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November 15, 2009

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Talented, funny and on top of the entertainment world

SUCCESS follows Tsai Kang-yung around wherever he goes. Whether it's co-hosting popular talk show "Kangxi Come," writing books or working in the film industry, the man's talent shines through, writes Xia Ruirui.

He's smart, funny, popular, from a wealthy family and not afraid to do things his own way. To say Tsai Kang-yung has a lot going for him is an understatement.

The Taiwan native who graduated from UCLA's film school with a master's degree is best known for his TV talk show "Kangxi Come," which he co-hosts with Hsu Hsi-ti, who is known as "Little S."

But he is also the author of books including "My Adventure in LA," about his film-school days, and "Someday, My Baby," a humorous story written for Little S's baby girl, writes a blog (, and has worked with film directors such as Hong Kong's Ann Hui.

In town last Friday to host the Z Fair charity event to benefit Tibetan children in Qinghai Province, Tsai is getting up close and personal with Shanghai, where his father Tsai Tien-Duo was born. He says he intentionally steered clear of the city when he was younger because of his family's history here.

"I was once reluctant to get to know Shanghai because it's my father's hometown," the 47-year-old celebrity says. "I didn't want to be infused with his memories of Shanghai. I always thought it was his life, not mine. But years after his death, I started to imagine the city where my father spent his golden years. The Peace Hotel, the Bund, I want to know what these places meant to my father (who was among the first graduates of Fudan University's Law School)."

Tsai's work will give him even more opportunities to explore Shanghai.

He is planning to make a short film about a group of young Chinese artists in the 1930s who want to study in Europe. Some of these students were from Shanghai, meaning Tsai will spend time at Shanghai Library researching historical documents. Of course, some scenes in the film will also be shot in the city.

As of yet, there is no timetable for the film's release, but he says it will blend fiction and documentary styles. Tsai's friend, Taiwan actor David Chen, may be included in the cast.

"The Chinese movie industry is in the process of taking off and the strong box-office returns can support Chinese directors to work on projects they're interested in. I think it's the right moment to start a film project. I'm just following a trend," says Tsai, who has also hosted radio programs in 1998 and was the editor-in-chief of the Chinese edition of men's fashion magazine GQ in 1996.

After teaching film at a university in Taiwan, as well as writing film reviews for newspapers and magazines for years after graduating from UCLA's film department in 1990, Tsai shot to fame with "Kangxi" in 2004. Soon he had a large number of viewers and he has since become one of the most well-known TV presenters in Asia.

Some critics have argued that Tsai, given his intelligence and family's background, should be engaged in more avant-garde art forms such as offbeat filmmaking. However, Tsai has never been one to listen to critics and has absolutely no regrets about his choice to work in the mainstream TV industry.

"I like being popular," says Tsai, who publicly acknowledged he was gay back in 2002. "Actually, life is full of elegance and pulp. You can't express very personal feelings or thoughts on television programs, but you can communicate and entertain the general public. It's interesting.

"Maybe some people don't like TV, that's OK," he continues. "They can spend their time doing something else they like. It's just like some people prefer French cuisine while others insist on Chinese food."

As testament to Tsai's popularity, the founding president of Google China, Lee Kai-Fu, was asked to mimic four entertainment figures at his company leaving party in Beijing back in September.

One of the entertainers Lee chose to impersonate was Tsai.

"You know, I was astonished when I learned Mr Lee impersonated me," Tsai says, humbly. "How could such a busy tycoon know an entertainment TV host like me?"

However, for fans, it's no surprise. Tsai's work is infused with intelligent and funny observations about life that everyone can relate to.

In his spare time, Tsai confesses to being an avid reader and he even admits to reading on the toilet. He is currently reading the "Uncommon Reader," a novel about how Britain's Queen Elizabeth falls in love with books because she thinks reading is the only way she can feel like a common person.

"This book really explains the fun of reading," Tsai says.

During this Shanghai trip, Tsai says he donated two ink-wash paintings - one by Pan Tianshou and the other by Wang Xuetao, both renowned Chinese painters, - to the charity auction.

His friend, actor Chen also donated a set of limited-edition tableware designed by Swedish brand Gense for the Nobel Prize winner's dinner hosted by the Swedish king.

"I hope the proceeds can benefit more Tibetan children," says Tsai, who also has thanked everyone from around the world who gave a hand to Taiwan people after a deadly typhoon struck the island in the summer.

Tsai has joined a charity foundation that was initiated by his friends in Taiwan and on weekends he sometimes visits the island's indigenous people in the countryside to learn more about their needs.

"Sometimes it's not money that they need," he says. "Sometimes they just need company and care." He says people can give time to those in need if they don't have any extra money to donate. He hopes the charity work of celebrities will encourage more people to get involved in helping others.

Tsai's creativity and love of the arts started at a young age. He remembers performing in his first Peking Opera at the age of nine and says he has always been deeply affected by Confucius and Taoist values.

At the same time, he is also a big fan of contemporary art, which leaves plenty space for creative development, he says.

He praises the work of artists Xu Bing and Cai Guoqiang, who both use traditional approaches in modern art presentations.

"They give a good example of showing our young generation the wisdom of profound Chinese culture in a modern way," Tsai says.

When asked to choose a city that best resembles himself, Tsai responds quickly with Sydney, Australia. "Sydney is young, brave, outgoing and open-minded, just like me," the TV host says.

On the subject of cities, the conversation turns back to Shanghai. Tsai jokes that as much as he enjoys being here, there is one major problem.

"I can't get a good rest here because I understand Shanghai dialect," he says, laughing. "When people speak in Shanghai dialect, I can't stop translating the words into Mandarin in my mind, forcing myself to receive all kinds of unwanted messages all day."


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