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Andrew Lau Interview on Talk Asia

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AR: Anjali Rao
AL: Andrew Lau


AR: So Andrew, we're dressed perfectly for it today. I'm in black, you're in white, the good guy and the bad guy. When "Infernal Affairs," the first one, came out, Hong Kong's film industry was not in a good way. Did you imagine that your movie would basically rescue the entire film industry at least for that year?

AL: No, no, no, so many people say, Oh, you are the savior of Hong Kong film, and I say, No, this is my luck, and also I just want to do the best. We try to think something new, to break through the traditional. Because you know Hong Kong traditional anticipation of people: Oh, come on, give me more action, explosion, pah pah pah, that kind of thing. But we try to [say] No, sorry, this is a new thing, we want to break through something, I don't know what, but break through something.

AR: Tell us about how you got that shot, because anybody watches that shot anywhere else anywhere in the world, and you know exactly that that is the "Infernal Affairs" shot.

AL: At the beginning, in the script they write it somewhere in a disco or somewhere very dark, but one day I said, why? I just ask why, maybe we go to high space. Find some rooftop, beautiful rooftop, and I asked some location scout: Okay, I want a rooftop surrounded by the city and that kind of thing, so they choose here. When I come here I was like, oh, 360 degrees surrounded by city, and also one interesting thing is the reflection, and the reflection is very good for me. I still remember the first shot Tong Lee walks through here, I use the camera angle to shoot the reflection. That's something like black and white, are you good guy or bad guy? When you're in the mirror maybe you are good guy, maybe here you are bad guy, God knows.

AR: So the movie is all about triad involvement and that sort of thing. What's the fascination with the underworld of Hong Kong society for you?

AL: It's funny, when I was young at that moment the triad society is around us. For us it's not a big deal. Because some of our friends would be triad society members, and long time ago so many from that kind of society want to invest in the film industry, so that's why Hong Kong movies, so many that kind of movies, a friend in triad and a friend in police, but still stay friends.

AR: Andrew, let's talk about "The Departed" then, which is Martin Scorsese's remake of "Infernal Affairs." Did you like it? Because your co-director Alan Mak didn't seem terribly impressed, for a start he thought it was really, really similar to your original, and also he just didn't like the happily-ever-after ending. Sorry about the spoiler.

AL: Of course, it's good for me. I mean, in the old days we always watched the American movies, so many concepts is inspired from them. But that moment, I mean this moment, they bought to remake right from us, it make me very surprised. When you heard about, oh, Martin is going to be the director, you're so surprised, because you know, Martin is like my idol. I still remember a lot of good pictures like Taxi Driver. When I was young I always watched and was like ah, I mean the camera, the acting is so good, the directing is so good, I was always dreaming one day I will be like Martin. So this is very good news for me. And also good for the Hong Kong film industry that Americans want to buy a Hong Kong film to remake, makes everybody happy.

AR: But were you happy with what he did?

AL: So many people ask me, Do you like departed? I say 50/50. Some things I like, some things you can say, not: I don't like it's different from my original. Because my original, so many thoughts, like I put like Buddhism philosophy inside my movies, but "Departed" there is none. So in my movie, I concentrate on the two young guys, Andy Lau and Tony Leung, but "Departed" no. So I try to study why Martin make that difference, he concentrate on Jack Nicholson, so I have to watch so many times. I try to understand what they thought, why they have to change like this, also the ending. The people they kill Matt Damon, had to figure out what happened.

AR: Why all the good guys lived and all the bad guys died.

AL: Yeah, and this is totally different from our movies. I just think it's the audience, the American audience and Hong Kong audience is different. So I watched "Departed" in LA. When I went to cinema, the audience is happy, they are excited. Even after finished the movie I asked my assistant (my assistant is American-born Chinese), I said, Hey what do you think? He is very happy. That's why I say happy boom. So that's why I start to understand, oh, you make that kind of changes because of course the audience. We make movies for audience, not for awards.

AR: At this year's Oscar ceremony, as we now know, "The Departed" got Best Picture and Best Director. I know that you were watching the ceremony here in Hong Kong. What was that night like for you? Did you bite all your nails off?

AL: Of course I hope Martin get the awards. Considering 30 years he didn't get any awards from Oscar. And also I surprised that the picture got Best Picture. I was like, wow, I always say this is magic. "Infernal Affairs" is a typical commercial movie, so I always say, this is magic, the "Infernal Affairs" magic.


AR: Now, you're in the most competitive business in the world. Just tell us how you got started in it?

