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Andrew Lau is internationally renowned for his boxoffice hit “Infernal Affairs,” which, when remade as “The Departed,” earned Martin Scorsese his first Oscar. His recent film “Initial D,” was also a hit across Asia, and Lau soon will be making his Hollywood directorial debut with “The Flock,” starring Richard Gere and Claire Danes. Lau, who started his career as a cinematographer on films such as Wong Kar-wai’s “Chungking Express,” talked with The Hollywood Reporter’s Asia editor Jonathan Landreth on the sidelines of the American Film Market.
The Hollywood Reporter: How many times have you been to the American Film Market and what is its importance?
Andrew Lau: I’ve been here five or four times and every time I come, I meet people from all over the world. It’s a nice way to gather all the film makers and buyers. I meet fans and go out to dinner to drink and talk. I am always happy here.
THR: “Confession of Pain” was here last year. Were you able to sell the film after the market?
Lau: Sure, Leonardo DiCaprio bought the remake rights for “Confession of Pain” and are now working on rewriting the script.
THR: “Infernal Affairs,” drew you lots of Hollywood attention. Will the remake trend continue?
Lau: I think it’s been going on for years, but it was lucky that Martin wanted to remake my movie. My movie was hot in Asia, but not here. But now there’s more interest in my films. I have to thank him, too, just as he thanked me at the Oscars.
THR: Media Asia, Hong Kong film powerhouse, has long backed you. Where can new directors look for support?
Lau: Luck has a lot to do with it. I met (Media Asia CEO) John Chong 20 years ago when I was still a cameraman. At that moment, in 1985, the Hong Kong industry was very hot. We made about 400 movies a year. It was crazy. Now the industry is going down but I still have a positive feeling. We still have a big market. Hollywood is interested in remakes and we have China as our backyard, where the market is more open and the boxoffice there has been pretty good over the last few years. I can still say that new filmmakers have good chances to make good movies. There are lots of good producers out there.
THR: Hong Kong films enjoy freer access to mainland China than imports from elsewhere. Does the quota system restrict the creativity of the industry?
Lau: Yes and no. For filmmakers not touching political subjects, you can shoot whatever you want, drama, comedy, those kinds of things. That’s my tip.
THR: Tell us about your upcoming work, including the next project, the three-part Chinese period epic “Water Margin” with Media Asia and a budget of $250 million.
Lau: I am planning so many projects. This year we have a package deal with The Weinstein Co. to shoot three movies in Asia next year in English. This is great news for us, bringing movie from the West to the East. This will mean a lot of people can work. The subject matters are great, lots of East-meets-West stories that will allow me learn more about the West. The films are going to be shot in Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand. One, in Hong Kong, we call “Hong Kong Vice,” like “Miami Vice,” another, to shoot in Macau, will look like “Ocean’s 11,” and the third, to be shot in Bangkok, will be called “Bangkok Ransom,” about a kidnap. I will produce all three with scriptwriters from Hollywood. I got to show them around Hong Kong and Macau and they seemed so happy.
THR: Are these experienced screenwriters whose work we’d know, and how large is each of these films, budget-wise?
Lau: They are new screenwriters. We will mix and match. Each film is about $3.5 million per film. I’ll also shoot a TV commercial in China in February related to the (2008 Beijing) Olympics and have got a 10-film commitment to produce and direct for Media Asia over the next five years. But the most exciting project I’ve got going is the “Water Margin” which I will start at the end of 2008. It’s from a classic Chinese novel about 108 outlaws who banded together during the Song dynasty to fight the corrupt government. Like a revolution.
THR: This sounds like a bit of a political story. Do you expect it to get play on the mainland, where Beijing is a one-party government that acknowledges it’s fighting widespread corruption?
Lau: Yes. This is talking about a true story 3,000 years ago. Old true stories are fair game. Contemporary stories like this you cannot touch.
THR: Do you imagine it as a co-production?
Lau: I think so. Media Asia has great partners in China, Japan and Hollywood. “The Departed” sold to Warner Bros. I will let them talk about it and I will focus on making my movies. There’s so much to do. I have to start now. I have set up a group of scriptwriter, led by Manfred Wong, my long-time producer on films such as “Stormriders.” They are gathering all the materials now that are derived from the original — the comic books, the cartoons, etc. — and trying to figure out what direction to take.
THR: John Woo’s “Red Cliff” another well-known classical Asian story, now wrapping up, turned into an unwieldy project that put producer Terence Chang into the hospital in Beijing. Are you worried about such a huge undertaking with “Water Margin”?
Lau: Not really. This is why we’re starting pre-production so intensely now. If the planning is good. It’s okay. I will direct part one and I hope it will go on to see part two and three, like “Lord of the Rings.” We are planning it this way to save on the budget a little bit, not much, but a little bit.
THR: Which movie did you make that was most fun?
Lau: Every one is quite fun. Hong Kong movie making is different from here. For example, if you as the director want something — you want to shoot, for example, car racing. You can tell the screenwriter to include car racing.
THR: Would that be too tough for a director to do here?
Lau: I don’t know yet. Now (in Hollywood), producers get scripts and find directors, like my last movie here (“The Flock,”). In Hong Kong, the directors are the idea men. The director is still there [gestures up high].
THR: How does it feel to be considered “working in the Hollywood system” now?
Lau: This is the system. When you jump in here you must follow the system until someday you’re doing well, then you can do what you want. For newcomers like me, I have to work inside the system. Martin can do whatever he wants.
THR: Would you ever remake a Hollywood film in Asia?
Lau: We just talked about this subject yesterday. I always say we can mix and match. I think we could remake “The Warriors” in Hong Kong, Thailand or China. The next step is to find interesting subjects to cross over.
THR: Have the Olympics changed the investment climate for films in China?
Lau: I think so. All Chinese are really excited. In Japan recently I was having dinner and friends there told me they are excited for us, too. They said that a long time ago when the Olympics were in Tokyo (1964), everything changed. It changed investment circumstances and made everybody know about the city. Nowadays, so many people from everywhere are going to Beijing and they see what Beijing is like and say, “Oh, it’s not like this, not a Communism city, nothing here, blah, blah, blah.” But now you have to go there to feel the Chinese culture. Beijing is my favorite city in China. The people there are all trying very hard to make that event the very best.
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