Ahad, 4 November 2012

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

South Korea's Park pledges engagement with Pyongyang

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 08:22 PM PST

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's presidential frontrunner Park Geun-hye proposed on Monday to open liaison offices in the capitals of the rival Koreas in a sweeping policy statement that aimed to revive ties between the two countries.

Park, who represents the conservative New Frontier Party and is seeking to become the country's first woman president, said she was willing to meet North Korea's leader but said Pyongyang must renew its commitment to end its nuclear programme.

Park Geun-hye attends a national convention of the ruling Saenuri Party in Goyang, north of Seoul August 20, 2012. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

Park Geun-hye attends a national convention of the ruling Saenuri Party in Goyang, north of Seoul August 20, 2012. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

Park, who is the daughter of assassinated leader Park Chung-hee, leads her two major liberal opponents by double digits in a race for a December 19 vote to pick South Korea's president for a single five-year term.

Park's call for a more accommodative policy toward the North is aimed at distancing herself from President Lee Myung-bak's hardline position.

The two Koreas remain technically at war after an armistice rather than a peace treaty ended the 1950-53 Korean War. In 2010, the North shelled a civilian area in the South and is accused of a deadly naval attack.

North Korea under its untested new leader Kim Jong-un has resumed verbal attacks on Lee's government and on Park.

Pyongyang is widely seen as favouring the liberal opposition's Moon Jae-in, who has pledged unconditional aid for the impoverished and isolated country.

"For continued and systematic development of South-North economic cooperation and social and cultural exchange, I will establish South-North exchange and cooperation offices in Seoul and Pyongyang," Park told a news conference.

The proposal for liaison offices dates back to the early 1990s before the leaders of the two Koreas met for the first time in 2000.

Park called for a confidence building process as a way to normalise ties between the two Koreas, adding it should begin with the two sides reaffirming existing agreements.

"In order to build confidence, there must be various channels of dialogue. I will meet with the leader of the North if that is needed for the development of South-North relationship," she said.

Offering a different policy approach to Lee, Park also said she would separate the humanitarian crisis in North Korea from politics.

Lee, who cut off aid to the North when he took power in 2008, has linked a resumption of food aid to a political thaw.

North Korea experienced a devastating famine in the 1990s from which its economy has not recovered, and a third of its population is malnourished, according to U.N. estimates.

The country needs about 5 million tons of grain and potatoes to feed its people and since the early 1990s its annual harvest has been 3.5-4.7 million tons, according to most observers.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

U.S. storm victims face housing crisis as cold snap hits

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 06:25 PM PST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A housing crisis loomed in New York City as victims of superstorm Sandy struggled without heat in near-freezing temperatures on Sunday and nearly 1 million people in neighbouring New Jersey shivered in the dark without power.

Resident Lorraine Orobello stays warm by standing around a fire as she eats near her damaged house in the Staten Island borough of New York November 4, 2012. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Resident Lorraine Orobello stays warm by standing around a fire as she eats near her damaged house in the Staten Island borough of New York November 4, 2012. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Fuel shortages and power outages lingered nearly a week after one of the worst storms in U.S. history flooded homes in coastal neighbourhoods. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 30,000 to 40,000 people in New York City alone would need shelter.

"We don't have a lot of empty housing in this city. It's a problem to find housing. We're not going to let anybody go sleeping in the street," Bloomberg said. "But it's a challenge and we're working on this as fast as we can."

Temperatures were forecast to fall close to freezing overnight and an early-season "Nor'easter" storm was expected to hit the battered region this week with strong winds and heavy rain.

"The power is back, but we have no heat," said Adeline Camacho, a volunteer who was giving soup and sandwiches to needy residents of the Lower East Side of Manhattan on Sunday. "A lot of people haven't been able to bathe or stay warm. Last night was cold and this night is going to be much worse."

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said federal agencies are looking for apartments and hotel rooms for people displaced by Sandy. "Housing is really the number one concern," Napolitano said at a news conference with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Overnight, at least two more bodies were found in New Jersey - one dead of hypothermia - as the overall North American death toll from Sandy climbed to at least 113.

"People are in homes that are uninhabitable," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference.

Concerns are also growing that voters displaced by Sandy won't get to polling stations on Election Day on Tuesday. Scores of voting centres were rendered useless by the record surge of seawater in New York and New Jersey.


Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before turning north and hammering the U.S. Eastern Seaboard on Monday with 80 mile-per-hour (130-kph) winds.

The two new deaths in New Jersey - where the storm came ashore last Monday night - included a 71-year-old man who suffered from hypothermia and a 55-year-old man who died from smoke inhalation in a house fire, police said on Sunday.

That raised New Jersey's death toll to 24 while the New York City death count was 40.

In the hard-hit borough of Staten Island, Marie Mandia's house had a yellow sticker on it, meaning the city restricted its use. The storm surge broke through her windows and flooded her basement and main floor, the retired teacher said.

"I'm not staying here. There's no protection," said Mandia, 60, who stood outside by a pile of her ruined things - a washer, drier, television and furniture. "Here's my life. Everybody's looking at it."

Similar scenes of destruction were to be seen in the Rockaways, a strip of land along the Atlantic in Queens. Street after street, people were digging out from under several feet of sand and cleaning up from the deluge of water that ripped apart fences, turned over cars and left homes flooded.

Volunteers made their way there to help, even as life appeared to be back to normal in Times Square, where the neon lights were bright and Broadway theatres were up and running.

"It's like the city, the officials, have forgotten us. Only our neighbours and strangers, volunteers, have been here," Gregory Piechocki said. "We don't need food or water. We need a warm place to sleep and some sign that we aren't forgotten."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said 182,000 individuals in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey had registered for assistance by Sunday afternoon, and more than $158 million had been approved.

Sunday was to have been marathon day in New York, an occasion that normally draws more than 40,000 runners from around the world. But Bloomberg abruptly called off the race on Friday, bowing to criticism that it would divert resources from flood-ravaged neighbourhoods.

Without a race, hundreds of runners set off on informal runs to deliver food and clothes to people in need. More than 1,000 people crowded onto two Staten Island Ferry boats early on Sunday, headed to the stricken borough with relief supplies.

Ruth Silverberg, 59, recently took a cruise in the Bahamas. She returned to her Staten Island home Sunday for the first time since the storm and found more than 4 feet (1.2 meters) of water in her basement. "Things were just floating. I thought it would take me two weeks to clear it out," she said.

Instead, a group of 15 marathon runners formed an assembly line and cleared the basement of its contents in two hours. "I'm awed," Silverberg said, her voice breaking.


