Aaron Kwok: From one-man boyband to award-winning actor

Aaron Kwok, 50, took time out from his singing career to focus on acting.
Aaron Kwok, 50, took time out from his singing career to focus on acting. PHOTO: DANIEL NEO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The cast of Cold War 2 comprises not one but three actors who belong to a prestigious club of stars who have Best Actor awards at both the Hong Kong Film Awards and Golden Horse Awards: Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung Ka Fai and Aaron Kwok.

Of the trio, Kwok would have seemed the most unlikely member of the club at the start of his entertainment career.

When he burst onto the scene in 1990 with floppy hair, memorable dance moves and the mega hit Loving You Never Stop, few would have thought that 26 years later, the one-man boyband would still be a firm fixture in the entertainment firmament - let alone become an award-winning actor.

His Best Actor win at the Hong Kong Film Awards this year for the grisly murder thriller Port Of Call (2015) is the latest addition to his Golden Horse Awards for Best Actor for action-crime flick Divergence (2005) and father-and-son drama After This Our Exile (2006).

The secret to Kwok's success? Sheer hard work.

At a press conference to promote the film on Tuesday, he says that when he was not filming Cold War 2, in which he reprises his role as a police commissioner, he would be practising his dance moves in front of a mirror for his upcoming 25th anniversary concerts.

So single-minded is the entertainer that he barely seems to have the time or inclination for fun. Selfies? Not for the busy Kwok.

Chow, dubbed the "king of selfies" by the Hong Kong press, suggests that Kwok could take them while dancing. To which Kwok replies earnestly: "My two hands are moving all the time, so the pictures would all be blurry."

In fact, he had long ago laid the foundation for his current silver screen success.

Dressed in a mostly black ensemble, the trim and fit 50-year-old tells The Straits Times: "I took out some time from my singing career to put into acting. I knew that in the days to come, acting would be intimately linked to my personal growth. As you get older, you accumulate life experiences and that enriches your acting."

It sounds like circular reasoning, but maybe Kwok was just being smart by not putting all his eggs into one basket.

In the early noughties, his music output began to slow down. Meanwhile, he went from movie idol in fluff such as the musical romantic comedy Para Para Sakura (2001) to more substantial roles such as that of an ill-fated cop in Divergence. The role earned him his first Golden Horse nomination and win - over the well-regarded Leung, among others.

Kwok says: "The awards give me strength and are a sign that I didn't make a mistake venturing down this path."

He is also quick to refute the idea that he went into acting for the big bucks. "People who know me would know that what's most important to me is having that creative space to explore, be it on stage or on the big screen. If you don't act when the time is right, you will have regrets. Money can always be saved."

Still, according to last year's Forbes China Celebrity List, Kwok's income was a none-too-shabby 70 million yuan (S$14 million) in 2014. His turn as deputy police commissioner Sean Lau in Cold War (2012) would have added to his coffers as well. It is the highest-grossing domestic film in Hong Kong in recent years, with more than HK$44 million (S$7.7 million) earned.

Diplomatically, Kwok says that the writing-and-directing team of Longman Leung and Sunny Luk deserve the most credit for the success of Cold War, which the star also says is "a new landmark in the Hong Kong cop thriller landscape".

He adds that the sequel takes things up a notch by extending the story to implicate the upper echelons of the police force. "No one has done a movie like that and they might well start a new trend in Asia."

In his role as a police commissioner, Kwok particularly enjoyed filming a scene where reporters were hanging on to his every word at a press conference.

"It felt like I was the American president and you could not get this feeling anywhere else. It's so different from me in real life and that's the fun of getting into a role, the joy of being an actor," he says.

Over the last 10 years, Kwok has been searching for different roles to play. "Even if it's the same profession, circumstances change. I've played cops before, but then the challenge is to make them different."

He has played a grizzled detective in Port Of Call, a severely myopic and scrappy one in The Detective 2 (2011) and one on the edge of madness in Murderer (2009).

At 50, he is aware that the clock is ticking against him. "This is the most precious time for a man. If I don't take up the roles that I like now, I'll get older and more frail and it wouldn't be convincing for me to play certain characters."

Where does that leave his girlfriend, 28-year-old Shanghai model Moka Fang?

Kwok's response is to politely, but firmly, stonewall. "I hope to leave some space for myself in the private sphere. I'm thankful for everyone's well wishes. I'm getting older and you'll definitely see a different, more mature Aaron Kwok.

"But at this point, I'm used to this pace of work and I still want to have good works to share with my fans. If I stop, then they won't be able to see my performances."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'From one-man boyband to award-winning actor'. Print Edition | Subscribe