People: Tina Liu

tina_liu_people.jpg

Tina Liu is Hong Kong’s most prominent image stylist, but her mercurial career has involved her in almost every aspect of Hong Kong’s media world.

She has worked as a singer and actress for stage, film and television, hosted radio talk shows, done fashion modeling, managed fashion brands, run a radio station, edited glossy magazines, and written countless feature stories, columns and several books of essays.

I interviewed her for face to face and over Internet chat. In person Liu is elegant, and charming in a girlish way that belies her long years of experience in the snake-pit of the media industry. Over the Internet, she comes off like a enthusiastic teenager, completely fluent in instant messaging lingo.

haowai_gong_li_s.jpg

Liu’s parents were journalists who arrived in Hong Kong from Chengdu during the chaos of the late 1940s. After growing up on the island, she went to university in Vancouver, studying communication and film before returning to Hong Kong to work as a contract TV artist for TVB (Hong Kong Television Broadcast Corporation).

This involved acting and singing for various programs. At the same time, Liu took on other jobs as a fashion model, and more importantly, acting and assistant producing for movies.

The Hong Kong film industry was starting to boom.

tina_liu_jackie_chan.jpg

During Hong Kong's celluloid heyday in the 1980s, Liu was deeply involved in ten feature films, working with the likes of Ann Hui, Tsui Hark, Patrick Tam Ka Ming, Yim Ho, Siao Fong Fong and other luminaries of the HK silver screen. In the '90s, she even acted in a few, “just for fun”.

Liu says: “ The most memorable one was "The Spooky Bunch" directed by Ann Hui, produced and acted by Siao Fong Fong. It was a ghost comedy set in the parameters of old fashion Cantonese opera. Guess what? I played the ghost! Originally I was assisting Siao Fong Fong but they thought I should act in it too!”

The film won "The Best Foreign Film" award in the London Film Festival of 1981. Liu says: “What I treasure most is the harmonious experience working with the almost all-female crew and the friendship that lasted till now!”

haowai_leslie_s.jpg

Even while working in the film industry, Liu was actively involved in other media. In 1981 and 1982, she worked on the relaunch of Hong Kong’s seminal hipster magazine City Magazine (haowai) doing art direction of the covers and writing and compiling fashion editorials, as well coordinating and editing the rest of the magazine. In the mid '80s, Liu also owned and ran an independent record label called Black and White which produced pop music (Deanie Ip was signed to the label) and music for children.
tina_liu_corporate.jpg

She returned to the TV in the late 1980s, when she worked as Talent and Image Director for Hong Kong’s Asia Television Ltd. “This time I was in management which was very different. Highlights include forming the first proper image department to take care of artists' hair, makeup and wardrobe matters. The systems I put in place at that time are still used now by local TV stations.” A few years later, she took a similar job working as Image Consultant for Taiwan’s Super TV.

After that, Liu did another horizontal career hop by spending the last three years of the twentieth century managing Metro Broadcast Corporations’s music station. She is still in radio: since 1998 she has hosted a popular weekly talk show about parenting called ‘Moms and Dads, Let’s Talk’. The show aims to encourage open-minded parenting and to give Hong Kong parents the opportunity to call in and ask experts about the problems and joys they have as parents.

Karen_Mokmeimei_s.jpg

The one constant in Liu’s career has been her concern with visual image, art direction and styling. In 1994, she founded Hong Kong’s first professional image consultancy firm, providing professional media image production, corporate image training and personal image development services. Her clients include entertainment and sports celebrities, as well as corporations such as HSBC, Hang Seng Bank, Peninsula Hotel, Grand Hyatt Hotel, Star TV and many more.

What exactly is image consultancy?

In a few words: it's art direction for a person. It involves fashion, body language, make-up and hair styling, creative direction of photo shoots and a range of visual skills.

The easiest way to explain what Liu does is though photographs.

Interspersed in the text bove are photos and magazine covers of Gong Li, Jackie Chan, Leslie Cheung and Karen Mok. They are all the result of Liu's creative direction and styling. There is also an image of Liu leading a corporate training session, speaking to a hall of employees about their own presentation in the workplace.

Below is a photo of former Chinese Olympic champion diver Fu Mingxia, before the Tina Liu treatment.

fu_mingxia1.jpg

Tina Liu gets to work...

tina_liu_fu_mingxia2.jpg


Now Fu Mingxia looks like this:

tina_liu_fu_mingxia3_s.jpg

And this:

tina_liu_fu_mingxia4.jpg

During our interviews, Liu talked about China's image problem and the differences between corporate and celebrity work. Below is a transcript of some of her thoughts:

JG: What is the difference between creating entertainment and media (e.g. being an editor or being a radio host) and doing image consulting or styling for it? Is it a question of form versus content, or is image in media and entertainment actually part of the content?

TL: To create images for the media and fashion sectors, I see it as best presenting the artists or models for the audience or reader's viewing excitement and pleasure. It is entertainment in that sense, or perhaps it is better to say it is a marketing tool for artists. I try to instill good taste and inspiration for this kind of work.

JG: Why has China got such a bad visual image problem?

TL:I guess it's all got to do with the lack of information influx in the earlier decades. No information, no need to look individualistic, one could get into trouble for paying too much attention to personal image, no available merchandise etc. It was years of no nothing! Like any art, its awareness and sensitivities died without the right environment.

China had its year of good taste and quest for quality, if you ask me, during the Tang Dynasty and in Shanghai between the ‘20s to 40's.

I think China now is learning to improve and catch up. Definitely not there yet ... but I see some potential. It will take years or even decades for China to catch with Japan in terms of image.

JG: Did Hong Kong used to be as bad as Mainland China, and if so, how did it change?

TL: HK was never that bad in my view. Somehow, it retained the old Chinese art sense which grew into a Hong Kong style that was mixed with Western influences. HK style is a breed of its own.

Though they were a small group, the Shanghainese movie stars and wives of Shanghainese businessmen ... did contribute to a certain standard of image in Hong Kong in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Then Beatles came! Pop music, Hollywood movies, TV stations being set up in the mid ‘60s etc ... HK has had a huge international influx of visual information since then, and that helped a great deal in educating people in visual language

JG: How different is doing image work in the corporate world from doing it in the entertainment field?

TL: Very different! With corporate training, there is much less drama. It’s more about raising awareness and providing practical techniques to improve the employees own professional image in their day to day living. Results are seen only in their corporate life and not presented in the media.

One would think that entertainment stars would be more difficult to work with, but that’s not really the case. Stars are professionals, they know why they have to put effort into dressing up a certain way. Sometimes I need to explain the rationale for letting them wear what. Usually they don't disagree — I have a very good reputation in this area, and they trust me.

For people in corporate training, it is not difficult either but they are much more excited than the stars, and they ask more questions.

Story by Jeremy Goldkorn
All images are courtesy Tina Liu. From top to bottom they are:
- Gong Li, styled by Liu, on the cover of Haowai (City Magazine);
- Jackie Chan, styled by Liu for a recent photo shoot;
- Leslie Cheung styled by Liu on the cover of Haowai, before he was chosen to act in the film 'Farewell My Concubine';
- Liu conducting a corporate training session;
- Karen Mok styled by Liu on the cover of 'Meimei' (Little Sister) magazine.
- The images of Fu Mingxia are all show her styled by Liu, except for the first one which was taken from Fu Mingxia's website which is here.

China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
laomo2010x80.jpg
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives