Age has been kind to Aaron Kwok. Just turned 55, sitting opposite us and looking immaculate as always, he could easily pass for a man almost half his years.
His slicked-back hair is dark and luxuriant, his face appears bereft of all but the smallest lines and his bespoke three-piece suit perfectly fits a trim frame that’s resulted from a rigorous daily training schedule, not to mention minding his diet just as carefully. Although a neat goatee adds a rakish, vaguely piratical edge to his appearance, the dancer-turned-singer-turned-actor is affable, friendly and easily approachable, and he’s evidently relishing life in its prime – not to mention the fruits that have accumulated from his long stint at the top of Hong Kong’s entertainment industry.
In spite of Covid, and the semi-lockdowns and quarantines that have kept most Hong Kongers confined to base – and very often at home – 2020 has been relatively busy for him. Although interrupted for a time in mid-year, shooting for Kwok’s latest movie, the Wong Hing-fan directed action-drama Disconnect’d, wrapped in October and is now in post-production. Last May, he starred in his own online charity concert, Cheer Up & Dance, to raise funds for artists and behind-the-scenes workers affected by the pandemic, as well as brighten up lives across the city. Live-streamed on social-media channels, the concert was co-hosted by the artist’s own Aaron Kwok Love and Concern Charity Fund, which remains one of his passions, along with his young family and a predilection for fast cars.
These days, he says that acting takes up most of his time: “In terms of work, I’d say 70 percent is acting and 30 percent is concerts. You can’t do a world concert tour for an entire year and do nothing else – concerts are more short-term, whereas filming takes more time. But I love all of it – and I find it very hard to choose which I prefer.”
Of course, it was as a dancer that Kwok made his mark in the mid-to-late ’80s. Like many teenagers, he gravitated towards sport and dancing – the usual line is that he was inspired by Michael Jackson, who in the early ’80s had reached a peak of creativity and artistry. “Most young people love to dance and play sport,” Kwok says. “and when I was 17 or 18 years old, I went on a boat trip with friends and we were challenging each other to see who could jump-kick the highest. Although I won, I also injured myself, so I had to take time off from the jewellery company where I was working. After I was dismissed from my job, I teamed up with a friend who was applying for a dancer-training course at TVB and I was accepted. That’s how I became a professional dancer and started out on my journey that eventually led to acting.”
“Charity is something I’ll never stop doing –Helping others makes me really happy”Aaron Kwok
Kwok’s recent charity show demonstrated how dance remains a key element of his live performances. So how does he describe the Aaron Kwok style? “My dancing is very diverse,” he says, “and not just a single style. When I started training as a dancer, we learned all styles – tap, modern, waltz, ballroom, jazz, etcetera – as a base. I even had to do ‘art dance’. But that’s how I can transition between these classical styles to hip hop and other, more funky things. I’ve even incorporated Chinese dance into my routines and concerts. It makes my performances more substantial, and I think that audiences really appreciate it.
I don’t really consider myself a hip-hop dancer, though it’s trending now and I really like it.” Kwok’s development into an all-round entertainer, which in the Hong Kong entertainment industry seems almost a natural progression, was rapid. As he puts it, “I learned so much during my years as a professional dancer at TVB, and I was soon transferred to the acting department of the talent-training course to appear in TVB dramas. In 1990, because of the instant popularity generated by my appearance in a motorcycle TV commercial in Taiwan, I was invited to become a singer.”
Released in 1990, his Mandarin-language debut Loving You Need Never Stop was the first of a slew of album releases over the next five years that helped elevate Kwok to the ranks of Hong Kong’s – indeed Asia’s – leading pop singers, alongside Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai and Andy Lau, who soon became known as the Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop. By 1991 he’d won his first industry accolades, a silver award in the Jade Solid Gold Best Ten Music Awards and gold for Best New Prospect in the RTHK Top 10 Gold Songs Awards.
Despite his recognised abilities on the dance floor and as a singer, Kwok feels his biggest career breakthrough was in making the move into acting. “You need a good two or three years to make that transition,” he says. “You also need to find a good director, at the right time. I’m still a singer and dancer, and I still love performing on stage, though I think you shouldn’t pigeonhole yourself into a single category. Instead, you should develop all aspects of performance.
“Performing concerts every two years is really fulfilling, because each time there’s a different theme and audience. Every time I play at the Hong Kong Coliseum the feeling the audience gives me is different from the one before, and especially when I improvise. Compared to concert tours, making films is another kind of challenge, because you have to morph into a new character for each one.”
Although Kwok made his first acting appearance in the 1987 TVB drama series The Rise of Genghis Khan and featured on the big screen a year later, a standout role for him was in the 1996 crime series Wars of Bribery, also for TVB, in which he played an ICAC investigator. Recognition for his talent as a screen actor was confirmed in 2005 when he was voted Best Leading Actor in the Golden Horse Awards for his role in the crime drama Divergence, a performance that also netted him a Best Actor nomination in the Hong Kong Film Awards the same year. The following year he won a second Golden Horse Best Leading Actor award after starring in the hit drama After This Our Exile, becoming only the second person to do so consecutively, though he had to wait until 2016 to net his first Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actor title, this time for his role in the Philip Young-directed crime thriller Port of Call.
The importance of accolades such as these isn’t lost on Kwok. In fact, he says, “The happiest moments of my career have been when I’ve received awards, because that means you and your work have gained recognition.”
