Personally, I have a lot of respect for veteran artists, especially ‘green leaf’ ones and to be quite honest, there are many times where I would actually pay more attention to the supporting cast in a series than to the leads. And of course, there will always be a soft spot in my heart for veteran artists whom I grew up watching back in the 80s (though many of them are no longer active in the industry nowadays). This is one of the reasons why I decided to translate and post up so many interviews with these artists that I’ve come across in my ‘readings’, especially since many of today’s audiences may not know who these artists are and may not appreciate their talent or their contributions to the entertainment industry. Hopefully, by doing this, I can do my part in helping to give these artists the long overdue ’15 minutes’ of exposure that they rarely get but absolutely deserve!
With all that said, one thing I hope to do in the next couple months (hopefully if time permits) is translate and post up on my blog as many of the veteran/green leaf artist interviews as I can—both current interviews as well as older ones (believe it or not, the ones I’ve translated so far are just ‘scratching the surface’ – there are many more interviews with veteran/green leaf artists that came out in just this past year alone that I’ve been accumulating, but just didn’t get around to translating!).
To kick things off, here’s an OLD interview from an old issue of Mingpao Weekly magazine (Issue# 2215) that was published back in April 2011 (almost 2 years ago). I had actually translated and posted this interview on AF back then, but for some reason, forgot to post on my blog as well (can’t remember why)…anyway, this interview is with another one of my favorite veteran actors, one who is still active in TVB even today: actor Law Lok Lam. Those who followed HK television entertainment back in the 70s era probably remember Law Lok Lam when he used to play lead roles….but since most of us probably don’t remember back that far, I’m sure fans of TVB series from the 90s will probably remember the series Blood of Good and Evil (我本善良) [one of the best TVB series ever made in my opinion!] as well as Law Lok Lam’s critical role in that series. Even though I’ve seen many of Law Lok Lam’s works and always enjoy his solid, versatile acting, I will say that his performance in BOGAE definitely had the biggest impact on me (partly because that series is one of my all time favorites – loved everything about that series!).
Unfortunately though, Law Lok Lam has pretty much been relegated to playing minor roles in recent years – even though he is in a lot of series, very few of his roles have been significant or even memorable, which is absolutely a waste of his acting talent! I sincerely hope that TVB learns to cherish their veteran artists more because these types of artists (versatile, experienced, solid actors/actresses) are very hard to come by – especially at this critical time when TVB already lost so many veteran artists (either to retirement or to rival stations) and therefore need to retain as many of these artists as they can. Hopefully TVB 'gets the message' and does the right thing...
Mingpao Interview with veteran actor Law Lok Lam: ‘Together at the other end of the world’
Article originally published in April 2011
Source: HK Channel (Original Source: Mingpao Weekly, Issue 2215)
Having to die 5 times in 24 hours, this type of career can be considered a ‘tragic drama’, but it can also be considered a ‘farce’ -- netizens composed a song entitled ''同是天涯羅樂林'' for him and also gave him the title of ‘extraordinary person’. Veteran actor Law Lok Lam (羅樂林) played the ‘first generation’ Yang Guo [TN: the role Andy Lau made famous in Return of the Condor Heroes] in 1976, but never became popular or famous from that role. In the classic love story, Yang Guo waited for Siu Lung Nui for 16 years – a story that is at the same time inspiring yet tragic; for Law Lok Lam, after several decades as a ‘green leaf actor’ (supporting actor), he suddenly becomes an international star – a situation that similarly evokes tears among laughter.
Law Lok Lam married at a young age and after having 2 daughters, he and his first wife divorced. After that, he married actress Chan Po Yee (陳寶儀) and became famous actress Connie Chan Po Chu’s (陳寶珠) brother-in-law [TN: Chan Po Yee is Connie Chan’s younger sister]. With those types of connections, Law Lok Lam could have lived a glamorous ‘star’ life, but instead, he chose a lifestyle that is both simple and unadorned – he enjoys going to the local open-air street market in Kowloon City to buy groceries and sometimes meets up with friends at a Kowloon City sushi restaurant for some drinks and chit-chat. In fact, for this interview, he requested for the reporter to meet him in Kowloon City to chat over a meal of ox tendon noodles. With regard to his lifestyle, Law Lok Lam expresses: “I like ‘genuine’ -- to me, the worst thing in life is being ‘fake’.”
