Toronto: Andy Lau Talks Career Hits, Playing Villains and Hollywood Movies

Hong Kong multihyphenate Andy Lau may just be ready to star in a Hollywood movie after long being a box office king and pop star in Asia. But only if the major studios will meet him on his terms.

“I’m ready for Hollywood, as long as Hollywood is ready for me,” Lau said during an informal conversation at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday after a more than four-decade career stopping short of following his contemporaries and heading to Hollywood.

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In Toronto to receive a special tribute award ahead of the Sept. 15 world premiere of Ning Hao’s The Movie Emperor, Lau said he always enjoyed playing the bad guy in movies as a change of pace early in his career. “I don’t know why in the beginning, everyone saw me as the good guy,” he insisted.

Lau, who sits near the top of China’s A-list as both an actor and a pop performer, took his TIFF fans back to when he starred in crime thrillers like Johnnie To’s police drama Running Out of Time, and Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Infernal Affairs. The latter was remade in 2006 as Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, starring Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio.

“What captured the film is the relationship between the characters,” Lau explained. “Our version and the Hollywood version could be slightly different in that, in our version, the characters had a more spiritual bond, and the Hollywood version was more about the relationship between characters. But it’s still about relationships between people, which has no boundaries.”

During his long career of around 200 films, Lau excelled in a range of movie genres, playing romantic leads, crushing bad guys and playing them, reaching the heights of art-house cinema. He recounted his first movie role in Ann Hui’s Boat People in 1982.

“I got a call to make this movie, and I had to leave Hong Kong immediately. I had to fly to Hainan in China. And the director told me if I don’t do a good job, I have to make my way back to Hong Kong on my own,” he remembered. Lau next became part of the Hong Kong New Wave movement by introducing himself to directors of next-generation films.

“I was basically mingling with them, day in and day out. We needed new films and new trends to push forward the envelope of film,” he recounted. In 1991, to burnish his filmmaking credentials, Lau launched his own production banner, Teamwork Motion Pictures, and a decade later renamed it Focus Group Holdings Ltd.

“Time goes by quickly,” Lau said after watching clips from other early movie roles like Wong Kar Wai’s As Tears Go By, an action crime drama that also starred Maggie Cheung and Jacky Cheung, and Days of Being Wild.

Lau also viewed clips from his high-kicking martial arts movie roles, most memorably in Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers in 2004 and Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, the 2010 fantasy whodunnit.

“Physically that was quite challenging for me, but with the right directors, we had all the possibilities,” he remembered, as he talked through choreographed fight scenes to ensure he could protect his body from undue punishment.

During his TIFF conversation, Lau also opened up about longevity in the movie business under the glare of constant media scrutiny. “After a long period, it’s difficult to hide something,” he said. “Sincerity is something that makes you be able to carry yourself for a long time.”

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