- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2011

HONG KONG (AP) - Chinese champion diver Tian Liang has won glowing reviews from a prominent Hong Kong director as the two-time Olympic gold medalist transitions from elite athlete to entertainer.

Tian, the men’s 10-meter platform champion at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and synchronized platform champ four years later in Athens, plays an autistic young man who marries a mute woman in Andrew Lau’s upcoming Chinese-language romance “A Beautiful Life.”

“The surprise this time was Tian Liang,” Lau told The Associated Press on Sunday.

“He was very hardworking. He bought many books about autism. He studied how autistic people speak. And I was very happy that he even mastered the gestures of autism sufferers,” said Lau, best known in the West for his “Infernal Affairs” trilogy of crime thrillers.

“He needs more experience. He also needs to come across the right scripts. But I think he has potential,” the veteran Hong Kong filmmaker said.

Lead actor Liu Ye, one of China’s top young talents, was also impressed by Tian’s diligence, and offered Tian acting tips on the set.

“An Olympic gold medal is the highest honor in popular opinion. He doesn’t have to prove anything with his acting. He is not a trained actor, but I saw the hard work he put in,” Liu said.

Besides “A Beautiful Life,”Tian also appeared in Jeff Lau’s 2010 romance “The Fantastic Water Babes” and has starred in several TV series.

Tian is not the only Chinese star athlete looking to make the switch to entertainment. Gymnast Liu Xuan, the women’s balance beam champion at the Sydney Olympics, released her debut pop album in February and is the star of “Grace Under Fire,” a kung fu drama currently airing on leading Hong Kong broadcaster TVB.

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