Whether it’s bumping into him in the street, seeing him at a local HK diner, or seeing him on TV for a ’24 hour’ timespan, Law Lok Lam indeed lives with us ‘under the same skyline’.
From a background dancer to one of director Chang Che’s core actors
Law Lok Lam was born in ChaoZhou, a prefecture in Guangdong, but immigrated to Macau in his teens. In terms of education, he dropped out of school after his first year in high school and at the age of 14, came to Hong Kong with his family. During those years, he worked at a plastics factory and was responsible for following the truck drivers on their trips to deliver freight. As the only son in the family, Law Lok Lam decided to help out his father when he opened up a small travel agency a few years later, becoming a tour guide for the agency. At the age of 23, during the last year that the Southern Drama Group (the Acting Class for Shaw Brothers artists) was in existence, he made it into the final class and studied there for 1 year.
“After I came out from the class, I was a ‘ke le fe’ (extra), pretty much just stood around and didn’t have any lines…once the stuntman finished his action sequence, I would lie down on the floor and be the corpse.”
When he first started 40 years ago, Law Lok Lam was already doing ‘death scenes’, so with his ‘expertise’ in this area, having to ‘die’ 5 times in 1 day is not unusual at all. However, the job of an ‘extra’ was too low-paying, so luckily, he had a side job as dancer to help him earn more money.
“In the Acting Class, there was an instructor, Mrs. Ng, who taught dance – I would go with her to various dance performances, both big and small – even if most of the time, I was just part of the ‘background scenery’, I was satisfied because I was learning a lot and eventually, I became part of the dance group. One time, director Chang Che (張徹) was filming a movie with John Chiang (姜大衞) and Tik Lung (狄龍) as the leads – there was a scene where he needed some dancers, so our group took on the task. The director took notice of me and wrote my name down – a few months later, Shaw Brothers’ production department called me and said that director Chang Che recommended me to sign a contract with them. That was when my acting career officially began.”
One would think that being able to join the Shaw Brothers Company, plus being part of director Chang Che’s designated group of actors, Law Lok Lam’s career should be bright and promising, right? Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, as the huge production company had very precise separations when it came to position and rank.
“I was not one of Chang Che’s ‘god-sons’ – his true god-sons were John Chiang, Tik Lung, Chan Koon Tai (陳觀泰), Danny Lee (李修賢). However I did get to participate in almost every one of Chang Che’s films, so I guess you could say that I was a ‘core member’ of his acting troupe.”
So as a ‘core member’, it would make sense that Law Lok Lam should become a ‘martial arts actor’, since Chang Che’s forte was in martial arts action films, however his case was exactly opposite, as Chang Che wanted him to focus on artistic films instead.
“The film where I had the most screentime was Young People (年輕人), which I believe was Agnes Chan’s (陳美齡) first film – we were paired together in the film, she would play the guitar and sing while I danced. After about 2-3 years with Shaw Brothers, I decided to leave, as my career wasn’t really going anywhere – Chang Che signed me, but didn’t use me for martial arts. Coincidentally, at that time, there were also other directors outside who were willing to give me opportunities, so I left to shoot action films – it was pretty much after I left Chang Che that I became a martial arts actor.”
