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Andy Lau and Hong Kong popular culture

In light of Andy Lau's recent horseback riding accident, I thought I'd write a post about why he's not just a huge celebrity, but the celebrity when it comes to Hong Kong popular culture. This is not meant to be an early eulogy in any way, and I'm fully aware that he only suffered a pelvic fracture and is otherwise pretty stable. But with news that he might not be able to work for a few months as part of the recovery process, this is pretty big stuff for someone who has time and again been given the title of hardest working man in Hong Kong. Either way, I've been wanting to write a piece about Andy Lau for a while now, so here goes.

The thing about Andy Lau is that he's not necessarily the best at anything when you put him up against his contemporaries from Hong Kong. When it comes to acting, Tony Leung easily takes the prize as I've previously stated. The singing award would have to go to Jacky Cheung, and even when it comes to performing live, Aaron Kwok might just come out on top because that guy can really move. But even though Andy Lau might not be the best at his game when you look at things in isolation, he doesn't need to be because Andy Lau isn't the kind of artist you associate with just one thing. He's known for everything, and he's damn good at everything.

And by everything, I don't just mean acting, singing or dancing. I'm talking about the whole gamut. From working up a crowd, doing press interviews, connecting with fans, to being an ambassador of the arts; everything that has to do with being a celebrity or artist, Andy Lau does it with class and genuine commitment. The idea of being an idol in the celebrity-crazed age that we live in continues to evolve, and what Andy Lau represents is something that isn't just a representation of, but also a product of Hong Kong's golden era popular culture. If you were an artist in Hong Kong back in the 1980s and 90s, you were expected to do more than one thing. Everyone was a multi-hyphenate, which invariably meant that you would often be judged by the public eye on things that weren't necessarily your forte. Like everyone else, Andy Lau conformed to this model of work, but didn't necessarily suffer from the same kind of reactive judgement. Again, he might not have been the best at all these things, but he was always great and you'd be hard pressed to criticize him for his work.

To be honest, things probably haven't changed too much nowadays with respect to the multi-hyphenate expectations, but the Hong Kong market is a bit too weak in terms of new talent for one to really make that call. In any case, Andy Lau's career as an artist is quite exceptional because he was able to steer through and align with the craziness of Hong Kong's popular culture with such precision and success. And perhaps more importantly, he continues to have a relatively scandal free image, which might be a bigger feat given the scale of his celebritism. When you think about it, it's ridiculous that the expectation by default is for one to be good at acting, dancing and singing. In other industries, this triple threat combination is something that is certainly applauded, but never expected right off the bat. But that's the way things were in Hong Kong. Everyone was forced to play this same game, but no one did it like Andy Lau.

Just as you would crown the likes of Humphrey Bogart or Audrey Hepburn as royalties of the Hollywood golden ages, Andy Lau is the king of Hong Kong's golden era. In fact, the era might be over, but he continues to rule by virtue of being who he is. I don't think anyone is certain about the future of Hong Kong's popular culture identity (among other much more pressing issues that the territory is facing), but I'm absolutely certain we won't get another celebrity like Andy Lau. Get well soon!

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