Interview: Hong Kong Legend Andy Lau

With his historical action/mystery epic “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame” scheduled to arrive on DVD and Blu-ray June 27, 2011 on Region 2 courtesy of Cine Asia, Hong Kong actor Andy Lau is once again making waves beyond Asia. Our James Mudge had the opportunity to interview the legendary actor, who teamed up with the equally legendary director/producer Tsui Hark (we’ll have an interview with him later) for “Detective Dee”. Here is James’ interview.

James Mudge: Congratulations on the success of Detective Dee – how did you prepare for playing a character as popular as Di Renjie?

Andy Lau: Eat well, sleep well and relax to enjoy the good production. We have 2 masters there: Costume-action movie master director Tsui Hark and master action choreographer Sammo Hung. And of course, there’s a perfect cast too not only me but including Carina Lau playing Empress Wu Zetian, Tony Leung Ka Fai playing the mysterious craftsman, Li Bingbing playing the cool assassin always standing by Wu and Deng Chao playing another very clever detective with a special appearance etc.

JM: You’ve worked with Tsui Hark a few times as producer before on films like Shanghai Grand – how does he compare with other Hong Kong directors?

AL: As far as I can recollect, this is the first time I work with Tsui Hark. Tsui is ranked one of the top directors in Asia, especially an expertise in making new style costume-action movies. His “Swordsman” series, “New Dragon Inn”, “Zu: Warriors of the Mystical Mountain”…just to name a few, have all been recognized as legendary movies. Tsui has made movies of different genres in recent years. It’s good for every artiste in this industry, directors or actors, to try new things even though they might not be sure-winning in box-office performance. But Tsui could definitely be a box-office winning director. So when Tsui returns to his expertise, costume-action movie like this “Detective Dee”, he is definitely to make a masterpiece but not just another movie. And he made it. But Tsui is a notorious workaholic too. Working with him could be a nightmare, ready to get exhausted till your last breath… That’s what I heard before. And yes, he does it this time too, hahaha…but reasonable, that’s how things go close to perfect.

JM: With Detective Dee and Shaolin, you’re taking on a lot of action and martial arts roles – are you still doing your own stunts?

AL: I do most of the action scenes by myself and try to deliver to the best I can. That’s part of my acting. But I’m not a kung-fu star. When the required stunts are beyond my capability, I need to leave them to professional stuntmen. After all, quality of the outcomes comes first.

JM: You’ve always been known as an incredibly hard working actor, making more than 10 films a year during the early stages of your career as well as singing, and even now still starring in 3 or 4 a year – do you have any plans to ever slow down?

AL: I think my hard working has been apotheosized only because my work can be seen easier for I’m an artiste. I enjoy to perform, both acting and singing. Everybody wills to spend more time and effort in areas he or she is interested in. I do take rest only it might not be equally noticeable. My work agenda has been fine to me especially in recent years. I need not slow down specifically.

JM: You’ve starred in some of the most iconic films in the history of Hong Kong cinema – do you have any favourite roles that you’ve played?

AL: I like all roles that can move myself and audience. The muscular monk in “Running on Karma”, the drug dealer in “Protégé” have been 2 of them. Di Renjie in this “Detective Dee” who is witty and devotedly patriotic is another. But I wish my favourite role will come next.

JM: Recently a lot of Hong Kong stars have been taking on more roles in films for the Mainland Chinese market – is this something which has affected your own choice of projects?

AL: Yes and no. We do consider Mainland market. If we are to produce or participate in movies that would be shown in Mainland, it’s our job to pay effort to fulfil requirements and resonate audience there. But I still pick projects that I feel good for participation. I like good stories, good scripts, good productions which lead to good movies that I can feel moved and move audience. My recently finished but not yet released project tentatively entitled “A Simple Life” is a movie filled with humanity and love which is adapted from a real life story. It might not be tailor-made for Mainland market but the story is touching and it conveys good values of basic humanity that could move audience in universal regions. I’m in because I feel good.

JM: Have you ever been tempted by any Hollywood roles?

AL: On and off there are scripts from Hollywood inviting my participation. I’m still looking for roles that I could feel I should be there. I wish my participation can contribute added value to the movie. See if it will come next.

JM: As well as acting, you’ve helped promote young Asian directors through your Focus First Cuts project, including Ning Hao’s Crazy Stone – is this something you’d like to continue?

AL: Sure. Talents will never be too many especially in movie industry. I’m not the only one in the field to seek opportunities to discover new talents. And we will never stop.

JM: Have you ever thought about trying your hand at directing?

AL: I have been wishing to be a movie director for years. But I need plenty of time for preparation and full concentration on it especially when this is my first attempt. So when a good script is there and my work agenda allows me enough preparation time, rolling, action!

JM: Finally, after spending so long at the top of the Chinese film industry, are there any challenges that you feel you still have left or characters you’d love to play?

AL: Too many. But I won’t set prescribed criteria. You will never know. That’s showbiz.

JM: Many thanks for your time, and good luck with all future projects.

Buy “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame” on DVD or Blu-ray June 27, 2011 on Region 2 from Cine Asia.