Fuel supplies continued to rumble toward disaster zones and electricity was slowly returning to darkened neighbourhoods where many families have been without power for six days.

In New Jersey, where residents were waiting for hours in line at gas stations, Christie tried to ease the fuel crunch by reassuring people that refineries and pipelines were back online and gas was being delivered. "We do not have a fuel shortage," he said at a news conference.

The New York Harbor energy network was returning to normal on Sunday with mainline power restored, but there were growing concerns about heating oil supplies with cold weather forecast.

Power restorations over the weekend relit the skyline in Lower Manhattan for the first time in nearly a week and allowed 80 percent of the New York City subway service to resume. But Bloomberg said it would be a "very, very long time" before power would return to certain New York neighbourhoods along the coast.

Most schools were due to reopen on Monday, though some were still being used as shelters. Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, Long Island, was housing about 100 people and expecting more to arrive as temperatures fall.

Some 1.9 million homes and business still lacked power across the Northeast on Sunday, down from 2.5 million the day before.

"All these numbers are nice, but they mean nothing until the power is on in your house," Cuomo said.

One of those still without power was 70-year-old Ramon Rodriguez, who lives in the Brooklyn seafront neighbourhood of Red Hook. "I feel like I've spent my whole Social Security check on batteries and candles," Rodriguez said as he waited in line at the 99 Cent Dreams store. His search for ice to keep his freezer cold came up short. But, he added, "at least it's cold enough to leave food outside the windowsill."

At the building where he lives, garbage bags were piled high and the intercom that is typically used for security was not working, so the front door was unlocked.


President Barack Obama, neck-and-neck in opinion polls with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, ordered emergency response officials to cut through government "red tape" and work without delay to help affected areas return to normal.

With the post-storm chaos overshadowing the final days of campaigning, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 68 percent of those surveyed approved of how Obama handled Sandy, while 15 percent disapproved.

New Jersey has said it will allow people displaced by the storm to vote by email. In New York City, some 143,000 voters will be reassigned to different polling sites.

Bloomberg said the Board of Elections has "real problems," and warned that it would be critical to make sure poll workers were informed of the changes.

"Unfortunately, there is a history of not communicating changes to their poll workers," Bloomberg said, adding the board has proven to be "dysfunctional" in recent years.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus throughout the U.S. Northeast; Writing by Jonathan Spicer and Claudia Parsons; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Stacey Joyce)

Related Stories:
Red Cross regrets not responding to storm victims sooner

Utilities feel heat as 1.9 million still dark after Sandy
Factbox - Storm Sandy blamed for at least 113 deaths in U.S., Canada

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

Merkel coalition agrees welfare changes as poll looms

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 06:18 PM PST

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition reached agreement early on Monday on contentious social welfare issues that it hopes will bolster its support in the countdown to federal elections next September.

After nearly eight hours of talks that underlined the degree of discord simmering within her three-party government, Merkel and other leaders agreed to scrap an unpopular health surcharge and to introduce extra child benefits, coalition sources said.

Merkel's junior coalition partner, the pro-business, liberal Free Democrats (FDP), is particularly desperate to impress voters after opinion polls have regularly shown it failing to clear the five percent threshold for entering parliament.

The FDP has long had to accept that tax cuts - one of its traditional causes - are not possible at a time of fiscal austerity, with Merkel leading the euro zone's efforts to overcome its three-year-old sovereign debt crisis.

The coalition, plagued by squabbles since taking power in 2009, aims to balance Germany's budget by 2014, helped by robust economic growth that has bucked the euro zone trend, although strong tax revenues are expected to tail off next year.

Instead, the FDP has pushed hard for abolition of the 10-euro-per-quarter payments for visits to the doctor, saying they have spawned red tape without reducing waiting times.

In return, the FDP reluctantly backed benefit payments for parents who keep their toddlers at home, a policy championed by the Christian Social Union (CSU), the conservative Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

Critics, including in the FDP and CDU, say this will keep women out of the workplace and children of poorer immigrants out of kindergartens where they would learn German and integrate.

The main opposition Social Democrats (SPD), who have taken a more assertive political stance since choosing former finance minister Per Steinbrueck as their candidate for chancellor next year, have vowed to challenge the child benefit plan in court.

The payments will only start from next August, shortly before the election, not as previously envisaged from January, the coalition sources said.

In their talks, billed as the last chance to launch large projects in this parliament, the coalition leaders also earmarked fresh funds for transport and agreed steps to help poorer pensioners.

Merkel's conservatives remain the most popular force in German politics with 38 percent support, an opinion poll published showed on Sunday, well ahead of the SPD's 29 percent.

But the poll, published in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, confirmed the FDP, on just 4 percent, would fail to win seats in the new Bundestag, or lower house of parliament. The SPD's favoured coalition partner, the Greens, were on 13 percent.

Such electoral arithmetic suggests Merkel might have to build a 'grand coalition' with the centre-left SPD after the 2013 election, like the one she led from 2005 until 2009.

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

A wide spectrum

Posted: 05 Nov 2012 01:16 AM PST

From serious health issues to light entertainment, 988 has them all.

AFTER a wholesome breakfast, how about an endless supply of good music and irresistible giveaways to make everyone giddily happy and giggling away?

The Feature (Monday and Tuesday, 9am-10am)

In Malaysia, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) is one of the most common cancers. Colon cancer can be deadly because it exhibits no outward symptoms in the early stages.

By the time there are symptoms, the cancer has probably spread to other parts of the body.

Learn more about this preventable disease and the ways to reduce your risk.

Street VIP (Wednesday-Friday, 9am-10am)

Veteran actor Li Nan Xing is one of Singapore's most prolific and acclaimed actors. Yet, he was once a compulsive gambler, drinker and got heavily in debt.

As things went from bad to worse, Li contemplated suicide, as death seemed to be the only way out for him. Now a changed man, Li shares the darkest days of his past.

Music VIP (Monday-Friday, 2pm)

Malaysia PWH Music Awards 2012 is here and your support is much needed to propel the Malaysian music industry to greater heights.

Forty songs are nominated for the Best 10 Original Song category. Which is your favourite tune? Which song do you think will win? Make a guess now and stand a chance to win VIP tickets to the prestigious award event.

K-Pop Chuego (Monday-Friday, 3.30pm)

Let's K-Pop (Saturday, 3pm-4pm)

Following Wonder Girls and BigBang, 988 has more K-Pop goodness for you. Up next is quartet vocal group 2AM's concert live in Malaysia next month.

Also, the station will be sending you to Singapore for two other explosive concerts – SMTown's Third Live World Tour and SHINee World ll.

