Jay Chou

Jay Chou

Born Chou Jie Lun (or Chow Kit Lun in Cantonese) in Taipei, Taiwan on Jan. 18, 1979, he was raised in Linkou, Taiwan by his father, biomedical researcher Zhou Yao Zhong, and mother Ye Hui Mei, who taught fine arts. His mother noticed that Chou was exceptionally interested in music from an early age, so she enrolled him in piano lessons at the age of three. He soon picked up other instruments, including guitar and cello, and frequently entertained his parents with impromptu performances. The happiness of his early years was shattered at age 13 when his parents divorced; already a shy individual, Chou became introverted and preferred to spend his time alone, listening to music. He began writing his first songs during this difficult period, and it quickly became the focus of his attention, much to the detriment of his schoolwork. Poor grades kept him out of university, so Chou enlisted for Taiwan's compulsive military service. However, he developed chronic back pain from a sports injury - Chou's one interest outside of music was basketball - which was soon diagnosed as ankylosing spondylitis, a serious arthritic disease that often affects young males. To support himself, Chou worked as a waiter.Chou entered the entertainment industry by accident. A female friend signed him up to accompany her on piano for a performance at a singing contest; as the story went, the singer was largely dismissed, but Chou's arrangement caught the eye of the contest's host, popular actor and talk show host Jacky Wu. He soon hired Chou as a contract composer for various Mandarin pop artists. Though his early years were marked by frequent rejection, his unique style of pop songwriting - which merged contemporary rock and R&B with traditional Chinese instruments and classical structures and dubbed "Chou Style" - caught on with other artists. Eventually, his popularity warranted his own album, and with the encouragement of Wu, he released his debut CD, Jay, in 2000. Audiences responded strongly to his mix of romantic ballads and topical songs, and while some critics found his understated pronunciation irksome, he found a huge fanbase throughout Southeast Asia.Chou released his second album, Fantasy, a year later, which set a precedent for him to put out a new record every year. His sophomore effort was even more popular than its predecessor, yielding five Golden Melody Awards (considered the Chinese equivalent of the Grammys). A tour of Asia, which showcased both his singing and musical talents, soon followed. His third album, Eight Dimensions, arrived a year later; by now, Chou was a household name throughout the continent, as evidenced by a cover story in the Asian edition of Time magazine.In 2003, Chou made the natural progression from pop star to movie actor with a cameo in the film "Hidden Track." At first, acting seemed to be a secondary outlet for the performer, who was also experimenting with directing a music video for a band called Nan Quan Mama in 2004. He found the process somewhat daunting, and turned his attention back to music. However, he returned to acting the following year with "Initial D" (2005), an adaptation of a popular Japanese comic about an ambitious street racer. Chou took the lead role, and while his understated performance again received its share of brickbats, he received Best Newcomer Awards from both the Golden Horse Awards and the Hong Kong Film Awards. Chou also composed music for the film, which turned up on his sixth album, November's Chopin, in 2006. He also apparently overcame his issues with directing by this point, and helmed four out of the 12 music videos for the record.His second film, "Curse of the Golden Flower" (2006), paired him with such established Chinese stars as Chow Yun-fat and Gong Li, as well as acclaimed director Zhang Yimou, for a costumed melodrama about political scandals in ancient China. As Li's dedicated son, Chou received his first exposure to Western audiences. Critics in China, however, were again less than kind in their appraisal of his performance, though he did receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Hong Kong Film Awards. Meanwhile, his directorial efforts were continuing to develop; after directing several commercials for the vast array of products he endorsed, including Pepsi, Levi's and Motorola, he made his feature debut as a director and co-writer with "Secret" (2007). A wistful romance with elements of fantasy, the film also starred Chou as a music student who discovers a mysterious girl and a piano composition that gives the player the ability to travel in time. Chou's loyal fan base made the film a substantial hit in Asia, where it won three Golden Horse Awards and a Hong Kong Film Award nomination. In interviews, Chou admitted that the process of directing a feature-length film was more challenging that expected, and soon returned to his successful music and acting careers. His focus during this period was to reach Western audiences beyond cities with large Asian populations, like Los Angeles and Vancouver, though his efforts in this area - including "Curse of the Golden Flower" and the theme song to "Fearless" (2008), starring his movie idol, Jet Li - did not meet with much success. His next feature, "Kung Fu Dunk" (2008) was an attempt to mine the same success as "Shaolin Soccer" (2007) with its combination of Western sports and martial arts. The film, which starred Chou as a sullen hoops champ who combines kung fu with court skills, was widely panned by critics but managed to turn a tidy profit at the box office. However, its follow-up, the action-adventure "Treasure Hunter" (2009), was a costly failure - the first in Chou's career. In both cases, Chou's acting was cited as the films' main fault.He rebounded with 2009's "True Legend," a martial arts film with Chou as the imaginary God of Wu Shu, who helps star Vincent Zhao rebuild his life and seek vengeance after villains slaughter his family. The film was directed by legendary martial arts coordinator Yuen Woo-Ping, who choreographed the eye-popping fight scenes in "The Matrix" (1999) and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2002). In 2009, Chou received his most substantial opportunity to reach a worldwide audience when he replaced actor-director Stephen Chow as Kato, faithful sidekick to "The Green Hornet" (2010), in Michel Gondry's big-budget film adaptation of the popular radio serial and TV series. In interviews, Chou paid homage to the first screen Kato, Bruce Lee, while stating that his performance would reflect more of the film's humorous tone while providing the expected level of martial arts.