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Heavenly King attempts comedy

Above: Aaron Kwok is the monkey king and William Feng the Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang in The Monkey King 3.
Above: Aaron Kwok is the monkey king and William Feng the Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang in The Monkey King 3.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Above: Aaron Kwok is the monkey king and William Feng the Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang in The Monkey King 3.
Aaron KwokPHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Entertainer Aaron Kwok talks about monkeying around in The Monkey King 3, taking action scenes seriously and fatherhood

In one of his earnest digressions during an interview for his new movie The Monkey King 3, Aaron Kwok begins telling the story of how he launched a men's skincare line a couple of years ago.

"I had done a lot of different endorsements. Then a few years ago, I met some entrepreneurs who said, 'Actually, why don't you do your own products and tell users about them? You'd be the best one to endorse them.'"

He expounds on his skincare business - the ingredients, the effects, his hopes for a women's range - for a good two minutes, in answer to questions about the make-up process for his character. But he lets a handful of reporters lead the conversation back to the film when they ask him about his comedic turn in it.

In this latest chapter of Hong Kong director Soi Cheang's retooling of the Chinese classic Journey To The West, a band of Buddhist pilgrims - led by Kwok as monkey spirit Sun Wukong and William Feng as his master Tang Sanzang - are marooned in a kingdom of women and mired in impossible situations involving forbidden love and male pregnancy.

The movie, which opens in Singapore today, also stars Zhao Liying as the queen of women who falls for Tang, Gigi Leung as her mentor and Chiling Lin as an asexual river sprite who is in love with the mentor.

"Actually, I also have a flair for comedy, but few directors get me to do comedy," Kwok says in the interview at W Hong Kong hotel. "This time, there's a real chance to prove myself and show everyone that I, Aaron Kwok, can do comedy. Did you think I was funny? I'm confident that I'm pretty funny in a comedy."

This is Kwok, long-reigning Heavenly King of Hong Kong pop, Golden Horse-winning actor, aspiring comedian - and untiring self-promoter. At 52, with a pretty-boy face that is only slightly lined, he can still come across as a young man who wants to be taken seriously.

Every work of mine, I'm leaving to my family, my daughter. I hope she can see her dad is a hardworking person. I hope to be a good role model.

AARON KWOK

His report card for the past couple of years has been solid though. During the important Chinese New Year season in 2016, he successfully replaced Donnie Yen in the title role of the Monkey King series.

The Monkey King 2, a scaled-down, fantasy-tinged character drama pitting Kwok's Monkey King against Gong Li's White-Boned Demon, collected US$185.4 million (S$245.5 million) at the Chinese box office. It surpassed its star-laden predecessor, The Monkey King, which had US$167.8 million in Chinese ticket sales in 2014, according to the Box Office Mojo website.

Also in 2016, Kwok was named Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards for the detective drama Port Of Call.

Last year was productive on more than one front. He married model Moka Fang, 30, in April - days after The Monkey King 3 wrapped - and the couple welcomed their first child, a girl, in September.

He also made two other major movies: Project Gutenberg, an action film opposite Chow Yun Fat; and Theory Of Ambitions, a crime drama opposite Tony Leung Chiu Wai.

Now, as an actor, Kwok is happy to disappear into the skin (or fur) of a character. But as an interviewee, he is fond of dropping his own name. In effect, the man sometimes sounds like his own press release.

"Everyone knows Aaron Kwok, as Sun Wukong has Aaron Kwok's unique expressions in the eyes. Because he has a lot of fur, it's difficult to convey his expressions, so the eyes must be used to show what he's thinking inside."

Aaron Kwok, as the monkey king, also had to overcome Aaron Kwok's fear of heights for a scene when he was hoisted up along the side of a cliff by wires.

It was a windy morning and scary to be swaying in the air, he recalls. But when the camera started rolling, he says he "forgot everything". Even after Cheang said the scene was okay, Kwok insisted on doing retakes. He persisted in keeping his grip on the monkey king's magical staff and getting the scene right, never mind that it could be corrected by special-effects artists later.

"I don't give myself a pass that easily," Kwok says. "I'm demanding when it comes to action scenes. Although it can be amended on computer, for me, every action must be done flawlessly."

Before the interview, reporters were requested by his manager not to ask him personal questions. But in person, the star is quite unfazed by queries about his new roles as a husband and a father.

"It's put me more at ease, more at peace, and I focus more on work," he says. "Every work of mine, I'm leaving to my family, my daughter. I hope she can see her dad is a hardworking person. I hope to be a good role model."

Without breaking his stride, he then steers the conversation to, of course, another of his many projects. "I have a double identity, I'm also a singer, so I'm going to have a world concert tour at the end of this year. I'm going to have 50 shows first and I'm definitely going to Singapore."

• The Monkey King 3 opens in Singapore today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2018, with the headline 'Heavenly King attempts comedy'. Print Edition | Subscribe