Last night at the O2, the ageing Chinese super-group known as the Big Four offered up a nose-to-tail feast of Canto-pop culture. The mostly Asian audience were served rock anthems, torch songs, power ballads, stand-up comedy, some atrocious dance music and a Cantonese version of Bon Jovi’s ‘You Give Love a Bad Name.’ You always get value for money with Chinese pop stars – and rarely are you left wanting more – but this show was brisk, fun and well-paced.
The trick here was that the four stars took turns to sing, showcasing their very different stage personas honed over long careers in music, TV and film. William So (the Chinese George Michael) came out on top in terms of tunes with a pretty soulful voice and a selection of glasses that would have made Elton John jealous. Dicky Cheung (the Chinese Will Smith) had the best rapport with the crowd, using comedy to compensate for fewer hits in his back catalogue; he emerged for his first song with what looked like a merkin stuck to his bald head, then changed into a fluffy yellow number and pretended to masturbate on stage. What a showman. After that came Andy Hui (the Chinese Gary Barlow) who got serious on the piano and Edmond Leung (the Chinese Ricky Martin) who danced about like a middle-aged uncle doing a Zumba class, convinced that he looks like Prince.
The hilarious costumes by Kenneth Chan were proof positive that the Cantonese are having their glam moment. Sparkly black numbers (complete with neck choker for Dicky) gave way to fluffy pink suits, a Queen Victoria dress, Pope-like robes and candy-coloured rubber-wear. The references ranged from Bowie to Dracula to Liberace, though the best touch was probably a Michael Jackson style red leather jacket with a pterodactyl perched on the shoulder. Coldplay can only dream of having such panache.
The arrival of the Big Four is just the latest part of a Chinese pop invasion that’s been quietly happening in the capital over the last few years. Opting for London as the prime European stop-over for their world tours, other Chinese acts to visit recently include: Jolin (the Chinese Kylie), Eason Chan (the Chinese Phil Collins) and Mayday (the Chinese Oasis). This is big business and demand for such events is growing thanks to an affluent ex-pat Chinese community and a rising number of Asian students in British universities. More concerts are lined up including Sandy Lam (the Chinese Mariah Carey) and Mando-pop megastar Lee Hom, more famous here perhaps for his role in the movie Lust Caution. If the Big 4’s performance is anything to go by, these might well be worth a look.
By Stu and Christina Lee
Photo of the Big Four together on stage by Christina Lee