It's all hunky-dory

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 16, 2014

Watch out, Elvin Ng. A new generation of TV hunks has exploded in popularity in the past two years, amassing thousands of fans on social media.

Among these single and eligible actors are classic bad boy Ian Fang, 24, and sunshine bloke Xu Bin, 25 - all with the X-factor that gets fans screaming their lungs out for them at public events.

Performance-wise, they are also getting noticed. Jeffrey Xu, 25, for example, edged out veterans the likes of Pierre Png and Rayson Tan, as well as Hong Kong TVB's Kenny Wong, to win the Best Supporting Actor Award at the Asian TV Awards in December last year for his role as a male nurse in romance drama Marry Me (2012).

SundayLife! talks to six of the hottest young male stars gracing the gogglebox at the moment and dissects their appeal. Hunk-er down, folks.


The Bad Boy

Appeal: Super self-confident and ever the smooth-talker, he reminds you of a younger, local version of Hong Kong's Edison Chen. Fortunately, Fang has not stirred up any scandals like Chen.

Breakout role: Playing the rebellious younger brother of Fann Wong's character in Channel 8 drama On The Fringe (2011)

After shooting to fame with the massively popular drama On The Fringe, this self-assured star seems unstoppable.

With more than 84,100 followers on Instagram and 40,500 on Twitter (both account handles are @ian_ianization), he has since taken on prominent roles in the movie Imperfect (2012), as well as in Channel 8's top-rated 2012 drama Don't Stop Believin' (2012).

He also hosted the travelogue series My Working Holiday (2013), travelling to countries such as Sri Lanka and Japan to experience local jobs including beekeeping and paper-making.

Most recently, he was featured as one of three male leads in Channel U drama Served H.O.T., playing an ex-convict.

At last year's Star Awards, he beat Elizabeth Lee, Jayley Woo, Shane Pow and Edwin Goh to win the award for Best Newcomer, which recognises the most promising young talent. He is a nominee in the category for the Top 10 Most Popular Male Artiste award at the Star Awards next month.

Compared with some of the other actors featured in this article, Fang has been working the scene slightly longer - he entered show business in 2011 at age 22 - a fact he is proud of.

"I'm like a senior now," the only child of divorced parents tells SundayLife! in a refreshingly straightforward manner.

"There may be more young actors in the industry now, but I don't feel threatened. There is only one Ian Fang."

Easily the most confident of the lot, this Shanghai-born actor loves to talk big, knowing fully well that it works to his advantage.

"Ian Fang is famous for his self-confidence and his cockiness, right? So I might as well use that to market myself," he says with a laugh.

Dubbed by his fans as "Fang Shao", which means Master Fang in Mandarin, he says his innate fashion sense also makes him stand out from the others.

"I've always been interested in fashion, especially streetwear. Back in secondary school, I was already folding up my pants, way before the current trend," says the alumnus of Bendemeer Secondary School and Republic Polytechnic.

"People used to say that I'm being very 'kua zhang' (exaggerated in Mandarin), but because I'm a public figure now, I can be even more daring with my fashion choices and wear whatever s*** I want to wear.

"A lot of youngsters copy my style and I want to be a fashion role model to them."

But his ultimate goal is for people to recognise him for his performance more than for his self-professed "good looks".

He says breezily, only half in jest: "I think I'm quite talented and I have high self-esteem, but I also need encouragement that I'm good at what I do. When people tell me they watch my shows and say I was not bad in them, I feel very warm."

The bachelor hopes to find a girlfriend soon: "I seem to have a very strong personality, but a lot of it is just a mask I put on. Deep down in my heart, I'm pretty lonely."

XU BIN, 25

The Sunshine Boy

Appeal: One wide smile from this guy, and girls get all googly-eyed. Tanned, friendly and chatty, Xu radiates warmth and laidback charm.

Breakout role: Playing a bad boy-turned-good in school drama Don't Stop Believin' (2012)

Of all the up-and-coming hunks SundayLife! talks to for this feature, this Fuzhou native is easily the friendliest and most approachable.

Not caring for formalities, he politely asks if he can eat during the interview. Once he gets the go-ahead, he cheerily gulps down his salad and coffee in between chatter. "I think I'm an easy-going guy. And I love talking to people and meeting new people," he says with a grin, when asked how he stands out from among his fellow young actors.

Whatever the reason, he has already amassed close to 70,000 followers on Instagram and 24,800 followers on Twitter (both account handles are @Xubin_) in a span of two years.

