Darren Shahlavi knows that he could never be a good guy in Hong Kong, at least not in the movies. With his fierce demeanour - he looks like everybody's image of a drug smuggler or gangster - it is hard to imagine him in any other role. 'Maybe they want me for bad guy roles because I'm ugly. I am a very intense person and find it difficult to relax, especially in Hong Kong. I know that I could never play a good guy role or be a big star in Hong Kong movies, but it's a great learning experience for me,' he said. Despite that, this 80-kilogram former bodyguard is here to stay, at least until doors open for him in Hollywood - his dream since childhood. The first step towards this was landing the part of the leading villain in Tai Chi Boxer, now showing in Hong Kong. It is directed by Yuen Woo-ping and Cheung Sing-yim and features Christy Chung Lai-tai, Cheng Ho-nam, Billy Chow and Beijing martial arts starlet Jacky Wu Ching. He plays a murderous baddy, named Smith, who disguises himself as a British ship captain and smuggles opium into China. For Shahlavi, it is not easy being bad. For the past five years, he has struggled as small-time villains in small-budget movies and worked as a bodyguard in local bars and for celebrities, including Bruce Willis, Patrick Stewart, Cindy Crawford and Michael Chang. He made his movie debut five years ago battling against Simon Yam Tat-wah in Guns and Roses. He went on to make two Malaysia-based films, which required him to tackle stunts such as falling backwards from bridges and down stairs. Then his good 'bad reputation' won him a place in a French action film called The Guardian Angel in which Shahlavi learned a trick or two from Gerard Depardieu, the French star of Green Card. He was so good at being bad that producers wanted him to be even more villainous in Fatal Target (with Yukari Oshima) and Angel on Fire (with Cynthia Kham). Eventually Yuen hired him for Tai Chi Boxer where he fights Cheng and Wu - who went to the same martial arts school as Jet Li Lianjie - before finally being shot dead by Chung. Yuen, who also directed the classic Drunken Master, turned the then little-known Chan Kwong-sang into Jackie Chan the kung fu king. The part in Tai Chi Boxer was Shahlavi's first major role for a Hong Kong company and his next project will see him fighting the American-born-Chinese star Michael Wong Man-tak. Shahlavi is a great admirer of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and is dismissive of some of the other exponents of movie martial arts. When a movie critic compared him with Jean-Claude Van Damme, since both kick high, and stay high, he quickly said: 'Similar but different. In real life, nobody fights like Van Damme. He poses all the time. When he fights in a movie, he kicks, then poses and tenses up his muscles for the camera. It is very cinematic and an American audience likes it because it's powerful. But in Asia, no one buys the idea that you can kick people one time and that's it.' 'I prefer the Hong Kong style, fighting very fast, getting hurt and showing the pain because you get more feelings for the character that way. In Hong Kong movies, you see Jackie Chan gets hurt and gets up to fight. But when Van Damme or Steven Seagal starts a fight, you know that he's going to win.' Born to a British mother and Brazilian-Iranian father, Shahlavi has, since the age of seven, immersed himself in karate, martial arts, judo, gymnastics and even break dancing to make his moves more cinematic. 'For the past seven or eight years, I have never watched a movie as entertainment. I am always learning when I rent a video. I look at the way they directed it, the way they act, the fights, and practise the movement by watching the movie. 'When I go out to rent a movie and see a bad film, I am happy because then I know that I can do better than that.' Off the set, Shahlavi, 23, leaves his screen image behind with violence the last thing on his mind. 'Why fight? I would fight only if nothing else could be done, in a robbery or if someone was stealing my car. I have had a few fights in Manchester, [in Britain] but only because somebody was trying to hurt my friends and my family and fighting was my only choice.'