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Lucas Oleniuk for Asiaweek.
Wu outshone young pop idol Tse, at top, right, in Time and Tide.
Wu Bai Hits the Target
Taiwan's King of Rock makes a killing in his first lead film role

Taiwan rock star Wu Bai has always been one to tell it like it is. Together with his band China Blue, Wu delivers honest, raw-edged music that sometimes makes fanatics of fans. He's equally blunt with audiences; the zealots among his fans, for example, are liable to get a scolding when they hiss at other performers. So those who knew him weren't surprised to hear the singer declare himself "great." Wu was at a post-premiere party for director Tsui Hark's new movie, an action-packed gangster flick called Time And Tide, and had been asked to rate his own performance. "Everyone started laughing when I said that," says Wu. "But I think I was pretty good in the movie."

No, Taiwan's King of Cool hasn't grown too big for his boots, even if the remarks come across as an unbecoming lack of modesty. The assurance is well-placed. He may just have a couple of bit parts behind him, but the 32-year-old more than pulls his weight in his first lead role. In fact, he steals the show from his co-star, charismatic Hong Kong teen idol Nicholas Tse, who was expected to provide the star power. Wu plays Jack, a mercenary from South America who tries to start a new life in Hong Kong with his young wife. Then Jack's old partners come calling to settle old scores, and a bumbling would-be bodyguard (Tse) is caught in the crossfire. The high-speed action has Wu fighting off pursuers in running gun-battles, scrambling down crowded tenements and pulling off other gravity-defying stunts.

His reviews have been favorable so far, and the singer had plenty of fun on the set. What he enjoyed most about it, though, was playing a hit-man. That's all Wu wants to do in movies. "Yeah, I just want to play killers. All sorts of killers, romantic ones, evil ones, crazy ones," he adds. "Actors have made a career out of only playing killers. I want to be like them."

Wu hasn't set sights on moviedom. "I'm not like a lot of other singers who have a dual career in acting and music. Someone else writes their music, so all they need to do is go out and sing. I write and arrange my own songs." In the packaged world of Hong Kong entertainment, pop stars often trade their celebrity into highly lucrative film roles. Such casting still pays off at the box office. No doubt that thought crossed the minds of the producers for Time and Tide: four out of the five main characters are played by pop singers, Tse among them.

Wu has been burned in the theater world before. Like so many young men from his native Chiayi province, Wu left to make a future for himself in Taipei in the early 1990s. All he found were mind-numbing menial jobs. That was when an ad for an acting course caught his eye. "I thought acting would be easy. At least a lot easier than music. All you had to do was stand there and say your lines. You didn't have to be a good guitar player," he says. Wu paid a substantial deposit to sign up — and never saw the organizers again. The course was a scam.

He has made many times his deposit back since then. A job in a music shop led to Buzz, his first band. It didn't last long, but Wu quickly found his groove in 1993 with China Blue, which includes bassist Zhu Jian-fai, drummer Dino Zavolta and keyboard player Yu Dai-ho. Kids loved their raunchy, down-to-earth brand of rock music. Fans were known to stand through a six-hour storm just to hear them perform. The band conquered the clubs in Taiwan — and went on to win loyal followings among young Chinese across the region.

With fame came the movie offers. In 1998, he made a brief appearance in A Beautiful New World, an independent production from China, and followed that up with a cameo role in The Personals, a quirky Taiwan film about a woman's quest to find a husband through the classifieds. It was enough to catch the attention of Tsui, one of Hong Kong's most successful directors

"I have always admired Tsui, but it also made me very nervous," Wu says. "I didn't want to wreck his reputation by accepting a job beyond my abilities." The director had a hard time convincing him to take the part. In the end, having a script tailored to his personality allayed his qualms. "When others act, they're very natural. For me, it requires a lot of effort," he says. "I look a bit uncomfortable but you don't see that because it's been edited out." What's left, though, looks pretty good.

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