Can you believe that it has been 13 years since Chow Yun Fat has acted in a film directed by a filmmaker born and bred in Hong Kong? Indeed, ‘The Last Tycoon’ would be his first since ‘Peace Hotel’ back in 1995, the years since spent middling in mediocre Hollywood flicks like ‘The Replacement Killers’ and ‘Dragonball: Evolution’ before the promise and paycheck of the burgeoning Mainland Chinese film industry (e.g. ‘Confucius’ and ‘The Assassins’ lured him back to Asia.

Directed by and co-written by Wong Jing, ‘Tycoon’ has Fat-gor reunited with the man behind his 1989 box-office hit ‘God of Gamblers’ and its 1994 sequel ‘God of Gamblers’ Return’. It wasn’t just Wong Jing alone that lured Fat-gor to agree to star in the movie,  producer and cinematographer Andrew Lau was also instrumental in that process – but first both Wong Jing and Andrew Lau had to convince him that his role in ‘Tycoon’ would be different from his iconic role as Hui Man-keung in the classic TVB series ‘The Bund’. 

“They explained to me that it was an entirely different role from that I had done before,” says Chow, looking just as boyishly handsome as before – albeit with a slightly pudgier face – at the world premiere of his movie in Singapore. “Of course, I was also very familiar with both Wong Jing and Andrew Lau, and I was really looking forward to the opportunity to work with them,” he adds. “We were very comfortable with one another on set, so whenever I had any ideas about my character or about a scene, I would just raise it up with them and we would discuss it very openly.”

Turning 57 this year, Chow looks at least 20 years younger and despite his status as an international star, shows none of the airs you would associate with someone of his stature. Instead, he is humility personified, and to your most pleasant surprise, has a killer sense of humour (pun intended).

“I learn something from every actor and actress that I work with, whether or not they are young or old, new or experienced,” he says, referring to the experience he had on the set of ‘Tycoon’ against a cast of relative newbies from Mainland China - including Yolanda Yuen and Joyce Feng, both of whom play the same girl in the movie twenty years apart that Fat-gor’s character Cheng Daqi is smitten with. 

Left: Yolanda Yuen

In turn, both Yolanda and Joyce are in praise and awe of having the opportunity to act beside Fat-gor. “I would never have expected the opportunity just coming out of acting school to be able to star in a movie next to Chow Yun Fat,” says Joyce, “So this is really a dream come true for me”.

Yolanda says, “At first, I was quite nervous about meeting Chow Yun Fat. After all, he’s such a big star! But he really has this way of bringing you into the scene with him, and once the cameras start rolling, you really just concentrate on getting the scene right.” She adds, “When we take a break from filming, Chow Yun Fat always takes the opportunity to help everyone around him relax.” 

Newcomer Joyce Feng

It’s not hard to imagine that – indeed, Fat-gor proved to be quite the joker at the press conference as well, breaking up the somewhat chilly atmosphere at the start with his witty quips. Alluding to the love triangle his character gets into in the movie, Fat-gor responds to the question what love means to him in real life by playfully hinting that there are many different kinds and types of love.

“The love that I have towards my fellow actors is different from the love that I share with you,” Fat-gor replies, looking directly at the reporter who asked him that question. “And then there’s also the love between my wife and I, which of course is special and unique in itself, and something that only my wife and I need to understand.”

Ditto for when Fat-gor is asked what the most exciting thing was for him about filming this movie. “The explosions of course, because I never felt such heat in close proximity before,” he says, before adding with a teasing smile, “Not that the intimate scenes with Yolanda weren’t quite ‘hot’ in themselves!”

Not every actor has the same luxury as Fat-gor in joking about such matters – for a star blessed with such good looks, his personal life has been surprisingly squeaky clean, and despite some reportedly tenuous relations between his Singaporean wife and his mother, the actor has remained steadfastly devoted in what is his second marriage. In fact, his wife was often on the set when filming was going on as well – if Fat-gor was the godfather, then she was the godmother who also personally cooked for some of the cast and crew.

Besides Fat-gor’s jokes and his wife’s cooking, there was also apparently plenty of drink to go around – thanks to Andrew Lau and Wong Jing. “It wasn’t stressful at all on the set,” Fat-gor says, “I think we all had a great time working together.” So great that he is all ready to sign onto the sequel if it is greenlit. “This time, I hope that Wong Jing will let me shoot a scene where I am holding one gun in each hand!”

From left to right: Xie Baoqing, Yolanda Yuen, Chow Yun Fat, Joyce Feng and Gao Hu

And with ‘Tycoon’, it looks like Fat-gor will be spending more time lending his star power to the fledgling Hong Kong film industry. Unconfirmed reports already have him starring in a crime film with Nicholas Tse to be written and directed by Wong Jing; and further rumours also mention a possible return for Fat-gor into the TVB fold, with guest appearances in a mega-TVB drama that Wong Jing and Eric Tsang are trying to make happen.

To fans of the icon who defined Hong Kong action movies with his charisma and cool, this return to the Bund with ‘Tycoon’ is indeed paving the way for something truly grand indeed – Fat-gor’s glorious return to Hong Kong at a time when the industry seeks a much-awaited return to its glorious heydays.

Text by Gabriel Chong; Photos by Linus Tee

Read also our interview with director Wong Jing and Andrew Lau here. 

THE LAST TYCOON opens January 3, 2013 and is reviewed here.