“I love what I do,” he adds, “and I’m very happy that I’ve been able to make it in my career. I’m also grateful that my hard work and dedication have been recognised, not only by my fans but also through the awards I’ve received. If you ask me which were the most honourable and memorable awards I’ve received so far, I’d say they were the Golden Horse Awards in 2005 and 2006. Another highlight of my acting career would be when I won the Best Actor Award at the 35th Hong Kong Film Awards in 2016. To able to win consecutive Best Leading Actor awards in Taiwan and to win the most important acting award in my hometown meant a great deal to me.”
Aside from his achievements on stage and screen, Kwok is almost as well known for his passion for fast cars and motorsport, which, thanks to his show-business success, he’s been able to indulge to the fullest. “I’ve loved cars since I was young,” he says. “I think it was the speed and the sleek lines of the cars that attracted me most. They’re more like works of art to me, extremely beautiful, especially limited- edition models.
“After I began making my own way financially, with proper savings and wise financial planning, I became interested in investing and collecting limited-edition cars, just like some people collect fine art. I appreciate them in the same way, and because the potential for appreciation is high, I think it’s not only a very good hobby but also an investment.” His large collection of cars famously includes several Ferraris – an F50, an Enzo and a track only FXX-K hypercar – a McLaren Senna, and several Lamborghinis and Porsches. But pride of place in the Kwok garage would probably go to his black Pagani Zonda 760 “King”, which he had the factory rebuild for him with a significant power boost and full carbon-fibre bodywork – a truly unique car.
He took part in his first car race two decades ago, when he drove in a Formula Renault event on the famed Monza circuit in Italy. For several years he was a regular competitor in Asia – in fact, we first met him at the Shanghai racing circuit on his 48th birthday when, with the kind of gift that only a privileged few can enjoy, he was competing at the wheel of an R8 car for the official Hong Kong works team in the China Audi LMS Series. Kwok says that motorsport works for him as a stress reliever: “I really enjoy it and I’ve been racing as an amateur for years. But I’ve been so busy recently that I haven’t had the time. I hope, given the chance, that I can get back into it before long.”
Over the years, he’s also served as an ambassador for several luxury brands, from men’s fashion to watches. His most recent tie-up, however, is through a widely screened commercial in Hong Kong in which he appears as a spokesman for HSBC Jade’s financial services for high-net- worth customers – and as he’s a long-standing client of the bank for more than 30 years, Kwok feels this enables him to voice out truthfully. The commercial also highlights his enthusiasm for motor racing, which he thinks has more similarities with investing than might be imagined.
“Racing and investing both rely on accurate data analysis to support decisions and reduce risks,” he says. “There’s also the matter of trust, whether it’s with the crew in your racing team or your relationship manager at the bank – you trust your team to make the best preparations before a race, so all you have to do when you’re driving is to focus and do your best.
“It’s similar to my relationship manager at HSBC Jade. She’s worked with me for nine years and we often share stories with each other, just as friends would. Whenever I need support and wherever I am, she’s always keen to offer the best service, and I’m confident she’s taking the best possible care of my account and my investments.”
Kwok clearly took his role in the commercial as seriously as he would any other. “I was heavily involved in the planning stages,” he says. “We were in a meeting, and the director and production team had a lot of ideas relating to cars. So I said to them, since there are so many connections between car collecting and investment, why don’t we use a real car in the commercial? Not just any car, but a functioning race car. There’s this limited-edition model and there are only 10 of them in the world – and I’m lucky to be one of the owners myself. So I said to them, let’s use this type of car. The director, production team and HSBC all loved the idea – and I think my recommendation wasn’t a bad one either! To add to the authenticity we also featured my helmet, which has been specially designed to match the car.”
“Performing concerts every two years is really fulfilling, because each time there’s a different theme and audience”Aaron Kwok
As to his film and music careers, Kwok says he’s “filming a movie in Guangzhou about a father who works in a sugar refinery and has to take on a special identity to protect his daughter. It’s a very touching movie. After that, I’ll be back in Hong Kong to make another film, which will be about commercial crime, and then I’ll consider doing a world concert tour.”
Since marrying in 2017, Kwok has become the proud father of two daughters, and though the pandemic hasn’t forced him to stop working, at least it’s given him an opportunity to catch up with them, as well as other projects that are important to him. “The pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives, and I had to suspend some work too,” he says. “However, it also gave me the time for my mini charity concert in Harbour City, which was really meaningful for me. That’s something I’ll never stop doing – helping others makes me really happy. And, of course, I’ve been able to spend more time with my family, and to watch my two little girls as they grow.”
Reflecting on his career, which has lasted the best part of three-and-a-half decades, Kwok says he could never have dreamed of the success he’s enjoyed. “Could any young man predict that he’d be able to go down that road? That would be impossible.”
“If you want to enter the performing-arts industry,” he says, “first, you must have the opportunity. And after gaining admission to that circle, then you’ll have to work very hard – and with some luck, you’ll get the opportunity to perform. And even then, you’ll still have to work very hard before you can reach this level.”
Judging from the man himself, that hard work has brought more rewards than he could ever have imagined.
Story: Jon Wall
Art direction: Sepfry Ng
Photography: Ricky Lo
Photography assistant: Alston Chan, Jason Li, Kelvin Kim, Chung Sun
Location: HSBC Jade Centre, Hong Kong
This story first appeared on Prestige Online Hong Kong.