Paid actor cries foul over his Aunt Sally role set up by tabloid talk show
Do not get too absorbed in or emotional over the drama on Chinese reality TV shows, because it may not be real.
A young man named Su Hailong had to approach news reporters and clarify that he was hired by a Jerry-Springer-type tabloid TV talk show producer to play the unfilial son, who has become a villain that viewers kept in the dark love to hate, after he was twice physically attacked by people seized with rage. Su demanded an apology from the television station that aired the show for infliction of emotional distress. However, the TV station refused, arguing that Su consented to act the part and was paid 150 yuan (US$23).
“He volunteered to attend the taping of the show. It is not like I forced him to do so at knife point,” said the producer of the show. He said the television has already made it up to him emotionally. Asked if the show had made things up, he said, all stories told on the show do exist in reality. They simply hire actors to enact them, as prototypes of some characters do not want to show up on screen. Many similar reality TV shows use the same strategy.
The tabloid TV talk show in question is called Emotions Coded. In the episode that aired in June titled “I Am the Grandson of My Son,” Xu Feng and Wang Rong are a young married couple. Xu’s father owns an apartment on Sizhong Road in the city of Shijiazhuang. A real estate developer wants to tear down residential buildings in the neighborhood for a new development project and has promised Xu’s father a tidy sum of compensation. Xu’s relationship with his father has gone extremely tense after his father refused to give the money to him. In front of a studio audience, Xu stormed at his father by asking him to sign an IOU right on site, and threatened to repudiate his father if he does not comply. His father meekly took the insults without saying a word.
As the episode unfolds, viewers have learned that Xu Feng was a typical spoiled and ungrateful son. Even after his marriage with Wang Rong, he stays with his father, plays computer games and watches TV every day, exploiting his father for every penny conceivable. His father does all house chores for both Xu and the daughter-in-law. Xu has even signed an agreement with his father that all living expenses of Xu’s future child, including those incurred after the child goes to college, will be covered by Xu’s father. Xu’s father said on the show that he thought about selling his kidney on the black market for more funds to prepare for Xu’s wedding. Suddenly, Xu exploded, “Drop that pitiful look. You want to sell your kidney? Just go sell it now. I am running short of money. Go!”
The episode triggered a public outrage. Many vigilantes tried to hunt him down via human flesh search engine. The media tried to get hold of him based on the information disclosed on the show. All efforts fell through.
Li, a colleague of Su who played Xu’s father, said that they thought about hamming it up with a few slaps by “the son” in his face. Now in retrospect, they feel lucky that they did not do it.
Then “Xu Feng” contacted reporters at Hebei Youth Daily himself. He said he is actually named Su Hailong, 25, unmarried, provided his identification. Su said he felt very stressed and that it is imperative that he clear things up. He was twice recognized on the street after the show aired, including once in a restaurants with his friends. Four men rushed over and questioned him if he is Xu Feng. One of them pinned his arms behind his back and shoved him. In the end, he managed to escape the restaurant with his friends’ help.
Su is a security guard at a company. In June, a woman surnamed Guo with whom Su is acquainted told him that a television program needed a few actors and would pay. Figuring that he would have both money and a TV appearance, he said okay right away.
Su said the producers told him repeatedly prior to taping that he should act with more cruelty and his “father,” his colleague in reality, with a more miserable look. During the taping, prompters held large boards, with “Mention Money!” “Mention the property!” “Go farther!” written on it.
Su Hailong showed bruises from people shoving him.
Su Hailong felt wronged when he recounted his experience of being beaten.
Su Hailong believes that it is because the talk show did not make it clear that they were acting out the story that he was caught in trouble. He went back to the production team several times, and only got 2,000 yuan. They assured him that the brouhaha will peter out soon. Su wants a formal statement on the producer’s part. The two sides have not resolved their differences yet.
“Old Xu” is a security guard surnamed Li working at the same company. Li is 59. His daughter-in-law in the show is actually played by his own daughter, who goes to college right now. They were also recommended to the producer by Ms. Guo. Li joked with Su that his being beaten proves his excellent acting skill.
Ms. Tang, a veteran media person based in Chengdu, told West China Metropolis Daily that, storylines such as son repudiating mother, confrontation and fighting within love triangle, forbidden love, infidelity have become the staple of many trash TV talk shows.
Chen Quan, (pseudonym) who was an actor hired by many similar TV shows, revealed that television stations love to hire students in acting schools in particular. “The biggest merit of hiring college students is that they charge little, ranging from 80 ($12) to 150 ($23) yuan per episode. And for those who have learned acting, it was a piece of cake.” Besides, many trash TV shows that focus on dysfunctional families hire literary hacks to create grubstreet scripts, pay them 1,000 to 3,000 yuan ($153 to $460) for each episode.
Some shows forbid actors they hire from attending another show in case viewers get too familiar with their faces, and kick them out if they violate the rule.
It turns out their concern is valid. A net user on Tianya, a popular discussion forum, found that “Liu Jing” in one episode of a talk show on Hubei Satellite TV and “Tian Jing” in another on Dragon TV are played by the same person. On February 23, 2011, she was 24, unhappy with her single mother who prevents her from marrying a young man, whereas a year go, she claims she was 27, married with a village boy against her mother’s will. The mothers of her in the two episodes were played by two different women.