AL: In primary school when I was 6-7 years old, I always go to theater with my uncle, and I don't know why I like the atmosphere, dark only. The screen has some lighting, that kind of things, you can see the movie star and so that's why I like movies. When I knew some studio, at that time south studio wanted to hire some young people for the industry, so I just wrote a letter and said I was interested in film industry, and luckily they hired me. And that day I said, wow, this is my job. How lucky I am, this is my dream, to be a filmmaker. Not a movie star.

AR: Actors and actresses are not exactly known for their shy and retiring natures; it's quite the opposite. How do you manage superstar egos?

AL: When I on set as a director I crazy. My temper is not that good. No matter who you are when you do something wrong I will say hey ... (gestures) ... that kind of things, this is myself. I'm not Andrew, it's like animal on the set, 'cause you know these few years, the Hong Kong industry is very tough. We're facing a lot of problems. When I have a chance to make some movies, I am 200 percent to concentrate about my works.

AR: What about when you've worked with Western stars though, who, you know, you may not have known particularly well? I know you just worked quite recently with Richard Gere and Claire Danes on "The Flock." Do they have better demands in the West, the bigger the star the bigger the demand, the bigger the ego?

AL: Before I go there I had that kind of thought: Richard Gere, when I was boy he was American gigolo, big, big star. Yeah, so I still remember that day when Richard Gere get the script and he just called the producer, he want to meet me. I still remember that night I can't sleep, I just walk in New York, Times Square, that kind of things, and then go to Richard's company. And Richard just watched "Infernal Affairs," so he said, I like the script, I like the director, so we have to do something.

AR: How important do you think it is for filmmakers outside Hollywood to be recognized by such a moviemaking mecca?

AL: This is called American dream, because when you work in America that will make you famous, that is true. Everybody want famous, like me to be a famous director. So when you do something in Hong Kong, when you want to jump more one step, America is the road.

AR: Is that what you want?

AL: Ten years ago it's what I want. I still remember 1997 when I made the movie "Storm Riders," that moment a lot of American producers want to hire me to make movies in the States. But at that moment a lot of the scripts is action, gunfiring, explosion, boom boom, that kind of things, triad society. At that time the script, I don't like those things, because they said the Hong Kong directors only know how to make action movies. So that is why, I mean, I reject so many jobs. I need to make drama, that kind of things.

AR: In the 1990s the Hong Kong film industry really suffered, didn't it, and it does still seem to be somewhat in a slump. Because now it's got, you know, big competition from other emerging movie markets, like South Korea and mainland China as well. Do you think that there is any way that Hong Kong can regain its former glory?

AL: This is very good question because 1990 is golden age of Hong Kong film industry. The age is passed already, we have to face another challenge. We have to think another kind of thing, not only Hong Kong-style movies, we have to think China first, because China's market is really big. So we must bear in mind that your script can pass the censor of the China Film Association so we can shoot and release in China.

AR: What has been your experience with filmmaking in China when you're actually going through the moviemaking process? Just describe what that's been like for you on the mainland?

AL: Ten years, 15 years very hard for the Hong Kong people because at that moment you had to face a lot of political things. When you go in you have to use a lot of relationship between the government and the people. And some people don't know what is filmmaking, and of course we have faced a lot of things, corruption. But Chinese people now recognize, oh, this is filmmaking and they are quite helpful.


Walk and Talk in the OFFICE

AR: You've been doing this for a long time now, Andrew. Wat so far has been the proudest moment of your career?

AL: When "Infernal Affairs" come out it got big box office. They said, You proud of this? I said, Not yet. Because the road is still very long. In the future I think there will be something more than "Infernal Affairs."

AR: Do you have an idea already?

AL: Idea is to keep making movies. I always say, okay, "Infernal Affairs" is that big. I still have to make another new movie, new challenge.

AR: You must have a lot of people coming up to you all the time saying, Hey, how do I become the next Andrew Lau? What do you tell those people?

AL: I say cannot there is only one Andrew Lau, I'm sorry. No, for me it's very simple, it's hard working. Hard working, that's it. I still remember 2002, it's a very hard time for Hong Kong industry, no movies in Hong Kong, and also at this moment I start my new company, so many people said you're crazy. Even my wife said, What you doing, what you doing, you set up new company at that moment, the film industry is dead, that negative. I thought movie is my everything. So I set up my company. So that's why I always say this is my luck, hard working is the second, intelligence is third.

AR: Andrew, thank you very much.

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