(L-R) Michael Ning, Aaron Kwok, Jessie Li and Philip Yung.
Director Philip Yung's latest film, "Port of Call" is based on a real murder case that took place in 2008 about a young prostitute getting murdered and dismembered.
The film stars Aaron Kwok as a middle-aged eccentric police officer who is trying to uncover the story behind the murder and the relationship between the murderer and the victim.
The film also presents the debut of actors Jessie Li and Michael Ning in their first feature film as the victim and killer respectively.
In a recent interview at Crowne Plaza, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, Cinema Online met Aaron Kwok and director Philip Yung who reveal that the crime thriller is more than meets the eye.
Aaron, what can you tell us about working on this film?
Aaron: I think a lot of my characters let me see another side of me that I never knew of, even in this film. Although they are not the real me, but the characters seem so real, so through them, I think I have gone through another stage. Through these characters, I believed that I have grown. So, acting as different characters gives me the chance to expand and develop my personality.
For example my character in Philip's movie is so realistic, I feel like as an actor it is my job to make the character as relatable and as approachable to the real world as possible. So for me, this is quite an unusual experience. I've certainly learnt a lot from this movie.
That's why for me, every single work is valuable because as the saying goes, "knowledge is infinite". As I present my best on one side, on the other side I also learn something else. It's how we work together and learn from each other in this film. This is my attitude and style as an actor.
Aaron Kwok explains his passion as an actor.
Would you like to take on a role that is vastly different from all the roles you have played so far?
Aaron: I think that acting is passive, because I'm not the one writing the script or shooting the film. So as an actor, after I accept certain roles, I have the right to decide the outcome. When you read the script you can already see its strength, so as an actor how do I control the script and not let it control me instead? Well, everything on the script is just words, so it is up to me to bring the script alive.
Of course another important part of the script is the theme, is it commercial or is it artistic? But nowadays everything is so strict. Some investors wouldn't want the artistic approach. But I think Philip is amazing, he can merge the business and art together. He has natural artistic instincts and he can understand even the most complicated movie structure.
I have acted in all sorts of roles, so I hope to act in more roles that I have never played before to challenge myself. But if you ask me what roles do I want to play – I can play anything! [laughs]
What about plans on moving to the next stage of your career, like directing?
Aaron: I've thought of directing before. Two years ago I even prepared a script. I've also looked for people to help me write the screenplay and asked guidance from Philip, but because of our busy schedules, the script never got the chance to develop. But it's okay since I'm not rushing to direct or anything, I think it's best to let everything flow by itself.
I remember when I acted in "The Monk Comes Down the Mountain", it was my first time working with director Chen Kaige. I think that he is an amazing director and he influenced me a lot. Previously, I thought that directing a movie would be easy, but it actually uses up more manpower and time than I expected. I don't think I have the time for it now. If I really want to do it, I have to sacrifice my time for it, including my singing and acting career. But if the script is done and if I'm already satisfied and confident with it, then I don't mind sacrificing a year or two for directing. Time will decide.
Aaron Kwok and Philip Yung at Crowne Plaza.
Can you like tell us what sort of story was it, the one that you wanted to direct?
Aaron: No, I don't want to do it anymore! Because it's not as interesting as "Port of Call". [laughs]
Philip: We've certainly discussed about this before. Of course, if Aaron wants to be director I would support and help him all the way. But we feel that Aaron is perfect as he is now, it doesn't matter if he's on stage singing or if he's acting in movies.
Aaron: But more importantly, I don't think I can make a film that is way better than "Port of Call". So, I think it's better for me to focus on being a good actor first instead.
Why did you pick Aaron to play the main lead, and how did you select the rest of the cast especially Michael Ning and Jessie Li since both of them are newcomers?
Philip: Four years ago, Aaron was on board first and then Elaine Jin. There were four people who was first confirmed. There's me, Aaron, Elaine and our cinematographer Christopher Doyle. So the four of us were waiting for the project to get a greenlight. At first, one of the producers liked it, but he wanted it to be more dim and dark like the old Hong Kong movies. But that's not how we want to have it, we're trying to tell a story about people. And the theme of the film is very Hong Kong.
Furthermore, I think now the range of characters that Aaron can portray has gone wider. He is more mature now. He has gone from one high point to another higher point. So for those who followed him throughout his growth would know that he has changed and grown a lot. He can play the role of a normal civilian with a huge impact. I feel very impressed when I saw him act. When I offered him the role of this strange old uncle, I was so sure that he was going to reject it because there's a lot of preparation that you need to do for the character so that you can have the image. But he said he's okay with it because he's looking for a character that can help him break through his comfort zone.
Some stars would pick roles that they find easy to play, but Aaron will find roles that will be challenging for him. So I think that it doesn't matter if Aaron act in a commercial or artistic film, he will always give you something different. He will always give out his best when acting in films. So that's the reason I chose him for this role, he is very sincere in playing his characters.
Even if his character is messy and sloppy, but his eyes will never fail to attract the audience. He can walk past you and you don't even notice his presence. During the shooting people didn't notice that he was Aaron Kwok which is quite unexpected, but when he starts talking to you, you will be attracted to his eyes immediately. His acting shows solicitude towards the film, and I feel that that is important, because the concern that he shows will make the audience confident that he can bring out the best of his character.
Even when I picked the other cast, I would discuss with the rest first before making decisions, that's because we are all in this together so we must know how to coordinate the film. I feel that this film is written realistically, so it is quite different from the others. As we all know, Hong Kong is famous for its police films, but this film is not like the others which are intense and suspenseful. "Port of Call" is not like that.
Also, I wouldn't worry about this film getting spoiled because you would already know that the girl will die in the end. What we're telling is the story that happens in between, which Aaron's character is trying to figure out.
Director Philip Yung only considered Aaron as his main lead.
So this film got a few nominations and won an award at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, what do you have to say about this achievement?
Aaron: For this film we got nine nominations at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, and for me to get nominated is actually quite unexpected. Even though I didn't win, I never took it to heart. I just wanted to deliver my character properly in the movie and help the director, that's all. Of course, all of us are very happy that some newcomers won awards. It's like we are breeding great actors through this movie.
That's why I don't mind at all, because I won awards before, and I think that I'm already at a stage where I don't mind about it anymore or I don't seek winning that much anymore. My only wish is to find out how I can help others through their films and create something amazing together. So, I am grateful to have gotten nominated at the festival and I congratulate all the other winners.
Philip: It's okay, he already won twice previously! [laughs]
Cinema Online, 01 December 2015