Kungfu classic Shaolin Temple launched the career of 17-year-old Jet Li, 28 years ago. Almost three decades later, Andy Lau leads the charge together with veteran director Benny Chan in this star-studded remake, titled, Shaolin.
Lau held court at the press conference held on January 20, looking dapper and at least a decade younger than his 49 year-old self, in a slick black suit paired with a pair of black Nike airs. When asked for his reason for taking on this movie, Lau simply enthused that he agreed to do so even without seeing the script because he has utmost trust in Director Chan. He felt confident that he could just concentrate on his performance and leave the rest to Chan without worrying about the end product.
Even though the last time they worked together was 12 years ago, Lau felt very happy and comfortable this time round. And it was during the three months of prepatory work that Chan and Lau struck up an actual friendship bonding over Buddhism and the Shaolin ways, even though they’ve know each other for years. When asked if they were mere colleagues in the past, the cheeky Lau deadpanned, “No, we were enemies.”
For Chan, working with Lau was more like a case of working with an old friend but also a newfound friend. "21 years ago when we made A Moment of Romance, the Hong Kong film industry was booming and movies were made within 2 months. It was touch and go. We didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time together. It was my directorial debut so we had a three-way collaboration with producer Johnnie To who helped me out. Now, it’s just Andy and myself, so we got to spend a lot more time getting to know each other as friends."
"Well, it was also because I was very famous then, so I didn’t really care about him," Lau interjected playfully. "But truth be told, I was working so much then, that when I reached the set, all I cared about was to get the filming started, I didn’t want to waste any time."
Set in China's warlord era, Lau plays a local army ruler who loses his whole family after being betrayed by an ally, played by Nicholas Tse. Lau's character finally seeks refuge in the Shaolin Temple and becomes a monk who finds peace and forgiveness.
Lau also shaved his head in the film and when asked if he ever considered using a wig, he said in jest, "I don’t think it’s a big deal at all, maybe it’s because I know I look good even with my head shaved."
Lau was also unfazed about working with big-name martial arts stars like Wu Jing, Yu Hai and YanNeng in the movie. “I’ve never been afraid of fight scenes in movies. The first time I did a fight scene, it was with Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao. To me, they are two of the best in the industry. I’ve also starred opposite Jet Li, so I’m not afraid. The only big-name action star I’ve yet to work with is Donnie Yen.”
Is this a public call to get Yen to star in a film with him? The ever-modest Lau laughed in response, “I hope that when he stars in his next movie, he will mention my name to the director so that we can work together.”
The heavenly king was also quick to praise his fellow cast mate, Nicholas Tse, whom Director Chan calls a martial arts “idiot”, as he broke a whole lot of furniture while practising in his house. “He’s actually really good. He’s so good that he should be given the license to teach Wing Chun professionally – not according to me, but himself!” he added. "All jokes aside, he’s very skillful and his reactions are very quick. He’s also very flexible and there’s no doubt that he’s way better than I am."
Whether you’re a fan of Lau or not, there’s no denying that he is a class act. He oozes charm whenever he speaks, allowing the media to lap up every word he says, from heaping praise on his co-stars to the way he shows utmost dedication to his craft.
But if there was one tiny hairline crack in his air-tight media armour (and the only time his age and experience came through), it had to be when a female reporter asked him incessantly about how his wife would react if she found out that he was risking his life doing dangerous stunts. Without missing a beat and with a broad grin still on his face, Lau evaded with the skill-level worthy of a heavenly king. Clearly annoyed, he chastised good-humouredly, “Be good now and let’s not talk about matters like this.”
Nicely done Wah-Zai.
Shaolinopens in cinemas islandwide on 21 January 2011.