Kung Fan Hung was opposed to Law Lok Lam dating her daughter
With his heavyset features, Law Lok Lam was perfect for the martial arts action hero roles – indeed, he expressed that he has already forgotten how many action films he has done, but in most of them, the roles were mainly supporting. In the late 1970s, he joined Commercial Television (佳藝電視) and got the chance to participate in their version of Legend of the Condor Heroes (射鵰英雄傳), where he played one of the Senior leaders of the Beggar Clan. After that, he was chosen by producer Hsiao Sheng (蕭笙) to play the role of Yang Guo in the Commercial Television version of Return of the Condor Heroes (神鵰俠侶) -- at the age of 28, this was the first time that Law Lok Lam got the chance to be the male lead.
The steps that life takes can be very strange – for Law Lok Lam, he first had marriage before he had a career. At 21, he got married and not too long after that, he had 2 daughters.
“My first wife was a distant relative of my cousin’s family. I don’t know how to explain why we got married and why we divorced – all I can say is that when fate comes, you can’t push it away and when fate is at its end, you can’t force it to stay.”
After his divorce, Law Lok Lam met actress Chan Po Yee, who had just entered Commercial Television and had already made a deep impression on audiences with her performance in Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢). Even though there was a big age difference between them, that didn’t stop them from falling deeply in love. Chan Po Yee’s background is quite unique: her biological parents separated when she was very little and she ended up being adopted by a neighbor -- renowned Cantonese opera star Kung Fan Hung (宮粉紅). Her older sister Connie Chan [Po-Chu] was also adopted by Kung Fan Hung from a young age, however the relationship between the sisters and their adoptive mother was very close. When Law Lok Lam and Chan Po Yee first started dating, Kung Fan Hung was opposed to their union.
“I call Kung Fan Hung ‘Mom’ and have the utmost respect for her. At that time, it made sense that Mom would want her daughter to marry someone who was more of a match for the family in terms of status and background. Even though I had lead roles during that time, I was still a ‘small actor’ after all, so it was natural for Mom to be opposed. I did not purposefully try to do anything to change Mom’s view of me – as she got to know me better, she eventually saw what type of person I was. That’s how my personality is – I hate being ‘fake’; it’s very easy to deceive others and pretend that I’m a very good person, but to be honest, the deception won’t last long and the truth will eventually come out. Later on, Mom ended up loving me like her son and we were all very happy together.”
Law Lok Lam calls sister-in-law Connie Chan “3rd Sister”; even though he is brother-in-law of such a famous star, he expresses that he does not feel any pressure at all – he still takes the bus and the subway whenever he needs to go somewhere, he still goes to the street markets to buy groceries, etc. – basically, he continues to be himself and because of that he is able to live a relaxing life.
“Connie is a woman whom I respect a lot. In my life, there are 2 ‘seniors’ [in the industry] whom I respect the most – one is ‘master of drama’ King Sir [Chung King Fai (鍾景輝)] and the other is 3rd Sister [Connie]. 3rd sister’s absolute professionalism, her reverence toward her elders and those who once taught her – in today’s generation, it’s very hard to find these qualities. Also, her piety and obedience toward her mother is absolutely admirable – she continued to live with Mom all these years, up until Mom passed away last year in her 90s [TN: Kung Fan Hung passed away after she was rushed to the hospital when she fainted right before Connie’s Cantonese opera performance at HK Coliseum last year]. The piety and strength that she showed during that difficult time deeply moved me – the goodness that she shows toward others is not reliant on words alone, she truly demonstrates it through her actions. Her fans are very loyal to her and every year, during the Lunar New Year holiday, they would bring their children and families to come give her well wishes…very amazing!”
When Commercial Television abruptly closed down in the late 1970s, Law Lok Lam was not only out of a job, he also was not able to get back the salary that he was still owed. Luckily, almost immediately, Rediffusion Television [TN: ATV’s predecessor] hired him – not long after that, his youngest daughter was born. Soon, Law Lok Lam and his wife Chan Po Yee as well as their 3 daughters became a ‘celebrity family’ that would show up in the news every so often.
“Alex Man (萬梓良) and I were sworn brothers, so when my youngest daughter was born, he ‘adopted’ her as a god-daughter. Even though we were from different backgrounds – he is Hakka and I am ChaoZhao – we got along quite well and always had a lot to talk about. Alot of people say that Alex is a very ‘explosive’ person, but I didn’t think he was too bad.”
