Yu savours success as show host

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 December, 2007, 12:00am

Despite the fact he isn't fluent in Cantonese, veteran Taiwanese singer and television presenter Harlem Yu Cheng-ching made a successful foray into the local market with the high-rating game show Foodie 2 Shoes, which he hosted on TVB Jade.

The programme was voted most creative and won Yu and his co-host Patrick Tang Kin-wang the best television presenter title at TVB's 40th anniversary awards.

However, it wasn't all fun and games: 'Don't be fooled by my calm appearance in front of the camera. I was actually in a sweat,' the native Mandarin speaker said. 'Honestly, I could only understand about 70 per cent of what people said during the show and sometimes the 30 per cent lost in translation contained the key points.'

What was Yu's secret to overcoming the language barrier? 'I watched the reactions and facial expressions of the audiences. When they laughed, I pretended to laugh and tried to figure out why it was so funny. If I really had no clue, I just asked.'

Although most of the banter in the show was in Cantonese - the guests and audience were mainly Cantonese speakers as was co-host Tang - Yu did nearly all of his presentation work in Mandarin.

'At first I had doubts about hosting in Mandarin as most of the shows here are done in Cantonese. Then, I let go of my own worries and thought: 'If TVB have the faith in me to do the show, why should I be afraid of taking on the challenge'?'

Some claimed the programme was offensive and set a bad example of wasting food. In one segment, celebrity guests were asked to distinguish food by taste while blindfolded, and afterwards the food was thrown into a bin.

In another segment, guests had to try and work out what was food and what were personal items - by smell while blindfolded - dentures, boxer shorts and a slipper were all covered in curry or some other kind of sauce. The losers were then told to taste the 'non-food' items soaked in the sauce. These sketches prompted several complaints to the Broadcasting Authority.

'Strictly speaking, it is true. But we were only using a mouthful of food that wasn't enough to feed a dog or cat.

'Anyway, I didn't want my guests to taste those items either, but the producers did as they wanted more exposure in the media - a photo of a guest eating a slipper makes for a very good promotional tool for the show.'

In Taiwan, Yu hosted top-rated shows Super Sunday and Harlem School, but he insists his priority is his 20-year music career, rather than presenting TV shows. He is so committed to this he turned down TVB's offer to extend the run of the game show so he could return to Taiwan to work on his next album.

'It is only an illusion that I spend most of my time hosting programmes because when people switch on the TV they see me every night, whereas it takes me a year or longer to produce an album. Actually, I spend more time on my music than hosting,' the 46-year-old said.

The show aired for two months, almost five nights a week, and had a tough filming schedule. Yu came to Hong Kong only five times. 'Each time I came, I filmed eight shows in two days. It was actually very tiring.'