He's performed in over 120 films and recorded just about as many albums, with many of them going multi-platinum. But Andy Lau isn't merely prolific. His countless awards, whether they come from Billboard, MTV or the Hong Kong Film Awards, attest to his unique talent and connection with his audiences. What's more, though an interpreter was available, he insisted on answering questions himself. While his English grammar may not be perfect, it's certainly charming, and you can't help but suspect he knows it.
What's it like having a film in competition at Cannes?
It's the first time for me to walk on the red carpet. Really exciting. And I hadn't watched this movie before. That was my first impression, when I watched it last night. Very touching, watching that. The movie was good, but the audience was good, too. They really respect what we did in the movie.
It's had a very positive response.
That's made me very happy. You know, people ask me questions about the way I act now. It makes me feel very warm. Maybe before they would ask, "Oh, how hard you fight! Lots of action scenes!" They never try to mention the acting.
Zhang Yimou is always good at combining action and emotion, but particularly in this film.
Yes. You know, with Hero, he told me that he didn't get the rhythm to get to tell about the relationship between the people and the dark side of the mind. Because they spend lots of time in fighting scenes. So this time, Zhang Yimou is trying to concentrate on the love relationship. I'm very happy about that.
Is this a bigger film than most of the films you've done before?
I did lots of big productions in China and Hong Kong, but this one made me feel that they've got a hope, that they've got a vision that they want to develop the Chinese production of movies throughout the world. They use very simple ways to present very complicated feelings between people. So I think it's a good project. And I'm looking forward to what Zhang Yimou and other directors in China will be doing.
Andy Lau in House of Flying Daggers
What does it mean to you to be one of the biggest stars in Hong Kong?
It means loving. I think the audience creates a star. It's not the artist who creates a star. So I think it means nothing to be a superstar in Hong Kong. You have to work to create a different kind of movies that can really, really move the audience.
But isn't it a great honor?
I think every artist wants to have those kinds of feelings, but how can you make them last? You have to work hard. I want to be a star. I like being a star. I really love that kind of feeling. But besides that, how can you sustain that? You have to polish yourself and you have to keep on changing. Maybe somebody is more lucky than I am and can do the same thing for 20 years, 30 years, and still get that kind of feeling, but I'm not like that. I have to keep changing. I have to sing better, I have to act better, I have to fight better. But as times go by, people start to accept that I'm a hard-working guy in Hong Kong. They never say, "Oh, he's good. He's good-looking. He's a good actor, a good singer." They say I'm a hard-working guy. They tell their young son or their young daughter, "Do as Andy Lau does! He's so hard-working!" [laughs] I'm a symbol for working hard.
Would you want to make the move to English-language films? A lot of your films are being remade by Hollywood now. I'm thinking particularly of Infernal Affairs [Reports have Martin Scorsese slated to remake it with Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon].
Yes. You know, nowadays lots of projects from Hollywood... most of them are action-packed movies. I don't think they do that kind of thing better than we do. If there is a very good script, maybe I would take part in that. I'm trying to find more different kinds of scripts. If it's only action-packed, it's not going to be better than Zhang Yimou. [laughs]
In what ways are Zhang Yimou's films different from the Hong Kong films that you've done?
I think, first, in the pre-production, they've got enough time. In Hong Kong, they spend about three months shooting. Zhang Yimou did the same thing; they have the same amount of time. He finished the movie in three months. But maybe half a year was spent in pre-production. With lots of movies in Hong Kong, they start on the set without finishing the script. I feel ashamed about that, but it's true. Sometimes we finish shooting in May and it's in the theaters in June or July. I don't think that's good. The preparations are better than the movies in Hong Kong. And the concept. He's got a more international concept. What else is different? The attitude on the set. He always gives us a very sharp, very clear direction. So everybody on the set will be very clear about what they are doing. That's very important.
You're very proud of your acting in this film...
I never tried to do such serious movies. I like the presentation in Infernal Affairs. And when I [first] spoke with Zhang Yimou, what I [thought] was, "Maybe they need some guy that is very popular in Hong Kong because maybe they're just considering the box office." But after I worked with Zhang Yimou, I learned that, actually, he wanted me to spend more time on my acting. He really gave enough space for me to present my feeling in this movie. After that, I've started to get the feeling that everybody is starting to recognize the way that I act. So I have to say thank you to Zhang Yimou. I think this is just the starting of my acting.
After a hundred films!
Yeah. [laughs] Maybe I didn't know how to act in the past ten years.
I understand you got hurt in one of the fighting scenes?
Yes. What we did is real. Some of the weapons are computer graphics, but if you watch the movie carefully, there is a very tight shot. I have a scar. Because I got hit by something. It hurt a lot. Because what Zhang Yimou told me is that he wanted a very traditional way of fighting. Within the last ten years, in the martial arts movies, they're always running from here to there and can jump from the top of the roof without any supports. It's more real in this movie. So maybe it's not so fantastic, but I think it's more solid.
Are you ever afraid when you have to shoot fight scenes?
In this one, the safety was the best on any movie I've ever done. You know, Hong Kong is much more horrible than that. I get afraid, but sometimes you've got no choice.
Seems like you do have a choice now, though.
Actually, it's a normal reaction while you are on the set. Somebody will tell you, "It's easy. You just jump from there to there. Everybody can do it. Try." [laughs] "You want to be famous?" "Will I be famous after jumping from there to there?" "Yes." "Ok, ok." [laughs] It's no choice, that's life.
But you'll have a greater choice in films and directors now.
Yeah. I did have choices before, but only a certain kind. Always a commercial movie. And besides certain directors, no one else was trying to put me in their movie. But now I can pick them better. Lots of directors try to approach me, and after discussions, I can choose. You know, I talked to Zhang Yimou for twelve years. I tried to get him to put me in his movies. But he told me it wasn't the right time.
Well, it took him twelve years to make historical action films.
Actually, I prefer the movies that he made before.
I like the way that he presented the relationships. Why I took part in this movie is that he told me he was going to try to put that kind of thing in this movie. If it's Hero... I'm not interested in that. It's just fight, fight, fight, fight. For the audience. It's not fighting for the story. Just for the audience. So in this movie, I have only two fighting scenes. The dancing part is a fight with love, and in the end, I fight for love. So it's different. So I really like the two scenes.
What do you think of Hollywood copying of certain stylistic elements from Hong Kong?
I think they've got more money than we have so they can do it better. It's normal in the world. But maybe in this way, we'll be feeling better as our style is accepted in Hollywood. But they never put Chinese in movies. They only try to put Chinese martial arts in, [not actors].
But they bring in new ways. Animation and special effects help martial arts and action-packed movies because, you know, the way that they fight in traditional times, is really dangerous. Really, really dangerous. Lots of my friends lost their lives. Breaking their back, breaking their arm. I don't think it's the right way to make movies. So special effects and computer graphics help a lot to make it more real and to make it more safe.
You're an idol in Asia. Do you have any idols yourself?
Chow Yun-Fat. I grew up on his television series. In the movies, I like Pedro Almodóvar. I like Jack Nicholson. The way that he acts, it's very good. I like Brad Pitt. He's done a lot for himself, keeping his body in shape for such a long time. It's hard.