The Pre-Show (Monday-Friday, 4pm-5pm)

Does driving bring out the best or worst in you? Regardless of whether you are a new driver or an experienced one, you should never try to be a mindless road warrior.

This driving programme tells you everything you need to know about traffic rules.

For more information, log on to 988.com.my. 988 is owned and operated by The Star.

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Politics call the tune in U.S, China and Europe

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 06:05 PM PST

LONDON: In the politically packed days ahead, an election, a coronation and a two-part parliamentary vote each has the potential to alter the course of the global economy for years to come.

The election, of course, is on Tuesday for the White House and Congress. Two days later, China's ruling Communist party begins the 18th congress in its history.

Barring one of the biggest political surprises in modern times, the carefully choreographed gathering will culminate a week later in the crowning of Xi Jinping as successor to Hu Jintao. He will hold the reins of power for the next decade.

That the world's two biggest economies are choosing their leaders at the same time is unprecedented. Investors are right to be transfixed.

Yet arguably it is a pair of votes in Greece, an economic minnow, on whether to accept labor reforms and more austerity that could have a greater short-term impact on financial markets.

In the U.S. election, markets are pricing in the status quo - victory for Barack Obama in enough swing states to return him to the presidency to renew battle over tax and spending with a hostile House of Representatives and a bitterly divided Senate.

The outcome of talks over the fiscal cliff' - a package of tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect in January if there is no long-term pact to cut the budget deficit - is already a major uncertainty for markets.

Tuesday's voting could muddy the waters even further.

"It's not easy to map out what the outcome of the election will mean for policy, both immediately afterwards and also for next year," Bruce Kasman, an economist with J.P. Morgan, said on a conference call.

In any event, Bill Adams, an economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh, said negotiations on the fiscal cliff would have a greater impact on growth for 2013 than Tuesday's election itself.

"Similarly, with the 18th Party Congress in China, we know who's going to win THAT election. The odds for an upset coming out of those two events are relatively small," Adams said.


As for Greece, the assumption is that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's coalition will muster enough support on Wednesday to win a vote on structural reforms and a follow-up vote on Sunday on an austerity budget for 2013.

But it will be a close call.

Holger Schmieding, an economist with Berenberg Bank in London, said it might take the defection of just three more coalition lawmakers to doom the reform package.

"In this unlikely but not completely impossible case, the euro zone could be headed for a period of turmoil," Schmieding said in a note. "The Grexit debate could be back with a vengeance despite the clear desire of Germany to keep Greece in the euro."

He saw a 25 percent chance of Grexit - Greece's exit from the euro - in the next six months.

At the very least, the tight votes will show that Greece is reaching the limit of its capacity to accommodate its international creditors, who are demanding ever more austerity to hit deficit goals that grow ever more distant the longer the economy contracts. Greece is now in its sixth year of recession.

"There isn't an effective pro-growth policy for the euro zone right now," Adams said. "Sooner or later the political process will have to acknowledge that this policy mix isn't working, and that will open a lot of rifts."


The financial crisis in the euro zone, which is flirting with recession, is still the biggest obstacle to global growth, according to a senior U.S. official.

Nevertheless, a Reuters survey of 73 economists saw an 80 percent chance that the European Central Bank would hold its main refinancing rate unchanged at 0.75 percent on Thursday.

In the same vein, economists attached just a 40 percent probability to a further round of asset purchases from the Bank of England, which also meets on Thursday. The odds on extra monetary easing have lengthened since the British economy grew more strongly than expected in the third quarter.

The biggest day for data could be Friday, when China issues investment, retail sales and industrial output figures for October.

But this is a week for the political economy, and the main focus will be on any signals from the party congress in Beijing that a change at the top might augur a quick shift in economic policy to spur consumption.

Nothing is impossible, but China-watchers reckon gradualism will remain the hallmark of what is a collective leadership. The new team will need time to consolidate its grip on power.

Economists at Barclays Capital led by Yiping Huang said consideration of systemic policy changes is probably a year away, but the new leaders could show their reformist credentials by picking low-hanging fruit in areas such as resource pricing, income distribution and tax policy.

"We might start to hear such discussions at the annual economic work conference in early December or at the National People's Congress in early March," they said in a report. - Reuters

Siemens to take further writedown on solar business

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 06:03 PM PST

FRANKFURT: German engineering conglomerate Siemens will have to take additional gross writedowns of more than 250 million euros ($321.13 million) on the solar business that it is exiting, a German paper reported.

The additional amount is made up of writedowns on the value of company units, operational losses and writedowns on solar projects that have already been started, Financial Times Deutschland reported in a story to be published on Monday, citing company sources.

In total, the company is booking losses of 800 million euros on its solar business, which it started in 2009, the paper added.

Siemens announced last month it was pulling the plug on its loss-making solar business as part of plans to improve profitability.

Siemens was not immediately available for comment.

As part of its plans to quit solar, Siemens is exiting the Desertec project, which envisages Europe will import up to a fifth of its electricity from solar and wind parks in North Africa and the Middle East by 2050.

FTD reported in a separate story also to be published on Monday that State Grid Corporation of China and First Solar were considering taking stakes in Desertec.

($1 = 0.7785 euros) - Reuters


Analysis: Waiting for housing to drive the U.S. economy

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 06:00 PM PST

NEW YORK: The U.S. housing market is on the mend, but the so-called "missing piston" of the world's biggest economy doesn't have enough power to get the broader recovery firing on all cylinders any time soon.

Construction and related activity will help rather than hinder U.S. economic growth this year for the first time since 2005. That was before the housing bust helped push the United States into recession, triggering the global financial crisis.

Higher sales, prices and building, albeit modest so far, are a welcome boost as other drivers of the economy falter.

Nonetheless, housing still accounts for only a small part of gross domestic product compared with the boom years.

The housing sector "would have to be on steroids to significantly boost GDP growth," Paul Dales, an economist with Capital Economics, wrote in a recent research note.

Neither presidential candidate has signaled any new plans to help housing, although the Federal Reserve, aware of the important role of the sector in underpinning the economy, is focusing its latest stimulus efforts in mortgage bonds.

Typically, housing leads the U.S. economy out of recession. But the vast equity losses have stymied the market this time.

Housing's most direct impact on growth is via construction, remodeling and associated services, known as residential investment. Its contribution to GDP has shrunk from a historical average of about 5 percent, and over 6 percent in 2005, to 2.5 percent in the third quarter of this year.

Economists expect residential investment will add two- to three-tenths of a percentage point to GDP in 2013, helping the economy maintain this year's pace of growth.

