MACAU, JULY 25, 2007
(STAR) By Maridol Ranoa-Bismark — There’s something intriguing about this historic city less than two hours by plane from Manila. The buses have right-hand-drives while private vehicles are just the opposite: The driver is at the left side of the car. Store signs are in Chinese (which comprises 90 percent of the population) and English. But the streets are in Portuguese.

Chinese temples stand side-by-side with European-style cathedrals. Portuguese and Chinese cuisine is served in restaurants.

But that doesn’t matter. What matters is Macau is a booming city with cranes and other construction machines greeting you every step of the way. What matters is that its 29 casinos, sprawled all over only 28.6 sq. km. of land, is packed full with the prosperous and the well-heeled.

That’s why, some five years after I first visited the place for a familiarization tour, the city is totally different. One of the differences is the posh Wynns Hotel, where HBO billeted our group for a three-day, two-night stay.

This one, like its Vegas counterpart, has a large casino where guests go to play Three-Card Poker, Baccarat, Fish Prawn Crab, the slot machine and other games of chance. Like its Vegas counterpart, this one is open 24 hours a day and attracts hordes of people.

But unlike its Vegas counterpart, it has no sexy, platinum-haired girls in colorful bikinis gyrating onstage. People come here to gamble, not to ogle at girls. That’s more sedate and decidedly Asian for you.

But it won’t hurt if you imagine the cast of Entourage, HBO’s original comedy series (Season Three to premiere on Monday, July 30, 10 p.m.) playing for high stakes in this hotel with the red chandelier and the Chinese-speaking staff.

Close your eyes and see hot young actor Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier, The Devil Wears Prada) putting all his earnings at stake in the gaming table, the way he did in Entourage’s Las Vegas episode. Wince with his agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) as he worries about all that money going down the drain in one fell swoop.

Rejoice with Vince’s entourage – Eric (Kevin Connolly, The Notebook), Drama (Kevin Dillon, Poseidon) and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara, Grounded for Life) as they pat their buddy on the back for his casino windfall.

The partying, devil-may-care lifestyle it shows oh-so-vividly is intoxicating. It can swallow you whole.

You want to have your own boudoir — the way I did during my stay in this city — and actually live there. You want to partake of food, glorious food in the rotating restaurant 360 degrees with a marvelous view of the glittering Macau by night the way I did. You dream of having a retinue of gofers the way Wynns guests do.

The lure of the big bucks and the luxurious lifestyle is too hard to resist. So too is the temptation on Ari’s part to sell Vince like some kind of commodity in the mold of Coca-Cola.

But reality hits you like a speeding bullet. Life’s not that easy. Fame –- no matter how fleeting — comes with a price. The Entourage learned this the hard way. You go for the gold (in this case, Vince eyeing the title role in a big Hollywood movie), but something gets in the way.

Long-time friendships are tested by fire. Ari may be Vince’s agent. But the business relationship has the friendship element in it. It’s a sticky situation where you must choose between looking at your talent as a friend or as a business proposition.

Ari made his choice, and reached the point of no return.

The four guys of Entourage made their choice, too. The quartet had to sacrifice one guy along the way. Oh, they argued a lot before making the big decision. They looked before they leapt.

Entourage may strike you as all about Hollywood’s excesses and four young men’s brushes with sex, power and fame. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, mind you.

For all its scenes of casual sex, brawls and lavish parties, Entourage is also all about feelings, loyalty, empathy and other values they teach you at home and in school. It’s about rising above challenges, aiming high without stepping on someone else’s toes.

No wonder it won a trophy at the 2007 British Academy Television Awards (International Category), with Piven getting the Emmy nod for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 2006.

The likes of Jessica Alba, Scarlet Johansson, Val Kilmer, James Cameron, Mandy Moore, Brooke Shields and James Wood have agreed to guest in some of the episodes.

You see flashes of excellence in Rex Lee as Lloyd, Ari’s loyal assistant, who stands pat on his convictions, at the risk of incurring his boss’ ire. You grind your teeth with Ari as he tries to wheel and deal with Vince. You marvel when you glimpse his soft side — that of a faithful husband who can’t say no to his wife.

The Entourage characters may be American, with a lifestyle far different from ours (the scenes were shot in Los Angeles). But their struggle to make it to the top and the challenges they have to face along the way parallel Juan de la Cruz’s daily battle to make something of himself.

Maybe Juan dela Cruz’s concerns center more on making ends meet to feed his family, not on getting that movie role of a lifetime. But the goal is still the same: A life of comfort and ease.

Vince and company have each other; the Pinoy has his entourage of family members, all the way down to second cousins.

For all its American flavor, Entourage carries the Asian message of one-for-all-and-all-for one. That’s what makes it universal, and takes it beyond the borders of race, religion and creed.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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