"I'm a bit surprised, too, by how fast the number of fans has grown. I used to be able to reply to most of their comments. Now, there are so many that there is no way I can personally reply to them all. But if I just reply to some, the others will get jealous and 'fight' it out online."

Some fans have physically followed him home, the bachelor adds. "They came into my condominium building and hung around for hours before finally leaving. I never thought anything like this would happen to me," says Xu. His father, a contractor, his mother, a housewife, and his sister, aged 15, live in China.

He shot to leading-man status on television very quickly, snagging the main role of a hair salon manager in Gonna Make It (2013) only a year after his supporting role in Don't Stop Believin'. That bad boy- turned-good role snagged him the Favourite Male Character award at the Star Awards last year.

He is a nominee in the category for the Top 10 Most Popular Male Artiste award at the Star Awards next month.

He is now filming police drama Against The Tide, alongside fellow young hunks Aloysius Pang and Shane Pow, as well as veteran actors Christopher Lee, Rui En and Zheng Geping.

Says the Temasek Polytechnic graduate in logistics: "I didn't really have any direction in life when I was younger and was just a very playful person. Now that I've gotten into acting, I love it and I really hope to do well in this line."


The Dark Horse

Appeal: Towering at 1.84m and blessed with delicate features, Xu is often compared in terms of looks to K-pop idols. But it is his solid acting skills that have really put him in the spotlight, making him a serious competitor to even the most veteran of actors.

Breakout role: Playing a persistent male nurse in romantic drama Marry Me (2012), who continually gets rejected in love by his older colleague (played by Yvonne Lim)

This guy just keeps on surprising everyone. Ever since he beat hot favourite Romeo Tan, now his MediaCorp colleague, to win local television talent show Star Search in 2010, he has been dubbed the industry's dark horse.

In December last year, he edged out veteran actors including Pierre Png and Rayson Tan, as well as Hong Kong TVB's Kenny Wong, to win the Asian Television Award for Best Supporting Actor, for his role as a male nurse in Marry Me.

At the Star Awards next month, the Shanghai- born star is also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the same role - the only actor of his generation to get a nod in the category. Up against him are oldtimers Dennis Chew, Shaun Chen, Guo Liang and Zhang Zhenhuan.

Will he do the impossible once more and walk away with the award?

Ask him what he thinks and the bachelor laughs.

"No, I don't have high hopes about that at all. Everyone always calls me a dark horse, but I have such strong contenders at the awards. Of course, I'll be happy if I win, but just getting nominated is good enough."

Besides, to his fans, he is already a top actor. After attending his first Star Awards show in 2011, he recalls, a group of fans presented him with a trophy with the label "Best Male Actor In Our Hearts".

Says Xu, who has close to 22,000 followers on Instagram and 6,600 on Twitter (both account handles are @jeffrey_xu): "I was so touched and I still have the trophy with me. In fact, I keep everything that my fans send me. I really appreciate their support."

Other than Marry Me, he has also played an autistic teenager in Devotion (2011) and an effeminate hairstylist in Gonna Make It (2013). He currently stars in sports drama Scrum! (2014), where the only child plays a hot-tempered rugby player. His mother is a housewife and his father works in real estate. They both live in China.

"The most challenging thing for me after every role is how to do even better for the next one. I don't know how far I can go, but I want to push myself really hard and find out my potential."


The Jock

Appeal: Biceps and rock-hard six-packs. Need we say more?

Breakout role: Playing an enthusiastic army boy in television comedy Recruit Diaries (2013)

This former 2011 Manhunt finalist clearly has the body, but hopes you can look beyond it.

Pow, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic mass communication graduate, says earnestly: "It doesn't really matter to me if people stereotype me as the guy who is all muscles and no brains because I don't see myself that way. But I do hope that people can see that I also have substance after they watch me perform."

In any case, the actor has the support of many fans - "both girls and guys", he says. He has more than 42,700 followers on Instagram and 12,500 on Twitter (both account handles are @shanepowxp).

He lets on that there are some fans who leave "very suggestive comments" on his social media accounts, with "the really rude ones being quite common".

"Usually, I just ignore them. It's better not to engage in that type of thing. But if it's really very bad, then I'll delete them. But most of my fans are very sweet."

Offline, he has felt the effects of fame too.

"A lot more people have been recognising me on the street and coming up to talk to me, especially since the later part of last year."

Pow, whose parents are divorced, has an elder sister, 30, who is a human resource executive.

The bachelor joined show business after talent management company Beam Artistes, which also organised Manhunt, signed him on as an artist.