Americans are likely to spend more on home renovations - probably $134.2 billion in the 12 months to June 2013, up from $115.3 billion at the end of September this year, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

That would still be 8 percent off the peak in mid 2007 when borrowing against home values was still soaring.

Now, homeowners remain wary of taking on debt. Most prefer to save for renovations rather than borrow, said Adi Tatarko chief executive of Houzz, a home remodeling online platform.

Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics says housing-related jobs have grown by an average of 11,000 a month this year. That contrasts with an average monthly decline of 1,000 in 2011 and they should speed up to 30,000 a month by early 2013 as new home construction picks up, he estimates.

Superstorm Sandy, which hammered the U.S. Northeast last week, could put more people to work in construction.

Analysts estimate the U.S. economy needs to create roughly 150,000 jobs a month just to hold the unemployment rate steady.


The influence of housing reaches further than just construction jobs; it can be a big jolt for consumer spending, which makes up two-thirds of the economy.

Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital, said real estate wealth should begin to boost consumer spending again next year. That would mark an important turning point for households' finances, badly damaged by the housing market collapse and the drop in stock prices during the financial crisis.

"As the consumer goes, so will the broader economy," Gapen said.

The swath of homeowners who owe more on their mortgage than the value of their home is a big factor that has held back the housing recovery. Many "underwater" Americans have been unable to sell their home and buy something more expensive. Such upward mobility in housing has traditionally fueled the market.

More than 20 percent of U.S. mortgages were underwater at the end of June, amounting to 10.8 million homes. Of those, 1.8 million borrowers would recover if prices rose 5 percent, according to data analysis firm CoreLogic .

Price gains like that may not be such a tall order. Economists expect prices to have risen 1.7 percent this year and pick up a further 3.1 percent next year, according to a Reuters poll.

Rising home prices helped 1.3 million homeowners get out from under water in the first half of this year, CoreLogic says.

Those are more homeowners who could potentially refinance their mortgages, putting more spending money in their pockets.

A number of factors suggest the recovery will be slow and modest, like that of the broader economy. These factors include a backlog of pending foreclosures, the large amount of distressed homes up for sale, often at low prices, and the difficulty in getting a mortgage.

In the meantime, the Fed will buy $40 billion in mortgage-related debt each month as it tries to bolster the housing sector which Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has called the "missing piston" of the U.S. economic recovery.

"Every little bit helps," Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James, said of housing.

"People always ask, 'What's going to drive the recovery?' It's never usually one particular thing, but a lot of little things getting better at the same time." - Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Mission Hills boss backs Tiger, Rory duel

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 07:00 PM PST

DONGGUAN (China): The head of China's Mission Hills has backed glamorous exhibitions and pro-celebrity events as a great way to promote golf as he seeks to popularise the sport and expand his chain of resorts.

Despite outlandish scenes at last week's "Duel at Jinsha Lake" between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, group chairman and CEO Ken Chu told AFP that such events were "fine" as they helped raise the profile of golf in China.

Chu also played down the need for more domestic tournaments after China's two best golfers - and its only representatives in the world's top 800 - voiced concerns over a lack of playing opportunities.

Last week's "Duel" in Zhengzhou was met with bemusement and guffaws by golf aficionados after fans invaded the practice range and fairways, helicopters were parked next to greens and models in evening wear posed at the tees.

McIlroy and Woods, ranked one and two in the world, who reportedly picked up millions of dollars for the one-day event, then drew fire for skipping the WGC-HSBC Champions, at Chu's Mission Hills resort, just three days later.

But Chu refused to criticise the "Duel", which is following a path laid out by Mission Hills when it hosted Tiger Woods at an exhibition in 2001, his first appearance in China.

"I think it's fine, because the world schedule is very tight," Chu said in an interview at the $7 million WGC-HSBC Champions in Dongguan, won by England's Ian Poulter on Sunday.

"I think exhibition matches go well with the international programme because the international calendar's too tight already," said Chu.

"Players don't necessarily play in all the tournaments on a weekly basis, they do want some time off - and they do want to make some side money."

Chu's sprawling resorts in Guangdong and Hainan, with a combined 22 courses, are the world's two largest golf clubs, and Mission Hills has more on the way in Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing.

The sharp-suited 38-year-old runs the burgeoning empire with his younger brother, Tenniel, after their father David Chu, who founded Mission Hills, died last year.

"Unfortunately we can't have the overseas superstars in and out of China so frequently, as much as we would like to," he said, lounging on a gold cushion at the lavish Dongguan clubhouse.

"But it is a way to grow Chinese golf and that's what we've been doing in the past as well."

Chu said it was not his job to invite players to the WGC-HSBC Champions - but he insisted it was no problem that Woods and McIlroy had opted out.

"It's not a problem definitely because it is still televised not just internationally but also nationally, live coverage," he said. "It is still a good channel to promote golf to the public."

Chu also said holding big international events was the best way to give opportunities to players in China, adding that domestic tournaments made little sense financially.

He was speaking after China's top two, Wu Ashun and Liang Wenchong, ranked 188 and 246, called for a better platform for the country's golfers.

"It all comes down to television broadcasts. Chinese players are not ranked that high in the international golf arena, therefore the tournaments that laymen like to watch are the US Tour," he said.

"If the US players are not playing, there's less interest, fewer sponsors, less prize money.

"The biggest benefit to Chinese golf today is to permit Chinese players to play frequently by hosting more international tournaments, US and European-sanctioned tournaments, in China.

"Or OneAsia tournaments co-sanctioned with the Chinese tour. Therefore there's wildcards for the Chinese players to play to compete with these overseas players to generate viewership."

Chu said Mission Hills would also follow the strategy of using glitzy pro-celebrity golf tournaments to promote its product, which includes expensive club memberships and luxury villas at its resorts.

Last month Michael Phelps, Yao Ming, Ronaldo and Andy Garcia were among the A-list guests at a golf-cum-red-carpet event at Mission Hills Haikou in Hainan.

"Only golf-lovers will watch golf on TV. Laymen will not tune into the Golf Channel, and laymen will not go to a golf club to watch a tournament," Chu explained.

"But the general public will go to see superstars and movie stars. That is a huge way of promoting golf, reaching out to another sector of the crowd." - AFP

Federer hails Djokovic as 'real' number one

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 05:57 PM PST

LONDON: Tennis great Roger Federer is in no doubt that Novak Djokovic deserves to finish 2012 as the world's top-ranked player.

Federer replaced Djokovic at the top of the standings after winning Wimbledon in July but will cede the number one position to the Serb on Monday.

And with the Swiss star unable to improve on last year's perfect performance in winning the 2011 season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London, not even an unblemished victory in this year's edition at the O2 Arena will see him regain top spot before 2012 is out.

