For the record, it has been nine years since Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng teamed up for a movie – that was ‘Yesterday Once More’ back in 2004, which incidentally was written and directed by ‘Blind Detective’s’ creative team of Johnnie To and Wai Kar Fai. Dubbed Hong Kong’s golden screen couple, Andy and Sammi were responsible for some of the most successful rom-coms in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including the To-Wai films ‘Needing You’ and ‘Love on a Diet’.
So there is palpable anticipation for ‘Blind Detective’, which has been described as a cross between a rom-com and an investigative procedural, both genres of which To and Wai have dabbled in successfully. It is also the reason why Andy and Sammi have finally decided to collaborate once again after almost a decade – notwithstanding the fact that Sammi took a five year hiatus from acting to focus on her personal pursuits.
“It’s not that we got tired of each other,” clarifies Andy. “We have just been looking for the right opportunity to work together again.” Adds Sammi: “When we read this screenplay by Wai Kar Fai, we immediately saw that opportunity. It’s similar yet different to what we have done before; in particular, there are shades of the dynamics between our characters in ‘Needing You’ and ‘Love on a Diet’, and yet it feels fresh and exciting.”
That feeling is mutual – Andy also shares that he took to the character as he saw it as a challenging step forward for him as an actor, playing a blind detective Johnston whose method of solving crimes is to re-enact the scene and project himself into the mind of the people involved. In fact, he and To both wanted his character in ‘Blind Detective’ to be different from any other role he had played before.
To get into the psyche of his character, Andy spent six weeks at a centre for the blind to get to know their thoughts and feelings. It was through this period of interaction that he wanted to project a character who would in all other respects resemble any other normal person – in his words, Johnston was like most other blind people, who did not want the world to see and define them by their disability.
Although it isn’t as apparent, Sammi says that her role as Johnston’s partner - a junior squad cop named Tung - was no less challenging for her. In fact, she gets more fired up than usual countering the perception that acting the part was as easygoing as the movie looks.
“Contrary to what some may think, it’s not easy to film a rom-com! You actually do require a lot of energy and commitment to the role as well,” she says. “Particularly for this role, it wasn’t just emotionally demanding but also physically so.” She isn’t kidding about the physicality though - given Johnston’s propensity to re-enact a crime scene as part of his deductive process, she gets hit on the head with a hammer (thankfully with a helmet on) and even gets kicked down a flight of stairs in her pyjamas.
While Andy was not subject to such physical demands, both Andy and Sammi had to bring a lot of energy to the set. Andy explains that Johnnie To wanted his character to be high-strung in many scenes, which for Sammi meant that she too had to match her co-star’s emotional level most of the time. “To be able to sustain that level of energy means I had to really learn to let myself go, and that was quite a new experience for me as an actress,” she says.
Andy however had a role model to follow in director To. He reveals that watching Johnnie To on the set was one way in which he prepared to get into character. “To has very similar emotional ups and downs as Johnston,” says Andy. “One moment you’ll hear him raising his voice at someone at one corner of the set; and the next, he’ll be next to you explaining a scene to you nicely.” In fact, Andy goes so far as to describe his portrayal of Johnston as a blind version of Johnnie To.
But it takes two to tango, and Andy says he is very fortunate to have Sammi as his other half. Ever polite and politically correct, he refuses to say which actress he’s enjoyed working with the most over the course of his career; instead, he qualifies that he has had different types of chemistry with different actresses over the course of his journey as an actor. He is however prepared to state that Sammi is by far the best pairing he could ever wish for in a rom-com.
The years since their last collaboration have also changed the nature of their relationship. Where once he used to regard Sammi as a very good colleague, he now sees her as a very close friend. Ditto for Sammi, who confesses that she used to admire him more as a colleague for his acting achievements, but now sees a kind-hearted and generous person in him which she counts very lucky to be able to collaborate with.
While fans might lament their time apart, Andy says that ‘Blind Detective’ comes at a perfect time in their respective lives. For one, both Andy and Sammi were in good physical shape during filming - Andy having just completed his concert tour; and Sammi in the midst of preparing for hers. For another, both of them had gone through their own ups and downs in life, which in turn led them to a better state of composure to immerse themselves into their characters.
“You need to be on your best if you’re going to work with Johnnie To,” says Andy. “Because once you step on his set, you will realise that he expects nothing less.” Both Andy and Sammi are hopeful that audiences will therefore recognise their effort especially in taking on somewhat different types of roles in this movie from that which one might expect them to in a conventional rom-com.
Up close and personal, there’s no denying the chemistry between Andy and Sammi as they share a comfortable rapport with each other echoing each other’s thoughts or finishing the other’s sentences. And now that they have finally teamed up once more, let’s hope that it won’t take another nine years before they make another movie together again.
Text by Gabriel Chong | Photos by Linus Tee