WOMEN, what would you do to make your 45th birthday a most memorable one?
Hong Kong actress Carina Lau, who turned 45 on Dec 8 last year, paid a team of professional photographers to shoot a series of sexy, vampish pictures of herself for a calendar.
The 2011 limited-edition memento, shot entirely in black and white, is title One Generation Of Carina.
It features the Suzhou-born beauty sporting Marilyn Monroe-esque platinum blonde hair, a tight black bustier and smouldering, smoky eyes.
In several alluring and somewhat decadent poses, she is either seen lazing on the sofa, twirling a glass of martini.
Printed by Lau's management company in China, One Generation Of Carina is not for sale.
Only 1,208 copies of the calendar (1208 is the month and day of Lau's birthdate) were published and given to the actress' friends.
In an interview with Xinhua News last month, Lau, who is married to fellow Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu Wai, said she was very satisfied with how the pictures turned out.
Capture her personality
"Over the years, I've done so many shoots for magazines and advertisements, but none could truly capture my personality," she said.
For her calendar, she personally conceptualised the images.
"These photos reflect who I am, the vibe is just right... this is the real me."
The12 pictures have made their way online, provoking mixed reactions.
On fashion news website lady.163.com, some netizens blasted her new look with harsh comments such as "disgusting and old", "trying to be sexy at this grand old age"and "worse than my mum".
Over at entertainment portal Mtime.com, netizens were kinder. One likened Lau's shots to pop icons Madonna and Mariah Carey, while another praised her for "still looking quite ravishing".
Lau acknowledged the resemblance to Madonna in an interview with Xinhua News, calling it a "pleasant coincidence".
"We (referring to the team behind her calendar, spearheaded by renowned Chinese photographer Li Qi) did not think of copying Madonna when we did the shoot, it must be the blonde hair that made people form the association," she said.
"But I'm flattered to be compared to Madonna, she is an artiste with a distinctive, daring style of her own and I admire her greatly."
Some critics might view Lau's latest project as a calculated publicity move to revive her flagging popularity.
Unlike the 1990s and early 2000s, when she took on an average of three to four movies a year, Lau's acting career has noticeably slowed down of late, especially after her wedding toLeung in 2008.
Last year, she had only one major film role, playing China's first empress Wu Zetian in fantasy adventure flick Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame.
Her sex kitten image in the calendar has no doubt attracted eyeballs and possibly boosted publicity for her comeback in two upcoming films - the action comedy Let The Bullets Fly and the Chinese New Year rom-com All's Well, Ends Well 2011.
Local movie-goers The New Paper spoke to, however, feel Lau doesn't need such attention-grabbing stunts, given her A-list status.
"I don't think popularity was her motivation," said commis chef Tan Chuan Fu, 22.
"I think she is just trying to show another side of herself."
As to whether Lau's images were too raunchy, he said he felt they were "mature and decent".
Mr Christopher Daguimol, 27, who works in public relations, agreed: "It's an expression of her individuality and we must respect that. Madonna is 50 and she still performs and dresses provocatively.
"Looking at the bigger picture, what she (Lau) is doing is no different from a lot of 40-plus Hollywood stars."
But some Singaporeans criticised the photographs.
Undergraduate Miss Chen Qi Bin, 21, felt that while Lau "usually exudes confidence, these pictures do not do justice to her elegance".
Mr Koh Joo Guan, 29, a financial planner said: "She probably wants to complete a shoot like this before she turns 50."
Local actress Hong Huifang, 49, said she found Lau's pictures "beautiful and tastefully done".
And she does not rule out doing something similar. "If given the opportunity, why not?" said Hong, who has two kids with actor husband Zheng Geping.
Another local celebrity, 49-year-old Xiang Yun, was more conservative.
Can't pull it off
"I don't think I'd be able to do a shoot like that.
"The only calendar shots I can visualise doing would be those harmonious, family-friendly ones, showing me, my hubby and two kids."
Lau's calendar pictures only look set to further fuel her flirtatious reputation.
During her 19-year courtship with husband Leung, she has been linked several times to tycoons such as Taiwanese Terry Gou and Hong Kongers Julian Hui and Joseph Lau.
Even after her marriage, rumours of her illicit affairs did not stop.
Last July, China's Southern Metropolis Entertainment Weekly carried a photo of Lau sitting close to a man, identified as Chinese property billionaire Jing Baifu. She had her chin resting on his shoulder and his handon her thigh.
The report said that while Jing was with Lau over two nights in Beijing, her husband Leung was busy filming his new movie The Grandmasters.
Both Leung and Lau have subsequently rubbished the reports.