Finally letting his hair down
Over the last few weeks, television audiences in China have been seeing Ekin Cheng flung off a cow in Texas and balancing baskets of smelly catfish on his head in New Delhi.
The 47-year-oldHong Kong actor is one of 16 celebrity contestants competing in The Amazing Race China, an adaptation of the popular US adventure series.
It also marks Cheng's first foray into reality TV after more than two decades in showbiz.
As The New Paper found out last Friday, the fact that he signed on for the show was quite a feat in itself.
In his younger years, he would never have attempted anything that was remotely spontaneous.
"Back then, I was very serious and wasn't up for fun," said the 90s heart-throb in Mandarin.
His close friend, fellow Hong Kong actor-presenter Jerry Lamb, 44, said: "In the past, I've asked him so many times to participate in those wacky game shows I was hosting... He always turned me down. He didn't like hamming it up for the cameras."
Cheng - best known for his good looks and flowing locks in cult gangster-themed six-film series Young & Dangerous in which he played a mob leader - said he owed his "change" in personality to his band of brothers from the series.
These days, he is a lot more willing to let his hair down.
Besides Lamb, his buddies include actor-singer Jordan Chan, his partner on The Amazing Race China, actor Michael Tse and action choreographer Chin Kar Lok, all former cast members of Young & Dangerous.
"After we completed our Young & Dangerous reunion concerts last November at the Hong Kong Coliseum, we felt motivated to do more as a group," said Cheng.
The concerts were a huge success, selling out on four consecutive nights.
"We wanted to start taking on more meaningful projects. We did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge as a five-some in August. Competing on (The Amazing Race China) with Jordan was definitely a great way to connect with our fans too," he added.
"Physically, it wasn't an issue either. The race obstacles and challenges didn't pose much of a problem to us, because we share the same fitness trainer. Working out in the gym had become a regular affair."
Online episodes of The Amazing Race China, which are produced by Shenzhen Satellite TV, can be found on tv.sohu.com/theamazingrace/.
Cheng and Lamb were in Singapore over the weekend as part of SingTel mio TV channel cHK's first year anniversary celebrations.
For this month, cHK (SingTel mio TV Ch 510) will air an Ekin Cheng Movie Special every Saturday at 9pm, featuring his hit wuxia movies, such as The Storm Riders (1998) and A Man Called Hero (1999).
Cheng, who is married to Hong Kong actress Yoyo Mung, acknowledged his veteran status in the Hong Kong movie industry, but stressed that he is not the least concerned about being overtaken in popularity by younger male stars.
"On the contrary, I really want Hong Kong's newcomers to do well. The Hong Kong entertainment scene has changed so much in the last 10 years... We used to be the Asian leaders in entertainment. It's no longer the case," he said.
"Even in interviews, I'm speaking more Mandarin. Cantonese isn't the dominant tongue any more.
"Hopefully, our newer, younger stars can work hard and we can all do our part to boost the industry."
As the topic shifted to his personal life and reluctance to have children, Cheng's tone turned philosophical.
"If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said very firmly that I did not want (kids). But now, I guess I'll let nature take its course," he said.
"I don't know. Don't you think our world is pretty chaotic to bring up children?"