NYAFF : Vital Signs : Press Conference with Hong Kong Actor Louis Koo

NYAFF : Vital Signs : Press Conference with Hong Kong Actor Louis Koo

Synopsis : Ma (Louis Koo) is the “Dirty Harry” of Hong Kong paramedics. He brazenly breaks the rules in order to save lives, no matter the cost to his own career.

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His new overachieving subordinate, who is being groomed for greatness, naively follows protocol, and his overly sympathetic heart, to a fault. This buddy mentor-mentee story is imbued with pathos set against the backdrop of harrowing thrill-a-minute emergency rescue operations. Koo shines as the stoic yet soft-hearted ambulanceman supreme, who must face his own painful past while literally breaking his back to provide a good future for his charmingly precocious young daughter. Add to the mix insightful social commentary about the plight of emigrants both to and from Hong Kong, along with a little star-crossed romance, and you have a thrilling human drama that sets out to preserve hearts and minds alike.

Director: Cheuk Wan-chi
Producer: Jacqueline Liu
Cast: Louis Koo, Yau Hawk-sau, Angela Yuen
Languages: Cantonese with English subtitles
2023; 100 min.
Press Conference with Actor Louis Koo on “Vital Signs” 

Q: Since you are here with us, talk about what’s on your agenda currently?

Louis Koo: What’s currently on the docket regarding making a film now is one by a protege of the late Benny Chan, the famous Hong Kong director [who died at 58 in August, 2020]. It will be actually this young film director’s first film and it’s an action film. There are police and also many, many thugs. It took seven years in preparation, partly because of the pandemic. So this is the current project on hand.

Q: You’re not only an outstanding actor, you also have the One Cool Group which is actually your film studio. What are the plans for it and what do you want to do? Also, there already has been international collaborations between one group as well as with various studios — we just want to know what the plans are.

Louis Koo: Indeed, they just finished “Garfield” [a 2024 animated feature] and that should actually be landing and released worldwide next year. The idea is to find new directions for Hong Kong film [industry] also for film in general to find new directions and new ways of actually expanding the industry, as well as the business, as well as the audience.

Q: Since “Vital Signs” will have its US premiere tonight, we just want to know are there any hints or pointers you can mention?

Louis Koo: Our director has a great answer which is: “Please watch these really wonderful actors in this film.” They include an eight-year-old girl. There’s also Liu Yang who is a young up-and-coming Hong Kong film actor. You will see, of course, who is coming there as well — a very good up-and-comer of the new generation of film actors. As you can tell in the past few years, people have always been trying to figure out how to expand on genre films in Hong Kong.

Maybe some people would think that of “Vital Signs” because it has to do with ambulance men and there’s physical action in there so it’s something like an action film. But no, we’re really telling a Hong Kong story, one in the context of somebody who works in America and that would be the emergency medical services. That’s how it actually relates to living in that society.

Q: Since you’re already so famous all around Hong Kong and Asia, what does this extraordinary Star Asia Award from the NYAFF mean to you? 

Louis Koo: I’m very honored and just want to thank the NYAFF for this award. But I also want to say that really, I feel like I’m representing Hong Kong and this industry because the industry gave so much to me. I feel that whatever I and my company does, our efforts also are to bring that back to that community. Thank you for that recognition.

Q: During the pandemic, you were very generous, and you donated to help the Hong Kong film industry. However, it was a very difficult pandemic. Did you feel that you were kind of in your own element? It is like you are standing alone with your hand holding an entire huge wave overtaking you. 

Louis Koo: Regarding questions as to what this has to do with the pandemic, I am currently, and was during the pandemic, the president of the Hong Kong Performing Artists Guild and the president of the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers. So in many ways, I want to tell you that it’s a huge responsibility so I feel that I have to give back. The thing is, remember this pandemic went on for a long time, and it’s not just about helping actors.

It’s many, many people who are working behind the scenes in the film industry, and we wanted to make sure that they were able to survive. Also, on top of that, if there wasn’t any help, a lot of people would have, in order to survive, left the industry and done something else; they would never return to the film industry. So that was really a way to try and keep them as well as they can be.

Q: Being a member of the academy, as in the Academy of Motion Pictures, do you want to bring more of Hollywood into Hong Kong or more Hong Kong into Hollywood?

Louis Koo: I feel that now that I’m a member of the Academy, there’s something I want to remind you about — that I’m also the founder of One Cool Group Studios. There’s a sense of wanting to, and a commitment to develop new genres. Also, it’s not just about Hong Kong, it’s global. I think globally and just want to, in many ways, create new directions and make sure that these directions in film will actually attract [audiences].

Q: The choice of the story of an ambulance has to do with the pandemic. Clearly, since the pandemic made us focus very much on people who were involved in the medical team, what attracted you, Mr. Koo, to play the role of an ambulance man?

Louis Koo: I was attracted to the character because I didn’t think there’s been an ambulance man story filmed in Hong Kong. So this is rare. I was curious and interested in that — remember, the job of an ambulance man is to save lives. However, that’s only the job. You can imagine the pressure and everything around it. But the thing behind the job is still the man.

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And the thing that is you see in this story, the life choices and pressures of what he has to deal with as a father and family person. All of that is what I wanted to bring out in this film.

Q: What’s the primary message you want to send an audience after they’ve seen the film?

Louis Koo: The story is about a man who saves lives. That’s very simple but the thing is that you can see there’s always the pressure of life and death. There’s always the fear and anxiety that’s related to the world.

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In the end, when you talk about this film and the role that I play, it’s [about] a man and whether he could save himself. For example, the physical ailment is bankrupt and so there’s a lot of physical and mental anguish in the end because of what happened with the pandemic. I think now we all have to face the question of how do we save ourselves and the people around us — our friends, careers, the economy, the world — these are very, very big questions.

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