Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau promotes his new movie Firestorm in Beijing. He is the leading actor, producer and co-investor of the movie. Photos by Jiang Dong / China Daily
Showbiz sensation star Andy Lau is well known for his acting and music career, but as Liu Wei discovers, he is also an ambitious film producer who is willing to take risks, physical and financial.
In his new film Firestorm, to be released on Dec 12, 52-year-old movie star Andy Lau jumps from the 11th floor of a building in Central, the business center of Hong Kong.
It is a stunt he managed to pull off despite his acrophobia — he even hates roller coasters.
"I don't know why people pay others to get scared,' he jokes.
The film, the directorial debut of former scriptwriter Alan Yuen, had Lau finding himself doing a number of hair-raising stunts, such as rushing among the hustle and bustle of Central, holding a machine gun.
The singer and actor known as the "heavenly king" of the Hong Kong entertainment industry does not have to do the stunts himself, but he loved the script and as producer and co-investor he was conscious of keeping costs down.
"To use stunt men means more money. I would rather use it on protecting our actors," he says.
The film's other investor is Bill Kong, an established producer behind the success of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou's Hero.
This is not the first time Lau has supported a new director.
With 146 films, more than 100 albums and 300 concerts, Lau is no doubt a show business all-rounder, but he is also a producer with a philanthropic bent.
He initiated the Focus: First Cuts project in 2005 and has invested in more than 10 projects of young directors. Some of them have been very successful, such as mainland director Ning Hao, who received 4 million yuan ($640,000) from Lau to direct Crazy Stone. The black comedy grossed 20 million yuan and was the most acclaimed domestic film of that year. Ning is now a household name.
In 2011 Hong Kong director Ann Hui brought her script A Simple Life to Lau. The story of the last days of an old maid and the son of her master did not appeal to most investors. Lau, however, was touched by the effortless story between ordinary people.
The film won critical and popular accolades, winning lead Deanie Ip the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival that year. Lau recouped his investment from the mainland and Hong Kong box office takings and the film's overseas copyrights.
As an investor, Lau prefers down-to-earth directors and original stories.
When he first saw the script of Crazy Stone, it was named Diamond. Ning said he needed 8 million yuan. Lau told him First Cuts could afford only 4 million yuan for every director. Ning's immediate answer was: "OK, 8 million for diamond, 4 million yuan for stone." He changed the storyline from revolving around a diamond to a piece of fake jade.
"This is what I call a down-to-earth director," Lau says.
Every year Lau receives about 300 scripts. His assistant will read them and write a summary of each script, listing its genre, important scenes and target audience. The summary is usually more than 1,000 words. Lau will pick up about 15 scripts according to the summary and read them himself.
"It is hard to define a genre I favor," he says. "But I like films I have never seen before in this market."
Take Firestorm, the first Hong Kong cop thriller shot in 3-D.
Shooting in 3-D enhances the action, but requires more money. Bill Kong is known for his strict control of a budget. Lau used HK$500,000 ($64,503) of his own money to make a 3-D trailer as a demonstration to persuade him.
While an actor is only responsible to his director, a producer and investor have more people to answer to.
In Firestorm, Lau did something that has never before happened in Hong Kong films — put an explosion in Central.
"In Speed, a film shot 20 years ago, they had had these impressive scenes inside the Metro of Los Angeles," he says. "Although the shots were filmed using a miniature model, they were very imaginative and exciting. Filmmaking is about dreaming of things impossible."
But the area is only available to filmmakers between 8 am and 11 am on weekends. To shoot the scene the crew needed to shoot and then wait for 15 weeks. It was too long in-between.
Lau went to Kong to persuade him to build a set in a deserted airport, which cost HK$15 million.
"The first thing he said to me was, ‘half of the cost will come from my pay packet'," Kong recalls.
Lau was not a wise investor at the beginning of his behind-the-scene career. He would rather call himself a "dumb kid", the name of one of his hit songs.