For Hong Kong actor Aaron Kwok, with age comes a new phase in his 16-year showbiz career: One where he garners two straight Best Actor trophies at the Golden Horse Awards and develops a greater tendency to talk, talk and talk about himself.
Two weeks ago, the 41-year-old emerged again as one of the most lauded actors in the Asian film industry — he first earned the honour last year for playing a disillusioned cop in the action flick Divergence.
The latest prize recognised his performance as a good-for-nothing father in director Patrick Tam’s After This Our Exile.
In the film, which opens in Singapore on Thursday, Kwok plays a compulsive gambler named Shing who loses his girlfriend (Charlie Young) and then his son when he forces the latter to steal to keep the family going.
A prize magnet, After This Our Exile also took home the Best Feature Film award and the Best Supporting Actor Award for child performer Goum Ian Iskandar, who plays Aaron’s son.
"It’s not because I had to cry a lot in the film that I won," Kwok said in a recent teleconference from Shanxi, China, where he is filming the period epic The Silver Valley. "In acting, the most important thing is to be able to portray what the character is feeling. What impressed the judges is that they couldn’t find a trace of ‘Aaron Kwok’ in the character."
Kwok said a lot more — offering a rambling account of the nuances of his character — proving that once the actor gets excited about a topic, nothing can stand in the way of him getting his point across.
You can’t blame him for wanting to talk about his acting though, since it’s in movies that he found a reprieve from the career low he was in as the 1990s came to an end.
These days, what Kwok gets up to tends to get people talking, such as the so-called controversial love scene in the movie where he touches Charlie’s breasts.
The set was cleared for the scene and only the principal cast and crew were permitted to be on hand.
"In the first place, I think all the actors accepted their roles because of Patrick Tam," Kwok said. "I’ve never acted in a film that was so heavily rooted in realism. So, there’s a lot that I had to discuss with the director, including that love scene that everyone is talking about."
And just how difficult was it to play the scene convincingly?
"You have to give credit to the director for the lack of awkwardness because we talked about every scene," he said. "There’s already a basic chemistry with Charlie. So, there was a lot of trust."
His Best Actor win aside, Kwok made the news again recently when Singapore-born photographer Leslie Kee digitally altered photos of Hong Kong celebrities he had taken and made the stars appear as if they had posed nude for his charity project.
While Kwok’s manager alleged that the alterations were made without the actor’s consent, Kee claimed that the manager was simply trying to attract publicity.
Despite the furore, Kwok sounded relaxed when quizzed about the matter.
"I’ve worked with Leslie many times, and we’re familiar with each other," he said. "Everyone was supportive of his charity project. There wasn’t a contract because there’s a level of trust between us, but he should have let us see the photos as they were to be used."
The actor went on to dismiss talk of a lawsuit against Kee.
"I’m shocked, that’s all. I’m not mad like what the papers claim," he said. "Maybe it’s because we’re Asian, that’s why the media thinks the photos are daring. But from an artistic point of view, they’re perfectly acceptable."
Even questions about his rumoured girlfriend, Shanghainese model Xiong Dai Ling, didn’t faze Kwok.
"I’m a man of 40, so if there’s a woman by my side, it’s nothing unusual. I’m a normal man, you know!" he said with a laugh.
"The media says I’ve admitted to the relationship, but all I want to say is that I’m a private person. I’ve already let the media into my life when it comes to my career. So, when it’s my romantic life, please give me some breathing space."
Kwok being Kwok — an actor who finds it tough to be succinct when the topic is himself — he had to add: "The media always misunderstands me. I’m not saying give us both breathing space, I’m saying give me, Aaron Kwok, some breathing space!"