You probably won’t associate Mandopop singer Jay Chou with the likes of Donnie Yen or Jackie Chan, but that’s exactly the surprise the man hopes to give his fans with the release of his latest movie ‘The Viral Factor’. Not only did the 33-year-old Jay crop his hair short to adopt a grittier look for the movie, he also decided to risk life and limb together with his co-star Nicholas Tse and perform all the stunts in the movie by himself.

That’s right- despite lacking the training and experience of most action stars, Jay was determined to be right there jumping off buildings, engaging in close-contact fist fights and hijacking a helicopter in midair. “I’m always looking for new experiences and new breakthroughs whether in my singing or my acting career- and so when I was approached to do this action movie, I took the leap straightaway,” he said.

At a press conference in town to promote the opening of his movie together with acclaimed action director Dante Lam, the cooler-than-thou star commented that it was nothing less than a memorable experience every step of the way. Indeed, how could it be not when, as Jay revealed, the difference between a right and wrong stunt execution also meant a difference between life and death.

Asked which scene still gave him the cold feet to this day, Jay did not hesitate to point out that it was the one where he had to jump from one air-conditioning unit to another to get down from the roof of a 7-storey building. He said: “I was never afraid of heights as a child, but after I finished filming that scene, I think I realised what it was like to have acrophobia!” (and before you dismiss his claim as mere exaggeration, we’d advise you catch the movie in the cinema first and reserve your comments for later).

Nonetheless, it wasn’t because of personal vanity that Jay took up the challenge. One of the reasons he took on the film was also because he had seen and heard many good things about Dante Lam, who had in recent years established himself as one of the foremost directors in the Hong Kong film industry. “I was very impressed with Dante’s work,” he said. “I knew that if I was going to make an action movie, I better be making it with one of the best persons you could ever find to do it and I was prepared to give it my all.”

His hard work has definitely not been for naught. When asked what he thought of Jay’s maiden turn as an action hero, Dante praised Jay for being ‘very brave’ especially since he had no prior experience. Said Dante: “Take for instance when filming a hand-to-hand close-combat fight sequence, experienced actors will know how to control their force and exert just enough to make it look real onscreen- but because Jay did not have the benefit of experience, I could tell that he was really putting his every muscle into each punch.”

Despite giving his all, there was little macho glory that Jay could exude in the film. “Dante wanted the film to be as realistic as possible, so he was very strict about how we held our guns,” said Jay. “He didn’t allow us to hold our weapons with only one hand, or sideways, and he would always remind us to aim before we shoot.” Fans therefore looking for Jay to strike some cool iconic pose in the movie have therefore be warned to put such expectations aside, since there would be none of that posturing often associated with action movies.

That however did not faze Jay, who added that he was less concerned about his own image than about that of his onscreen character when acting. He also hopes that by trying out new roles, he will let his fans see a more multi-faceted Jay. “Whether the more mature Jay you see in ‘Viral Factor’, or the more childlike Jay portrayed in my most recent MVs, they are ultimately just two sides of the same person- and I hope that such contrasts will allow people to recognise my versatile nature.”

Still, the praise he has received for his dramatic turn in the movie has not changed his plans to take a break from action movies for a while- if anything, Jay is now aware of the hard work that goes into filming such movies. He hopes too that the movie would ultimately prove to his family- whom he had not told he was going to take on such a dangerous endeavour- that his effort was worth the risks he endured.

“I hope that if Dante films a sequel to this movie, I’ll have the chance to be in it again,” he added. “After what I’ve seen in ‘The Viral Factor’, I think what I may have to go through would still be worth it in the end.” 

Text and photos by Gabriel Chong

Thinking Big: How Dante Lam conceptualised 'The Viral Factor'