We're in Beijing on this cool September morning to meet Taiwanese actor Mark Chao and Chinese actress Yang Mi, who are fronting H&M's Chinese New Year campaign. The pair came out tops in a China-wide poll where fans were asked to vote for the couple they most want to see in the Swedish fashion giant’s 2018 CNY campaign. In case you didn’t know, Mark and Yang Mi are not a couple in real life — his wife is Chinese screen goddess Gao Yuan Yuan while Yang Mi is married to Hongkong star Hawick Lau.
They've got hit Chinese drama Eternal Love to thank for their popularity as a duo. Sure, Mark and Yang Mi are major stars in their own right but their roles as star-crossed lovers in that centuries-spanning fantasy romance epic propelled them to Jack & Rose, Carrie & Big-levels, not just in China, but anywhere in the world where there are Chinese people with access to cable TV or wifi. AKA everywhere. P/S: Eternal Love has over 35 billion views online making it one of the most popular Chinese dramas ever.
We're now seated with five other journos from Taiwan, Hongkong, Malaysia and China in a makeshift interview room in a film studio some 20 minutes from the heart of Beijing. Around the corner from where we are is where Mark and Yang Mi, who we’ve just been informed are arriving soon, will be shooting some of the images for the campaign. The pair are the newest superstars to lend their mugs to H&M’s Lunar New Year collection, which is out in stores now. Fronting last year's campaign was Fan Bingbing and her husband Li Chen. Before them was Super Junior heartthrob Siwon and supermodel Liu Wen. And before them was Zhou Xun and her hubby CSI star Archie Kao.
Yang Mi enters the room first. The 31-year-old is not wearing any make-up, though her skin is so dewy she probably doesn’t need any. “There’ll be no taking of photos right?” she says to a minder, as she takes her seat in front of us. “Is Mark on his way already?”
A few minutes later, Mark makes his appearance. He has a shy, almost embarrassed look on his face as he greets Yang Mi before turning his attention to us. “Do all of you need water?” he asks. “Is there water for them?”
The good-looking twosome are as different as bak kwa and yusheng. She’s sassy and exudes this big sisterly vibe about her. She also reveals nothing intimate about herself, and is a master at deflecting questions. (When asked about the most romantic gift she’s ever received, she says only “Love”.) He’s self-deprecating, earnest and doesn’t shy away from revealing interesting tidbits about his personal life. (He says that the ratio of wardrobe space he shares with his wife at home is "11:1" because he is married to a “female star with possibly 100 pairs of jeans”.) But together, they have more chemistry than a science experiment, which we would find out during the 20-minute group chat.
8 DAYS: Is shooting H&M's CNY campaign the second time you guys have worked with each other?
YANG MI: You can say that, yes.
MARK: Away from work, we don’t have any interaction with each other. (Laughs)
YANG MI: Yup, nothing at all. For real (giggles).
What were your first impressions of each other?
YANG MI: He was what I expected. No surprises.
MARK: What does that even mean? So was it good or bad? (laughs)
YANG MI: You were like how you are now!
MARK: Let me say it for her (laughs). He’s very mature, very dependable, has very high EQ, is humourous and a very good actor…
YANG MI: Yes, that’s exactly how I felt.
MARK: For me…
YANG MI: You thought I was very demure?
MARK: You’re not demure. Okay, I don’t really know how to say this…
YANG MI: What do you mean by that?
MARK: We have common friends and all of them told me that Mi Mi is very generous and down-to-earth but she has a very sharp tongue and so I shouldn’t take to heart what she says sometimes. And she was exactly like that when I met her. She’s the kind… that if she likes you or enjoys being around you, she’ll try to hurt you (laughs). But yeah, she left a very strong first impression on me.
YANG MI: You know how he greets me? (Switches to English) “Hey, man”. He treats me like a man.
That shows that he treats you like a pal.
YANG MI: But…
MARK: And ’cos u are a man (laughs).
YANG MI: Personality wise, I’m definitely more like a guy. I can really chat with guys.
So what has Yang Mi said to you that made you agree that she’s sharp tongued?
YANG MI: Every day I’ll say something (laughs).
MARK: Yes, like that day, [there was something] about my hair…
YANG MI: Wow, why do you bear grudges? You remember everything, don’t you?
MARK: I don’t that’s why I’m trying hard to think of an example now. Oh, oh, once we were filming with different crew, remember?
YANG MI: (Laughs) I don’t know what example you are trying to give!
MARK: So on my side, we had wrapped filming, so we went ahead and had our dinner first. When we went over to their side, we realised they hadn’t eaten. And I felt bad but it’s out of my control. She wouldn’t let the issue go. The whole night, she would pass comments like, “Oh, we’re so tired, but Big Brother Mark should be full of energy ’cos he had his dinner…”
YANG MI: That sounds exactly like what I would say. (Turns to look at Mark) “Are you feeling okay? We’re okay with working harder as long as Big Brother Mark is not tired.”
MARK: Yeah, stuff like that (laughs).
H&M’s Chinese New Year collection is out in stores now.