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27th Hong Kong Film Awards Preview: Best Actor

Previously: Best Film

Like the situation in the Best Film category, if LUST, CAUTION had qualified for this year’s HKFAs, there is little doubt that Tony Leung Chiu-Wai would be well on his way to winning a sixth HKFA Best Actor title. Leung’s performance in the film is outstanding. Without the benefit of big scenes or big speeches, Leung impressively conveys his character’s thoughts and feelings with small gestures and small expressions. He even manages to fill the film’s infamous sex scenes with so much emotion and tension that it’s impossible to argue that the scenes were included just to draw a box office crowd with the promise of some titillation.

The nominees, minus Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, are:

Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing (THE DETECTIVE)
Andy Lau Tak-Wah (THE WARLORDS)
Simon Yam Tat-Wah (EYE IN THE SKY)

5. Andy Lau Tak-Wah (THE WARLORDS)

Back when I was getting treatment for cancer — sometime in between round five and round six of chemotherapy — I got a delightful gift basket and a wonderful package of cards and letters from people I met over the years while running my old website. There were get-well messages from, among others, YTSL (Yvonne Teh of bc Magazine), Paul Fox (who used to run, Tim Youngs (of Another Hong Kong Movie Page and cameos in Pang Ho-Cheung films), my pal John Charles, Jennifer and Laura from San Francisco and, of course, our beloved Kozo (the Lord and Master of LoveHKFilm). Since I lost all of my Eudora inboxes and address books in the Great Hard Drive Crash of ‘07 (but mostly because I’m a terrible person and a lazy, lazy man), I haven’t properly thanked many of the people who wished me well. If anyone out there sent me a get-well message but didn’t receive a personal note of acknowledgement and thanks from me, please accept my apologies. My bad manners belie the fact that your cards, letters and e-mail messages really helped pull me through a difficult time. It was really great to know that I was loved and appreciated.

What does this have to do with Andy Lau and his Best Actor nomination? Well, included in the package of cards and letters was a get-well message from the Heavenly King himself! I was stunned — though, based on stories of Andy Lau’s many good deeds, I shouldn’t have been surprised — that a big star like him would take the time to write little ol’ me a note of Get-well note from Andy Lauencouragement. Needless to say, it was a huge shot in the arm so even if a future edition of Next Magazine publishes photos of Andy Lau eating “rejuvenation” dumplings made from baby flesh, I’d still have something good to say about him. That said, he shouldn’t have been nominated for his performance in THE WARLORDS.

Lau’s performance can, at best, be described as workmanlike. At worst, an argument can be made that Lau was unconvincing and ineffective. The main problem is that Lau is badly miscast for the role of Cao Er-Hu. The real-life Cao was, as I understand it, chivalrous and loyal but quick-tempered with a rough-hewn disposition that helped drive his wife into the arms of the more refined Ma Xin-Yi. Lau naturally projects a suave and sophisticated image so when the story calls for him to behave brusquely, he has to strain to make it convincing. An intense Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Tony Leung Ka-Fai or Francis Ng Chun-Yu type of actor should have been cast for this role not a “cool as a cucumber” Andy Lau or Simon Yam Tat-Wah type.

Speaking of whom …

4. Simon Yam Tat-Wah (EYE IN THE SKY)

Had he been nominated for his intricate performance in EXODUS, Simon Yam would rank higher on this list. Unfortunately, it’s hard to consider him a serious contender for the Best Actor award based on his performance as Surveillance Unit leader Dog Head. The problem does not lie in the quality of Yam’s work, it lies in the quality of the Dog Head character. There is little depth to the role beyond the “grizzled veteran who takes a newcomer under his wing” that audiences have seen in countless movies. The performance is fine but the role has a very low degree of difficulty. Besides, it wasn’t even the best acting performance in the film — that would belong to the work done by Tony Leung Ka-Fai as meticulous gang leader Shan.


Jet Li in THE WARLORDSBuilding upon his commendable performance in FEARLESS, Jet Li continues to evolve as an actor with his work in THE WARLORDS. Instead of playing his usual seemingly invincible fighting hero, Li does a creditable job portraying a flawed late-Qing era army general. It’s a solid individual achievement but it doesn’t rise to the level required of an award winner. It would have been interesting if the powers-that-be behind THE WARLORDS didn’t play it safe and unleashed Li to play a duplicitous, greedy schemer who stabs his sworn brother in the back for personal gain instead of the conflicted nobleman who compromises his morals for “the sake of the people”. Regrettably, no one will know if Li would have been able to meet the challenge.

