Header image: Still from A Moment of Romance (1990)
Ask almost anyone in Hong Kong and they will know of actor and singer Andy Lau Tak-wah. As one of the most successful local actors of all time, Lau is a juggernaut of talent whose unprecedented filmography can only be matched by his lucrative singing career.
Lau arrived on the Hong Kong television scene in 1981 before debuting on the silver screen in 1982. In the decades since, he has dominated the box office, with his films grossing over one billion dollars. Whether you want to call him an action star, a dramatic actor with gravitas, or a handsome lead, Lau is impossible fit into just one box. Starring in his hundredth film by the year 2000, Lau’s career is packed with everything from crime flicks to comedy gems.
If this is your first foray into Lau’s cinematic career, there is no bad place to start. You could admire him in his first leading role in On the Wrong Track or simply pick a genre and find one of the many Andy Lau films that fit it. We’ve made things a bit easier for you and created our own list of some of Lau’s best films that you should watch at least once.
Ever wonder where Lau’s nickname “Wah Dee” came from? It’s intrinsically tied to his role in A Moment of Romance. A hallmark of his career, Lau dominates the screen as he shows off his leading-man chops in a film with the perfect mix of action and romance.
A Moment of Romance follows the triad gangster Wah Dee (Lau) and a kind-hearted heiress as they fall in love with each other while outside forces try to force them apart. Considered a classic of Hong Kong cinema, the Benny Chan-directed film has something for everyone, but it’s ultimately the chemistry between the two leads that pulls you in.
Lau takes centre stage in the action thriller Running Out of Time, a twisting tale about a criminal with late-stage cancer who challenges a police negotiator (Lau Ching-wan) to a three-day-long game of wits. In this film, just when you think you know what the story is building towards, the rug gets pulled out from under you in an epic twist.
In the role of Cheung Wah, the criminal with uncertain motives, Lau gives a layered performance of a man with seemingly nothing to lose and no time to spare. All throughout the film, Andy Lau and Lau Ching-wan circle each other comfortably and with the right level of intensity to draw you in and keep you guessing until the end.
Ann Hui directs Lau in this unpretentious tale about love and true family. Lau plays Roger, a middle-aged film producer who is left to care for his family’s former domestic helper Sister Peach (Deanie Ip) after she suffers a stroke and is moved to a nursing home.
Lau provides complexity to a character who could have easily been relegated to second banana besides Ip’s impressive performance as Sister Peach. Instead, he gives a mature and understated performance as Roger, shining alongside Ip to create a dynamic relationship that serves as the beating heart of the film. Unassuming yet sophisticated, A Simple Life was a cinematic highlight of the year, proving that sometimes less is more.
Fun fact: If Andy Lau and Deanie Ip’s chemistry on screen feels particularly poignant, it’s because Ip is Lau’s godmother in real life and the two already have a close relationship.
Award-winning director Zhang Yimou presented the epic House of Flying Daggers with a flourish, and this wuxia (武俠; Chinese martial arts) picture focuses largely on the romance of the film rather than purely on the action. Lau plays a more antagonistic force in this feature, and, in doing so, gets to showcase different facets of his acting talent.
Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro play Leo and Jin, two officers tasked with going after a rebel group, the House of Flying Daggers. In doing so, they get swept up into the orbit of a mysterious woman (played by Zhang Ziyi) who is more than what meets the eye.
Although this was the directorial debut of legendary auteur Wong Kar-wai, it’s as stylised and notable as any of his later works. Lau plays Wah, a gangster with a soft spot for his friend Fly (Jacky Cheung) and his newly introduced cousin Ngor (Maggie Cheung). Just as life in the mob world gets complicated partly due to Fly’s ineptitude and Wah’s relentless efforts to keep him out of trouble, Wah begins to fall in love with Ngor.
As Tears Go By helped prove Lau’s talents beyond just a pretty face as he took on a dramatic role that would help launch the career he enjoys today. As with most of Wong’s leading men, Lau gives a showy yet subtle performance that helps carry a timeless film.
Infernal Affairs, directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, has by now reached legendary status after its own success and the subsequent fanfare enjoyed by its Academy Award-winning remake The Departed. This film deserves its flowers as a showcase of great Hong Kong talent, which revitalised the modern Hong Kong film industry.
In Infernal Affairs, Lau plays a triad gangster who becomes a mole in the police force while his co-star Tony Leung Chiu-wai plays a cop who has gone undercover as a gangster. In a film with great performances and twists abound, Lau and Leung are in top form as they close in on each other while their own secrets threaten to spill over.
In the war epic The Warlords, you are treated to a trifecta of strong performances from Lau, Jet Li, and Takeshi Kaneshiro, who play three men who have sworn a blood oath to look to each other as brothers. As the men gather support and their power and influence over China grows, the brotherhood becomes fraught and wracked with hard decisions concerning how their relationship fits in with the desired future of the country.
Amongst the formidable trio, there is not one inferior performance as they intimidate and ruminate through the screen while the stakes grow higher. Lau adapts to the grittiness of the film, giving just the right amount of heart and brooding intensity to be believable.
Lau reunites with auteur Wong Kar-wai in Days of Being Wild in a supporting role that carries a lot of weight. He makes the most out of every moment he appears on screen, giving a layered performance that holds its own against the showier main roles. True to many of Wong’s works, this film is equal parts heartbreaking and intense.
Days of Being Wild follows Yuddy (Leslie Cheung), a playboy who and has a tense relationship with his adoptive mother. Lau plays Tide, a policeman-turned-sailor with a kind heart who looks out for both Yuddy and Yuddy’s ex-girlfriend, Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung).
In the nail-biting Shock Wave, Lau plays a bomb disposal officer who continuously faces off with a criminal bomber (Jiang Wu) in a series of escalating situations involving the many tunnels of Hong Kong. Featuring impressive visual effects and breakneck action, the film puts the pedal to the floor and does not let up until the credits start to roll.
A relatively recent film, Shock Wave proves that Lau is not slowing down anytime soon. As a seasoned movie star, Lau shines in his role as the steely officer tasked with protecting the city, and he successfully conveys a reliable strength on-screen that is given depth through his character’s romance with schoolteacher Carmen (Song Jia).