"We know who the real number one is," said Federer. It is going to be Novak. I do not think there should be any debate around about that.

"You do not get to number one by chance. The rankings are something that shows how you have played over a 365-day period. It might all change again in two months at the Australian Open but right now it is clear."

Federer all but conceded the number one ranking this year when opting out of defending his Paris Masters title last week on the grounds he could not do himself justice by playing successive tournaments in Basle, Paris and London.

"I obviously gave it everything I had," said Federer. "I've played so much tennis the last one and a half, two years and I'm happy I got back to world number one.

"It's obviously a time where you need to win at least a slam, if not more slams, or at least five to 10 titles, so we're not talking about just a quick jump to number one and then you lose it again.

"This is a full-on process. That obviously takes a lot of sacrifice. For the time being I'm willing to do all of that. So I'm putting my schedule into place for next year and there are no extraordinary changes."

Although Djokovic has, unsurprisingly, failed to hit the same heights as in 2011, when he won three out of the four Grand Slam singles titles, this year has seen him retain his Australia Open crown and reach the finals of both the French and US Opens, losing the latter to Britain's Andy Murray.

Fatigue caught up with Djokovic in London last year and he suffered a shock loss to Sam Querrey of the United States in Paris.

And the 25-year-old Djokovic, who begins his London campaign against France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said it was tough to be in peak shape at this stage of a long season.

"It is expected not to be always in your top form at this time of year," he said. "The effects of the long season can influence you physically and mentally but this is an important tournament and I definitely want to do well.

"I am sure I will find the strength to perform my best and we will see if that best is good enough."

Meanwhile, Federer backed Murray's calls for more drug testing in tennis, particularly blood tests.

"I feel I am being less tested than I was six or seven years ago so I do not know the exact reasons why we are being tested less," said Federer.

"At this moment, I agree with Andy, we do not do a lot of blood-testing during the year.

"It is vital that the sport stays clean, it has got to. We have had a good history in terms of that and we want to ensure it stays that way." - AFP

Petrova wins Sofia Tournament of Champions

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 07:07 PM PST

SOFIA: Russia's Nadia Petrova routed top-seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 6-2, 6-1 to clinch the season-ending Tournament of Champions in emphatic style here on Sunday in one hour and 27 minutes of play.

"It's been a really big pleasure playing here," Petrova said, thanking her coach Ricardo Sanchez.

"We've been through ups and downs this season. But what a great finish!" she said. Petrova arrived in Sofia from the WTA Championship in Istanbul, where she won the doubles title together with fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko.

"It's a great way to finish the season with a title in doubles and today in singles so now I'm just looking forward to a rest and getting strong and healthy for next year," Petrova said.

"Today didn't go the way that I'd hoped for, obviously. But Nadia played a very good match," Wozniacki shrugged.

Petrova soon found her game, breaking Wozniacki's first serve and winning her own service game, despite two double faults before the Dane recovered to hold to love.

The Russian however kept calm to take her next service and broke Wozniacki's serve again in the fifth with extremely powerful cross-court drives to the sides that denied the Dane time and room to set the pace.

Petrova then managed to prevent Wozniacki from converting a break point in the sixth game.

Wozniacki won her next service game but failed to disrupt the Russian's very solid play, allowing her to take the set in 50min.

Despite massive support for her from the crowd in Sofia's Arena Armeec Hall, Wozniacki allowed Petrova to break her serve again at the start of the second set and win her own service game, Wozniacki only stopping the rot in the fifth game and then conceding serve again as she conceded the encounter.

Petrova won $270,000 for her win and clinched 12th spot in the end of year WTA ranking by pushing down Serbia's Ana Ivanovic.

In reaching the final, Wozniacki also grabbed a year-end top ten ranking, moving up from 11th spot above Marion Bartoli of France, who was not competing here.

The Tournament of Champions featured the six highest-ranked players who have won a title during the season but did not qualify for the WTA Championships, along with two wild cards.

It closed out the WTA calendar. - AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Nation

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Kong explains date change of Transport Ministry's winding-up debate

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 03:34 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Transport Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha on Sunday explained that the date to wind-up the debate on the Supply Bill 2013 for the ministry had to be changed to make way for the women, family and community development ministry.

In a statement, he said the change was due to a request made by the ministry on the grounds that its deputy minister, Datuk Heng Seai Kie's senatorship would end on Nov 15.

Hence, he said, Heng would not be able to wind-up the debate for her ministry in the Dewan Rakyat on Nov 20, as scheduled, and had requested permission to do so on Nov 1, the date allotted to the transport ministry.

"After several discussions with my deputy (Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri) and the good rapport between the two ministries, we have agreed to change our slots to wind-up the debate on the Supply Bill 2013 from Nov 1 to Nov 20," he said.

Kong gave the explanation after Taiping MP Nga Kor Ming rapped the transport ministry for changing the date without any explanation.

Apart from giving the explanation, Kong also slammed Nga for his ignorance when he referred to Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin as deputy transport minister.

This followed Nga's accusation that Lajim had not given any explanation on the change of date in the Dewan Rakyat recently.

"I was shocked when Sin Chew Daily reported that Nga Kor Ming did not know who the deputy transport minister was," said Kong.

Lajim is just a member of parliament for Beaufort after he quit Umno and resigned from the post of deputy housing and local government minister last July. - Bernama

Anifah: Malaysia lauds Australia's young Muslim exchange programme

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 03:23 AM PST

KOTA KINABALU: The announcement of the Australia-Malaysia Young Muslim Exchange Programme by Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr on Sunday marked yet another monumental chapter on bilateral relations between the two countries, said Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.

He said Malaysia welcomed Australia's proposal to launch the programme aimed at promoting better cultural understanding.

"This exchange programme is another clear example of how our mature cooperation engenders a collective effort which enables us to make a difference for the benefit of our people.

"Malaysia is heartened by Australia's initiatives in closing the gap and promoting understanding between religions and communities through inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue," he said in a joint press conference, in conjunction with Carr's official visit to Malaysia here.

Anifah said the government also appreciated Australia's acknowledgement of the role played by Malaysia in facilitating the peace agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, leading to the recent signing of a Framework Agreement.

In this respect, Anifah urged Australia to assist in the economic development of the southern Philippines, thus giving new hope for the Bangsamoro.

On trade and investment, Anifah said both countries shared the same view that there was still greater potential to expand the quantum of trade and investment between Malaysia and Australia.

He said the coming into force of the Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement on Jan 1, next year, would enhance the movement of exports and services, as well as boost investment flow, while advancing the commitments made in the Asean-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement.