2. Lau Ching-Wan (THE MAD DETECTIVE)

On an objective scale, Lau Ching-Wan should rank higher on this list. Inspector Bun, Lau’s character, is one of the tent poles of THE MAD DETECTIVE and if he doesn’t get the audience to buy that he is a detective with a “special ability” then the high-concept film has no chance of working. While he succeeds in convincing the audience, subjective factors put him in the second spot on this ranking. First, the other shoe never drops with his character. Inspector Bun is a brilliant cop whose gift is as much of a curse as it is a blessing but that’s where the character development ends. Nothing else really happens with him after his ability to see “inner personalities” is revealed. Second, the Inspector Bun character is just another variation of the kind of quirky, offbeat personality that viewers have seen Lau play many times before. THE MAD DETECTIVE provokes and challenges audiences but it certainly doesn’t challenge Lau Ching-Wan’s acting abilities. Third, Lau won last year so it feels like it’s someone else’s turn to win the top prize. Namely …

1. Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing (THE DETECTIVE)

Last year, Aaron Kwok was the heavy favourite to win in this category for his role as a deadbeat dad in AFTER THIS OUR EXILE. As a result, it was a pleasant surprise when Lau Ching-Wan won because he was sentimental favourite — the “entertainment circle veteran who deserved to win a Best Actor HKFA at some point in his career” (a mantle that he has since handed to Simon Yam). However, if one gives it a little thought, Lau’s victory wasn’t the HKFA equivalent to Martin Aaron Kwok in concert February 2008Scorsese winning a Best Director Oscar for THE DEPARTED. Lau truly deserved to win because he played his character in MY NAME IS FAME so well, it’s impossible to imagine any other actor in the role. By contrast, several actors could easily do a comparable job to Kwok in AFTER THIS OUR EXILE.

This year, the shoe is on the other foot. While Lau gives a flashier performance in THE MAD DETECTIVE, Kwok deserves to win because he absolutely owns his “loser private detective” character. From the first shot of him waking up to the catchy “Me Panda” to the last shot of him finding satisfaction in solving his case, flamboyant Heavenly King Aaron Kwok totally disappears behind a rumpled, sad-sack facade. Like Lau and his character in MY NAME IS FAME, it’s difficult to picture anyone other than Kwok playing C+ Detective Tam. While THE DETECTIVE and the Tam character don’t have the typical award winner gravitas, it’s a worthy substitute in a year where the best performance didn’t qualify.

Image credits: Applause Pictures (Jet Li); Xinhua (Aaron Kwok)

8 Responses to “27th Hong Kong Film Awards Preview: Best Actor”

  1. Eliza Bennet Says:

    Hmmm I haven’t seen The Detective so can not commment but his performance in After This Our Exile was not award worthy. It simply was what it should be, not exceptional or anything. It was because that person is usually such a bad actor that everyone was over impressed with it (or I’d like to think so).

    Looking at the list I think the best performance was Jet’s, he always has been naturally talented and seem to improve. I like the direction of his career too, instead of acting like he is still 30 years old (like Jackie or Donnie) he is in age appropriate roles and improves. So even though I kind of agree with Sanney that it wasn’t a spectacular performance, I think it was the best among them.

    - worst Andy’s (it is especially painful that in one scene, he was simply perfect - the scene where they were first standing in front of the government officials- so we were able to see what could be done with the part. I also blame that stupid beard which looked ridiculous.
    The person who was hindered by his looks in Warlords was Takeshi Kaneshiro. In every scene he looked like a supermodel and this was the worst performance of his that I have seen.

    I like Simon but agree that he should be nominated for Exodus (sublime performance, that one)

    Lau Ching Wan is one of my favorite actors and I was sad that the award he took had to be for a part he could have acted in his sleep (and carry some resemblence to his own career). He deserves so much better than this.
    Mad Detective though, I think is not an actor’s film. It is enough that everyone does their jobs well (and they all did, even Andy On).

    Ooooo long post -

  2. Buma Says:

    Andy sent you a get-well message ?
    That’s the coolest thing I ever heard.
    Do you know the circumstances leading to that ? I’m guessing you have a friend/reader who knows Andy personally. I don’t think he speaks English well enough to read your old website.

  3. glenn Says:

    I agree a bit with Eliza re: Andy in The Warlords. That one scene at the table where he goes into this crying/laughing jag in almost slo-mo was hysterical. He can do so much better than that. And the beard was just a total mistake.

    Jet Li was a total surprise in that film. He *can* act. The scene where he dispatches one of the captured bandits as part of the blood oath early in the film was really understated and powerful. Jet Li’s delivery of the “remember my face to get revenge in the next life” line (I’m paraphrasing) was just perfect without being hammy like Andy’s performance.

