Sex picture scandal ends career of hip-hop star

The curtain fell on the startling career of the Hong Kong hip-hop bad boy Edison Chen yesterday, after he retired from showbiz in the wake of a nude celebrity photo scandal. The explicit photos have rocked the territory and will make Cantopop stars and film starlets think twice about meeting a loved one's wishes to get down and dirty in the boudoir for an amateur photo shoot.

While the mainland has been gripped by tales of blizzards and trapped migrant workers, Hong Kong has been more concerned with what was on Chen's hard drive. And they have been asking themselves what the 27-year-old Canadian-born heart-throb thought he was doing taking 1,300 photos of himself having sex with a dozen different starlets.

"I have failed as a role model," said the clearly shocked actor as cameras flashed from the hundreds of reporters gathered. "However I wish that this matter will teach everyone a lesson."

Chen's career was on an upswing before the scandal broke – fronting for Pepsi and a mention in People magazine's sexiest men alive list. And the furore has been tricky for him to handle. He admitted for the first time yesterday that most of the pictures circulating on the internet – where on one site they have been viewed nearly 28 million times – had been taken by him. "These photos were very private and have not been shown to people and were never intended to be shown to anyone," he said.

Chen had previously made an impassioned plea for people to delete the photos and stop downloading them. But it's hard to call for decency when your reputation is based on being a hip-hop gangster-style "playa". He acted in Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong triad film which was the basis for Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning film The Departed.

Hong Kongers are less reserved than their counterparts across the border, but they are still fairly prudish on matters sexual. So it was with a mixture of titillation and horror that they looked at the pictures, which seem to have been stolen from Chen's pink laptop after he took it to a repair shop. Hong Kong police have so far made 10 arrests in connection with the scandal.

Could that really be Gillian Chung, half of Hong Kong's sweeter-than-sugar singing sensation Twins posing like that? Or The Promise star Cecilia Cheung in a compromising position? There's no way that's Bobo Chan in flagrante delicto? On Chinese-language websites, bloggers carefully compared the tattoos on the stars' bodies and birthmarks and moles to see if they matched other pictures. They were definitely fairly good copies, if they were fakes.

Emperor Entertainment, Chung's management company, said they were fake initially, but a public statement by Chung apologising for the photos, saying it was time to get on with her life and career after the embarrassment was widely read as an admission that the photos were probably real. She got a standing ovation. While there is sympathy there, it will take a PR behemoth to repair the squeaky clean images of Chung and Chan, and there are question marks over the planned wedding between Cheung and the Hong Kong film star Nicholas Tse.

As for Chen, he is now hoping for some time away from the media spotlight. "Let's help the wounded heal their wounds," he said. He said he planned to do some charity work, telling reporters: "I've decided to do this to give myself an opportunity to heal myself and to search my soul."