in media coverage. By comparison, the Edison Chen scandal was like finding online pictures of Justin Timberlake in flagrante with Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson, Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff and either one of the Olson twins — except in a country where, as recently as 20 years ago, there was no sexual education at all.
The fallout of the Edison Chen scandal extends far beyond its star. In addition to the devastating personal and professional ramifications for the women involved, the incident left the public with all sorts of questions. How do you regulate public decency in a society that is changing as quickly as China's? Are the Internet and tabloid media hijacking the culture? In the press and in online fan forums it also launched a wave of conspiracy theories: did authorities put Chen up to his apology and resignation in order to minimize negative publicity in the months leading up to the Beijing Olympics? Are they using the scandal as an opportunity to crack down on Internet freedoms? Is it possible that Chen leaked the photos himself to jump-start his career in Hollywood? After all, observers pointed out, his first big North American break is on the horizon — a role in the highly anticipated upcoming Batman film, The Dark Knight.
Since that day in February, Edison Chen has fallen off the face of the earth — perhaps a wise move given the Triad rumours. Some reports place him in Boston, where his girlfriend, Vincy Yeung, is attending college. Other reports put him in a rehab centre in Utah getting treatment for sex addiction — but say he left after he was beaten up by several other male patients for unknown reasons. Still others swear he is in Hollywood being wine and dined by producers who want to parlay his notoriety into the next big thing.
As it turns out, Edison Chen has been spending time with his family in British Columbia. His cousin Oscar Lo, an animator, confirmed that his family in Vancouver is rallying around him. "We actually had dinner with him last night," he recently told Maclean's. "He's fine. He's in good spirits. Just laying low." The family, he says, is very supportive. "I think over there people react differently than they would've here. Here, I don't think it would've been such a huge deal." Lo, who grew up with Chen, says he wasn't particularly concerned for his cousin's well-being, despite all the media speculation. "He's a smart guy," he said. But he still worried about how Chen was doing personally.
In Canada, Chen is relatively unknown, unless your taste in movies runs to the teen horror genre. In 2006, he starred in The Grudge 2 with Sarah Michelle Gellar, his first Hollywood crossover film. That year, he was also chosen to be among People magazine's sexiest newcomers. Boyishly handsome, Chen can get around pretty anonymously on this side of the ocean. But in Hong Kong and mainland China, he is a virtual multimedia brand, a would've-been Sean "Puffy" Combs with an expanding list of job titles: film and music star, record producer, fashion entrepreneur and hip-hop style icon.
"Edison enjoyed, before the outbreak of the sex-photo scandal, enormous popularity in Hong Kong and among the Chinese speaking community around the world, including China and Taiwan," says Vivienne Chow, a Hong Kong-based entertainment journalist for the South China Morning Post who has followed the scandal closely. "He quickly established himself as a heartthrob with his unusually photogenic face" — a face that won him lucrative endorsement deals with Pepsi, Mastercard, Samsung and others.
"I think an apt U.S. parallel might be someone like Justin Timberlake," says Anne Ciecko, a professor of contemporary Asian cinema and popular culture at the University of Massachussetts-Amherst. "He's got marketable boyish appeal and musical talents, some acting chops, tons of commodity potential." And the life suited him. "I was a lost soul," he said in a 2006 interview. "I swear becoming an entertainer has saved my life and made me more focused. I was so lost before."
On the surface, at least, Chen's life before fame seems quite ordinary. Born in Vancouver in October 1980, Chen grew up in a close-knit family with his mother and two sisters (one of whom, Tricia, also has a career as a pop star in Hong Kong). His father, Edward Chen, a businessman, moved back to Hong Kong to work, but stayed closely connected to the family. Chen told BeingHunted, an online magazine, in a 2006 interview, "My family has inspired me the most in my life . . . I believe my mother is the best woman in this world . . . and she has guided me to be a righteous person, taught me my values, taught me how to REALLY treat a lady. And then there is my father who has guided me through so many of my career problems."
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* eSeong Network User Reviews *
* ) Honestly, ppl shouldn't get involved in this. This is his secret private life. I don't know why stupid ppl get so offended with this. I mean come on, what has he done to you? Just leave it out. Stupid ppl just wanna make news and cause shitty problems. Yeah, I mean it's bad but it was his choice to make and do what he did. It's not the viewers choice to choose his entertainment life for him. He's a big boy and could do it by himself. He doesn't need the god damn world telling him that he's such a low life bad ass. Come on, so many of you used to like him and now, your perspective changed because of this one scandal that happened to popped up? That's just ridiculous, if he was your idol from young, it doesn't matter what kind of sh*t he's been through, you're still willing to be supportive of him.
* ) I agree with the article in that this is C-list Hollywood fodder that Americans are used to so when news of it broke, I hardly blinked an eye. I guess due to desensitizing, I personally am not insulted by any of it but actually have become very irritated with it on Edison Chen's behalf because he has become a victim much like the rest of the people involved. What he and others do in their private lives is of no concern to me. I hate that this has blown so far out of proportion--or maybe it was the right proportion.
That's the struggle that Asian-Americans (and by that, let's assume American means all of North America) deal with--how to balance your ethnicity with your nationality. I consider myself liberal but I would never disillusion my parents with the knowledge of things that I consider "normal." It's a matter of respect and knowing your place as far as knowing when to speak your piece and knowing when to shut it.
Whether you're famous or not, I think we all try to present the best of ourselves to the world and try to keep our miscomings to ourselves as much as possible. It's unfortunate that Edison Chen could not protect himself and the others involved but it's more unfortunate that someone had the heartlessness to expose them.
I didn't even know Edison Chen's name prior to this scandal but just reading and backtracking about him, I'm confident that he will be back better than before.
* ) It is ridiculous that this topic is so blown out of proportion. I think that people should just be more open and learn to accept that everyone enjoys sex, no matter how "innocent" you are. I bet that in two years, edison is going to come back to Hong Kong and he'll be once again on top of the entertainment industry. He's just paving the way for Hong Kong to open up to the sexual taboos. It is a little bit unfortunate for the women involved, but eh, what can you do? It's not like they have something on their bodies that makes them different from any other woman right? But thanks for the article it was long but very detailed and concise.