    Andy is still a god; anyone who jumps off a concert stage to fight his own security guards is pretty bad ass in my book. Your get well card is an awesome gift. Did you get any from Pinky Cheung maybe?

    I think Eliza is right; Aaron won last year simply for playing a bad character not for acting; I thought his acting in The Detective was actually better than After This Our Exile but I could be wrong.

    Lau Ching Wan deserves to win and I can’t think of any other living HK actor who could have played that part as effectively; Eric Tsang maybe but even he would have hammed it up (no fat joke intended! LOL!)

  4. Lester Mak Says:


    Be careful - I can’t ever remember if it’s ever been in Cantonese because mine is so crap, but as in English - don’t bite the hand that feeds it!

    No, but, yeah, but, no, but seriously.

    I’m sure Andy Lau Tak-Wah, really appreciates you criticism as the professional he is!

    Anyway, aside from that, I haven’t seen any of the films (apart from LUST, CAUTION, which I thought was superb), so I won’t skew the results myself. For once, I am truly impartial to the vote, if only through ignorance!

  5. Eliza Bennet Says:

    > anyone who jumps off a concert stage to fight his own security guards is pretty bad ass in my book.

    I thought it looked like an arranged publicity stunt. (It would have been cool but I didn’t feel the sincerity, but then again I never can when it is Andy)

    On the other hand I love Andy when he is in his “on” mode. (Such as in Running Out of Time, Needing You, Running On Karma, A Fighter’s Blues, Love on a Diet…) he has great box office and lots of star power, he really works hard, multi tasks, helps out the industry and new talents (even though he is betting on the wrong ones) and I liked how he handled the crazy fan situation. So I think getting a “get well” card from one of the Heavenly Kings is a very big deal (and thank you for sharing this with us Sanney :) )

    Anthony Wong can play any -and I mean any- part Lau played just as (and maybe even more) effectively, same goes for Tony Leung CW, I can even add Simon Yam - for that part in Mad Detective- oh I must not forget Eason Chan just because he is younger.

    This doesn’t mean Lau was bad, I thought he was great but all of the above could have given a just as good (even better) performances than Lau. But I will stick to my opinion that Mad Detective is not a film in where performances shine (or supposed to shine)

  6. MW Says:

    > Eliza: Don’t think Andy needs the publicity like that. He seems like he genuinely cares about his fans and works like an ox too. Can’t hate him no matter how cheesy or forced sometimes things feel.

    > Eliza: I also have not see The Detective yet so I can’t comment. I agree that Takeshi was too pretty to be in The Warlords. He was very good in his role as usual, but he’s too handsome to be convincing as a savage warrior. Yea, Andy seems like a great guy but wrong guy for that role. He overacted way too much and I can only remember him acting mad, too much cardboard cut out of a character, not enough self-conflict. Just wrong guy for the role. In this year, I prefer Andy in Protege even though they nominated him alongside Protege junkie Louis Koo (wtf?!) for Supporting.

    Simon’s gut too much. Plus hasn’t he played this role all the time. Nothing special.

    Lau Ching Wan is guilty of finally getting his dues last year so he can wait a bit again. Not like Mad Detective and his performance was mind-blowing good enough to make him a repeat winner. Sort of like Coach of the Year in the NBA, if you are good you are expected to be good, unless you do something special that year.

    Knew Jet was a good actor (he was good in Hero) but glad to see him go away from action films unlike Jackie. He’s very good and convincing in The Warlords.

    My list would look: Aaron (didn’t watch, no opinion) 4) Andy Lau; 3) Simon Yam; 2) Lau Ching Wan; 1) Jet Li

    I hope they give it to Jet. I can’t say for Aaron, but out of the four, Jet is most deserving. Plus think of publicity for him and recognition he can do more than action.

  7. glenn Says:

    Yes, Eliza, I realize that the Andy incident was probably staged…but I still thought it was cool! LOL! I agree that Andy in his “on” mode still packs charisma; one of the first Andy roles I saw was in the Moon Warriors and I remember thinking “Who is this guy with the cheesy grin”

    I think a large part of the success of Lau Ching-Wan in The Mad Detective is that his expression fits that character so well; he uses his expression or lack thereof better than almost anyone in Hong Kong, whether in comedy or drama. He reminds me of the great character actors in Hollywood of the 1940s or 1950s.

  8. YTSL Says:

    Sanney –

    Thanks for the mention and so glad to see you writing — and at such length too! — once more. Re the Best Actor vote: Mine would go to Jet as well. It’s his best part in years and he made good use of it — And yes, he really *can* act (except maybe in romantic scenes that don’t involve Asia the Invincible… ;S) Copyright © 2002-2021 Ross Chen