At last Hong Kong's Aaron Kwok, famed as a singer, dancer and great-looking guy, has proved he can act. He won laurels for his portrayal of an angry, negligent father who trains his son as a thief.
Over the past decade, Hong Kong star Aaron Kwok has impressed people with his unique, spectacular dancing and power-packed music. He made his way to the top as Hong Kong's signature singer, but as to his acting, it has been ordinary, nothing special. Until ...
Things have changed with the release of After This Our Exile, a family drama by veteran Hong Kong director Patrick Tam. Transforming himself into a grumpy and negligent father, the 41-year-old, usually sunny Kwok proves his versatility and demonstrates that he is not just a pretty face, a terrific dancer, a fine voice - an empty idol.
The film won top honors and Kwok won the best actor award at Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards.
"This is the most complicated and ambivalent role I have ever attempted, a huge challenge for me - great imagination and patience were required to touch the character's interior," says Kwok.
In this gloomy and moving feature film, Kwok and Hong Kong actress Charlie Yeung play an on-again, off-again couple with a son living in Malaysia's ethnic Chinese community. The plot centers on the awkward relationship between father and son after the mother abandons the family.
"The dead-beat domineering father doesn't know how to love his family," Kwok explains. "He first loses his wife, then his job, home and finally his son. The downfall is so depressing that he even forces his son to commit burglary and theft."
His painful portrayal makes audiences temporarily forget his handsome and charming appearance, good looks being a double-edged sword in his film career. For the first time, with incredible confidence, Kwok breaks out of the confining matinee idol stereotype.
Director Tam says the role was a big challenge for Kwok, calling his portrayal Kwok's best-ever movie performance, better than any of his previous "hooligan" or "playboy" roles.
Kwok also cherishes his growth as a performer.
"First you have to let go of your so-called baggage as an idol," he says with a chuckle. "Then you can play any character in a relaxed state. You can have wide creative spaces and you don't have any boundaries."
The low-budget film also won Kwok his second consecutive award for Best Actor at this year's 43rd annual Golden Horse Film Awards (Taiwan's Academy Awards). He also received the honor at last year's awards for the movie Divergence.
After This Our Exile edged out favorites Perhaps Love and Exiled to win best feature film. Nine-year-old Ng King-ho became the youngest-ever Golden Horse winner when he was selected above three adult actors as best supporting actor as Kwok's smart and loyal son in the film.
The earlier Tokyo International Film Festival, Pusan International Film Festival and the Rome Film Festival also presented surprises to director Tam and his cast.
The movie entered the final stage of the Tokyo Film Festival and received awards for "Best Artistic Contribution" and "Best Asian Film."
The picture marks a successful comeback for director Patrick Tam after a 17-year break, during which he trained screenwriters in Malaysia and edited his apprentice, famed Hong Kong art-house director Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild and Ashes of Time.
The script of After This Our Exile was inspired by a news item about a man who taught his son to be a thief," said Tam in an earlier interview.
"I don't want to criticize anyone in the film. I just want to remind married people that children always suffer a lot from a broken family," said Tam. The film addresses universal themes - family, human nature and love.
Along with directors Jacob Cheung, Yim Ho and Stanley Kwan, Tam is considered a leader in Hong Kong's "new wave" of cinema in the 1980s. His 1982 classic Nomad, starring Leslie Cheung, confronted sex and brutal violence with unflinching realism, sending a seismic shock throughout the film industry.
After his award-winning 1989 action film, My Heart Is That Eternal Rose, he stopped directing but never left the world of cinematography.
Concerned about the loss of Hong Kong cinema fans in recent years, Tam says the biggest problem facing the industry is the lack of young talents in filmmaking and acting.
In After This Our Exile, Charlie Yeung faced a major challenge in playing the long-suffering wife who finally abandons her violent husband (Kwok) and young son.
"There are so many precious things in life we tend to take for granted," she says. "The movie tells us to cherish what we already have."
She says it was a rewarding experience to work with Kwok, saying he is dedicated to film art. "We were growing up together in this film," she said.
(Shanghai Daily December 4, 2006)