Who is the hardest working man in show business?
The late, great “Godfather of Soul” James Brown once held worldwide rights to that crown, but Hong Kong’s Aaron Kwok, one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” of Canto-pop, is a worthy contender today. On stage and off, Kwok’s energy seems boundless, especially given that he turned 51 in October last year and can already look back on a wildly successful career spanning more than three decades.
Kwok rates Macau as one of his favourite destinations; he has been a regular visitor through the years, watching the city evolve into one of Asia’s leading entertainment hubs. In October 2015, he was back again, for the star-studded opening of the Studio City complex. Performing on a night that also featured Mariah Carey and Korean super-group Sistar, with Hollywood A-listers Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese in the audience, Kwok rose to the occasion.
See also: Studio City debuts in Macau
“I put on a pair of glittering golden wings, customised especially for the performance, and the effect was just stunning,” Kwok said soon after the gala opening. “I’ve also held solo concerts in various venues in Macau over the past decade. The feedback from the audience was great.”
The response was equally enthusiastic just a week later, on November 7, when the entertainer brought his acclaimed Aaron Kwok de Showy Masquerade Dreams Without Distance Live Concert to the Studio City Event Center, playing to a customary packed house as he continues to tour his way around the globe.
Kwok, however, has never been merely a singer, just as he was never simply a back-up dancer when he first entered the entertainment industry back in 1984. Then, as a trainee performer at Hong Kong’s TVB television studios, the flamboyant Kwok quickly attracted positive audience reaction—so much so that he was quickly pushed front and centre.
It wasn’t long before he was lured into the recording studio, and soon heralded as one of the Heavenly Kings of Cantopop alongside Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung and Leon Lai. As it was for those superstars, calls from the movie industry came next.
Acting, in fact, is now central to Kwok’s career, and he has grown into an artist applauded for the variety of his roles and projects. “Acting and singing are two different types of art,” he says. “With acting, you get into the character and interpret someone else’s life, which I quite enjoy.
"But to know how the audience feels about your performance, you have to wait until after the film is released. For a stage performance, you can express yourself more, directly interacting with the audience. You get reactions immediately, which provide a different sort of satisfaction. I enjoy both.”
Kwok’s first roles came in television drama series. It was a relatively humble start, and he has since tackled more diverse and challenging roles on the silver screen, playing everything from a conflicted cop in Divergence (2005) to a deadbeat dad in After This Our Exile (2006). Both performances were recognised with Best Actor awards at the prestigious Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival.
In 2016, Kwok appeared in four films: One Night Only, a Chinese-Taiwanese romance directed by Matt Wu, Hong Kong-Chinese fantasy Monkey King 2, Chinese romantic drama MBA Partners, and Hong Kong-Chinese crime drama Cold War II, which followed the runaway box-office and critical success of the original production, in which he starred as a driven policeman chasing down kidnappers.
Kwok says each new production affords him an opportunity to learn from both his co-stars and those working behind the cameras. In Cold War II, he appeared alongside Hong Kong movie legend Chow Yun-fat.
“I’ve benefitted a great deal from working with him,” says Kwok. “He is a great actor
with a strong personality." — Aaron Kw0k on Chow-Yun-fat
“I’ve benefitted a great deal from working with him,” says Kwok. “He is a great actor with a strong personality. All the actors and actresses I have worked with are easy to get along with. I’ve enjoyed working with all of them, particularly [Taiwanese actor] Chang Chen [in Monk Comes Down the Mountain; 2015]. His highly professional acting skills and personality impressed me.”
Part of the attraction of acting, Kwok says, is the opportunity to step outside the self and become another person, if only for a while. “In Cold War, I play a senior police officer, who is older than me and has a calm personality,” Kwok explains. “The character has a lot of inner struggles, which is quite different from myself, but not too far.
"In fact, in my previous work Murderer , I played a policeman who is driven insane. It was truly different from my personality, but I enjoyed the acting challenge and the opportunity to extend my range. Basically, I try not to play the same type of characters in the films I work on and I’m always seeking new challenges.”
The ever-expanding Asian film industry has increased options for Kwok, who will star in the upcoming sequel The Monkey King 3: Land of Beauty, scheduled for release in 2018. Rising box office revenues in China (currently the world’s second-largest film market) has created something of a “golden age” in terms of quantity, if not always in quality. So the challenges are out there.
“I am keen to play any roles that I have never tried before,” Kwok says. “I like to take on different challenges. There is no one film I am proudest of because I always try to give my best in every movie I work on. I get varying levels of satisfaction from each of them.
“As an artist who loves to perform, there are always different dreams to achieve in various stages of my life,” he adds. “I am still striving for great movie roles and extending my limits on the stage. I will never stop pursuing my dreams in art.”
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A version of this article appeared in the Dec-Jan 2015/16 issue of Macau Tatler.