Saturday, December 23, 2006

[3 Weekly - Issue 376 - 23 Dec 2006]
Translation by Em @ TVBspace

Steven Ma - Still Racing, Still Dancing

When inviting Steven Ma for an interview, his manager insisted we had to interview him from a new perspective, but what is a 'new perspective'?

It appears that Steven has recently become fascinated by ballroom dancing, so it was suggested that the photoshoot and interview took place in a dance studio. Of course this was good and Steven even provided his own costumes, so less problems for this reporter.

Remembering Steven from a number of years ago, what did he feel his worst skill was? He said without a thought: "Dancing, my dance is very ugly."

So all along, we have never seen Steven dance, until March of this year when he marked his return to TVB by doing a dance with Rain Li on the Pok Oi Charity show, but when he accidentally touched Rain on a sensitive area, he was quickly labelled as a 'salted trotter' [Cantonese slang for a perv].

With such a setback, if it was the Steven of before, then he should have seen dancing as a poisonous snake or a terrible beast and evaded it as far as he can, but it was this accident that did not dispel him from learning to dance, but continued his desire to keep learning.

Steven says that after learning to dance and watching himself so much in the mirror, it has helped him to build up his confidence.

Maybe I think too much, but having matured in the midst of boos, Steven should know how to look failure in the face.

At least, he would be used to it.

Steven is a very careful person, when asked a question, he will think about it clearly before answering and you will never find any contradictory or rhetorical phrases such as "Oh, no..." or "I mean..." uttered from his lips.

So, when Steven announced he would be treading down the path towards the 'Best Actor' award, this is his motivation and I have reason to believe that he will not say this without a thought, or that he is being arrogant.

Although Steven is already the owner of his own publishing house, this 'horse' ['Ma' means horse in Chinese] is not happy to live an easy life, he is still racing and still dancing towards the limelight of stardom.

Returning to Drama Brings Rewards

Regarding dance, you can use the phrase 'not realising your talents until you try it' to describe Steven. Although he entered the industry as a singer, Steven has never spared a thought about learning to dance. The first time he took a dance lesson was to prepare for his performance in the Pok Oi charity show and depsite not having much time to rehearse, it gave a new feeling to Steven and the drive to continue learning, whilst preparing to film his new series "The Brink of Law". The result was the Steven fell in love with his new interest because he found that during his learning process, he has found a new confidence in everything he has done and just as when he left music for acting, he never imagined he would become a leading male.

Thinking back to 2004, Steven reached the dizzy heights of TVB's male leads and was even dubbed their 'lucky soldier' because even if the reviews were not very good for his series, the ratings were still pulling in highly. With his popularity and one series after another, Steven made the decision at this point to head into the mainland to make more money. His wallet became fuller, but his popularity in Hong Kong took a slippery slide downwards as he became known as TVB's 'abandoned soldier' instead. Just a difference of one word, but this one word made all the difference to his career.

A year later, Steven returned to TVB and signed a management contract with them, clearing his name from the word 'abandoned'. His first series after his return "Safe Guards" has also brought him the 'My Favourite Male Television Character' award at this year's TVB Anniversary Awards. To win this despite stiff competition from TVB's other leading men was a great surprise for Steven.

"That day when I won the award for my role in 'Safe Guards', I was very touched. When I was filming the series, I knew that it would do well, because the producer was Lee Tim Sing and there was a great cast that included Wayne Lai, Kwok Fung and Suet Nei, who are all very talented, so I felt that 'Safe Guards' would definitely win an award, but I never thought it would be me who won it."

In reality, before "Safe Guards" was aired, the expectation had been a small one from outside. The female leads for the show were criticised beyond belief, so for the series to find success, it was all down to the male cast and for Steven, there was quite a lot of pressure. "Once the producer saw me coming into TVB City and he tapped me on the shoulder and said: 'It's all down to you now!' and at that point, I did feel a lot of pressure.

"I remember on the Friday night when the finale was aired, I called into the company to ask about the ratings and they said that it peaked at 42 points, breaking all the recent Friday night records. I was so happy that I called out on the phone. I am not saying that I am really good, but I did have a feeling that this show would do well.

"It also brought me this award and at that point there was even more pressure on me, but to look at it positively, it made me focus towards winning the Best Actor award in the future. I like to prove people wrong and if you say this series will not do well, then I will make it do well to show you. Take for example 'Where the Legend Begins', people said that I can't do ancient costume series, so I worked very hard at it and the response was not bad. This feeling is very good."

Never Letting Go of Singing

With his career concentrating mainly on television in recent years, many people may have forgotten that Steven emerged from the music industry, where his slight resemblance on camera to Leon Lai earned him the nickname of 'Leon Lookalike' in the early days. Even his record company introduced the tagline 'He is not Leon, he is not Jacky' [Cheung] in his promotional material. There was a response, but it leant towards the negative and each time he appeared, it was to an audience of boos and jeers and this made Steven's musical career quite a difficult one.

