He’s moving on up

by Kaori Shoji

Andrew Lau belongs to a new generation of Hong Kong action filmmakers comfortable with drawing out their characters’ psyche and personality as much as choreographing wire stunts and deploying CG techniques.

His breakthrough movie was “Infernal Affairs” (remade in Hollywood by Martin Scorsese and starring Matt Damon and Leonardo Di Caprio), a brooding but fast-paced Asian film noir that blended hard action with ultra-stylish visuals. Who would have thought that he would be handpicked to direct “Daisy,” a Korean love story with unrequited passion as its central theme? But 46-year-old Lau, who speaks no Korean and wasn’t familiar with the workings of the Korean film industry, shrewdly decided to remove “Daisy” from an East Asian context and set it in the Netherlands. There is a large Korean community in Amsterdam (many Korean orphans were adopted by Dutch parents during the Korean War) and Lau has always loved the city’s liberal, cosmopolitan atmosphere.

“We could have taken the story to some other European city, like Prague, which is the most popular film location destination at the moment. But I find Asians just don’t blend in with the cityscape, you know? Whereas in Amsterdam, it’s OK. We don’t stand out or look strange. That’s so important.”

You’re famed for making macho-type action films with few female characters. Did you find it hard to direct an actress, and one who doesn’t speak your language?

Not really. I mean, movies are movies. People think action movies form this special genre, but underneath the surface they can be as emotional and passionate as any love story. As for the language, I listened very hard to the tone the actors/actresses are using, and if they sounded like they’re sincere, then it was OK with me. And I deliberately used a lot of close-ups because I wanted their facial expressions to speak too. On the whole, I think “Daisy” is a very expressive film, but never verbose. . . . I consider myself lucky to have had the chance to work on something like this.

What is the appeal of Hanryu, or Korean Wave movies?

They’ve perfected a very melodramatic shooting style, and that style has charmed the East Asian audience. But I think the time has come for Korean Wave films to start experimenting, because someday that particular type of movie will be out, and they’ll need to start making something on a more international scale. Personally speaking, however, I love Hanryu films; they’re great fun.

What is the appeal of “Daisy,” which is the perfect example of a Hanryu story told on an international scale?

I made sure that the visuals are very stylish, and that the characters — apart from their spoken language — have no defining Korean traits. They could be from anywhere, could carry any kind of passport. And having established that, I wanted the love story to come forward . . . to show a type of love that sought no payoff. The two male characters are really one; both sides of the same coin, both wanting to protect and love a young woman without getting involved with her. Some of the producers were afraid audiences would come away unsatisfied, but I felt it was just the opposite.

I understand you’ll be working in Hollywood for a while.

Yes, but I don’t want to become just another “Hong Kong action guy” hired to do films with wire stunts. I’m more interested in films like “Seven.” The presence of a filmmaker like myself is good for them because I’ll be able to show Hollywood the merits of cross-over themes and how to be open-minded on a set where few people speak the same language. I’ve put in my time learning the ropes of the Hong Kong film industry, so now I want to learn the Hollywood system. I’ve already caught on to the fact that in Hollywood the director isn’t in the center, the producer is. I figure first I’ll become part of the system and train myself to work inside it. And then I can take control and tell everybody, “You shut up, I’m the director.” It will take a while, but it’s worth doing!