After Louis Koo, Hong Kong A-list actor and producer, presented Anthony Wong with the best actor award at this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards, he smiled awkwardly as Wong referred to him in his acceptance speech as “movie mogul of the new generation.” But as Wong continued to sing Koo’s praises, the handsome actor jumped in, telling Wong to stop talking about him.
In public, Koo maintains the image of a star, appearing in blockbusters such as action-thriller “Paradox,” which won him best actor awards at both Hong Kong Film Awards and Asian Film Awards last year. His pretty face is often attached to commercial and lifestyle products as their brand ambassadors.
But behind the scenes, the 48-year-old has quietly assumed a role as one the key driving forces behind Hong Kong cinema. One Cool Film Production, which he founded in 2013, has produced a slate of commercial hits as well as edgy films aiming to tell Hong Kong stories, with many of them helmed by young directors. The company is also producing “Warriors of the Future,” an unprecedented HK$450 million ($57.4 million) sci-fi feature set in Hong Kong, starring Koo. The movie, directed by award-winning visual effects artist Ng Yuen-Fai, is slated for a fall release.
At this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards, two of One Cool Film’s latest features, the transgender drama “Tracey,” and “Men on the Dragon,” a heart-warming dramedy about a group of middle-aged men trying to pick themselves up by taking part in dragon boat racing, a competitive sport that is uniquely Hong Kong, scored 20 nominations, including best film, director and actor for “Man on the Dragon,” and best actor and screenplay for “Tracey.” Both films are helmed by first-time directors.
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Sunny Chan, helmer and scriptwriter of “Men on the Dragon,” says One Cool Film supported the film as they saw it as a local story worth telling rather than a purely commercial venture. The company took the lead in gathering financing for the film, and applied for funding from the Hong Kong government’s Film Development Fund.
“We did not want to make it a co-production with mainland China because I really want to tell a Hong Kong story. [One Cool Film] believed that this project was worth doing because the story has its value in Hong Kong,” says Chan, adding that the philosophy was similar to that behind “Tracey.” “It was not because of box office receipts,” he says.
Chan says the Hong Kong industry has become more and more difficult for local filmmakers, and a company like One Cool Film is pivotal for filmmakers. “I hope the audience also supports other projects by One Cool Film,” he says.
A son of former actor Koo Chun-kwong, Koo revealed in his autobiography published in 2002 that he never planned to become an actor. He was a manager at a modelling agency, but he became a model for an advertisement just to please a client. After a few years of modelling, he became an actor at Television Broadcasts, Hong Kong’s largest TV station, in the mid-1990s. He rose to fame with a number of hit TV series and switched his focus to film after 2001. He appeared in Johnnie To’s acclaimed crime thriller “Election” (2005) and “Election 2” (2006), and the “Overheard” series (2009, 2011 and 2014), directed by Alan Mak and Felix Chong.
Koo is also a philanthropist, another role he plays quietly. He and his charity foundation have donated more than $4 million to build more than 100 schools bearing his name across mainland China through a Hong Kong-registered charity called Grace Charity Foundation — a gesture similar to that of the late Hong Kong movie mogul Run Run Shaw, who was said to have built more than 6,000 schools and educational facilities across mainland China. But Koo has seldom talked about this in public.
Last year, Koo became the sponsor of the movie theater at the Hong Kong Arts Center, which named it after him. Teresa Kwong, program director of the Arts Center, says the three-year partnership can be seen as just one part of Koo’s overall support for Hong Kong cinema. One of the cinema’s key programs is “Great Hong Kong Movies,” an initiative conceived by Koo’s company One Cool Film and the Arts Center. It screens old and new Hong Kong films and features post-screening onstage conversations with the filmmakers.
Koo’s achievements were recognized last year when he became one of the recipients of the World Outstanding Chinese Award last year. Although Koo rarely talks about his non-acting work in public, and his ambition in supporting young Hong Kong talents were most widely observed when he gave a heartfelt speech to young actors at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
“If you work hard, do not give up and keep rolling, your talent will be recognized one day, and you will be nominated. This is the spirit of being a Hong Kong actor,” he said.