Anifah said cooperation in education continued to be an integral part of bilateral relations of both countries, adding that currently, more than 20,000 Malaysian students pursued higher education in Australia.

"In our bilateral meeting today, Senator Carr and I also touched on a number of regional and international matters of mutual interest, namely the Australia-Asean Dialogue Relations and the East Asia Summit, as well as Australia's role as a newly-elected non-permanent member to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the term 2013-2014.

"I happy to note that Australia has also expressed support to Malaysia's candidacy for the election of non-permanent member to the UNSC for the term of 2015-2016," he said. - Bernama

Former kindergarten teacher smothered to death by robbers

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 03:18 AM PST

SABAK BERNAM: A former kindergarten teacher who screamed for help during a robbery at her shophouse in Sungai Besar here early Sunday, was smothered to death with a pillow by one of two masked intruders.

As Sadariah Tohbasar @ Ahmad, 65, breathed her last, her grandson, Mohd Hafizul Azwan Mohd Aznan, 17, struggled to break free from the killer's accomplice at the house in Jalan Parit 6 Timur.

The teenager, who is sitting for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) tomorrow, could only watch helplessly as the robbers who wore gloves and were armed with machetes, ransacked the shophouse of cash and jewellery worth about RM2,000.

Earlier, Sadariah, who made ends meet by working as a seamstress and pastry maker, was punched by one of the robbers when she began screaming. She was then smothered to death with a pillow.

Sabak Bernam police chief Supt Noor Mushar Mohamad said police found the body of the victim, who was previously working as a teacher for the Community Development Department (Kemas), on the floor of the living room.

He said she had blood oozing from the mouth and sustained a swollen forehead as a result of a punch from a robber during the hold-up at 4.45am.

"We have classified the case as murder. We believe the robbers are locals and it is just a matter of time before they are arrested."

Noor Mushar said the body was sent to the Tengku Ampuan Jemaah Sabak Bernam Hospital.

Mohd Hafizul Azwan told police he was asleep in the same room as the victim when the robbers entered the premises through the rear door.

He said both he and Sadariah were tied up when the woman screamed for help, incurring the wrath of the robbers, one of whom punched and smothered her to death.

Noor Mushar appealed to those with information on the robbery to contact district CID chief ASP Masri Md Hassan at tel: 03-32242613 to facilitate investigations.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf


Posted: 04 Nov 2012 12:59 AM PDT

FOR the week ending Oct 28, 2012:


1. Dare To Dream by One Direction

2. Guinness World Records 2013 by Guinness World Records Ltd

3. Justin Bieber: Just Getting Started (100%Official) by Justin Bieber

4. A World Without Islam by Graham E.Fuller

5. The Power Of X Qualifying The 10 Gods by Joey Yap

6. Unstoppable: The Incredible Power Of Faith In Action by Nick Vujicic

7. I Declare: 31 Promises To Speak Over Your Life by Joel Osteen

8. Steven Gerrard: My Liverpool Story by Steven Gerrard

9. Another Forgotten Child by Cathy Glass

10. No Easy Day: The Only First-hand Account Of The Navy Seal Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden by Mark Owen & Kevin Maurer


1. Fifty Shades Of Grey by E.L. James

2. The Hobbit (movie tie-in) by J.R.R. Tolkien

3. Reflected In You by Sylvia Day

4. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

5. Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

6. One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

7. The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

8. The Innocent by David Baldacci

9. The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

10. The Sins Of The Father by Jeffrey Archer

Weekly list compiled by MPH Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur; mphon line.com.

Worthy winner

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 12:57 AM PDT

The announcement of this year's literature Nobel winner has our columnist embarking on a 10-course sensual feast peppered with 10 feisty characters and adorned with hypnotic imagery.

ON my bowed bookshelves, there are only three of Mo Yan's books. It's a shame, for the man is the newly crowned Nobel laureate in Literature.

Regrettably, one of the books is unfinished, while the other two not at all read. Though I was a chapter short from finishing that book, it still somehow resonates loudly enough to occupy a special spot in my heart. Those tense moments years ago in a packed train while thumbing it remain crisp in memory. I was, on more than one occasion, impressed, as well as terrified, by Mo Yan's fictitious and macabre recounting of Japanese brutality against Chinese civilians during World War II.

But make no mistake: the book is not historical fiction. History is just the background; in the forefront, Mo Yan speaks about religion, love, feminism, family and, ahem, sex. A master of descriptive language, he is unrivalled in his ability to capture small observations and transform them into grisly gruesomeness that slip perfectly between realism and surrealism, much as life in China became, first under Japanese occupation and then as part of the Cultural Revolution when cruelty was surreally realistic.

"... A palm-sized piece of flesh twitched like a skinned frog ... the commander, whom she thought was long dead, climbing slowly to his knees; he crawled over to the chunk of flesh from his shoulder, flattened it out, and stuck it onto the spot where it had been cut off. But immediately it hopped back off and burrowed into a patch of weed. So he snatched it up and smashed it on the ground, over and over, until it was dead. Then he plucked a tattered piece of cloth from his body and wrapped the flesh in it."

That episode right in the beginning of the book, when a piece of flesh has to be dead in order to be tamed, is surrealism at its best. The moment when Japanese armies storm into a remote Chinese village in the countryside, killing everyone, every horse, and slaughtering even themselves is testimony to a consummate writer deserving of the Nobel Prize he won. This book, with its title equally bristling, is called Big Breasts And Wide Hips.

You can gather from the title that the book is raunchy. It is through raciness that Mo Yan addresses his conviction of feminism, as if their bodies are the cause of women's sufferings. The matriarch of the Shangguan family bears eight girls and one boy by different fathers. The eight strong-willed and feisty girls, who attempt to survive on the coattails of those who are stronger and meaner, stand in stark contrast with the boy, ruined by the maternal bosom. His desire to extend the all-too-brief seductive period of suckling his mother's teats has rendered him weak, fallible, selfish, and a useless pantywaist.

As a narrator, the boy also lends us a lens through which to conjure up the horridness of people suffering in political upheavals that result from foreign invasions and persecutions under Mao's communist regime. While his sisters crave for mercy and die lacking it, the boy survives with his mother's milk as his mainstay in the tormented world.

"... The real things on the tips of Mother's breasts – hers were love, hers were poetry, hers were the highest realm of heaven and the rich soil under golden waves of wheat ... nor could they compare with the large, swollen, speckled teats of my milk goat ... hers were tumultuous life, hers were surging passion."

In this epic, one that is likely to have helped win him the Nobel Prize, Mo Yan revisits the 20th century, an era of unprecedented fanaticism. On the one hand, it was an era of starvation when people had nothing but themselves to eat. On the other hand, it was a time of intense political fanaticism when bell-tightened citizens participated zealously in the communist regime.