From one of Commercial Television’s ‘siu sangs’ (male lead) to ATV ‘zong sang’ (middle-aged male lead) to TVB ‘green leaf king’ (supporting actor), Law Lok Lam admits that as he got older, he started to change. In the past, he loved to hang out with groups of friends, going to bars, playing Mahhjong, etc. – pretty much he liked to socialize and be around people. Now, he has become more of a ‘loner’ who enjoys going to Kowloon City in the middle of the night and having a drink or two.
“At my age, it’s not unusual at all. I like going out by myself to study the script for the series I’m filming and prepare for the next day’s work – it’s very relaxing and I’ve never felt bored. Actually, I do have a lot of friends in various places – at night, no matter which eatery I go to, I know almost everyone at all the tables, so I don’t feel as though I’m all alone by myself. And for those who say that I am trying to ‘drink away my troubles’ with alcohol – well, just because I have a few drinks does not mean I’m drunk or do crazy things. Actually, people say that my ‘alcohol disposition’ is very good -- in my case, I’m ‘enjoying’ alcohol, not ‘abusing’ it.”
Law Lok Lam admits that he is a bit of a wine connoisseur – he enjoys drinking whiskey, red wine, and brandy the most. Many of the things that he had once ‘obsessed’ over in his life he has been able to give up – except wine.
“I understand that the benefits of wine are very few and in fact, it does more harm than good. But I had already given up smoking decades ago and gambling too (in the past, I would often meet up with friends and we’d go play mahjong or bet on horse racing) – the only thing left now is wine. Don’t tell me to give up wine because if I do, then everything’s over – if one day, I eventually do give up wine as well, then that means that my body is sending me a message to stop. Everyone needs to have a hobby – I’m in my 60s now and if I had to give up wine too, then I don’t know what else I can do.”
In a different world from his wife
With his sudden popularity, there have been rumors recently of possible trouble with Law Lok Lam’s marriage to Chan Po Yee and that they still remain together purely because of their daughter. Though he admits that he and Po Yee have been sleeping in separate rooms for quite some time, he denies any problems with his marriage.
“Back when we were dating, of course there was a lot of passion and happiness, just like what any other young couple would experience. But as time goes on, the passion will lessen and no matter how vigorous our love was back then, love will eventually turn into affection and affection will eventually become ordinary. I will very honestly tell you that after so many years together, there are many aspects of our relationship that are different now – the most obvious is religion. In the past, both of us were Buddhists – every morning, I had a ritual of getting up and cleaning out the water on the blessing altar and lighting an incense stick before going to work. My wife is a Christian now, so with our religions being different, our circle of friends is different as well – she has her world and I have mine.”
His wife is an insurance agent now, so she has more opportunities to attend social events necessary for her work – Law Lok Lam still enjoys a simple life and keeps social events to a minimum. His biggest ‘extracurricular activity’ is hanging out in Kowloon City – even though he and his family already moved from Kowloon City to Clearwater Bay decades ago, he still has a special place in his heart for the city and in his spare time, still goes back to the local shops and eateries there.
“A lot of people think that I still live in Kowloon City – even the local police think that I am a Kowloon City resident because they see me around so much when they’re walking their beats around the city. Sometimes, I would go to Kowloon City two to three times a day for various things – yes, there are supermarkets everywhere, but when I go to the market, I always choose to go to the ones in Kowloon City.”
Today, prior to our interview, Law Lok Lam allowed us to follow him around so we could understand a typical day for him (on days he doesn’t have to work, that is). First, he goes to a vegetarian restaurant for some dim sum and 2 pots of very strong tea (to ‘clean the insides’, he says), then he takes us to a local diner for a simple meal of ox tendon noodles. If he doesn’t have to work, then he follows his routine of going to the Kowloon City street market to buy fresh groceries, after which he goes home and cooks dinner for his wife and housekeeper (domestic helper).
