When Ruby Yang spotted a Chinese restaurant near her Dallas hotel, she bought a large amount of takeout food.
She was going to meet Yao Ming later that day, and something was cooking in her mind.
The Houston Rockets center was to appear with basketball legend Magic Johnson in a public service announcement (PSA) on fighting discrimination.
During production, the power went off, and Yang, the director, floated an idea: Why not have Yao and HIV-positive Johnson share some Chinese food? That could dispel any stigma more effectively than anything.
The two stars readily agreed; and Yao even did some improvising with his line - to make it more natural.
The spot was aired for a whole year on buses and other public places all across China. It sent a clear message: There are a lot of things you can share with an HIV carrier or an AIDS patient without risk of contracting the disease.
That was three years before Yang won an Academy Award for The Blood of Yingzhou District, a 40-minute documentary about a group of AIDS orphans. Riding on her Oscar glory, she has recently made three more PSA spots for the Ministry of Health.
This time, the message is different. As surveys increasingly show that the risk of contracting the virus is primarily through sexual contact among young people, the ministry wants to focus on the taboo subject of sex.
Yang's challenge: How to use TV to talk about something that the Chinese people are not comfortable talking about in public.
Again, celebrities came to rescue, and she created three concepts customized for three of the biggest stars in China.
The one with Jackie Chan uses a metaphor as the action star coaches a young beauty to perform a movie stunt. What he and his colleagues do on screen may seem risky, but they always take precautions, and so should you in real life.
The spot involving folk singer Peng Liyuan is subtle. She talks about using protection as a group of students mill around in the background.
"Peng is a mother and a role model for young people. Last year, she toured the country to promote AIDS awareness and prevention," said Yang.
On the other end of the spectrum is the spot with Pu Cunxin, who is maybe the first Chinese celebrity to take up the cause. It was filmed in Shanghai, where the night air is filled with erotic possibilities.
Three shots illustrate the need for protection: The first has a young man and a young woman sharing a bicycle; the second shows a woman's leg with her blouse blowing in the wind; and the last has two young men fooling around on the street.
Yang made Pu accessible by having him ride a bicycle. "I got the idea two years ago when I interviewed him and accidentally forgot to remove the body mike from him. He rode a bike for 20 minutes to return it."
The spots are being widely aired on CCTV and other stations, but some youngsters complain they are too subtle.
She has a solution to that, too: "I'm thinking of doing shorter and more direct versions for the Internet."
(China Daily by Raymond Zhou January 4, 2008)