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Funny man's serious sides

FLAMBOYANT and versatile, Hong Kong actor Law Kar-ying is best-known for playing in outrageous film comedies. But the 64-year-old artist has more operatic, martial and somber sides. Xu Wei reports.

Hong Kong actor Law Kar-ying is best known by the mainland audience for his role as nonstop-talking Monk Tang in Jeffrey Lau's 1995 comedy "A Chinese Odyssey." Along the way, he sings a hilarious Cantonese cover of "Only You (And You Alone)," which has become a classic scene.

He also touched hearts last year with his widely publicized celebrity marriage in Las Vegas to his 20-year partner, distinguished Hong Kong actress Liza Wang. Both are cancer survivors. Law had always been single, she had been divorced for many years.

However, few people in Shanghai know that the 64-year-old actor who is so prolific in film is also one of China's best Yueju, or Cantonese Opera, singers.

Born into a family of famous Yueju Opera actors, Law began to study martial arts and singing when he was only eight and became adept at both warrior and other roles. His apprentices include many Hong Kong celebrities, such as actor and singer Andy Lau.

Last month, Law and his wife presented an innovative Yueju Opera performance at Shanghai Theater Academy. The show "Cao Cao, Guan Yu and Diao Chan" is based on a Three Kingdoms story in which General Guan Yu (Law) resists a beautiful seductress and remains loyal to warlord Liu Bei.

It was the first time that Law, one of the scriptwriters, brought one of his representative works to Shanghai.

Law, an aficionado of Three Kingdoms stories, presents a very different and far more human General Guan.

"Guan was deified by ancient Chinese people for his unwavering loyalty and battle victories," Law told Shanghai Daily in an interview this summer.

"And this figure seldom speaks about love. But our play was an attempt to remake the hero into an ordinary man with true emotions, weaknesses and romantic links with women.

Annually Law stages about 20 Yueju Opera performances. "Singing on stage gives me a feeling of fulfillment," he said.

Cantonese opera, like many other forms of traditional Chinese theater, features singing, martial arts and acrobatics. Many of its stories are based on Chinese history and famous legends.

"Even today, classic tales of ancient heroes and great moments in history are popular in Hong Kong," said Law with pride. "I love the Yueju performing style, which is more casual and never stereotyped. Performers are open-minded and always willing to add new elements to their performances."

Like many traditional art forms, Yueju Opera is losing its audience and not many young people choose it over popular entertainment. Law and his team face a challenge in rejuvenating the opera form and appealing to a young generation.

"Honestly speaking, we don't have much financial support from the government," he said. "We can only count on ourselves to keep this art alive. It is important to nurture our young audience first."

He plans to host more workshops and involve young people in discussion about stories, vocals, performing styles and costumes.

In addition to stage art, Law is famous for his films.

Since 1993 he has starred in more than 100 films, from comedies to cop films. In 1995, his impressive performance in the somber drama "Summer Snow" won him honors as Best Supporting Actor honors at both the Hong Kong Film Awards and Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards.

"Yueju Opera used to be my only passion," Law said. "But later I found I can also take pleasure in acting film and TV."

He wants to undertake more in-depth and inspirational roles.

He will soon collaborate with actress Jiang Wenli on a TV drama about the challenges faced by young urbanites in their careers and love lives. He will also work with Chow Yun-fat and Shanghai comedian Zhou Libo on a new movie, "The Break-Up Artist."

From Law's brilliant smile and the energy he devotes to his productions, one would hardly believe he was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2004. His wife, Wang also beat cancer, first thyroid and then breast cancer 10 years ago. Law's marriage proposals at the time were rejected. When Wang pressed for marriage after his cancer diagnosis, Law said no. Neither wanted pity to be a factor in their union. But last year, after apparently successful surgery, Law and Wang married in Las Vegas, ending a 20-year romantic marathon.

Their romance, with a happy ending, has become a legend, said to represent true unselfish love.

Although the couple continues in the entertainment industry, they say they will probably focus less on work and enjoy a more leisurely life.

"Both of us cherish the mutual care and support from each other," Law said. "When I am on a trip, I never forget to chat with my wife through MSN or short message. She tells me it's romantic for her to read words from my heart."

At the end of the year Law and Wang will also present a new Yueju Opera, "Deling and Cixi," about the life and reign of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Empress dowager Cixi. Deling was born into Chinese nobility but educated in the West; she became a lady-in-waiting in the Forbidden City, a breath of fresh air and new ideas in the stultifying palace.

Law said the boom in both Hong Kong and mainland cinemas has increased their confidence in presenting more popular films in collaboration with both Hong Kong and mainland film makers.

Law's major films

From Beijing with Love (1994)

A Chinese Odyssey (1994)

Summer Snow (1995)

1941 Hong Kong on Fire (1995)

God of Cookery (1996)

Forbidden City Cop (1996)

We're No Bad Guys (1997)

A Tough Side of a Lady (1998)

Gorgeous (1999)

Funny Business (2000)

City of Desire (2001)

Far from Home (2002)

Dragon Loaded 2003 (2003)

Escape from Hong Kong Island (2004)

House of Fury (2005)

The Shopaholics (2006)

Crazy Money and Funny Men (2007)

The Deserted Inn (2008)

Metallic Attraction: Kungfu Cyborg (2009)

14 Blades (2010)

Future X-Cops (2010)

Flirting Scholar 2 (2010)

Adventure of the King (2010)


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