Fanaticism was surreal because it thrived riotously in and contradicted with realism where all that a person needed for survival was not extremism but an iota of kindness and mercifulness. Between the cracks of this irony are the weak and feeble like the Shangguan siblings and mother, who are prosecuted and trampled beneath the horses' hooves.

At this time when all nations of the world fix their watchful eyes on China's economic power and its potential as an economic buddy, we turn to this book and gaze backward on the vicissitudes of this vast nation in the past century and ponder if the same may recur in this century or the next. Such afterthought, if successfully roused, will render Big Breasts and Wide Hips a 10-course sensual feast peppered with 10 feisty characters and adorned with hypnotic imagery. And with the main course out of the way, the other two books, leaner and shorter, are desserts waiting to enthral.

When Abby was younger, she read Lu Xun, one of Mo Yan's inspirations. The similarity between the writers is stark and comforting, as if the literally feast is timeless and unceasing.

Splendour from ruin

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 12:55 AM PDT

Even broken lives can be beautiful, as this darkly funny novel suggests.

Beautiful Ruins

Author: Jess Walter

Publisher: Harper, 337 pages

WHY do KL drivers slow down to stare at multi-vehicle pile-ups? Could there be something ... beautiful about them? Considering the things that pass for sculptures of modern art, perhaps. But such morbid beauty isn't just found in mangled metal.

The pile-up of broken lives in Jess Walters' Beautiful Ruins is just as fascinating. The comic-tragic tale unfolds from several directions as the protagonists race towards the inevitable collision. And it's all because of Richard Burton.

In 1962, Porto Vergogna (literally, "port of shame") is a dying Italian fishing town and home to young Pasquale Tursi, keeper of the oddly named Hotel Adequate View. Tursi's daydreams of building tennis courts are interrupted by the arrival of Dee Moray, an American starlet who was supposed to be in Liz Taylor's Cleopatra. It's not long before Tursi starts thinking about a different kind of "love". However, stuff happens and, one day, she vanishes.

In the present day, several people are failing in their romances and careers. Claire Silver, assistant to film producer Michael Deane, is disappointed with her porn-addict boyfriend and the box office bombs her boss made. Shane Wheeler's dreams of being a writer also bombed, along with his marriage and finances. Across the pond, Pat Bender's latest music-comedy act goes belly-up, ending his rock star ambitions.

Hoping for a break, Wheeler pitches a story to Deane, so he's off to meet his assistant, Silver. Wheeler's knowledge of Italian helps when an elderly Italian man, a now-aged Tursi, shows up with one of Deane's old business cards – and a story that moves Wheeler, Silver and Deane to help him.

There's a tingling sense of anticipation that's maintained throughout the novel, the promise of a spectacular collision that only happens during a rare alignment of some major cosmic bodies.

The third-person narrative is mostly the spilling of the characters' thoughts. The jumps in the timeline, punctuated with excerpts from several characters' manuscripts or screenplays, can be initially hard to follow but the dark, often vulgar comedy helps.

Another compelling aspect about Walter's novel is that its backdrop can be considered "beautiful ruins" as well: the film, book and music industries, as represented by the principal characters. Gawk and maybe chuckle at the references to trashy reality TV shows, bad movie ideas and English professors who write popular horror fiction (makes one think of Justin Cronin). Although their worlds are crumbling, the protagonists manage to cling on, just in time for Tursi's arrival. In helping the old Italian find a missing piece of his past, their hope is rekindled.

What one feels about this book is captured by Wheeler's reaction to the present-day Deane, a "lacquered elf" whose obsession for eternal youth has given a 72-year-old man the face of a "nine-year-old Filipino girl" (makes one think of Karl Lagerfeld). "Try not to stare," Silver advises Wheeler.

Like Wheeler, you'll fail. You can't help it. Even if you have almost no idea what's going on, there's no way you can take your eyes off Walter's ruined lives as they converge and finally crash into each other. I don't really fancy how some loose ends are tied up, but at least it rules out a sequel if they decide to bring it to the silver screen.

"Go read this now" would not suffice. The splendour of Beautiful Ruins, like the pyramids and temples of Ancient Egypt, must be personally witnessed to be understood. You will not be able to look away. Be awed at the chaos and brilliance of his work, and be moved by a story of optimism and a decades-old love.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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Free tickets

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 02:25 AM PST

YOU will get the chance to watch Cold War for free, come Nov 6. Rainfilm is giving 65 pairs of tickets to The Star readers to enjoy the movie two days before it opens in cinemas.

Details and conditions:

Date: Nov 6 (Tuesday)

Redemption: 8pm

Screening: 9pm

Venue: GSC Paradigm Mall, Petaling Jaya, Selangor

> Just cut out this coupon and redeem your tickets at the cinema stated above.

> Only original coupons will be accepted (no photocopies, please).

> Each coupon is redeemable for two tickets, on a first-come, first-served basis while stocks last.

> Each person is entitled to redeem one coupon only.

> Please note that the method of distributing the tickets is at the sole discretion of the distributor and no correspondence will be entertained.

Rising stars

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 02:24 AM PST

Up-and-coming actors Aarif Rahman and Eddie Peng continue their trail towards cinematic domination with Hong Kong's latest cop thriller.,

THERE is excitement in the air as we are led into a room in Hong Kong's Wan Chai Convention Centre.

Inside, actors Aarif Rahman and Eddie Peng, the young stars of the latest Hong Kong cop thriller Cold War, look like a million bucks in dapper jet-black suits.

They are clearly used to the attention.

In Cold War, Aarif, the more talkative of the two, plays an ambitious, if slightly arrogant, investigator with Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

The actor was born and bred in Hong Kong and is of Malay, Arab and Chinese ancestry.

He read Physics at the Imperial College in London for three years. Upon completing his education, he began his career as a singer with the release of his debut album Starting Today in 2009.

His boyish good looks and jovial personality have made him an emerging presence in the entertainment scene. In 2010, he played the legendary Bruce Lee in Bruce Lee, My Brother.

If playing the late cultural icon was his way of upholding the martial arts, then Cold War is a brazen attempt to unravel the intricacies of Hong Kong's law enforcers.

Aarif confesses in Mandarin: "I grew up in Hong Kong but I never saw that side of Hong Kong. Making this film has been educational in many ways. It made me realise how Hong Kong is distinct and different from other cities in the world.

"I have always been a fan of police flicks but I never saw it from the perspective of someone in the police force. I think the spirit of justice is something that we uphold in our culture."

