With his suave looks, Chinese heart-throb Hu Ge is known as the star of small screen imperial dramas.

But now he has tapped into a new genre for Wild Goose Lake, a gritty gangster flick, which is competing for the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Shanghai-born actor plays the male lead in acclaimed Chinese director Diao Yinan’s latest film, which follows the noirish vein of his 2014 crime thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice, which won the Golden Bear at Berlin.

Chinese authorities, notorious for strict censorship, appear to have officially approved the movie’s premiere at the chic French resort on Saturday.

Hu will be testing his acting chops against Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, who star in Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which is also in the running for the Palme d’Or.

Chinese actor Hu Ge loves playing the bad guy. Photo: AFP

The dark role is dramatically different to the wholesome heroes Hu usually plays.

Starring as a biker gang leader in Wild Goose Lake, this is his first lead performance on the big screen following a stellar career in television.

A string of hits has made him one of the highest-paid male actors in China, commanding fees of around 100 million yuan (US$14.7 million), Hong Kong news site HK01 reported last year.

The new movie marks his return to the limelight after a hiatus to study in the US.

Now 36, he shot to fame in the mainland for his roles in wildly popular period series starting with the historical martial arts drama Chinese Paladin in 2005.

Severe injuries

But his meteoric rise was derailed by a tragic car accident the following year that killed his assistant and left him with severe injuries.

He then underwent reconstructive surgery, according to reports.

In 2015, he starred in Nirvana in Fire, a TV adaptation of a Chinese online novel, which earned numerous awards and enjoyed wide commercial success in China.

State-owned tabloid newspaper Global Times even proclaimed that the show had restored people’s confidence in period dramas.

The actor eventually caught the eye of Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani and in 2017 became the face of luxury brand in China and Asia.

“[He epitomizes] the modern urban man combined with an elegant and dynamic look,” Armani was quoted as saying by luxury fashion website Men’s Folio.

All too aware of his pristine public persona, style icon Hu revealed his desire to rebel against what has endeared him to so many fans.

“I really want to act a bad guy or even a villain,” he said last year.

“Since I have always played roles with nearly perfect personalities, I wonder if I could step into other ranges of characters, and somewhat subvert the stereotyped image on screen,” Hu added.

AFP