May is the month of Aaron Kwok in Chinese movies.
The dancer-turned-singer-turned-actor stars in two of the month's major releases _ Gu Changwei's romance "Love for Life," and Oxide Pang's crime thriller "The Detective 2" _ and has earned rave reviews from both directors.
The 45-year-old Hong Kong entertainer's versatile performances in two closely timed releases are testimony to his transformation from pop idol to respected actor following surprise best actor wins at Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards _ the Chinese equivalent of the Oscars _ in 2005 and 2006.
In "Love for Life," which will be released in mainland China on May 10, Kwok plays a Chinese villager who falls in love with an ostracized AIDS patient played by "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" star Zhang Ziyi. Promoting the movie in Hong Kong in March, director Gu, who started his career as a cinematographer for famed Chinese filmmakers Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, marveled at how convincingly Kwok portrayed a down-to-earth Chinese villager despite his idol good looks.
"The Detective 2," which was released in China on April 30, sees Kwok revisit his role in the 2007 original as a goofy, untalented but super-eager Thai-Chinese private investigator.
At the movie's Hong Kong premiere late Wednesday, director Pang, the older of the Pang twin brothers of horror film fame, said Kwok's growth as an actor was obvious.
"I think everyone has seen his evolution and hard work in the past five years," Pang told The Associated Press. He added he thought Kwok's twin releases in May were a watershed for the actor-singer and good reviews would be big boost for Kwok.
"It will show to audiences that an actor can handle two contrasting roles at the same time," Pang said.
The Thai-Chinese director said by casting Kwok as Tam, a failed police recruit who becomes a small-time detective solving crimes by sheer doggedness, he wanted to bring out the actor's quick wit and humor.
Co-star, veteran Hong Kong actor Liu Kai-chi said, "I think he (Kwok) captured his character just right. This is a clear break from his past performances."
Kwok told the AP he thought the "Detective" films brought a fresh look to Hong Kong movies by using a foreign setting of run-down Thai buildings, roadside food stalls and Thai music.
He said he enjoyed mastering the different aspects of Tam's character.
"He is the small-timer of small-timers. He is someone you would see among your neighbors. He is not a hero, but he is determined to find the truth. He is also very curious. He is also a funny guy," Kwok said.
Kwok said movies are his priority now but added he constantly tours as a singer and will kick off a new concert series in Hong Kong at the end of the year.