Unbeatable man of the hour

Unbeatable man of the hour

Nick Cheung is truly the man of the hour.

At the Hong Kong Film Awards held last Sunday night, the 46-year-old star was named Best Actor for his boxer role in sports drama Unbeatable, to much cheering from the rest of the stars and industry players seated in the auditorium.

Before he took the stage to collect the prize, many people left their seats and surged forward to hug and congratulate him. In his acceptance speech, he was effusive and funny, and no one minded that he went on and on and on.

In fact, every time his name was mentioned in passing throughout the rest of the night, the audience would loudly clap and whistle in support.

It is not hard to see why he is so popular: He is utterly winsome, sincere and goofy in real life, a far cry from those serious, brooding characters that he has come to be known for in his films of late, including the latest work, That Demon Within, a cop thriller in which he plays a ruthless criminal.

Work-wise, there is no denying his incredible talent as well as diligence. To convincingly portray an ex-champion boxer-turned-trainer in Dante Lam's Unbeatable, he made headlines for undergoing nine months of gruelling physical workouts to transform his usually thin frame to become a beefcake.

No wonder he feels particularly proud of that role, he says in an interview with Life! before the Hong Kong Film Awards.

"When I die, I'm going to take my Shanghai Film Festival Best Actor award for the role to my grave with me," he tells Life! before bursting into easy laughter.

"A lot of hard work went into that role, but I really wanted to do it because finally, I could do something different from a police movie for once."

So why is he back in not just one, but two cop movies this year?

That Demon Within opens in Singapore on Friday and action blockbuster Helios, in which he plays a counter- terrorism cop, opens at the end of the year.

"For That Demon Within, I agreed to do it because it's a cop movie that is so different from other cop films. It's a psychological drama and talks of inner demons, so that's interesting," he says between sips of hot tea.

What inner demons plague him in real life? Ever the charmer, he is ready with a series of quips. "I've always wanted to be the type of guy who has many girlfriends. But I have to keep that notion only in my head, and not put it into action," says Cheung in a self-deprecating manner that suggests he knows he is no heart-throb. He is married to actress wife Esther Kwan, 49, with whom he has an eight-year-old daughter.

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