Another man who is well deserved of being profiled in the Top 10 countdown, Andy Lau is a Hong Kong Cantopop singer, actor, and producer. Lau has been one of Hong Kong’s most commercially successful film actors since the mid-1980s, performing in more than 120 films while maintaining a successful singing career at the same time. In the 1990s, Lau was branded by the media as one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop. Lau has been noted for his active involvement in charity works throughout his 30 years of showbiz career and was honored “Justice of Peace” by the Hong Kong SAR government in 2008. In May 2010, he received the “World Outstanding Chinese” award and an “honorary doctorate” from the University of New Brunswick, Canada. Below I showcase his top films and narrow it down to the Top 10 films of his acting career. Let us kick things off with the number 10 film:
Running Out of Time is a film that appears to be nothing more than the usual Hong Kong action thriller at first but quickly turns into a tale of friendship with a surprising amount of humor and a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure. Anchored by its two central performances (Andy Lau won his first Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor), this film really wins you over with its easygoing charm, even if it is much more conventional than anticipated.
There may not be that much to the plot. It’s a fairly simple setting and the story is quite straightforward. But the composition of this movie is excellent. The beautiful and true locations in Thailand, the excellent editing and direction, and a script that is conservative on the words, especially in Andy Lau’s case (he has so few words to say), but is delivered powerfully and adds to the atmosphere of the film. The performances of most of the cast is good, with some almost very good, but one does stand out beyond any doubt. Andy Lau’s portrayal of Tiger was for me one of the most outstanding performances I have seen in a long time as he simply makes the character real and evokes the emotions of the viewer.
This movie plays out like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Andy Lau is a gangster who falls in love with a good-girl. This age-old formula is applied very well however, and is played out brilliantly. This film is by turns beautiful, violent, energetic, contemplative, and heart-breaking. The violence is visceral and unflinching, and the film is rooted strongly in reality. Andy Lau turns in his career-making performance and the female lead is excellent as well. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is looking for a well-made Hong Kong flick.
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a special film that showcases martial arts and cleverly choreographed set-pieces. Andy Lau stars as Detective Dee, a former police officer jailed for treason. At this point, Wu makes the smart move of pardoning Dee, when the mysterious deaths of a series of loyal subjects threaten to delay the 690 A.D. inauguration of Empress Wu. After a lot of missteps, Andy Lau gets out of his recent rut with his first character I enjoyed since Warlords back in 2007.
The Warlords is an action epic set during an endless war in 19th century China. Jet Li opens the movie as a disgraced General Pang, who was betrayed and only survived a massacre of his troops by the cowardly act of playing dead. He forms a bond with 2 other soldiers and joins forces to protect the interests of their village clans and help bring about a lasting peace. The story tells a tale of three sworn blood brothers. The Warlords gradually builds up until the final, fittingly dramatic scene where resolution is achieved. As for the battle scenes, it may well be the bloodiest I’ve seen so far in Hong Kong cinema. Limbs are severed and there are a few gruesome beheadings. The sequences still have the martial arts influence, but no hints of wires are shown. I really think it’s a film that shouldn’t be missed by anyone and you should definitely track it down.
When the leader of the Hung Hing syndicate is framed for the murder of a high ranking cop, he goes into hiding and leaves the syndicate in the hands of his sons. A rival Triad branch is looking to move in on their territory and a war soon erupts between the two groups with a newly appointed CID detective caught in the middle. The tone is serious throughout the whole movie and we don’t have to suffer from any childish Hong Kong humor. Hong Kong Godfather is well paced with a lot of action and brutal violence. Andy Lau delivers another masterpiece.
House of Flying Daggers is an incredibly beautiful film. There is a dancing game that involves hitting a circle of drums with overlong sleeves, there’s a fight in a field of wild flowers, and of course, there is the inescapable crossing of swords while flitting around a bamboo forest. Admittedly, I was not quite as captivated by the film’s narrative as I was by its visuals. House of Flying Daggers deals with the fairly standard themes of its genre – loyalty, honor, courage and romantic betrayal. The action is light-years beyond any of the other Asian cinema we’ve been gifted with in recent years, and the cinematography and set pieces every bit as beautiful. House of Flying Daggers is lush and tragic, without becoming completely goofy and overwrought.
Although Protégé is a gangster flick, it is not an action movie. Rather, it’s a closely examined character study. Daniel Wu plays Nick, the next-in-line to a massive heroine empire. His mentor, Lin Quin (Andy Lau), has taught Nick everything he can about the trade. Meanwhile, the young man gets caught up with Jane, a drug using, single mother and her daughter. Still, what the drug lord doesn’t know is that Nick is actually an undercover cop, who tries for years already to get some clues about the masterminds behind the drug cartel. Until now, Kwan has been exceptionally careful and so every hand knows only what it has to know about the other. However, as Nick is becoming Kwan’s successor he finally is introduced to the mechanisms and secrets of the business. The cinematography really adds to the movie’s quality and is complemented by some nice fast motion shots. Hong Kong movies have been on a decline as of late and I am proud to announce that they are starting to come back to form. Andy Lau delivers a knockout performance.
Andy Lau has a pretty small role but the film is definitely one of the most iconic films of our time. However, it should be stressed that Drunken Master is about as B-rate as it gets in films. The original Cantonese audio track is also incomplete and has been dubbed over in English. Despite the film’s over-all poor quality, Drunken Master accomplishes the one thing it set out to do: entertain. Jackie Chans best movie lands at #2 on Andy Lau’s Top 10 list.
Although Hollywood churns out a new cop thriller just about every other week, we’ve forgotten how to make true gangster films, a genre we consider quintessentially American to the point where we feel we no longer have to work at it. So, let’s be honest, movies come and go. You watch it, you like it, you forget it. Then, once in a blue moon, you experience a masterpiece of cinematic glory. A film so worthy of all the praise and massive hype that you sit and think to yourself, “Whoa…”! Infernal Affairs is one of those films for me. It’s gotten to the point where we need Hong Kong to remind America who it is. Felix Chong and Siu Fai Mak wrote this incredible story of and undercover cop in the mob, and an undercover mobster on the police force (Andy Lau). There’s no phony duality setup — no brothers-under-the-skin crapola — in Infernal Affairs. Although both Chan and Lau are cops, they’re distinct versions of very different things, and the movie never lets us forget it.
There you have it everyone! An infamous career condensed into the best of the best. He is showing no signs of slowing down in 2011 and we, including millions of others, are on the edge of our seats awaiting more of Andy Lau. Feel free to sound off in the comments section with thoughts, opinions, feedback or your own top 10 list. Until next time…