PUT FOUR PRETTY faces on a popular television drama series. Add an album that has sold more than one million copies. Throw in some lucrative advertisements and what do you get? Taiwanese boy-band sensation F4. The lucky lads are 24-year-old Jerry Yen Chen-shu, Ken Chu Hsiao-ten, 23, Vic Chou Yu-min, 20, and American-born Taiwanese Vanness Wu, 24. In less than a year, they have established a huge fan base in mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, as well as their homeland. Asked about F4's popularity, the boys' manager, Victor Chiang Yi-peng, says it's all about the packaging. 'From the market's point of view, the Chinese community has been longing for a boy band. The four of them have different styles so we thought at least one of them must resemble a teenage girl's dream date. They also present a very successful package.' Their launch pad was the romantic television drama Meteor Garden, which is adapted from a very popular Japanese comic book of the same name. The boys also look like their characters. 'As Japanese and South Korean idols are huge among [the young] Chinese population, fans have been waiting to see a group who have that Northern Asian style but speak their own language,' says Chiang. In Meteor Garden, the four were cast as gang of college bullies called F4. It became the best-rated drama when it was aired in Taiwan last summer. Sony Music (Taiwan) reacted to the show's success by signing up the boys and turning them into a band. Veteran Taiwanese producer Lau Tin-kin was recruited to produce an album entitled Meteor Rain. Released last August, it has now sold more than one million copies across Southeast Asia. F4 themselves are shocked by their huge following. 'We never really thought about being so successful,' says Chu. 'We just kept on doing our work but it is satisfying.' 'I want things to slow down a bit,' says Wu. 'I'm very happy with the success, but at the same time we are under a lot of pressure and that means we have to work even harder.' 'A life like this is very tiring, because we have to work every day,' throws in Chou. 'I'm still adjusting myself to the fame thing.' And Yen adds: 'It is a great feeling to be in F4 because we are doing things that others can't do. It's challenging and it's a happy experience.' Refreshingly, the boys, who will visit Hong Kong on August 8 for a promotional event, acknowledge they are just the latest product in a long line of manufactured bands who enjoy fleeting fame. Chiang says that during the past six months, his charges all came close to having nervous breakdowns due to the enormous stress they have found themselves under, from both the press and the public. 'When people first meet them, they always say that they are really pretty,' he says. 'But the next question is 'But what do you know?' They are always under this kind of pressure to justify themselves.' For their part, the boys recognise they would be nowhere without their looks but say they don't want to be held back by their pretty boy image. Chu says: 'Yes, we know the looks are a factor but we know we have to work hard to stop people from thinking that's all we are.' Says Yen: 'We understand that looks won't last forever, so it's up to us to double our effort so people recognise that we do have talent.' For the moment, though, F4 are well and truly under the command of the music industry system. They are told what to wear and what to sing. During press interviews their manager and a record label entourage insist on keeping an eye on what they say, scrapping questions from journalists which might draw answers that are harmful to their healthy image. But the four of them fully accept the rules of this game. 'We have understood this from the start,' says Chu. 'And we are watching and learning. For instance, my drama teacher told me that if I can't even familiarise myself with the scripts written by others, how can I write my own scripts? We are just still learning at this stage.' Wu adds: 'What we are doing now is preparing for the day that we can do our own stuff.' Indeed, Yen has already released a solo photo album and Chou a solo CD sparking rumours that the band might split. The boys come from diverse backgrounds. While Wu grew up in Los Angeles and returned to Taiwan two years ago by himself to pursue a singing career, the rest of his bandmates have had their difficulties. Chu comes from a single-parent family and was sent to study in Singapore when he was seven. Yen's father died when he was very young and he started modelling at 16 to support his family. Chou, meanwhile, comes from the poor district of Yi Lan and had various part-time jobs to pay for his education. Now, as they like to point out, the boys are role models for Asia's youth. 'People now pay so much attention to what we do,' says Yen. 'We have to make sure we please our fans and do everything right.'