Amongst all the genres in which Jay has composed music for over the past nearly fifteen years, the most distinctive one is, unarguably, his Chinese-style songs with Vincent Fang, who frequently channelled traditional Chinese poetry and literature into his lyrics.
Jay has always been proud of his Chinese heritage and coupled with his adventurous nature in exploring different ways to make music, it was quite a natural process for their famed zhong guo feng to evolve over time. Many of the songs have been chart-toppers and won multiple awards for Jay and are still immensely popular with fans and even some non-fans, who only know him as the composer of one famous movie theme. :)
What is so brilliant about this genre which is particularly synonymous with Jay and Vincent?
This article written in 2008 by Jack Hsu (Taiwan) explains very well, much better than I could and I quote him (and others) for some of the song descriptions. I will also add my own take on this topic at times:
I shall be introducing the more well-known songs here, with the MVs and links to the translations and some info about each song.
Surprisingly, the very first song which started them off on this style was NOT a typical Chinese-style one! Vincent mentions in the Cultural Perspective interview that it was actually Wife aka Niang Zi 娘子(from the first album) which contained lyrics relating to Chinese culture but Jay composed music with a jazzy guitar and rap for it...very unusual!
Translation here: http://www.jaychoustudio.com/jay-chou-translations/wife/4
Next up is Nunchucks aka Shuang Jie Kun 雙截棍, a song from his second album, Fantasy. It is about traditional Chinese martial arts and focuses on this particular weapon popularised by Bruce Lee (Jay's idol). It uses rap and rhythm with an infusion of Chinese instruments. Jay actually learned how to wield those swinging sticks fairly expertly for the MV. This song is without a doubt, one of his most popular hits and is always performed at his concerts, as there is lots of audience participation in it. Interestingly, Nunchucks was originally written for, of all people, A-mei, who clearly could not see herself singing a song like that and thus rejected it. Which is how Jay ended up recording it for himself...thankfully!
NB: Nunchucks was also featured on the soundtrack of two movies viz The Green Hornet (Jay's HOllywood debut...more on that later) and You Are The Apple Of My Eye, the Taiwanese sleeper hit in 2011.
Translation here: http://www.jaychoustudio.com/jay-chou-translations/nun-chuks/19
And an absolutely ROCKING live performance from The Era concert in Taipei...see what I mean by audience participation:
Following Nunchucks, this next song, The Tea Grandpa Makes aka Ye Ye Pao De Cha 爺爺泡的茶 (from his third album, The Eight Dimensions) is once again, not exactly Chinese-style but it does espouse family values (Grandpa) and tea is a staple Chinese beverage. The song has a very catchy and cheeky feel to it, with a nice background rhythm and will definitely make you smile and sway along!
Translation here: http://www.jaychoustudio.com/jay-chou-translations/the-tea-grandpa-makes/31
And a live performance of this song from Jay's first big concert in Taipei...at the end, he raps out "Even if the tea Grandpa makes does not taste good, you must still say it does."....really cheeky! :)
Now we come to the first of the truly Chinese-style songs from his fourth album, Ye Hui Mei. This is East Wind Breaks aka Dong Feng Puo 東風破 with the beautiful piano riff at the beginning and the use of the Chinese pentatonic scale for the main body of the song. Listen out for the traditional Chinese instruments in the background, like the erhu and pipa. Love it!!
Common Jasmine Orange aka Qi Li Xiang 七里香 (from the fifth album of the same name) is the next song on the list, which continues along the same style, with a characteristic intro and nice melody. :)
From album #6 (November's Chopin, one of my favourite albums!) comes Hair Like Snow aka Fa Ru Xue ,髮如雪 one of his best Chinese style songs ever! It's a very unique composition with a chorus that has an absolutely beautiful recurring background theme played on the pipa, whilst the melody flows on smoothly in Jay's heartfelt voice. Additional rap and R&B elements are unusual additions and the ending is very Chinese-sounding!
This next song from album #7 (Still Fantasy), Chrysanthemum Flower Bed aka Ju Hua Tai 菊花台 is possibly THE most well-known Chinese-style composition from Jay and Vincent as it was the theme song for the lavish Zhang Yimou-helmed movie The Curse Of The Golden Flower, which starred Chow Yun Fatt, Gong Li and Jay himself! This is one of my favourite zhong guo feng songs, with its very melodious cello intro. More from Jack Hsu:
"Chrysanthemum flower symbolizes sadness or even farewell sometimes in traditional Chinese belief. In this song, Jay Chou applied ballad and ancient Chinese instrument to sing about the tragedy of royal families in ancient China that could be unfamiliar to people overseas"
I have to share this beautiful rendition by the Chinese Military (I think!) Choir....omg...takes my breath away!
Also from Still Fantasy is another Chinese-style song, Beyond A Thousand Miles (Faraway) aka Qian Li Zhi Wai 千里之外 and it features Fei Yuqing, a popular Taiwanese singer whose mellifluous voice combines perfectly with Jay's in a duet which is pleasing to the ear. The MV is VERY compelling and this is one which always makes me cry at the end. Watch it and you'll see why... *sniff*
Now for another favourite of mine, Chinese Flower Pot aka Blue and White Porcelain (Qing Hua Ci青花瓷) from Album #8 (On The Run). The whole song is totally based on the Chinese pentatonic scale with a very lilting melody. The tapestry mix of the Chinese and Western instruments is brilliant! It won awards for Best Song, Best Lyricist and Best Composer in the 2008 Golden Melody Awards in Taiwan. This is one song where the lyrics came first before the music.
To quote Jack Hsu again:
"Jay Chou “mumbles” under a classic ballad melody and rhythm with background sound effect of an ancient Chinese zither. He created a music video featuring the past and the present, with few scenes focusing on that “Blue and White Porcelain”. Porcelain symbolizes antique today but personal collection for the rich or noble. In the MV, the man and the woman who loved each other ended up in tragedy with either of their death, indirectly due to the porcelain."
From Album #9 (Capricorn), there is Lan Ting Preface aka Lan Ting Xu 蘭亭序 a ballad about calligraphy and love. Very Chinese-style but not one of my favourites.
The Era was Jay's 10th album and contained two Chinese-style tracks. One is Fireworks Cool Easily aka Yan Hua Yi Leng 煙花易冷 , a song which does not have traditional instruments but instead a very Chinese-sounding melody albeit with some rap elements. The lyrics by Vincent are deep and not easy to understand but the song is a lament by a monk reminiscing about a lover who has passed away.
"A song that starts off with a simple guitar and slowly builds up to a colourful Chinese style song. This song is all about Jay's performance, he hits those high notes perfectly. The background instruments and arrangement of the song are also things to be admired. This is one of those songs that get better each time you listen to it."
Update on 06 October 2012:
Found a very good analysis of Jay Chou's and Wang Leehom's Chinese-style music:
And yes, I do agree with the author that Jay does a better job in this style. :)