Ekin Cheng Yi-Kin is one of the most popular stars in Hong Kong today, much to the chagrin of many Western fans of Hong Kong movies, who always seem to ask the question "why is Ekin in so many movies?" The answer is simple -- Ekin sells. With a two-pronged attack consisting of film roles and popular songs (often mixing the two), Cheng quickly rose to "idol" status and seems poised to stay there for a while.
Cheng was born on October 4, 1967 in Hong Kong. During high school, his good looks got him work doing commericals. After graduating, Cheng competed in a singing contest which he lost. However, one of the judges saw some talent in him and suggested TVB, the Shaw Bros. studio's television network. Cheng then enrolled in TVB's martial arts school, but found that he didn't have much talent in that area (something which would become apparent in later years), and so switched to a general acting school, where he found more success. After graduating, Cheng found work on several TVB shows, including Space Shuttle 430, a children's program that also gave Stephen Chow and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai their start in the entertainment industry.
Cheng worked at TVB for a few years until he made his first movie, Girls Without Tomorrow, in 1992. Several more romantic comedies followed, and Cheng already had seemed to be pigeonholed as a sort of "loveable loser." But in 1996, Cheng starred in Young and Dangerous, a gangster movie that became a phenomenon (spawning several sequels and spin-offs, as well as a number of knock-offs) and cemented Cheng as a movie star. The role also allowed Cheng to expand his choice of roles. Aided by computer effects, he became an action star with films like 1998's Storm Riders and Hot War. Cheng also continued to make romantic comedies, such as Help!!! (2000). All the while, Cheng cranked out a string of Cantopop hits (often doing the soundtracks for his own movies) which continued to make his star rise.
With a rise to fame in Hong Kong, there is always a degree of pressure imposed by the rabid press, and Cheng was no exception. The tabloids tried to tear apart every part of his life, and his die-hard fans were only too happy to eat any little bit of gossip up. Much to their disappointment, though, there has been only one major "scandal" revolving around Cheng has been when he broke up with Maggie Sui to start dating Gigi Leung. In typically polite fashion, Ekin only said that "I'm just an ordinary guy who had fallen out of love and who simply wanted to carry on with my life."
And that kind of thing may be why he presents such a paradox to Western fans of Hong Kong movies. Cheng is known to be a nice guy who is dedicated to his work, but the results onscreen never quite match the effort he puts in. He is known for his expression -- or lack thereof -- which only seems to be getting worse with age. Even his teenybopper fans seems to be turning on him a bit. There have been rumors that Cheng is using hair dyes and wrinkle creme to cover his age and his relationship with Lai is strained. However, to his credit, Cheng has not taken these rumors seriously and is still trying to expand his acting range. He recently took a role as a villain in prestigous director Johnnie To's Running Out of Time 2 -- quite a big deal for someone that always plays the hero.
For good or bad, Ekin seems to be here to stay -- probably the best thing to do is just get used to it.
A couple of notes about Cheng's myriad of names: