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Photo of Derek Tsang.
Photo by Mike Tjioe, Courtesy of Reel Asian International Film Festival

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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