Wai-keung Lau (often credited as Andrew Lau) is not only one of Hong Kong's most prolific directors, he's also one of the most versatile ones. Lau has had a pretty rich and varied career so far and shows no signs of stopping just yet. But it must be said, it cost Lau quite a lot of effort to get where he is today and he had to fight his way back into the game more than once.
The first few years of his career Lau struggled to get a foot between the door. His very first director credit was for Lian Ai De Tian Kong, an anthology project helmed by Jing Wong, his subsequent projects didn't fare much better. Not that they were terrible films (apart from Xiang Gang Qi An: Zhi Qiang Jian, which was pretty disastrous), they just didn't leave much of an impression.
In 1996, while the entire Hong Kong movie scene was drowning in sorrow, Lau rose to the occasion and released Gu Huo Zi: Zhi Ren Zai Jiang Hu (Young And Dangerous), the first part of what was to become an incredibly popular crime series, spouting five official sequels and at least as many spin-offs. In its wake stars like Francis Ng, Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan rose to fame. This series is probably the perfect starting point if you're interesting in Lau's earlier work (or Hong Kong Triad films in general).
Lau continued to release solid films, most notably Fung Wan: Hung Ba Tin Ha (The Storm Riders) and Kuet Chin Chi Gam Ji Din (The Duel), sticking to a close crew of actors who were all more than happy to return to Lau's projects. Ekin Cheng in particular owes a lot to the success of Lau's films. But as most Hong Kong directors around that time, Lau wasn't able to escape the occasional dud. Oi Gwan Yue Mung (Dance of a Dream) and Wai See Lee Ji Lam Huet Yan (The Wesley Mysterious File) rank amongst the absolute worst films in Lau's entire oeuvre.
But Lau picked himself up again, and how. I admit I'm not the biggest fan myself, but Lau's Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs) trilogy travelled the world and would end up in the hands of Scorsese. The films are slick police thrillers, featuring some of Hong Kong's best actors and spanning a wide era of Triad activity. The success allowed Lau to travel abroad. First somewhat tentatively, taking a group of Korean actors and a Japanese composer to The Netherlands to direct Daisy, soon after he'd make the trip to Hollywood to direct The Flock. But like most travelling directors, the jump to Hollywood was little more than a failed adventure.
Back in Hong Kong Lau started over once more and came out with Jing Wu Feng Yun: Chen Zhen (The Legend of Chen Zhen), my favorite Lau film so far. With Xue Di Zi (The Guillotines) he repeated that success, earning him a second chance to make the trip to America. Revenge of the Green Dragons is set to be released later this year, featuring Ray Liotta as a potential crowd puller.
From crime to martial arts, from comedy to thriller, Wai-keung Lau has tried many genres and played around in many different corners of the movie business (not just as a director either, Lau also has cinematography, production and even some acting credits to his name). While his truly great films are few and far between, most of his oeuvre is filled with solid, fun-filled entertainment. If you're not a big fan of Asian cinema Mou Gaan Dou is probably the best place to start, if you're familiar with Hong Kong's genre cinema then the Gu Huo Zi: Zhi Ren Zai Jiang Hu is a must-see.
Best film: Jing Wu Feng Yun: Chen Zhen (The Legend of Chen Zhen) (4.0*)
Worst film: Wai See Lee Ji Lam Huet Yan (The Wesley's Mysterious File) (1.0*)
Reviewed film(s): The Legend of Chen Zhen
Average rating: 2.94 (out of 5)