Whatever viewers may think about the writing, acting, music or storyline of the latest TV drama, one thing they never find fault with is the appearance of the stars. And that is something in which Chan Man Fai can take justifiable pride.
Now famous throughout the local entertainment industry, Mr Chan, manager for makeup and hairdressing in the artiste image department at Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), is regarded by many as a star in his own right. And, though he has seen many changes over the years, he still vividly remembers what it was like when he first started out.
"In 1956 there were no image or styling institutes to train people as makeup artists," he recalls. "The only way to get into the business was by becoming an apprentice." Luckily, he was introduced to one of the masters of the makeup profession who agreed to take the young Mr Chan under his wing and made him "apprentice number six".
Your skills have to be very precise to build a good reputation in the industry
The subsequent few years turned out to be much tougher than he had bargained for. "As the most junior person, I had to accept a lot of hardship and work very long hours," he says. "It took at least three years to get familiar with all the makeup skills needed in the entertainment business. I mostly had to do odd jobs and learned from observation as much as from practice." He considered himself fortunate to get two meals a day - no other form of payment was offered!
In the early 1960s things started to look up and Mr Chan regards that time as the real start of his career. "I got my first big break with an offer to work on a film as an individual makeup artist," he says. "That was when things began to change for the better."
It was also a time of major change within the film business. During the black and white era, makeup had been all about creating a star's image. "The camera and lighting techniques were very different and you needed skills similar to those of a sculptor," Mr Chan explains. "The looks created had to be more dramatic and took a certain style of craftsmanship."
With the advent of colour films, those skills became outdated so Mr Chan set about becoming a master of more subtle tones, tints and highlights. "It was like working in a different genre," he says, "but reminded me you must always be willing to learn."
That proved to be a valuable lesson when he joined TVB as chief makeup manager in 1967 and went through another transition from black and white to colour. "Working in television is technically different and so are the working hours," he says. "Your skills have to be very precise to build a good reputation in the industry." As Mr Chan's fame spread, he was invited to work on numerous foreign films and also oversaw makeup for the Miss Universe pageant in 1976.
Each new experience taught him the importance of creativity in translating an artistic vision into a look which can suit different individuals. He points out that professional makeup artists prepare like actors do for performances on stage or in front of the cameras. "When creating an image, we consider the age of the characters, the setting and time period of the production, and external factors like the lighting," Mr Chan adds.
Nowadays, breaking into the profession is still not easy. Competition is tough and Mr Chan recommends getting some academic qualifications first as something to fall back on. "People may think this is a glamorous or easy career option," he says, "but that is far from the truth." He advises anyone considering the profession to proceed with caution. "Many institutes in Hong Kong claim to guarantee jobs, but check carefully," he says. For those who have the interest and determination to go further, it is vital to think long-term and be self-confident at all times. "Be ready to take responsibility and adapt to change," Mr Chan advises, "and never forget the need for a good network of professional contacts."
Makeup and hairstyling are now very sophisticated in China, according to Mr Chan. "Eighty percent of graduate makeup artists and designers may be even better than their counterparts in Hong Kong and Hollywood," he says. To succeed in China, it is necessary to study courses and pass examinations in makeup, hairstyling, and even fashion and stage management.
Any Hong Kong student wanting to develop a career in the field should consider taking a course at one of the more reputable art schools on the mainland, says Mr Chan. Landing a job, though, may still be difficult and it should be remembered that pay scales in China are comparatively lower than in Hong Kong.