All About Alumni / Autumn 2013
Silver Screen Gangster

Derek Tsang plays criminals in movies, but directs films about love and family

Derek Tsang (BA 2001 UTSC) may be a popular Hong Kong actor known for his gangster roles, but his first love is filmmaking.

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada since the age of 10, Tsang pursued a degree in sociology from U of T Scarborough with aspirations of becoming a screenwriter and director. “To become a good scriptwriter, you have to approach a story from various angles,” says Tsang, 33. “Sociology broadens your understanding of the world by offering different perspectives on how people and society function.”

Following his studies at U of T, Tsang returned to Hong Kong and made his acting debut in Men Suddenly in Black, a parody of Triad films (crime flicks featuring Chinese secret societies). He has played several roles in Triad movies, including The Thieves – an action-comedy that is the second highest–grossing movie in Korean film history. “People tend to romanticize the Triad way of life, which is why I like acting in dark comedy gangster films,” says Tsang. “They highlight some of the menial, and even ridiculous, things that Triad members do.”

Tsang’s filmmaking takes on a different tone. He co-wrote the script for his directorial debut, Lover’s Discourse, which depicts relationships about love and affliction – and for his next feature, he hopes to shoot a film revolving around a dysfunctional family.

Tsang also hasn’t stopped striving to become a better actor. “It’s easy to be a mediocre actor in this industry – but to become a top-notch, respected actor? That is the hard part.”

The Thieves can be purchased on Blu-ray or DVD at, or viewed on Netflix.

Watch Derek Tsang talk about filmmaking and his time at U of T

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