Long-time collaborators Sean Lau Ching Wan and Louis Koo Tin Lok play a pair of firemen brothers trying to rescue people from a burning office tower in their new movie, Out Of Inferno.
The serious firefighting drama features many scenes of massive fires and the actors are not ashamed to admit that they felt "nervous" on the set when they had to do most of the stunts themselves.
The film's fire scenes are a combination of real footage of fire and computer- generated imagery. Reportedly, 70per cent of what is seen onscreen are real flames.
Koo, 42, says: "There were some scenes where the script said a stunt double would come in. But when we were about to start filming, we didn't see any stunt doubles, so we ended up having to do a lot of the action stuff on our own."
Lau, 49, adds: "Of course, if you're very scared, you can tell the directors and they will arrange for a double. But as two male actors, we just decided to keep that to ourselves and go in and do the stunts."
The film also stars Malaysian actress Lee Sinje, 37, who is married to the film's co-director Oxide Pang in real life.
Ask if there was any pressure acting opposite her and Koo, ever ready with a joke, says: "Even though she plays Ching Wan's wife, I ended up having a lot more scenes with her. And as soon as I knew that, I felt reassured, because the director will protect me from harm since he has to protect his wife, right?"
More seriously, Lau says: "Sinje is an excellent actress and she does not get any preferential treatment on the set. You don't even think about whether she's married to the director or not. You just do your part and she does hers."
Put the two actors together in the same room and some black humour is inevitable. Although they are here to promote the serious fire drama, they keep cracking jokes as though they were plugging a madcap comedy.
At the interview, Lau readily admits that he is "always goofing around only with Louis". Speaking in a mix of Mandarin and Cantonese, he adds: "I think it's because we've done many comedies together before, so we just naturally like to joke about things on set."
At this point, Koo gets visibly excited, and starts exclaiming that he has a "really good anecdote" to tell, except that he "must say it in Cantonese because I cannot express it as well in Mandarin".
It involves a scene in the film in which Koo's character fails a firefighting rehearsal and ends up letting two dummies burn.
Recalls the actor eagerly: "Ching Wan's line in the script should be something like, 'Look how burnt you've made them'. But while we were reading lines together before shooting, he broke out and said, 'Look, they are burnt until they look so yummy'.
"So when the cameras started rolling for real, I almost burst into laughter just thinking about what he had said before. Luckily, I managed to overcome it and didn't 'NG' (no-good take), but seriously, Ching Wan will be the death of me."
He adds: "Even though that scene ended up fine, there were many other times when I couldn't hold in my laughter. Ching Wan always likes to say something ridiculous right before we start filming."
The chemistry is apparent between the two actors, who have played a good number of strong, silent and cool guys on screen. With each other, however, they are sunny and relaxed, often completing each other's sentences.
Perhaps a bromance is inevitable - after all, they have worked a dozen times together: Since their first collaboration in the comedy La Brassiere (2001), they have gone on to co-star in a clutch of diverse films, from the colourful retro comedy Fantasia (2004) to gambling comedy Poker King (2009) to crime thriller Overheard (2009).
Their latest film, directed by the Pang twins Danny and Oxide, premiered in China on Monday to mixed reviews, but the actors' performances have been consistently given the thumbs-up.
One netizen wrote on Chinese film website movie.mtime.com: "These 'lao da dang' can transform themselves into any characters they are meant to play. They've co-starred so many times, but it never feels boring."
"Lao da dang" is Chinese for old partners.
Besides making light of the prospect of getting burnt, the two leading men wisecrack about their tanned skin: Lau has naturally dark skin, while Koo reportedly goes for tanning sessions to set himself apart from the usual fair-skinned idol.
Koo deadpans that their dark complexion gives the lighting departments on movie sets quite a headache.
"When the two of us are in a scene together, it's no problem because the lighting guys will just shine extra light on us. But when someone else comes into the picture, that's when it gets challenging.
"That's why all women who make movies with me look super pretty. The light makes them extra fair and it's almost like we're making a music video or something," he says with a laugh.
The two actors clearly get along, but are quick to point out that they have major differences too.
Lau, who is married to former actress Amy Kwok, 46, and has no children, says: "Louis is actually the more serious and calm one, and I'm more cheeky. We have very contrasting personalities."
He adds half-jokingly that compared with Koo's "workaholic" ways, he is more relaxed. "I don't like to overload myself with work. I need to go home and spend some time with my wife," says Lau.
"Though the funny thing is that, when I'm working in Hong Kong and go home after shoots, my wife and I have nothing much to talk about. When I'm filming in other places, we suddenly have to be texting and calling each other, and we have so much to talk about."
As for Koo's supposedly very hardworking lifestyle, there seems to be some evidence for it. The bachelor lets on that he is "so busy" with work, he does not even have time to undergo a simple Lasik surgery for his myopia.
He explains: "In the movie, I have to dive into the water and save some people, but that was really difficult because I wear contact lenses. Still, I had to bear it. I didn't go for Lasik surgery because you need about two weeks to rest your eyes afterwards, and I don't have two weeks of free time to do that."
In fact, neither he nor Lau has had time to watch their new film yet. "We've been promoting this movie for weeks now, but we never had the time to sit down at the premieres to watch the movie. We're always whisked away to our next event and destination," says Koo.
Hopefully, they will get the chance to catch it some time before they start the promotional rounds for upcoming crime thriller The White Storm which, once again, stars the two actors.
Directed by Benny Chan, the film, which also stars veteran actor Nick Cheung, is about three cop friends who try to bust a regional drug cartel. Lau plays the head of the investigative team and Koo, an undercover cop who infiltrates the drug business. It is slated for release in Singapore on Dec 5.
Lau says: "People like to see us in movies together. I can't tell you why we work well together. We just do."
Koo pipes up: "It makes sense for the both of us to be cast together often. In this industry, it's hard to find anyone else whose skin tone is as dark as mine."
Out Of Inferno opens in cinemas on Oct 3.
"I felt reassured, because the director will protect me from harm since he has to protect his wife, right?"
Actor Louis Koo on having no pressure working with actress Lee Sinje, wife of Out Of Inferno co-director Oxide Pang
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