Zhao Benshan

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Zhao Benshan

Zhao Benshan (born October 1958 ) is a comedian, actor, producer, director and screenwriter. He achieved nationwide fame at the Spring Festival Eve Gala of China Central Television (CCTV) in 1990. Since then he staged a skit almost every year, winning top prizes for many of them. In recent years, his TV series based on rural life have also been immensely popular in China. He has been dubbed "King of Skit" and "Chaplin in the East."

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Life

Zhao Ben Shan with his wife and twins.
Zhao Benshan was born in a farmer's family in Lianhua Village, Tieling, Liaoning Province. His mother died when he was five years old. At the age of 8, he saw his father was banished to the yet-to-be-cultivated land in northeast China and Zhao was raised by his relatives and neighbors.

At the age of 6, Zhao became an apprentice to his uncle and started learning traditional Chinese instruments and performing errenzhuan (two-people comedy skit). He displayed great talent.

In the late 1970s, before reaching 20, Zhao married his first wife, Ge Shuzhen. They had a daughter but divorced in 1991.

In 1992 when Zhao was bedridden after a car accident, one of his former collaborators, Ma Lijuan, spent a lot of time taking care of him. They developed romantic attachment and tied the knot the same year. In 1997, Ma gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl.

In 2003, Zhao was elected as deputy to the People's Congress in Liaoning. He attended an annual session of the 10th National People's Congress held in Beijing in 2007.

In 2009, while shooting a TV series in Shanghai, he suffered a cerebral aneurysm rupture and was hospitalized. He recovered after an operation.

Stage

Zhao Benshan (L) and his long-time collaborator Song Dandan act in the comedy skit "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow".
At 17, Zhao Benshan joined a local performing troupe in his hometown. Later he moved to Tieling and became a member of some arts troupes there. His great acting talent helped him achieve fame in Liaoning in the 1980s. He won province and state-level prizes for his outstanding performances.

In 1987, Jiang Kun, a famous xiangsheng, or cross talk, artist watched Zhao perform onstage. Amazed at Zhao's talent, he recommended him to CCTV.

In 1990, Zhao performed for the first time at CCTV's Spring Festival Gala, becoming a household name overnight. Since then, he staged a skit every year except 1994. His well-known skits include "Matchmaking", "Selling Crutches", "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow" and "Torchbearer." Most of his skits won top prizes.

Zhao Benshan (middle) performs in a comedy skit with two of his long-time collaborators Fan Wei (left) and Gao Xiumin.
Zhao shows a great consistency in style in his skits. Donning a hat and old Chinese-style suit, he always plays the role of backward, hypocritical and witty farmer. He has a special way of walking onstage, sometimes like a clown. It is the touch of grassroots people that attracts a large audience for Zhao.

Zhao has many long-time collaborators including Fan Wei, Gao Xiumin (deceased) and Song Dandan. In 2009, he shared stage with his student, Xiaoshenyang, providing the latter with a chance to reach nationwide fame.

Acting

Zhao Benshan plays a role in Zhang Yimou's movie "You hua hao hao shuo" (Keep Cool).
In 1982, Zhao started to appear in opera-themed TV series. In 1987, he acted in his first movie, "Bie jiao wo ba li" (Don't Kid Me).

In 1990s, Zhao's immense popularity pushed his acting career to another height. He played roles in Zhang Yimou's movie, "You hua hao hao shuo" (Keep Cool). He also appeared in Chen Kaige's epic "Jing Ke ci Qin Wang" (The Assassin).

In 2000, he played the leading role in Zhang Yimou's "Xingfu shiguang" (Happy Times). In 2009, he got a cameo role in Zhang's blockbuster "San qiang pai an jing qi" (A Simple Noodle Story).

In 2010, Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai offered Zhao a part in his upcoming movie about kung fu master Ip Man, "The Grand Master."

During promotion of "San qiang pai an jing qi" in January 2010, Zhao said he planned to direct his first movie with Wong Kar Wai as the producer. The movie will be about errenzhuan.

It is Zhao's works about rural life which have captivated a massive audience. In 1998, he played the leading role in "Nan fu nu zhu ren" (Male Sorority Director), a comedy about the rural society. This role earned his the best leading actor prizes at Huabiao Film Awards and Hundred Flower Awards for Public, two of China's major film awards.

Zhao Benshan stars in the movie "Luo ye gui gen" (Getting Home).
In 2007, Zhao was nominated for the Best Actor Awards at the 2007 Golden Horse Awards, also known as Chinese Oscars for his role in the movie "Luo ye gui gen" (Getting Home). Unfortunately, he lost to Tony Leung Chiu-Wai for his work in "Lust, Caution."

Zhao's TV series of the same kind were mostly hits. In 2001, he made his directorial debut in the TV series "Liu Laogen," which he also starred in and produced. It was an instant success on CCTV. Later he and his collaborators made more TV series on the same subjects such as "Ma Dashuai," "Xiang cun ai qing" (Love Stories in the Countryside) and their sequels.

Entrepreneurship

Zhao Benshan performs at the residency show "Liu Laogen Dawutai"

Zhao Benshan also has great acumen for business. In 2005, he established Benshan Media Group, the parent company of Liaoning Folk Art Troupe, Benshan Production, Ruidong Culture Development Co. Ltd and Benshan Arts Academy.

Zhao's company stages residency shows "Liu Laogen Dawutai" in Shenyang, Changchun, Harbin, Jilin and Beijing. Reportedly, these shows grossed over 100 million yuan (about US$14.64 million) in 2008.

In 2007, Zhao led his performing troupe to tour North America. They performed errenzhuan in six cities including New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver but critiques were mixed.

In December 2009, Zhao spent 200 million yuan (about US$29.29 million) on a luxury private jet.

Filmography

  • Bie jiao wo ba li (Don't Kidding Me, 1987)
  • Lai de dou shi ke (Whoever Comes Is a Guest, 1990)
  • Xian shi huo bao (1990)
  • Jing Ke ci Qin Wang (The Assassin, 1997)
  • You hua hao hao shuo (Keep Cool, 1998)
  • Nan fu nu zhu ren (Male Sorority Director, 1999)
  • Xingfu shiguang (Happy Times, 2000)
  • Luo ye gui gen (Getting Home, 2007)
  • Long guo shu nian (The Dragon Leads Rat for Year, 2008)
  • Zhenhan shijie de qiri (2008)
  • San qiang pai an jing qi (A Simple Noodle Story, 2009)
  • Yi dai zong shi (The Grand Master, 2010)

TV series

  • Shuai sanxian (Crash Sanxian, 1982)
  • Yi cun zhi zhang (Village Chief, 1992)
  • Ye shen ren bu jing (Restless in Quiet Midnight, 1996)
  • Yi xiang zhi zhang (County Chief, 1997)
  • Liu Laogen I (2001)
  • Liu Laogen II (2002)
  • Ma Dashuai I (2003)
  • Ma Dashuai II (2004)
  • Ma Dashuai III (2005)
  • Xiang cun ai qing (Love Stories in the Countryside, 2006)
  • Xiang cun ai qing II (Love Stories in the Countryside II, 2007)
  • Xiang cun ai qing III (Love Stories in the Countryside III, 2009)
  • Guan dong da xian sheng (2009) asdfpoiu
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