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Love is Brave set for heartbreak

Huang Haibo, the lead actor in Love is Brave, at the launch at Nagaworld in February.
Huang Haibo, the lead actor in Love is Brave, at the launch at Nagaworld in February. Hong Menea

Love is Brave set for heartbreak

Love is Brave, which was shot in the Kingdom this year, is in limbo after the lead actor was caught with a prostitute

It is looking unlikely that the Chinese television drama Love is Brave, which began filming in Cambodia this year, will ever make it to the homes of Chinese viewers after the lead actor of the much-anticipated series became embroiled in a prostitution scandal in May.

Heralded as an opportunity to showcase Cambodia to China and a boon for the Kingdom’s tourism market, Love is Brave, a 30-episode love story, began filming on locations in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh following a glitzy launch in February at Nagaworld.

Deputy Prime Minister, Sok An, senior tourism officials and China’s ambassador to Cambodia were all in attendance to welcome the show’s producers and stars, including the now-embattled Chinese actor Huang Haibo.

“Through the drama, Chinese will better understand about Cambodian culture and people’s lives,” Ambassador Bu Jianguo said at the launch.

“I have confidence that more Chinese people will visit Cambodia after they have watched this show,” she said.

But in May, renowned performer Haibo, known to his fans as China’s “son-in-law” – for his portrayal of wholesome and loveable TV characters – was detained by Chinese authorities for soliciting a prostitute at a Beijing hotel and subsequently sent to prison for six months. Prostitution is illegal in China.

In an ongoing crackdown on drugs and prostitution, Chinese officials in September banned actors with a record of such vices from being broadcast on television and in film. The Chinese public is reportedly divided between sympathisers and those disappointed in their star. Regardless, the blacklisting has left Love is Brave in limbo.

Haibo was not the only celebrity caught out by the Chinese government’s campaign. Actor Jaycee Chan, the son of the famous actor Jackie Chan, was arrested in September for smoking marijuana, while popular Chinese director Wang Quan’an was another caught with a prostitute in the same month.

Contacted yesterday, the Chinese Embassy could not confirm the current status of the show’s production but acknowledged that it was not going to keep to its original schedule and begin broadcasting in China this month.

“I don’t know if this drama is still in process or not,” said Cheng Hong Bo, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy. “I think [Haibo] is a very controversial figure right now.”

He confirmed that although authorities from both China and Cambodia had thrown their support behind the initiative, the show was funded through a private production company and neither government had contributed financing.

For the sake of increased Chinese interest in Cambodia and a tourism boost, Hong Bo said he hoped that at some point production might still go ahead.

“The drama itself I think is a very good story, and if it can be finally produced, it will be very interesting and very popular,” he added.

But, Long Zhou, Chinese representative at the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, was a less optimistic that the project would be picked up again.

“Since Huang Haibo was in trouble in May and sent to prison for 6 months, the series was stopped filming in June without a restarting date,” he said in an email. “In my opinion, they won’t be able to restart without changing the actor. I’m afraid we will never see it on the screen.”

In 2012, China’s highest grossing film, Lost in Thailand, a comedy featuring the escapades of two businessmen and a pancake-maker bumbling through Thailand, resulted in a tourism coup for that country.

In Chiang Mai, where most of the film was shot, the normally tranquil destination has struggled to cope with the overwhelming number of visitors from China.

Other countries including the US and Mauritius are also benefiting from Chinese media productions showcasing their nation as a tourist destination according to Wolfgang Georg Arlt, the director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute.

“Film and TV induced tourism is certainly a big draw in modern tourism development but, of course, it only works with positive heroes,” he said.

While Love is Brave may not get off the ground, Chinese tourism is booming in Cambodia.

For the first eight months of the year, Cambodia welcomed close to 365,000 Chinese visitors, up 19.5 per cent from the same period in 2013. Second in numbers only to Vietnam, China is the fastest-growing source of inbound tourists in Cambodia.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Private and Public Tourism Sector Working Group, a government-business initiative, was confident more entertainment opportunities would follow.

“We will have other actors. Other entertainment companies can take this up.

“It is not only good for tourism, but it is good for Chinese-Cambodia relations,” he said.

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