WHEN the Chinese Planning Council, New York's largest grassroots community organisation, recently selected A. Kitman Ho for its Man of the Year honour, his acceptance speech before a crowd of 800 was brief and barely audible. Those who came to the dinner wanting to see a real-life Hollywood mogul were surprised by Ho's low-key demeanour. ''I thought he would be this cigar-chomping, loud-mouthed producer,'' said one woman. Close, but no cigar - Ho prefers cigarillos, and those who know him say he shuns publicity and is not likely to indulge in self-promotion. A little over 1.5 metres tall, the puckish Ho gives away little about himself, except for a wide, mischievous grin which could easily serve as his trademark. Ho, 43, has many reasons to grin. The Hongkong native, who emigrated to the US when he was five, is one of the most successful producers in Hollywood. His collaboration with director Oliver Stone, since 1986, has produced a string of blockbusters and Academy A ward-winning films like Platoon, JFK and Born on the Fourth of July. Settling back into one of the leather couches that furnish his spacious Manhattan loft, Ho pondered the question of success. ''I feel content, basically. I've always done what I've done . . . and I like it,'' he said, shrugging his shoulders. ''As long as you get up every day and you continue to do that, one can measure that as success.'' The key to his success may be his fervent dedication. A comprehensive theoretical and technical knowledge of film-making gave him a mastery over production questions and the ability to relate more intimately to the crew, said a staff member. Ho's insatiable lust for knowledge carries into every film project,as he makes it a point to thoroughly research the subject of a film before it goes into production. For JFK, Ho said he devoted a year researching reams of documentation on the most notorious murder mystery in the US. Ho reviewed volumes of material on John F. Kennedy's assassination and interviewed dozens of CIA agents before filming began. ''I like to be fully informed,'' he said. ''The more you know the more you can contribute.'' Even his free hours are spent on work-related tasks, like reading scripts and books that may turn into movie projects. Unlike many other Asian-American film-makers, Ho's films are aimed at Western audiences, and he has yet to venture into films with Asian themes. Ho may, however, change this stance one day. In fact, one of his pet projects is a historical epic he would like to make about China's Soong Dynasty. He also would like to work with Hongkong director John Woo, whose film The Killer has won critical acclaim. As much as Ho may enjoy his hectic lifestyle, however, working seven days a week, 18 hours a day, even on something you love, does have a downside. He bemoans not being able to spend more time with his parents in New York, for instance. His schedule also leaves him little time to pursue a satisfying personal relationship. ''I'm not good at marriage,'' he said. ''Who wants to hang out with me? I'm never home.'' His most significant relationship thus far appears to be with Stone, with whom he has worked intensively over the past nine years. He is completing Heaven and Earth with the director, a film based on the autobiographical novel by Vietnamese author Lely Hayslip, which documents her life during the Vietnam war and her trek to the US. ''I like Oliver. He's very talented,'' Ho said. STONE in turn expressed his appreciation for Ho's talent, saying Ho had provided tremendous support over the years. But despite their mutual respect, the ''marriage'' that appeared to be made in heaven looks doomed for divorce. ''We get together because we want to do something, but we fight like cat and dog,'' said Ho. Both men are starting work on films with different partners. But whatever dispute may have precipitated the separation, Ho is not likely to dwell on it. ''I won't talk about it - that's negative. If you have negative thoughts, then you'll attract negative people.'' His happy-go-lucky attitude was genuine, and part of his personal appeal, said his assistant Tom Hayslip. It is this characteristic that helps motivate his 12-member staff who are responsible for the day-to-day operations of his production company, Miracle Pictures, based in California. Not much is likely to wipe that grin off Ho's tanned face. He explains his attitude with characteristic simplicity: ''I'm Irish. I'm a leprechaun.'' Judging from his track record, that may not be so far from the truth.