Sunday, June 25, 2006

I am Master Kwok - Derek Kok

[3 Weekly - Issue 350 - 24/06/06]

In showbiz, there are many names that make people think. They think about where they have heard the name before and have seen the person somewhere, but they never matched the face to the name's rightful owner.

The worst situation is where the characters that this person has played are just referred to as something like 'the brother of the girl that the protagonist picked up in a bar during the third episode'.

Fortunately for Derek Kok, these worst days are over now and when you mention Derek's name now, then even though you still need to attach that he was Lap Lan Jing Kwong in "Real Kung Fu" or Pong Ban in "Lethal Weapons of Love and Passion", but at least now in the eyes of the audience, he has been labelled as 'The Greatest Fighter'.

"The series that brought me the greatest acceptance of my acting skills was 'Lethal', especially in the mainland. Although I was still the 'best fighter' in the show, the crew acknowledged my acting skills and introduced a love story for my character with Sonija Kwok, which did wonders for my popularity in China."

The superstrong hero character and great Southern Fist fighter that lives in the hearts of the Hong Kong audience was given a softer touch for the mainland audience and he has gained an element of gentleness in his image now. This strong, but gentle man image has won Derek many fans.

As for 'plenty of girls', Derek has his fair share of groupies as even the secretaries in the company have described him as being cute. You really do have to bow down to him and call him "Master Kwok", before learning a few moves from him, but more importantly, some skills on how to charm the ladies.

Arranging for an interview with Derek has taken over two months, as he has been filming for "Tai Chi Master" in Kun Ming and Shanghai. After filming was delayed and the originally arranged date was postponed again, he was full of apologies on the phone. Just as hope for it taking place began to fade, the date was finally confirmed.

To show his sincerity and his apologies, Derek brought along his newly-made lionhead for the shoot, bringing some colour to the crisps, drinks and office equipment that had been prepared and more in line with his martial arts background.

"As a martial artist, I have wanted to have a lionhead made for a while, one of my very own. This lionhead cost me over $3000 to make to have made and there is the 'Kwok'character on the forehead. Together with me, the photos should come out great."

Derek was very careful with his lionhead as he took it in and out of the elevator, but he gave even greater care and respect to the interview, arranging each step carefully, from leaving his home to transportation to arrival at the studio, he had made precise arrangements with his friends and family to help him out.

"I know you called me several times, so to show my sincerity, I gave it a little thought and effort."

If you respect me a foot, I will respect you a league - this is the principle of the martial arts world and this is definitely the motto of this 'Southern Fist King'.

"You are mistaken,I am merely a student of Southern Fist and by no means a 'king'. My master is the expert from Guangdong - maybe it is a misunderstanding among the mainland audiences."

Twenty years ago, Derek appeared in "The Grand Canal", where he played Lee Yuen Ba, the rather innocent younger brother of Sean Lau's Lee Sai Man, wielding his 'Wolf Teeth Club'. Over the years, we have watched him in countless fighter roles, finally making his break and being noticed for his role in "Journey to the West II" as the 'Hollow-armed Monkey'. His acting talent emerged as the scheming manager Law in 'A Country Spirit' and the larger roles continued, such as the 14th Prince in "King of Yesterday and Tomorrow", Pong Ban in "Lethal Weapons of Love and Passion", Lap Lan Jing Kwong in "Real Kung Fu" and the Thai Boxing Lawyer Mark in "Revolving Doors of Vengeance". His hard work is finally paying off and this gives him a lot of encouragement, but who would have imagiined that Derek's achievements originated from the same stage as Alex To and Leon Lai in the 'New Talent Singing Contest'?

"I have been in the industry now for over twenty years. I used to be a stunt double at ATV and a colleague suggested to me: 'Hung Jai, you should try and become an actor.' I didn't think anything of it, but ended up applying for the New Talent Singing Contest instead. The Japanese trend was at its peak at the time and I copied Koji Kikkawa's backflip during the performance and managed to get into the final. I didn't win, but I was spotted by a director and in 1985, I had a part in the film "Piggy on the Beat" together with Kathy Chow (Hoi Mei) and Lee Ka Sing. At the time, Kathy passed me a form for the TVB acting class, telling me to fill it in and she would pass it in for me. I joined TVB and Kathy became my 'saviour', but she has probably forgotten about this completely."

Kathy herself probably thought nothing of the incident, but Derek is a man who does not forget people who have done him favours.

