Even if none of those films received warm welcomes from the local audience, they triggered all the Athena's might and definitively launched her in the business as a good actress and not just a good looking woman (which she still is anyway!). Her subsequent series of works would confirm this status as one of the best thespian currently working in the industry.
Athena supporting Nick Cheung's limited acting skills
In 2002, she's cast by EMG and Derek Chiu (with which she had worked 5 years in Ah Fai The Dumb) to act in Time 4 Hope, a small production about the life of scriptwriter Yuen Gai Chi. Chiu illustrates this story with his usual restraint, concentrating fully on his characters and their conflicting feelings. This approach provides some very touching moments but is also dampened by a very slow rhythm and the limitation of main star Nick Cheung. Athena's performance is perfectly adequate, holding back and providing subtle emotions. Too bad she didn't get to interact with a better performer than the good natured but limited Cheung…
Athena suffers from deep depression!
Shiver, made the year after, is a come back to the fantasy genre after the bunch of works she made under Wong Jing. But this time, the director's intention is to deliver a really intense and frightening film, without any charge of humor to release the pressure. And if Billy Chung is not the greatest filmmaker of Hong Kong , he did one of his finest jobs here. His Shiver delivers a real heavy and tensed atmosphere without forgetting its character in the process (the relation between Francis Ng and Athena Chu is the emotional core of the story). A real care in the making of this post Ring flick is clearly noticeable and makes us easily forgive the few script flaws. The film greatly benefits from Francis Ng's intense performance and Athena's, which is convincing too, certainly one of the best of her career. Once again, she completely gives up her public image to give life to her character, throwing herself into depression and sadness. This is an extension of her work on Horoscope I but really pushed to the extreme here. The actress got so much into her part that it took her about one month to get rid completely of the nightmares and dark thoughts she constantly had while shooting!
A duo with Carina Lau
Sex and the Beauties put Athena in a similar situation than in Tom, Dick and Hairy, as a part of a very big and talented cast. It's another perfect occasion to understand how the actress has evolved. She's no longer in the supporting character position but a main lead able to keep up with such talented players as Carina Lau, Cecilia Cheung or Tony Leung Ka Fai. Keep up is even an understatement as Athena even overshadows other talents and leave a strong impression once the film is over. Her character Selina is close to the source material (popular TV show Sex and The City) and the situations she has to deal with (to sleep with an old father or his teenage son). Again, under Wong Jing she shows her comedic talent and sexiness but with more self-confidence. The result is simply brilliant and an asset for your average Wong Jing's romantic comedy.
Edison Chen is overwhelmed!
Athena had already renewed with comedy and big cast for the needs of Chinese Odyssey 2002 from Jeff Lau. Unfortunately, her part is mostly an extended cameo, fun, but too short to really leave a deep impression. The same is true in her small participation to the Infernal Affairs spoof Love is A Many Stupid Thing.
Dinner after work for the prostitutes and their managers
After a little break to concentrate on her singing and TV career, Athena finally came back to the big screen with Whispers and Moans. Adaptated from a book on the current prostitution situation in Hong Kong, Whispers and Moans faced a difficult casting session as quite a few actresses first approached refused to jeopardize their image to act as someone involved in this troubled business. The new Athena is no longer worried about this kind of things, an attitude for which Herman Yau gives her a lot of credit. The actress was well inspired to accept the part as Whispers and Moans is an excellent piece of work, probably one of the best made on the subject for a few years.
Sex Workers (its Chinese title) tells us the stories of different individuals involved in the prostitution business in Hong Kong , from beginners to the seasoned Madame. Through 10 days in their life, we get to know more of their motivations, fears and hopes. All of them are shown under a very realistic angle and each reveal their feelings in some very touching scenes, full of a humanity seemingly hidden behind their sleazy jobs. An inspired Herman Yau, rather the one of From The Queen to the Chief Executive than the one of Ebola Syndrome, provides a dynamic and smooth direction. Amongst a cast mainly composed of newcomers, Athena shows the example, acting as a very convincing Madame with the guts of a real Yau Ma Tei girl! Her character Coco is a full personality, she's at once an enthusiast lover, a clumsy mother and a professional businesswoman. In all those facets, Athena gives her best and doesn't leave the audience unaffected! A great work for a very good film.
From goddess of laughter to mother of tears
Athena Chu's evolved from a good-looking, talented performer to an experienced thespian ready to be fully committed to give life as faithfully as possible to characters. It's been more than 15 years that Chu is now in the film business, a longevity rarely achieved by local actresses. She has become an important performer who sincerely loves her craft and is not just seeking exposure or rich husband. The only things she needs now are talented directors to fully exploit her capabilities. Edmond Pang, Derek Yee or Lawrence Ah Mon, here is a call for you!