ANDY LAU TAK-WAH is a busy man - and therefore difficult to pin down for a chat. Which is why this interview had to be done in two parts, a brief 10 minutes in Cannes in May and the rest in Hong Kong during another whirlwind round of promotions for his new movie Fulltime Killer and before his concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum which begin tonight and run to August 31. It is tempting to point out that given his success, Lau can afford to cut down on some smaller promotional activities, as many other A-list artists have already done. In response to the suggestion, he tells the story of a film he starred in, Sworn Brothers - a male-bonding flick in the tradition of John Woo's A Better Tomorrow - which was produced by martial arts star Sammo Hung Kam-po in 1987. Lau recalls that it 'wasn't a bad film at all', certainly not deserving of the five marks it got out of 100 when local film industry bible City Entertainment ran a poll of 20 critics on the year's releases. He later found out 19 of the critics had not seen the movie, and the only one who did had given it five out of five: the maximum each critic could bestow. 'I realised then that movies needed to be seen by a lot of people and you need to get feedback to see if you are going in the right direction,' he says. Since then, Lau, 39, has taken every chance to promote his movies and albums, and if that means spreading himself a little thin sometimes, that's fine by him. 'If my movies are commercial - they're certainly not art-house movies - then I hope more people will see them so I will use any channel I can. But you may realise I don't do as much promotionfor the films I think aren't good. That's because I don't think I should cheat the audience into going to see it. The harm done would be greater than if you don't do anything at all,' says Lau. 'I used to have these terrible rows with my management company over which interviews I needed or didn't need to do. I mean, why should I be laughed at just because I appear on women's programmes? These housewives are another group of a potential audience. I'd like them to be listening to my songs too, not just the young girls,' he says. It isn't only Canto-pop keeping his schedule packed these days. Unlike other Canto-pop stars who are happy to record their albums, make their movies then take the money and run, Lau has been busy adding new entries to his resume, away from the limelight. In 1991, he started a film production company, Teamwork Productions, to produce movies he wanted to star in. This was followed by an investment in a record label, New Melody. Both companies focused on Lau's works, giving him better control over his career. In the past two years, however, Lau has visibly been building up his companies to be major players in the industries they represent. Teamwork, which stopped production for a couple of years to allow Lau to recover from a series of production losses, came back with a vengeance by producing the hit A Fighter's Blues. New Melody has also regrouped under the leadership of business partner Landow Lee Siu-lun as NMG, which has signed popular actor-singers such as Coco Lee and Dicky Cheung Wai-kin. 'I've done more than 100 movies, but I have to ask myself how many of those did I really like and how many did I do for the money? I don't need to do it for the money any more so now I want to do the kinds of films that make me happy and that can help the industry as well. So we've been doing a lot of market research both locally and overseas. It's OK to do small movies for the local market, but when it comes to the overseas market, you have to bring buyers to the big films,' Lau says. He's also thinking about his future. 'I love being an entertainer and singing and acting, but 10 to 20 years from now maybe no one will hire me. If it is my own company, I can still make a movie now and then. That was the main reason I started the company [Teamwork Productions] in the first place - so that I could have the chance to do the movies I want and like,' he says. Increasingly, he sees his role as nurturing new talent for an industry that has a crying need for it. The source of his inspiration has come from film-makers such as Tsui Hark (Once Upon A Time In China), Johnnie To Kei-fung (Running Out Of Time) and Andrew Lau Wai-keung (Young And Dangerous). 'I think my motivations were purely selfish in the beginning. It was all about looking after my own interests. Now I just want to produce good movies. We need to create a new and better environment, and we need to nurture new talent. We will always need stars and actors if we want the industry to thrive. With the industry developing these days, there is room for more than just idols. I hope I can produce more opportunities for others,' says Lau. 'Look at Andrew Lau or Tsui Hark or Johnnie To; they have their own production companies and they can do exactly that. Andrew gave Ekin Cheng his big break, while Tsui managed to show us something different in Jet Li in Once Upon A Time In China and Charlie Young in The Lovers?' Lau's detractors might say that, as the boss, he is most likely to keep the best roles for himself and that he could be creating talent that will eventually threaten his own popularity. 