Derek's achievements of the past few years has not gone unnoticed and even Hollywood superstar Chow Yun Fat has commented on how exciting his performance was in the 'Peach Garden Duel' from "Real Kung Fu" opposite Leung Kar Yan, dubbing it as a highlight of television programmes in recent years.

"Did you watch it?" Derek asks excitedly. "The story tells of Lap Lan Jing Kwong challenging Leung Yee Tai to a duel in the Peach Blossom Garden and a mixture of dialogue and action took the scene to over ten minutes. When my friends watched it, they said that it was even better than the ending fight scene against Yuen Biao and Chow Yun Fat commented in a media interview that this scene reached international standards."

Derek himself says he is most satisfied with the tragic love story from "Lethal Weapons of Love and Passion" between his character and Sonija Kwok and his most memorable scene was the Peach Garden Duel from "Real Kung Fu" with Leung Kar Yan. So what expectations does he have for his forthcoming series "Tai Chi", for which he has been sparring with true experts for the past three months?

"'Tai Chi' is another faultless masterpiece and again I am the greatest fighter, who challenges the Tai Chi master Lau Siu Ming, but loses by half a maneovre to him in order to learn even greater skills from him. When Lau's character dies, he loses heart and pulls out of the martial world, but his brother, played by Al Wai, causes the death of his beloved Yoyo Chan and in the end, I am forced to return to force out Vincent Zhao's potential and have a great fight against him in the finale."

As Derek describes this, his hand gestures and enthusiasm is animated and without disturbance, he continues to describe his experience of duelling against true expert Vincent Zhao.

"Everyone knows that Vincent is the Chinese Martial Arts national champion. He has a very good memory and a very deep foundation and in my years of filming, it is very rare to meet and work opposite a truly top expert such as him. Before filming, I was full of admiration for him and hoped to create some chemistry with him, enjoying the experience of sparring with him as we filmed together.

"However, my main skill is in Hung Kune, which is about stability and short range, whereas he is a master of Tai Chi and through fist, so it was difficult to learn very much from him during filming. Working with Vincent was a very happy experience and I was able to learn from his constant desire to use his brain and his bold personality."

In my eyes, to be able to carry out the action of 'Meet a Hero, Admire a Hero', apart from the heroes of Jin Yong's novels such as Kiu Fung and Kwok Jing, there is also Derek.

If you open up the internet, you will find that there are quite a number of fan clubs set up by Derek's female fans.

"Like I said before, Pong Ban's influence has gained a lot of points with the fans in the mainland."

In reality though, it has been heard early on that Derek is somewhat of a loving fellow...

"I know, when I was filming for advertisements in the mainland earlier, I would 'report' back [to my wife]. This is just a gesture of respect, doing something instinctively that makes us both feel comfortable and that is what keeps the longevity of a relationship."

Seeing this sense of seriousness in Derek, then how can you joke about his relationship with his wife Lee Yan Wing. Maybe it is this lovingness that has allowed him to break ouside of the stereotypes in series such as "Revolving Doors of Vengeance" and the recently filming "Housewife Army" to play roles where he is totally dedicated to his lover or his wife.

"I must thank the company again for giving me the opportunity in 'Lethal Weapons of Love and Passion', because it was this performance that led other producers to give me more emotive roles. Even in 'La Femme Desperado', I was given the chance to play Sheren Tang's ex-lover and you have to admit that in my recent modern series, I have been playing professionals - do you think I really look so smart?"

It's not about being smart, it's just that you fight well and love deep and from the sincerity that he shows in this interview, it is obviously down to his total professionalism. That spirit will not only bring you professional roles, but would be great as a role model or teacher for the artistes of today.

To know Derek is good fortune.

Twenty years ago in the artistes class, Derek was classmates with Gilbert Lam and the two are still very good friends. Even when out in Shanghai, they still kept in touch and arranged to meet up in a private place to watch the World Cup together.

To meet Derek is a tragedy.

In his heart, he only has eyes for his wife, Yan Wing, who he married in 2003. They often go for romantic meals near their home, so to meet him now, find out his good points and even fall in love with him would only be a waste of your emotions.

Don't believe me? When he helped the photographer to move the television set, the lion head, the documents - he didn't bat an eyelid, but when the female model's hands moved from his shoulders towards his chest, then he immediately sprang away.

This Jing Hung is no longer a 'ying hung' (hero) when he is in the presence of his wife.

Translation by Em
3 Weekly: http://www.3weekly.com/share//threeweekly/0350/ent/20060624ent0082/content.htm

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