Q&A: Andy Lau

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HONG KONG -- One of the best known entertainers in Asia, Andy Lau is familiar to billions around the world and has made billions at the boxoffice. The staggering numbers have summed up Lau's career and popularity for more than 20 years, during which time he strode atop the Chinese-language and Asian entertainment world as an award-winning and boxoffice-topping actor with nearly 150 films, multiplatinum pop music superstar, and film investor. His once quixotic efforts to produce films that were "close to his heart" cost him millions and put him in debt. Nonetheless, his determination had paid off. His production outfit Focus Films, which made its name with the "Focus: First Cuts" initiative from 2005 that featured debuts of new directors across Asia including Ning Hao's "Crazy Stone" (2006), now launches the HK$50 million ($6.4 million) six-film initiative "Focus Fight" with Derek Kwok's "Gallants," showcased in this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival. Perpetually under the intense gaze of the media and his (sometimes more than) loyal fans, in 2009 his personal life and private affairs came under fire. Lau's accommodating demeanor belies a persistent sense of siege, and he talks to The Hollywood Reporter's Karen Chu about how this unconscious besiegement affected decisions in his life and career.

The Hollywood Reporter: You began investing in films in the early 1990s, starting with "Saviour of the Soul" (1991) under the first production company you owned, Teamwork. Some of the films you invested in were successful, others less so, once even putting you in serious debt. Where did the courage to invest again?

Andy Lau: It's not about courage. Every time I see a new project, I see hope. I've received so much from the Hong Kong film industry -- a comfortable and carefree lifestyle. I could have used the money to buy a sportscar -- a HK$3 million Maserati or the like -- but I'm not the type to drive such a car. I'd rather use to money to invest in a movie. Cars depreciate, films live on. Even if I lost half of my investment, I'd still have a film that documented the times we live in. Even the most outdated films marked the time it was made. At the end of the day, I'd have a film in my library and it's worth it. I established my film company not only as a business, but also as a place where I can create the films that I like. One film that makes a profit can cover the rest, then my books are balanced.

THR: Why the decision to finance the whole project out of your own pocket?

Lau: I've lost tens of millions of (Hong Kong) dollars in the 1990s investing in films. But over the last dozen years the films made the money back. Even when I was losing millions, I was happy. Of course, I didn't realize beforehand that it would effect my life in a significant way. The reason I acted in 14 films within 12 months was to pay my debts, some of it to the crew. For a few years after 1995 I received my pay as a monthly salary was paid in monthly installments. From then on I've made a decision to make the films I want to make, the ones I can hold my head up high and afford to lose money on. I can use my name to generate money from investors for new directors now, I just prefer not to do it. With other investors, they might pressure me to change the script, the actors, or so on. That's why I refuse outside investments. There'd be no problem for me to walk into any major studios in Hong Kong and ask them to co-invest in my movies; it'd be easy. But I don't want them to turn my jeans into dress pants. I could even get government loan from the Film Development Council for my movies. But can I guarantee those films will make a profit? I'm not so sure. How can I deal with the investors if the films flop? If I use the taxpayers' money and lose millions, I have no idea how the media will interpret it.

THR: Why do you think the media would hold you personally responsible if you ask for government funding for your films?

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Lau: The media outlets that like to paint a negative picture of celebrities are very self-righteous nowadays. The FDC asked me every other day to get their financial support, but I don't want to. I can get it done on my own. I don't want to be judged. But it doesn't affect the way we make films. Even under these circumstances, we are still helping the Hong Kong film industry. We have the same vision as the FDC, it's only that I have a film fund of my own and I can afford to lose. In a way I'm doing the same job as the government, the only difference being they have hundreds of millions, and we have tens of millions. I have set that amount of money aside, and even if I lost it all, it won't affect my daily life; my dad won't yell at me about that as he once did for investing in my own films. Then it's O.K. It's my duty to help the Hong Kong film industry.

THR: Do you think the media judge you on a different level? Is it because of the furor surrounding your personal life last year?

Lau: Yes, quite seriously, too. But at the same time, I will strive to improve the way I conduct my affairs. As a son, I try to do my best so that my father won't lose face; it's the same for the people who like me, I try not to make them ashamed of me. My fans in Hong Kong, China or, for example, Japan treat me like a member of their family. Over the years I realized that I do have a social responsibility in my actions. Young people treat me as their role model. I've quit smoking because young people shouldn't smoke. After a hard day's work I can't find consolation in a cigarette but it's what I have to do. I've had a six-pack when I trained for my concert, but people treated my physique with astonishment and wonder if I were ill, because they thought I was so skinny. I thought I was so fit! But I understand they only said that because they cared about me. That's also why I've decided at some point in my career that, when I play a villain, my character must die. Andy Lau has to be socially responsible.

THR: Do you see a day when you will leave the screen and stage, and just focus on being a studio owner?

Lau: I am an entertainer, first and foremost. I love being onstage, and I still have aspirations of what I want to do next. I've always wanted to do a musical onstage.
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