TVB's current unwritten rule that most of their series theme songs will be sung by the male lead in the show has brought a new lease of life to singing stars who had left their musical roots to convert to television, giving them an opportunity to sing once again and re-live their former glory singing on the stage. For a top lead such as Steven, then singing theme songs has become an expectation, but for Steven as he faces the microphone again, he admits that there has been a change in his attitude from before.

"I have always still been able to sing as I often have stage performances to do and every time I do these, I will sing live to build the atmosphere. However, if you want me to spend six months or a year working on one album and then spend another few months promoting it. then I don't think I have this kind of time to spend on it any more. I just want to enjoy the experience of singing. For example, I worked with a Chinese Orchestra once in the past and although the time was short, the experience was very touching."

As well as singing, another recent passion of Steven's has been theatre and he hopes to be able to fulfil his ambition of treading the boards. "I have always been very interested in doing theatre and there should be an opening for me in 2007. However, I will have to put a lot of hard work into it because I want to do my very best if I am to do it at all. It is not because standing on a theatre stage makes me very suave that I want to do it, after all theatre is not like filming and if you do well on film, it is no indication that it will be the same on the stage."

Gossip Straight to the Heart

Whilst interviewing Steven, you cannot avoid talking about his gossip over the years, although Steven insists that there has only been three stories that he has been directly involved in. Even though he says he does not mind, but the usually calm and collected Steven will uncontrollably become rather agitated. At the very least, when I listen back to the interview tapes, I have to turn the volume down a little.

In thirteen years in the industry, he has been booed, he has been betrayed and having weathered the storms, he should be able to deal with gossip peacefully, but when his real emotions begin to show, he is still very angry.

"Since entering the industry, there have only been three pieces of gossip that were directly involving me - linking me with Astrid Chan in 'Healing Hands', then saying I had a crush on Ada Choi in 'Where the Legend Begins' and finally with Sonija Kwok. Anything after this has been proven to be unrelated to me, for example when filming 'Return of the Cuckoo', it was Michael Tong who tried to date Charmaine Sheh, and I had always suspected they wrote the wrong name down, but then the mistake becomes taken to be the truth.

"I don't have any feelings about rumours any more. You can't say I am accepting it, but how much gossip is actually true? A lot of it you forget as soon as you have read it. Since I found my freedom, I have not given a proper interview for two years, so when I see you [media] then I will say a few words. Each time I am interviewed though, they just ask me the same set of questions and talk about the same people and many reporters will not read the past reports about me and see that I have already responded no less than ten times, so they just keep on asking and I get very bored because it seems like I am purposely dragging out the incident to make publicity. In fact, I have done a lot of other things in the past few years and I have a lot of other things I want to share with people.

"Now I have a blog, it is quite good because I can share my things on my blog, such as the things I see and hear in the mainland and share my photographs by uploading them for my fans. What is recorded in there is the true Steven Ma.

"I do like to express myself in words and although I am only a F5 [high school] graduate, I have always had a love for reading and as well as novels, I will read anything else. In 2004, when I was working in the mainland, I did some self-study in the Open University's China Social Studies course and although I did not apply formally for the course or sit any exams, it still brought me a lot of knowledge.

"Although what I write does not have many layers of depth, at least I have started to gain a deeper understanding of language and set standards for my scripts. Whether it is my own or other people's writing, I can boldly criticise it and decide whether it is good or bad quality."

Maybe it is unintentional, but Steven seems to be showing an stamp of his authority through his words, but after all he is the owner of a publishing company and the person being interviewed, so he has the right to criticise this interview.


After falling in love with ballroom dancing, the sense I get is that Steven has changed a lot and in every word and every action, he is full of confidence.

In the past, the thought of Steven twisting and turning pretending to dance, would not only give him, but also me goosebumps.

The Steven Ma of now though can spring into dance at any time and when he feels the urge, he will engage the make-up artist and show her a couple of moves, and seemingly knowing his stuff.

Despite the presence of the reporters, he forgets about this as he immerses himself into his dance and counts out so naturally the 1-2-3-4 of his dance steps with the make-up artist.

When I ask: "Are you not afraid of being reported as 'Salted Trotter' again?"

"No, I trust you."

However, I have reason to believe that he trusts himself more than he trusts me not to write something negative.

Whatever, I thank Mr Ma for his gracious words that has brought my own confidence back too.

Em's note: You can check out Steven's blog here: http://hk.myblog.yahoo.com/stevenma_blog/ - it's all in Chinese though, so Babelfish or Ruby may come in handy. Sorry I won't be able to translate any of his articles.


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