Cover Andy Lau at the 40th Hong Kong Film Awards on July 17, 2022 in Hong Kong (Photo: courtesy of VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

As the Hong Kong actor turns 61 tomorrow, Tatler revisits some of the movies that made him a celebrated film icon

Andy Lau is one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” of Hong Kong entertainment who reigned supreme in the nineties. Among the other “Kings”, Aaron Kwok was known for this dancing while Jacky Cheung and Leon Lai were the gods of music. However, Lau—who has starred in more than 160 films and boasts three Hong Kong Film Awards and two Golden Horse Best Actor awards—is as celebrated for his acting as he is for his music.

Lau debuted in Once Upon a Rainbow in 1982, in which he played a supporting role, but the then fresh-faced actor quickly rose to fame the following year when he played Yang Guo, the lead in popular martial arts television drama, The Return of the Condor Heroes. Since then, he has acted in and produced a number of films across genres, including action, cop thrillers, rom-com, romance, comedies and historical drama.

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In terms of his singing career, Lau was voted Most Popular Male Singer in 1994’s Jade Solid Gold Best 10 Awards Presentation, and holds the Guinness World Record for reaching 10 million followers on Douyin, China’s TikTok, the fastest.

Lau is also an avid philanthropist. His Andy Lau Charity Foundation, partially funded by proceeds from his concerts, has donated to nearly 40 NGOs including Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dog Services, Tung Wah, the Hong Kong Paralympic Committee and Orbis.

Here are five Andy Lau films from different genres to check out.

1. Crime: Infernal Affairs (2002)

Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, this crime thriller is heralded as Lau’s most memorable movie and represents the best of Hong Kong cinema. In fact, the Hong Kong Tourism Board once made a promotional video that references a scene in the film.

The story follows gangster Lau Kin Ming, played by Lau, who is assigned by his triad leader to be a long-term spy in the police academy, and police officer Chan Wing Yan, played by Tony Leung, who is an undercover cop inside Lau’s gang. Over ten years, both Chan and Lau rise to prominent positions in the organisation in which they are an informer, but eventually find themselves in a life or death situation as their covers risk being exposed.

The film made HK$55 million at the box office, was named Best Film at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2003, and was adapted for Hollywood as The Departed in 2006. The next two films of the franchise also featured Lau and Leung, and helped both actors establish their reputations for playing characters with complexity.

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2. Martial art: House of Flying Daggers (2004)

Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s wuxia film is a visually arresting blockbuster that bands together Lau, Zhang Ziyi and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Set in the Tang dynasty, the story follows Leo and Jin, two police officers played by Lau and Kaneshiro respectively, who are ordered to bring down the leader of the rebel group, House of the Flying Daggers. Deception, plot twists, romance and heartbreak follows as the story unfolds in this film that was nominated for Best Cinematography at the 2004 Academy Awards.

3. Romance: Look for a Star (2009)

Lau plays a billionaire who falls in love with Milan, a feisty, fast-talking casino dealer and part-time cabaret dancer played by Shu Qi. With such mismatched backgrounds the couple makes headlines as their relationship gets serious.

This film was the second collaboration between Lau and Shu who previously worked together on The Wesley’s Mysterious File (2002), and was inspired by real life billionaire Stanley Ho’s relationship with his fourth wife, Angela Leong.

4. Drama: A Simple Life (2011)

Also known as Peach Sister, the film stars Deanie Ip as Chung Chun-ho, an elderly maidservant to Roger Leung, played by Lau, who comes home after a business trip to find Chung on the floor after suffering a stroke. Leung puts Chung in an elderly home and over a series of visits the film explores the social and familial challenges faced by unmarried seniors in the Hong Kong.

Directed by Ann Hui, the film raked in five major prizes at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2011, including the Best Actor and Best Actress awards. It went on to win four awards at the Venice International Film Festival, and Ip became the first Hongkonger to win the Asian Film Award for Best Actress.

Ip and Lau were cast partially due to their close relationship. Besides having played his mother in previous films, Ip is Lau’s godmother.

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5. Action: Shock Wave (2017)

Lau goes undercover again in this action film by Herman Yau as bomb disposal officer Cheung Choi-san who is secretly working with a gang of thieves, a role that earnt him a nomination for Best Actor in the 2018 Hong Kong Film Awards.

Lau and Yau reunite for The Moscow Mission, slated for released in 2023, which is based on the true story about Chinese special forces sent to Russia for a first ever Sino-Russian crackdown on robbery on the Trans-Siberian train in 1993.

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