Welcome back pretty boys

CHINA - IT'S a Fantasy 4ever all right - at least for their loyal fans.

Even though it's been five years since mega-popular Taiwanese boy band F4 broke up to pursue solo careers, reaction to their recent reunion made it seem as if they'd never left the scene.

Ear-piercing shrieks rose from the crowd as Jerry Yen, 36, Van Ness Wu and Ken Chu, both 34, and Vic Chou, 31, performed last Sunday night on China's Jiangsu Satellite TV's annual Spring Festival, a Chinese New Year celebratory variety show.

Standing atop a mobile platform, the foursome descended onto the main stage like mighty Greek gods. Some girls were spotted shedding tears of joy, while others sang along to every word of their hit ballads Meteor Rain and First Time.

While they were no longer the fresh-faced dudes from 2001 - when they catapulted to overnight fame as leading stars of hit TV idol drama Meteor Garden - the quartet proved they've still got it.

News of F4's comeback first surfaced early last month, sending waves of anticipation throughout Asia.

They reportedly pocketed 6 million yuan (S$1.2 million) for their 20-minute appearance on the show, which was pre-recorded in Beijing.

Producers certainly spared no expense on their grand, lavish set.

Not only were spectacular special effects used to create shooting stars, audiences were whisked back in time circa 2001, when F4 started singing against a gorgeous Meteor Garden-inspired classroom backdrop.

"In the past, there were many occasions when we heard 'news' of our reunion, but those eventually turned out to be untrue," said Yen, in a behind-the-scenes Spring Festival interview clip.

"This time round, it was only when I was on the plane (to Beijing) that it hit me, 'hey, this is for real, we are finally getting back together'."

In the same interview clip, Chu said with a laugh that "the biggest difference" is "we all have moustaches now".

"My moustache is greying... Everyone's definitely more mature now.

"It's a great feeling to meet up with my three brothers. Most of the time, as we go about our daily lives, we have to act stoic and adult-like, but with them, it's like we can temporarily go back to being teenagers!"

Chou echoed similar sentiments.

"We are as excited as our supporters to see ourselves regroup," he said.

"It's the perfect timing now, because if we wait another 10 years, we'd all be in our 40s, and by then, it'll be really odd."

On stage, besides serenading their emotional fans, they bantered and joked. They spouted their Meteor Garden characters' classic lines, to the delight of their supporters.

Yen played the cool, wealthy Daoming Si who fell in love with poor girl Shancai (Barbie Hsu); Chou was the anti-social, sensitive Hua Ze Lei, while Wu and Chu filled the roles of flirtatious playboys Mei Zuo and Ximen respectively.

Making amends

Long-haired Yen, who held back tears after singing Meteor Rain, also took the opportunity to apologise to Chu for flaring up at the latter in their early years.

"I owe him too much," he told the crowd.

"Although I'm the oldest, I'm actually the most immature. I'm hot-headed and I have a foul temper.

"On the contrary, Ken is the one who is always looking out for us and taking care of our needs."

The pair then shared a hug.

Chu explained that he was like the "mother hen" of the group.

"When we first started out, every time we would go on tour, I would pack a new set of clean underwear and socks for the three of them," he said with a grin.

"Till now, I take along bottles of honey water for all of us."

So what's next for F4 after their triumphant Chinese New Year comeback?

Chu said that for starters, they hope to tour China, but didn't share whether they have any plans to release a new album.

On online social community Sina Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, F4's reunion became a hot talking point among netizens.

Many called the moment "touching" and "nostalgic", and some even likened it to iconic '80s Taiwanese boy band The Little Tigers' historic reunion on CCTV's Spring Festival Gala in 2010.

Wu posted a candid backstage photo - of the guys saying a group prayer before starting their performance - on his Weibo microblog. The photo was swiftly shared more than 10,000 times.

Singapore fans The New Paper spoke to were also elated at F4's return to showbiz.

"In the early Noughties, they stood out more than any other Mandopop boy band because of Meteor Garden's success," said Ms Charmaine Goh, a 30-year-old human resources executive.

"People really identified with their characters and saw them as more than just pure celebrities.

"I hope their singing has improved after all these years. It'd be nice to hear new material from them."

For 22-year-old teacher Chen Qibin, she wants to "see them grow old".

"To me, they are everlasting, like Backstreet Boys and Bon Jovi."

UFM100.3 deejay Kenneth Kong was studying in university when Meteor Garden first aired on TV and he recalled "following the drama" closely.

"I followed it mainly for Barbie Hsu," he said with a chuckle.

"I remember during that era there were many other Mandopop boy bands, such as Energy and 5566.

However, F4 stood out with their pretty boy looks. Energy were more of a dance outfit and 5566 were into hosting and doing comedy. So in a way, F4 found their own niche."

He added that he would be "quite worried" for F4 though, should they decide to release a new album amid today's pop music landscape.

"They will be going up against top boy bands like (Korean-Chinese group) Super Junior-M.

Competition's going to be tough," said Kong.

But Ms Lim Ai Lian, assistant promotions manager with record label Rock Records, begged to differ.

"The name F4 has become a brand on its own - these four guys aren't just singers," she said. "Over the last 10 years, they would each have found new fans through their drama projects and movies.

"Of course, as evident from the positive response to their recent reunion, their old fans will continue to support them."

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