Andrew Lau: the master multitasker

Andrew Lau has worn many hats in his film career so juggling two new releases is a cinch, writes Yvonne Teh

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 12:30pm

Andrew Lau Wai-keung likes to be in control - or, at the very least, to have his say with regards to various facets of film production.

A filmmaker with multiple directing, producing and cinematography credits (including for the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Infernal Affairs trilogy and the Young and Dangerous series), the 52-year-old says that even when he isn't officially billed as a cinematographer for a film he directs, he wants to get involved in that area - and others - as well.

"I will say, 'I want this, I want that'," he says. And he expects to be obeyed too.

However, when asked why two star-studded period drama-actioners he has had a hand in making are scheduled to open in Hong Kong on consecutive Thursdays, Lau admits this is one area where he's powerless.

The Guillotines (which he directs, and Peter Chan Ho-sun produces) will be released on the final Thursday of the year while The Last Tycoon (directed by Wong Jing with Lau as producer and principal director of photography) opens on the first Thursday of 2013.

Looking at the festive period's release schedule, Lau notes that "many movies are fighting together", but he is confident both films will succeed at the box office.

Moreover, "they are two totally different movies", he says, and will attract different audiences. The Guillotines is about an elite squad whose members wield deadly weapons best described as flying guillotines, while The Last Tycoon is about a gang leader and his loyalties.

Never mind that both have actor Huang Xiaoming in their casts, and are period movies with Chinese settings, moments of high drama and eye-catching action scenes that are visually stunning. Instead, the filmmaker prefers to emphasise the key ways in which the two films differ.

For example, in terms of their stories, Lau says, " The Last Tycoon is about gangsters in Shanghai … [whereas] The Guillotines is a Qing dynasty movie. You can say it's like SDU [Special Duties Unit] - with a special team, like the CIA, KGB, that kind of thing."

In addition, he views The Last Tycoon as a star vehicle for Chow Yun-fat, while the Putonghua-dialogue The Guillotines draws its power from a trio of younger stars from the greater China region: the mainland's Huang, Taiwan's Ethan Ruan Ching-tien and Hong Kong's Shawn Yue Man-lok.

While the director-cinematographer admits "a bit of commercial thinking" was involved in the casting for The Guillotines (which also features popular singer-actress Li Yuchun), he believes it's not as strongly commercial as The Last Tycoon.

"I hope the audience will go watch both films, but with The Guillotines, I've put in more effort, honestly. I have so many messages to tell people [through it]," Lau says.

The Guillotines is a reimagining of the old Shaw Brothers martial arts movie The Flying Guillotine, but Lau makes clear that such elements as the plot, its focus on the brotherhood theme, its visual style and choice of end song all come from him.

Lau was third choice as director, replacing Teddy Chen Tak-sum who himself had taken over from Dante Lam Chiu-yin.

The man who began his career working for Shaw Brothers says his agreement to get on board was contingent on the new film being a reimagining rather than a straight remake of the Shaw Brothers' The Flying Guillotine (1975).

"Peter [Chan] called me and said 'I want you to take this project'. After I read the script, I said to Peter, 'Do you mind if I change the storyline?' and he said, 'Well, if it's a good thing, why not?'"

The Guillotines focuses on the last days of the secret squad of assassins established by Qing emperor Yongzheng but deemed no longer necessary by his successor, Qianlong. The beginning of the end for the Guillotines is set in motion when its crack unit apprehends a mysterious rebel leader known as Wolf (Huang) but then fails to prevent his escape, with one of their own as his prize captive to boot.

Although Lau hopes those who see The Guillotines will enjoy its special effects, he is also confident its story will have a strong impact as well. He may have got his start in the film industry as a cinematographer but, these days, the medium no longer is the only message as far as he is concerned.

The Guillotines opens on Thursday, The Last Tycoon on January 3