'I don't mind my fans liking a younger idol. I really don't subscribe to the 'either you die or I die' mentality that sometimes exist. I hope that just because they like one artist, they won't stop listening or watching another. The Hong Kong market is too small for this mentality. 'Teenagers who go around in baggy jeans and T-shirts are not going to be looking for Andy Lau songs. But, at least, I want to make them feel that it would be worthwhile going to see an Andy Lau movie,' he says. 'I think I would have felt threatened in the past but not anymore. After you watch a lot of movies, I think you begin to realise you cannot star in every movie. I watched In The Mood For Love and I realised that had it been me instead of Tony Leung [Chiu-wai], it would have come out completely different. If I leaned against a wall, in a singlet and with a cigarette in my mouth, I wouldn't look artistic; I would look like a teddy boy. It would have been The Days Of Being Wild. I'm seeing a lot of things more clearly now - maybe it is a sign of maturity.' Like Leung, Lau also started his career as an acting trainee with TVB in 1980 and hit the heights of his small-screen popularity with series such as Eagle Hunter and Legend Of The Condor Heroes. It didn't take long for director Ann Hui On-wah to spot his talent and cast him in her award-winning Boat People. The movie brought Lau his first acting nomination for best newcomer at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 1982. He lost to Boat People co-star Ma Si-san and an acting award would evade him for almost 100 movies before he won best actor last year for To's Running Out Of Time. One of the first actors to successfully switch to a singing career, Lau signed his first contract with Capital Artists in 1985 and released a debut joint album with Leung. Last year, with 292 awards to his name, Lau entered the Guinness World Records 2001 as the holder of the most music awards in the world. 'I'm a very lucky guy,' says Lau, who puts the secret of his success down to luck, fate and hard work. 'Not a lot of people can have their lives so much in tandem with the changes around us. I have the ability and I work hard, but the same goes for a lot of other people. It's a matter of being in the right place at the right time. When television was at its strongest, I was in television work. When the Hong Kong film industry was at its peak in the early 1990s, and when the Canto-pop industry was doing well, I was there. Even with the IT craze, I got in at the right time.' Lau launched his interactive Web site, andylau.com, with CCT Multimedia at the height of the Internet craze last March. CCT Multimedia also bought 40 per cent of Teamwork, and the sale enabled Lau to announce a $500 million investment in film productions over three years. He also became a strategic partner in Web.CC, which was granted the licence to market Internet domain names with the suffix .cc in China. While his records and movies continue to do well, Canto-pop fans can be harsh on stars who age so Lau is happy to be their 'idol' for as long as he can, even if it implies his looks outweigh his talent. 'Oh, I'll take it any time,' he says of the tag. 'In Hong Kong you need it. You already have a head start if you have that because I see a lot of other actors who are not idols and who are struggling [to keep their career afloat]. I think the idol part is like a big wife, and the ability part is the small wife.' He plans to put both 'wives' to the test with a new West End-style musical on which he is hoping to collaborate with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Although Lloyd Webber has not publicly commented on the project, inside sources say negotiations are ongoing. Lau says he and Lloyd Webber have met to discuss the possibility of the latter composing the songs for the yet-unnamed Chinese musical. The musical, whose storyline Lau refuses to divulge for fear of plagiarism, was originally slated to open in Hong Kong this month, hence the concerts at the Coliseum, which had already been booked. It is now expected to debut in 2003, with music hopefully by Webber and lyrics by Lau. His dream is to take the show around China and Asia, leaving running productions in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai or Taipei, 'like Miss Saigon. When you do a production like this, the Hong Kong side stands to lose the most money, but I have calculated the risks and I think I can learn a lot from it'. Lau has only himself to blame for the delay. 'Everything is set to go except for my lyrics. I don't think I have the ability or the confidence to write it yet because it is a monumental job. We're talking about a lot of songs. I think I would need to stop all work for four months to write all the songs.' That is obviously hard for the businessman in Lau, who has no intention of loosening the grip on his growing empire. 'The business side is going well. With the film company, we've got the creative and business team in place. I want to create a better environment, but I don't really need to start a Shaw Brothers.'