To celebrate the exclusive DVD launch Cop on a Mission by Tai Seng UK, we managed to catch up with Daniel Wu to discuss the importance of his role as undercover cop Mike in this edgy thriller by Marco Mak.
Daniel Wu and partner Lisa Selesner
Daniel Wu Interview - Jan 2005
What attracted you to your role in Cop on a Mission ?
I would say there is a really dark side to the character in the story. It's really not that common in Hong Kong for actors to take on these roles because they are a little bit risky. Hong Kong actors tend to play a lot safer, wanting to do more ‘healthy' roles, just so they don't hurt their own personal image. But I always wanted to do darker roles because I grew up watching and enjoying Kubrick films and stuff like that. Maybe it is because a lot of people expected me to be playing these ‘sunshine boy' characters, that I really wanted to delve into tougher roles. As soon as the producer came up to me and told me about the story, I thought ‘Ok, let's do it'. It was risky, but it was a major turning point for me in terms of the kind of roles I began to choose after that.
What was it like working with Eric Tsang Chi-Wai and director Marco Mak Chi-Sin?
Eric was amazing to work with, he is a superb character actor. He has done so much, he has a cheesy TV game show, he produces art-house films, he directs great films, and he also steals scenes in every movie he's ever been in. Marco was great because he knows what he wants, being Tsui Hark's film editor for so long. He knows exactly what he wants out of every shot and because it was a low budget film it helped as there was no waste and it was economically shot.
This was one of Marco Mak's first works as a director?
Marco Mak hadn't had a lot of experience directing but he's the kind of editor who, when he's editing, he is on set. He was on set a lot of the time with Tsui Hark watching everything being done and discussing what he needed to edit. So he's got the hands on ability and it came naturally to him. The actual shoot, over the period of a month took about 16-17 heavy working days which was very quick.
Do you have any good stories from behind the scenes for Cop on a Mission ?
Mostly it was Eric Tsang falling asleep on set, as he's older and has trouble with the night scenes. You'll be sitting in front of him and he'll be in position, asleep, snoring away and as soon as they say ‘Roll camera' he's up and delivers the line perfectly, and then ‘cut' and he goes back to sleep right away! And we had an inside joke that he has an ‘on and off' switch!
And what about the action scenes?
We took a little bit more time with the action scenes. My first scene was the shoot-out scene in the little restaurant at the beginning where I'm a cop, so it was good to get an adrenaline rush for the start of the movie. There was broken glass flying all over the place and you never know if it's truly safe or not. I love filming action scenes and shooting guns, it's every little boy's dream! It's a big rush. In New Police Story we were in Central Downtown in the middle of the night firing off these machine guns. You could see people in the hotels looking out the window thinking ‘What the hell is going on'!
How did you feel about playing the villain after being the hero in works like 2000 AD and Purple Storm?
I liked it a lot, I really got into the psyche and feeling of Hong Kong . There are ideas in the movie of greed, temptation and power. Hong Kong is the kind of city where those ideas exist all the time. So a poor guy on the street wants all that, and sometimes you'll break laws to try it. Those themes are very real, although we have romanticised them in the film. The hunger for the good stuff is real.
The character is on a minimal salary risking his life and trying to be a good guy. He gets put into this underworld for his next assignment and sees money, women and power and realises, ‘Why bother to be good?' Why not take these things and get to this world? Once he gets into that world he disregards their rules as well. That's the major downfall of the character; he's too selfish and doesn't follow any rules. In the underworld, they are not following the law, but they have their own set of rules. If you break those then no-one is going to help you. It starts off very simply with him playing Eric in the video game, but this mirrors what happens later on when he tries to take over his power and home.
How much were you influenced by films such as Goodfellas and Casino?
I'm sure they were influences, as they were thematically similar with ideas of greed and power and what is considered as loyalty in the underworld. But this is the triad take on it. It is more real because it is less about huge power struggles and more about what you can understand. Getting the girl that is right in front of you or wanting the power that is right there. It starts off very simply with him playing Eric in the video game, but this mirrors what happens later on when he tries to take over his power and home.
Does this love of video games ring true for the real Daniel Wu?
No, I'm actually really bad at video games; I do play a little bit but not that much!
What about the nudity scenes and relationship with Suki Kwan Sau-Mei? It must have pleased your female fans!
I think actually it did quite the opposite and a lot of people, especially the Hong Kong media, were quite critical of me. You don't see Andy Lau doing that, because he is very conscious of his image. For me it's different. I think it was necessary for that role, for his obsession with the woman. It allows you to understand that his desires were physical and mental. It got a certain amount of respect from other directors who offered me much better roles later on like one night in Mongkok, New Police Story.
You seem quite proud of what Cop on a Mission did for your career, how do you rate it as a performance?
I can never really rate my own performances. In New Police Story I didn't think that much of my performance but ended up winning best supporting actor (41 st Golden Horse Awards). It's hard to say because when you are in the role you can't really judge it that way. For me I was very happy to have the opportunity to play this character and to be able to perform in the way I did.
So what do you think about Tai Seng bringing Cop on a Mission to the UK audience?
I think it's great, I've had a long relationship with Tai Seng in terms of my own personal life. Growing up in the States, my only access to Hong Kong movies was through video and Tai Seng is the major distributor for Hong Kong films in North America .
Now they are coming to the UK , it is great that they can bring Hong Kong films to a wider audience. As an artist who is creating something, you always want a large audience to appreciate your work. The UK has always had a cult fascination with Hong Kong films, which is now being brought to a wider level with the success of Internal Affairs and Hero.
Which of your movies yet to be released in UK would you love to see distributed over here?
I'd say One Night in Mongkok and Enter the Phoenix . I also produced a film called Night Corridor which is a little bit on the art-house side and may not be for everyone's taste. It harks back to the old Polanski style films, I think some people would enjoy it. But, One Night in Mongkok, definitely! It sits in the same vein as Cop on a Mission.
Do you have a message for all the UK fans of Hong Kong Cinema
Keep on supporting us, keep on supporting films like Cop on a Mission and appreciate companies like Tai Seng, because if they weren't around you'd be scrounging off weird sites on e-bay! Companies like Tai Seng are pioneers in helping spread our film history to the rest of the world.
**** Make sure you get the next edition of Vengeance magazine (Vo.2 No.3) for further content and pictures from this exclusive interview with Daniel Wu **** - click here