There is good news and iffy news if you are a fan of Chinese pop queen Faye Wong.
The good news is that the singer, who has not produced fresh material in recent years, has a new song out.
The iffy news is that it is a duet - with Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma. He is best known for being one of China's richest men, but less so for his artistic prowess, as seen in a widely circulated, bizarre Michael Jackson dance routine he did at a company event in September.
Netizens have promptly poured scorn over Feng Qing Yang (the name of a character in Louis Cha's wuxia story, The Smiling, Proud Wanderer).
It is the theme song for the 20-minute taiji-themed movie, Gong Shou Dao (The Art Of Attack And Defence), which was released on Nov 11 on the Youku streaming platform. The Alibaba Pictures film was produced by martial arts star Jet Li and written and directed by actor Wen Zhang.
The cast includes heavyweights Li, Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, with Ma as the main lead.
On YouTube, where the song was uploaded on Nov 3 and has garnered more than 296,000 views, user Xiaopin commented: "Apart from sounding terrible, there are no major problems with it." Another user, Zhijie Ma, simply said: "How nice to have money."
While it is not known how much Wong pocketed for the duet, Ma had reportedly paid 160 million yuan (S$33 million) for the diva to perform for two nights in Shanghai in December last year. One of the nights was a private gig for him and his friends, reported Apple Daily.
To be fair, there were also positive comments on the track and the post had more than 71,000 likes on Weibo, where it was posted by Ma on Nov 3. He self-deprecatingly described it as "a thick country accent mixed with a heavenly queen's celestial voice".
And he appears to also have a sense of humour about the opprobrium. He listed a few criticisms as well as his comebacks. To the request for a software that can delete the male vocals and leave behind Wong's pure pipes, he said: "Bear with it for a while, you'll get used to it."
A Weibo user, JenniferBeing, has already uploaded a Wong-only solo version. She also subsequently posted a Ma-only solo version, in response to requests, she said.
The Sunday Times rounds up examples of other duets which, perhaps, should have been "do nots".
NOT MUSIC TO THE EARS
1. SHOULDN'T BE
Who: Jay Chou and A-mei
Where: Chou's Bedtime Stories (2016) Putting together Mandopop king Chou and Mandopop queen A-mei in a song seems like a no-brainer. But the problem is that his drawl and her belting simply do not go well together.
The track, which is composed by Chou with lyrics by his long-time collaborator Vincent Fang, is actually a decent love ballad about a couple who are no longer together. Alas, it seems like the ill-matched pipes of these two pop heavyweights are not meant to be.
2. SIMPLICITY IS HAPPINESS
Who: Alan Tam and Andy Lau
Where: Appreciation (2017) It is true that Hong Kong singer Tam's diction has improved compared with when he started singing in Mandarin. It is also true that his Cantonese accent is still discernible when it comes to Mandopop.
But pair him with Lau, another singer who is better in Cantonese than Mandarin, and you have a double whammy of accented Mandarin. The decision for Tam to sing in a strained falsetto does not improve the listening experience.
As for the song itself, a somewhat preachy ballad about facing up to challenges, the blame falls on the duo again. Tam composed the music, while Lau wrote the lyrics.
Who: Eddie Murphy and Michael Jackson
Where: Love's Alright (1993) Brace yourselves. The song starts with a spoken line, "The elephant is dying", then Murphy sings and Jackson chimes in with periodic chants of "What's up with you".
The comedian wears a white wife-beater in the music video, while the late King of Pop wears a vaguely military-looking uniform as animated flying hearts, peace signs and sunflowers swirl around them. The clip ends with Murphy putting a hand over Jackson's mouth.
Lock this up in the musical oddity room and throw away the key.
4. LOOK DOWN; THE RUNAWAY CART; THE CONFRONTATION
Who: Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe
Where: Les Miserables (2012) The big-screen adaptation of the famed musical of the same name was nominated for eight Oscars, including for Best Picture. But it also divided critics and audiences.
What almost everyone agreed on was that Crowe, who played Inspector Javert, cannot sing. Time Out New York said his "pained vocal stylings... sound more like barks", while the Austin Chronicle said that when the movie is bad, "it's usually because Russell Crowe has opened his mouth". Ouch.
It did not help that Crowe had a few singing scenes together with Jackman - who played the protagonist Jean Valjean - a bona fide Broadway musical star.
5. I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN
Who: Frank Sinatra and Bono
Where: Duets (1993) This collection of electronically assembled duets was a surprise hit, but the results were uneven.
The late Sinatra's swinging vocals and Bono's bedroom voice sounded like they belonged to separate songs - defeating the purpose of a duet.
And was Bono dissing Ol' Blue Eyes when he sang, "Don't you know, you old fool", instead of "Don't you know, you fool"?
The U2 frontman has said: "I remember Sinatra's people visibly wincing when I changed the line... They looked around at one another afterwards and said, 'Hey, he'll laugh... won't he?'"
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 26, 2017, with the headline 'Duets and don'ts'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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