Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Presence of Lau Ching-wan

Sometimes you have to take what you can get with a movie. In this case I'm thinking of Fairy Tale Killer, which I saw at PiFan. Despite director Danny Pang's attempts to goose it with stylish camera work and lots of noise, it's in the end yet another cookie cutter serial killer flick.

But one thing did keep me going with it, and that was the performance of Lau Ching-wan.
Longtime Hong Kong actors eventually take on the aura of old pros. The best of them develop into onscreen personas and wear them like a comfortable pair of jeans. Johnnie To, for instance, understands this completely, so one of the pleasures of watching his films is seeing his stable of regulars like Lau, Lam Suet, Anthony Wong and Simon Yam, play off each other like the old pals they are. Watching Lau isolated in a mediocre thriller like Fairy Tale Killer, however, throws his particular talents into sharp relief. His hangdog face and steady gaze almost typecast him as a weary cop - a part he can play in his sleep - but it's the presence of his physical gestures that make him unique. With Lau, the act biting an apple or turning on a laptop take on a strange kind of weight. His movements stake a claim to the air around him in ways that other actors' gestures don't. It's a strange talent, hard to put a finger on, perhaps even innate and unconscious on his part, but for this viewer it was almost the only thing keeping me in my seat. Lau in a bad movie is a bright spot. Lau hanging out with the gang in a Johnnie To movie is one of the great pleasures of Hong Kong movies these days. But for Lau at his best, I urge you check out My Name is Fame, in which he stars as a washed-up actor trying to make a comeback. It's one of the most incisive movies about the artistic rivalry and obsession, and a perfect showcase for a definitive Lau Ching-wan star turn.


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