To prepare for the role, Aarif sought guidance from a former ICAC chief. "I thought: Wow, what an opportunity! This is so special. I kept bombarding him with questions."

It is not just a rough and tough persona he had to take on for the role. "I had to be someone who has lived in the United States," he elaborates.

"In that, I was told that I had to be bold and outspoken. I also had to do some research on American culture."

The actor admits that starring opposite Hong Kong megastars Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung added to the pressure. "I was pretty intimidated, to be honest, but I gained more confidence as we went along."

His handsome co-star, Eddie Peng, plays a rookie policeman.

Peng, who grew up in Canada, shot to fame with his Taiwanese/Korean crossover role in the 2004 hit television series, Scent Of Love.

He expanded his appeal in the Chinese market with Chinese Paladin in 2006 before making it to the big screen with Exit No.6 the following year.

Peng has never lived in Hong Kong but says the film has provided insight into the inner workings of the city's police force.

"In Cold War, I shared a really intense scene with Tony Leung, and that was a huge experience for me.

"Being in a film with someone like Tony feels like an achievement in itself," he says.

There is little doubt that Cold War, touted as the biggest Hong Kong film in a decade, will continue to propel both rising stars toward cinematic domination.

Cold War also stars Charlie Yeung who plays the chief superintendent of public relations in the police force.

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Explosive face-off

Explosive face-off

Posted: 03 Nov 2012 08:43 PM PDT

Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung Ka Fai delve into their portrayal of rival chiefs in the police force in Cold War.

NOTHING says America like Hollywood. Films that reinforce the notion of American patriotism have existed for almost as long as the medium itself. From the Nazi-fighting Captain America to his super-human comrades in The Avengers, America – the land of milk and honey – has been the fixation of every hero, monster, alien and apocalyptic event.

Cold War, the much-publicised cop thriller starring mega-stars Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung Ka Fai, is Hong Kong's very own hero flick. As it iterates throughout, Hong Kong is the safest city in Asia, thanks to its "untouchable" police force.

Enter the bad guys, who hijack a police van carrying five highly trained officers and some of the force's most expensive equipment – and out go those grandiose claims through the window.

Now, with the officers' lives and the force's reputation in jeopardy, rival police commissioners Sean Lau (Kwok) and Waise Lee (Tony Leung) grapple to take charge of the rescue operation (codenamed Cold War) and ultimately, to land Hong Kong's top police job.

With its intricate details and refined plot, the film has been marketed as the next Infernal Affairs and is touted as the biggest Hong Kong film offering in a decade.

The action-packed thriller pairs the first-time writer-director team Longman Leung and Sunny Luk. What comes across as a surprise is the duo's ability to attract some of Hong Kong's biggest names despite having no previous film credits to their names.

In their pursuit for realism, the pair of directors enlisted the help of the real police force to develop the storyline and script, which took them about four years to complete.

Amid the heart-thumping car chases, explosions and shoot-outs, Cold War examines the power struggles, corruption and inner workings of Hong Kong's police force, as well as its changing identity following Hong Kong's handover to China in 1997.

The script captivated Kwok, who plays a dapper hotshot commissioner in the film.

The entertainer, one of Cantopop's Four Heavenly Kings, says he was so moved by it, he pushed his concert dates back by a month to make time for filming.

"The moment I got the script, I thought: I have to do this. It's such a solid story," he tells the Malaysian media in an interview in Hong Kong's Wan Chai Convention Centre.

One is immediately struck by Kwok's youthful, prominent features up close. It is almost hard to believe that he is 47 years old.

But even his stature and enduring star power did not exempt him from having to meet the stringent demands of the directors.

In Cold War, the actor had to shed his signature boyish image to play the macho, grey-haired commissioner.

Kwok shares his experience in Cantonese: "Lau is a much older figure, and the director thought I ought to sport a more mature look for the role. Realistically, you also have to be of a certain age to be in the position of a police commissioner."

The directors have been demanding, he adds with a smile. "They expected 100% in every scene; anything less, and they would demand a re-shoot."

For Kwok, retakes are just part and parcel of the profession. "The most important part about being an actor is how we bring a character to life."

Kwok, who began his career as a Cantopop singer in the early 1990s before venturing into movies, acknowledges that the role is a challenging one.

"In all the years I've been acting, and especially in the last 10 years, this is by far the most complicated character I've had to play. And the hardest."

Part of the challenge lies in the film's realism. "When I looked at the script, I got the feeling that it could be real.

"However, stepping into the shoes of a leader in the police force or solving a tough case like this is something I can never imagine myself doing in this lifetime. That was the real challenge.

"But I had faith in my directors, and I believed in the storyline. That helped me to get into character."

Kwok believes that Cold War will have a huge impact on the Hong Kong film industry. "We haven't had many films like that in the past decade. I put in a lot of effort, and I hope that the audience will trust that Lau can be a real person in our lives."

His charming co-star Leung elaborates on the film's universal appeal. "What makes it immediately identifiable to the masses is the presence of a staunch police force. Every city has and needs a police force, and I think this is the kind of story that can be accepted by people over the world."

The actor notes, almost as an afterthought: "Hong Kong is the only place in Asia that has the freedom and guts to make a movie like this. I don't think filmmakers in Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan or even China have that kind of freedom to tell a story so close to the truth."

At a glance, Leung comes across almost as Kwok's roguish and rebellious, no-tie, no-socks counterpart.

He appears to be in his comfort zone despite being surrounded by a group of enthusiastic people.

The best part about making the film? "Being able to meet members of the Malaysian media," he says, with a laugh.

Leung began his career with the Burning Of The Imperial Palace (1983) and has been an unstoppable force in the Hong Kong film industry since. His more recent works include Bruce Lee, My Brother (2010) and Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame (2010), in which he was nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively.

In Cold War, Leung looks almost unrecognisable with a shaven head and moustache.

"Well, unlike Aaron, I am about the same age as my character so they didn't have to make me look older," the 54-year-old reveals.

"Since Lee is so different from myself, there was nothing I could derive from my personal experience or everyday life to bring to my character."

Leung's dazzling onscreen presence is undeniable. "The hard part in playing a police commissioner is having to convince the audience that you are someone with that sort of power and stature."

He credits Kwok for his performance. "Besides landing good roles, I think it is very important to be working with competent co-stars. It was fun working with Aaron and I hope to work with him again someday," he says.

With its compelling plot and star power, Cold War looks set for a box-office explosion.

The more important question remains: Is this a film that Hong Kongers will be proud of?

"At least I'm proud of it. I'm really proud of it," Leung concludes.

Cold War opens in Malaysian cinemas on Nov 8.

Related Stories:
Rising stars

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