Within a year, he shot from cameos in dramas Yours Fatefully (2012) and Don't Stop Believin' (2012) to leading man, bagging one of three lead roles in drama Served H.O.T. (2014), alongside Ian Fang and Aloysius Pang.

Asked whether he feels any competition with the others of his generation, he quickly brushes the notion off.

"With all these other guys, we're good friends," he says. "When we're filming together, we often tell one another how we think they can do better.

"Sometimes, you can't see something about yourself unless others tell you and that's how it is for us. We're all in this together."


The Strong and Silent Type

Appeal: Quiet and brooding, Pang keeps fans interested by being a man of mystery.

Breakout role: Playing a rebellious teenager in Channel 8's I'm In Charge (2013)

When the quiet and reserved Pang does speak, it is to ask you seriously about your take on the recent news of the missing MH370 aircraft.

Coming across as mature and intellectual, the selfprofessed "loner" admits that his restrained personality is what helps him stand out among the competition.

"I don't really share information about my personal life with other people and I think that's good for me. It makes me a bit more mysterious," he says with a grin.

Perhaps, shrouding himself in mystery is an act of selfdefence.

The former child star, who acted from the age of nine to 14 in television shows such as Channel 8's Bukit Ho Swee (2002), had quit then due to relentless teasing from his classmates.

"People said to me, 'Who do you think you are? Do you think you're a big shot just because you're acting?'

"I didn't know how to handle my emotions back then, so I quit," says the youngest of three sons. Pang's parents are self-employed.

He made his comeback to acting in 2012, when he starred in Dasmond Koh's film Timeless Love. He has known Koh since they worked together on the medical drama A Child's Hope (2003).

"Dasmond talked to me very seriously about planning for my future and what I wanted to do with my life. He helped get me back into acting and I realised that this is what I want to do," says Pang, who has a diploma in management studies from Singapore Institute of Management University.

Since then, he has certainly not moved along quietly, at least in terms of his career.

Just a year after the movie's release, he was given a leading role on Channel 8, playing a rebellious teenager in the drama I'm In Charge.

This year, he also fronted Channel U's drama Served H.O.T., alongside fellow young hunks Shane Pow and Ian Fang, in which he played a guy eager to uncover a secret laksa recipe.

Says the bachelor, who has more than 56,300 followers on Instagram and 27,400 on Twitter (both account handles are @aloypang): "I've been really lucky in the past two years, getting all these great opportunities. I'm serious now about wanting to do this for as long as I can."


The Artist

Appeal: Versatile and bilingual, Goh has carved out a career on channels 5 and 8, gaining fans across both. His thick eyebrows and intense glare have also made him a brooding heart-throb.

Breakout role: Playing a rebellious teenager and the long-lost son of an ex-convict (Li Nanxing) in Channel 8's On The Fringe (2011)

Getting this guy to do a quick interview, even over the telephone, is near impossible. After more than a week of multiple reschedules, SundayLife! finally gets a 20-minute slot with him at 10.30pm, just one day before this article is due.

It has nothing to do with him being a diva - he is humble and gracious, and immediately apologetic as soon as the telephone call goes through. Rather, it is because of how insanely busy he is with school, being a second-year performance arts student at Lasalle College of the Arts, where he says he spends up to 14 hours a day, every weekday, in classes and production rehearsals.

So you take him seriously when he says he wants to improve himself as an actor and "perfect the craft".

Ever since he made his television debut in Channel 5's Fighting Spiders in 2009, he has wanted to do well in this line, he adds. "I have a passion for acting and even though I have already been doing stuff on TV and film, I thought it was important to go back to school and learn the basics.

"Already, I feel like I've learnt so much more than I ever could if I had just stuck to working without the formal training. This will really help me in the future."

The bachelor also hopes to branch out and hone a career in theatre. "I want to be an all-round performer."

Spending so much time at school, however, means having to sacrifice role offers. Recently, he turned down two "pretty good" Channel 8 roles due to school commitments.

"It was very tough making that decision, but I think in the long run, this will be good for me," says the youngest child of three. His father runs a shipping business and his mother runs a hair salon.

In any case, his fans have not forgotten him. Despite him being relatively absent from the goggle box of late - other than the occasional guest role - his fans still send him gifts and cards with words of encouragement. He is a nominee in the category for the Top 10 Most Popular Male Artiste award at the Star Awards next month.

The actor, who has around 40,000 followers on Instagram and 33,900 on Twitter (both account handles are @edwininja), says: "My fans have shown me undying support even though I haven't had a major role on TV for a while. That is a great reward, to know that what I'm doing is not going to waste."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 16, 2014

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