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Not Just Looks

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Good looks paved his way to stardom, but is there more to Hong Kong star Andy Lau?

Andy LauHe doesn’t fight like Jet Li. He’s not as cute and funny as Jackie Chan. He doesn’t have Chow Yun-Fat’s charisma.

Yet Hong Kong star Andy Lau is one of the most prominent actors in Chinese cinema. Why? Well... he’s handsome. Oh, and he sings too.

Good looks, matched with a serenading voice, is Andy Lau Tak-Wah’s ticket to fame both in the movie and music industries. Though virtually unknown in the West, his popularity in China is backed by a string of blockbuster movies and sold-out albums.

Often called the Chinese Tom Cruise and counted as one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Canto-pop—along with Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai, and Aaron Kwok—Lau proved that fans love him no matter what career he chose.

The support brought Lau not only multiple awards but also hefty paychecks. In 2007 alone he earned 230 million yuan (US$33.76 million),making him the fifth in the list of highest-earning Chinese entertainers. The top earners were Jet Li and Jackie Chan.

His good looks, popularity and wealth endeared the 47-year-old Lau to most Chinese women. A poll conducted two years ago revealed that if they could choose a man to impregnate them, the top choice would be Andy. (Results showed Lau beat multi-billionaire Bill Gates and heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro.) The women, aged 25 to 35 and living in 15 cities, said their criteria for choosing the ideal father of their babies were looks and wealth.

 

Humble Beginnings

But wealth was nowhere to be found in his youth. Lau, whose real name is Lau Fook-Wing, grew up in a poor village with his brother and four sisters. There was no running water in their village then, forcing young Lau to make up to eight trips a day to collect water for his family.

His parents pushed Lau to study hard. After graduation, he entered the Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) academy to study acting and martial arts. Andy then appeared on television for a couple of years before doing Boat People, a 1982 drama.

In 1986, TVB asked Lau to sign a five-year contract with them but he refused. Lau was then banned from television for a long time, but later found work in the movies with the help of his co-actor Chow Yun-Fat. This marked the rise of Lau’s career in Hong Kong cinema.

As was the trend among young stars then, Lau was asked to record an album to make it appear he’s a multi- faceted artist. The albums usually serve as extra publicity and income for actors but Lau turned it into a second career. He became successful in the music industry and won over 200 awards, placing him in the 2001 Guinness Book of World Records under the category “Most Awards Won by Canto-pop Male Artist.”

Hard Work

Juggling two careers may seem like a tough act but Lau managed to pull it off. He sometimes worked on up to three films a day, sleeping in his car between jobs. In 1999, he shot Century of the Dragon in the morning while performing in his ‘99 concert tour at night. He even had to dye his hair twice a day: black for the morning shoot and blond for the nighttime concert.

But for some critics, “hardworking” meant Lau’s acting was so bad he had to work doubly hard to bring his characters to life. His pretty boy image, which endeared him to fans, also served as an obstacle in his acting career as critics believed he only had his good looks to get by.

The harsh comments motivated Lau to prove them all wrong. In 2000, he won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor for Running Out of Time. In 2004, he also won the prestigious Golden Horse Award for his performance in Infernal Affairs 3.

Lau appeared in more than a hundred films. And unlike Jet Li who’s now a household name for his action flicks and Jackie Chan who’s known for comedy, Lau had done various roles. He appeared in comedies, gangster movies, art films, and even dramas.

Apart from acting he’s also into film production. In 1991, he formed TeamWork Motion Pictures. Later on, Lau also put together Focus Group, a group of companies involved in film, pop music, and artist management.

Staying Alive

Lau has been in the entertainment industry for more than 20 years but shows no signs of retiring soon. He sang in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and made headlines for supporting the disabled athletes in the Beijing Paralympics.

He is also one of the first Hong Kong artists to have his own figure at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The museum chose to feature him after market research showed he is still the most popular star in Hong Kong.

Whatever brought Andy Lau to where he is now, be it perseverance, talent, good looks, or just plain luck, the important thing is he has become successful in his chosen career. Critics may say otherwise, but in the end what matters is that Lau had made his mark in the Chinese film industry.

Print ed: 03/09

 

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