“The housekeeper doesn’t know how to cook – her job is mainly to clean the house and take care of the dogs – so I usually cook for the family. If I have to work that night, then they usually eat take out.”
Not enough money to retire
At home, he tightly guards his kitchen; at TVB, he tightly guards his supporting actor position, working hard behind the scenes without complaint or fanfare – surprisingly, television fans were still able to ‘notice’ that he had ‘died’ 5 times in 5 different TV series within 24 hours – I guess you could consider that a type of accomplishment.
“It’s the same with all jobs – the most important thing is to actually do the work. Like with this instance, if I hadn’t filmed so many series, then there wouldn’t be the ‘coincidence’ that occurred – a lot of things were meant to be. I don’t really choose which series I participate in – to be honest, at my age, it’s not up to me to choose anyway.”
This month, Law Lok Lam has 3 series that he is filming at once – he expresses that his ‘record’ was actually filming 5 to 6 series all at once; in fact, there have been instances where in one night, all 3 third-line series that were airing had him in it. With so much effort that he puts into filming series, does he feel that what he is getting in return is comparable?
“For a Hong Kong artist, it’s considered comparable. But with my career path – doing lead roles in my youth and still working hard decades later – if I were in an international arena, I would probably have several houses, cars, and even bodyguards, by now. However in Hong Kong, I am only an ordinary person – that’s the way things work. If I were to constantly think about that kind of stuff, I would be depressed all the time. That’s why I don’t think about it – as long as I still have money to pay for wine and can still buy the things that I (and my family) like to eat, then it’s OK.”
It’s hard for outsiders to understand the ‘plight’ that TVB artists endure and for most (including Law Lok Lam), the ‘suffering’ is often in silence.
“Not enough sleep, filming all day and all night – this kind of procedure is definitely problematic and you won’t find it anywhere else in the world. The physical demands of filming a series is quite high – for example, filming two series at the same time, there is a high possibility that you won’t get to sleep for 1-2 days straight. I’m already in my 60s – occasionally, I still have to do martial arts scenes, ride horses, wear thick ancient costumes in the scalding heat, take off my costume and have water poured on me in freezing cold weather, etc. If one day, you want to continue filming but your body is no longer able to endure it, then you know the day has come for retirement. If you were to ask me right now whether I have enough ‘qualifications’ for retirement, I would tell you ‘no’ – I haven’t earned enough money yet.”
Law Lok Lam laughs that he has been in the industry for over 40 years already and still, he only knows how to act, but doesn’t know how to invest, and especially doesn’t know how to do business. As for when he will be able to retire, well, he’ll have to wait and see what the Heavens arrange.
Law Lok Lam only has a first year high school education, however oftentimes, he is chosen to play roles of famous professionals or generals. His performance as famous general Yuen Sai Hoi in the series In the Chamber of Bliss (蔡鍔與小鳳仙) received much praise – Law Lok Lam expressed that his ‘research’ for the character wasn’t reliant on reading books, but rather on his ‘drinking’ habit.
“In the process of going out for my drinks, I actually learn a lot. Believe it or not, a lot of highly educated professionals actually like to come out for a drink at night too, so sometimes we would drink together – I would ask them what type of a person Yuen Sai Hoi was and they would tell me a lot of stories. I also like to drink herbal tea, so on one of my trips to Kung Wo Tong [TN: a famous herbal tea shop in HK], I met a business person who is very knowledgeable in Chinese history, medicine, and herbs, so for my character in The Herbalist’s Manual (本草藥王) for example, that’s how I did my research.”
Ever since his accomplishment of ‘dying 5 times in 24 hours’ made international news headlines, Law Lok Lam’s ‘drinking buddies’ have ‘celebrated’ by drinking the best wines with him – hopefully now, people will no longer think that he is ‘using’ alcohol to ‘drink away his troubles’ anymore.