The new orientation also affects Athena's appearance
The real good occasion to show off her acting skills comes with an unexpected production named The Boss Up There. This film is produced by a small Hong Kong company called Media Evangelism. With such a name, the purpose of the firm is quite obvious: spread the Christian message in Hong Kong and in all South East Asia. It's not with their very limited budget the company could have hired such a star as Athena Chu. But luckily for them, the actress is herself a devoted Christian. This factor and the purely dramatic part required for the movie convinced the star to be part of the project.
The final product is far from a masterpiece… Shot directly on video, the photography is not even worthy of a local TV series and the message (beware of drugs!) ain't subtle. But it's another occasion for Chu to take on a difficult character, this teenager who hangs out with triads to end up in drugs and finally find enlightenment in the hand of God (don't tell me you expected a different ending given the production company!). Chu really shines from the beginning to the end and especially in the parts her character is at her lowest.
Almost 10 years in the industry to end up cleaning floors, the Hong Kong film industry has no mercy!
The Boss Up There is an important step in her acting career but it's probably even more on a personal point of view. It's during the shooting of this film she met Paul Wong, key member of HK Rock group Beyond, with whom she started a romantic relationship. This was the source of many criticisms from fans and many predicted her career would fall down because of that. It could have indeed if Athena didn't already made her image evolve from a sex symbol to a convincing actress. It didn't influence Athena much anyway and both are still together to this day.
First encounter with her (real) boyfriend
Athena abused by one of the modern slave traders
Athena's second collaboration with Clarence Ford was another work worthy of interest after their good result on HK Triad. Stowaway is part of the “social” vein of Fok's filmography amongst other films as Queen of Kowloon or On The Wrong Track. This 2000 effort is inspired from the real story of a bunch of Chinese immigrants who died during their trip to the United Kingdom organized by a Triad society. This kind of story based on immigration is a recurrent theme of HK cinema and has given interesting works such as Comrades, Almost a Love Story or Farewell China. Here, with the dramatic outcome of the story already known, Fok concentrates on the background of the unfortunate travelers and the difficulty of their trip. Even if the director of Black Panther Warriors can't resist to over-dramatize his story (the part in Russia is really too much!), he stays on tracks during most of the 90 minutes. He manages to make his characters touching for the audience.
Always concerned by her son
Athena is one of the main elements of what is basically a chorus work. Her character is a loving mother ready to do anything to provide a better future to her child. A new kind of orientation for the actress, taking in account her growing maturity (she's almost 30 at that time). Athena gives a strong dramatic performance, giving life to a character as brave as desperate. Her sex symbol image is totally hidden to serve the character and the movie as a whole. Definitely the sign she has evolved to become a pure, professional actress.
Romantic scene between Athena and her usual partner Nick Cheung
This evolution is even more obvious when she got to act in romance. Here, she interprets similar characters to the ones of the beginning of her career. But the experience she gathered combined to her natural talent makes a difference. The first illustration of this phenomenon is Love Correction, a love story with fantasy elements directed by the famous editor Marco Mak. This time, Athena is Emma, a young employee from a dynamic company destined to a happy professional and personal future. But her fate changes when she picks up a cursed coin in a bus lost by her secret admirer, Anson (Nick Cheung), making her life a complete disaster. Love Correction being a classical romantic comedy, things evolves for the best until the end. Still, the addition of a little fantasy elements provides the minimum degree of originality to keep the viewers interested. The fine performance of the actors, the dynamic direction and editing of Mak do the rest. As for Athena, she once more gets to show her range of acting in the very different situations her character faces and she looks good either in romantic or dramatic moments (it's not so easy to cry for a dead fur ball!).
Tragic sequence between husband and wife
Never Say Goodbye provides a similar feeling. This effort from Jimmy Lee is far from great but still provides a few nice emotional touch and some good acting opportunities to Athena. The actress is part of a love triangle alongside Taiwanese idol Nicky Wu and Iris Chai. She's a modern woman with a strong sense of commitment in relationships. Too bad Wu's character doesn't share the same vision as her... What strikes the most is the natural of Athena's acting, probably because of her resemblance with the character. It makes the interaction with (the pale) Nicky Wu worth watching and helps build the credibility of the film. The result is even better in the few scenes she acts with TV regular Liu Kai Chi in an unexpected but really emotional relationship.
Impossible to resist!