World Cinema: The other A-list

Hollywood A-listers may dominate newspapers and celebrity gossip magazines, but other countries have popular stars of their own, as our latest World Cinema column points out…

The Hollywood A-list actors are the undisputed royalty of celebrity culture in our society. Their star power exudes class and a better life all over the world. I still remember being in Kuala Lumpur and seeing the biggest advertisement hoarding ever on a busy street, displaying Brad Pitt’s smiling face. It was terrifying, breathtaking and beautiful all at the same time. He loomed over the busy traffic on a main street like a beatific Buddha, blessing the populace below.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that, when you think of film star power, many people associate it with Hollywood and its stable of talent. And that would be wrong, as there are many movie stars globally who, in fact, can claim equal star wattage or even greater, if only in their immediate zone of influence.

These actors and actresses may mean even more to their audiences. While Hollywood stars may represent an unrealistic ambition for many, seeing people audiences can relate to may inspire or create a stronger emotional bond to ‘their’ stars.

This certainly seems to be the case in India, where their movie stars are raised to incredible heights, yet are still treated as one of the audience, so to speak. They are also cherished more than ‘foreign’ stars, as each country is justly proud of home-grown actors, who not only achieve regional success, but often global recognition.

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Take the example of how patriotic we get in the UK when any British actor or actress wins an Oscar, and then multiply that by a country without our natural reserve!

But, it is important to realise that there is a strong and vibrant acting community out there who do not feel the need to strike out and make something of themselves in La La Land, and instead create a buzz about their own industry. By this, I do not mean that they wouldn’t make it. In fact, one of my examples below is probably one of the finest actors working today

So, just who is out there and able to compete with what we see as the established set? Having just mentioned the country, here’s two of India’s most famous: Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.

Considered the Brangelina of India, she is a former Miss World, while he is the son of the mighty Amitabh Bachchan. They have begun to break through into the Western cultural radar, as a recent appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show attests to. This star power was combined in this year’s Raavan, although that film’s perceived failure at the box office just goes to show that, while people may love a celebrity couple, they never want them to star together.

Movie stars in other countries often multi-skill to an incredible degree, a talent that their Hollywood counterparts can only dream of. Take the example of Xuxa, maybe the biggest thing to come out of Brazil that doesn’t involve football.

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Xuxa is not only an actress with some of the biggest box office results in Brazilian history, but she is also a singer, children’s TV presenter and Playboy centrefold. In fact, she has sold 45 million records, while her TV efforts resulted in‘kid show frenzy’ on Brazilian networks, with every channel flooded with a copycat of her show Xou da Xuxa. Not content with then launching an international career as a game show host, she now releases a new film every year and has even been immortalised in The Simpsons Phew!

Finally, and carrying on this cross-media pollination that world stars seem to effortlessly pull off, is Hong Kong actor Tony Leung. Star of such notable films as Infernal Affairs, In The Mood For Love, Lust Caution and Hard Boiled, he can count Robert De Niro as an admirer and has been compared to Clark Gable.

In addition to starring in some of the most critically acclaimed work to come out of Asia, and winning dozens of awards (including a Best Actor at Cannes), Leung is also married to fellow film star, Carina Lau, with the wedding creating a media frenzy that not even our tabloids could compete with. He is also an ‘internationally’ renowned singer, with 12 albums to his name, including a Greatest Hits. That’s truly amazing. He is also the face of Star Casinos in Macau, and his image adorns everything over in the brand new Chinese gaming mecca. As he is my favourite actor ever, I was delighted as I stepped off the ferry to be greeted by a cardboard cut-out of him! It was also impressive to see that they did not need to rely on a Hollywood star to create a brand identity (unlike the much mocked ‘starring in a Japanese advert’) and instead could call upon one of their own to promote the casino to both national and international tourists.

So, there you go. Proof that the monopoly on glitz and glamour does not lay exclusively with the Western stars. Just as there is whole other world of cinema out there, so too there is a whole other world of film stars to go with it, and more often than not the movies are just one of the many facets to their star persona.

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Whether or not this is the way that our own screen icons will go remains open to debate, but I’d be amenable to the sight of Clooney and co hosting their own children’s television show. Maybe something with puppets…

In Cinemas

New York, I Love You

A follow up of sorts to Paris, J’taime, this follows the earlier work’s blueprint. It’s made up of ten short films linked by the common theme of love, directed by and starring some of the best known actors working today, including Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman and Bradley Cooper. The films have disparate and tiny vignette-like plots, such as a writer attempting pick-up lines, or a girl in a wheelchair going to prom. And, while the overall effort is a bit hit and miss, there are enough moments of genuine human warmth and compassion to not make you sick of the conceit and actually embrace the concept. It’s most likely a good date movie for anyone lucky enough to be out on one this weekend.