Hong Kong singer-actor Aaron Kwok plays the main role in Eternal Wave, a remake of a 1958 movie.
Over the past three decades, Hong Kong singer-actor Aaron Kwok has starred in more than 50 movies and has picked up more than 100 music awards.
The impressive list of characters he has portrayed on the big screen range from an upright police commissioner in the Cold War franchises to a struggling farmer living with HIV in Life Is a Miracle.
But for the superstar, who has risen to become one of the most recognized faces in Asia since his career began in the mid-1980s, portraying a revolutionary martyr in a Chinese mainland movie has been an unprecedented experience.
"I've never played a real-life person in my career before, let alone a famous historical figure. When I received the script, I read some books about him and the period that he had lived and fought through," Kwok says at the recent Beijing premiere of Eternal Wave.
A remake of a 1958 classic, Eternal Wave opened in theaters on the Chinese mainland on Nov 3, raking in 51 million yuan (.7 million) to top the box-office charts of domestic titles over the weekend.
Set in the late 1930s, the story centers on a Communist intelligence officer who disguises himself as a businessman to secretly establish an underground radio station in Japanese-occupied Shanghai.
The tale is based on the true story of Li Bai, a secret agent from Hunan province, who played a pivotal role in the battle of Communist intelligence agents against the invading Japanese and Kuomintang forces. He was arrested and tortured by the Kuomintang in 1948 and was killed in 1949.
Besides Kwok, the cast also features Zhao Liying, an A-list actress best known for the hit TV series The Journey of Flower; veteran Hong Kong star Simon Yam, best actor winner at the 2010 Hong Kong Film Awards; and pop idol Zhang Han.
Speaking about the filming of Eternal Wave, Kwok recalls he had to shoot bare-chested for two hours in the freezing cold for outdoor scenes of his character being tortured by the Kuomintang secret service. He also badly injured his leg while shooting a chase scene.
But the biggest challenge for Kwok was not the pain.
"When playing a historical figure, you need to forget who you are and immerse yourself in the character's inner world, and try to understand his sacrifice and faith," says the 52-year-old star.
With Hong Kong veteran Billy Chung as director, Eternal Wave is the latest example of what many industry watchers see as a rising trend among Hong Kong filmmakers looking to make revolutionary-themed movies for the Chinese mainland market.
Despite many Hong Kong filmmakers knowing little about the revolutionary history of China during the last century, their long-established skills in storytelling and action choreography, and their efficient shooting and production techniques make them stand out from their peers on the Chinese mainland.
But unlike Tsui Hark's The Taking of Tiger Mountain (2014) and Andrew Lau's The Founding of an Army (2017), Eternal Waves has so far received mixed reviews.
Many netizens on the popular ratings and review website Douban.com were initially drawn to the film by the star power of Kwok and Zhao, but were disappointed to find the plot falling a little flat.
"Kwok is the only highlight in the movie for his enthralling performance," says Xu Fuxiong, a Beijing moviegoer.
"But there are only a few scenes about his work as an underground agent. Otherwise, the numerous action scenes make the movie appear too entertaining, despite its attempt to present a serious tale commemorating a hero."