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Lies and An Interview with Tony Leung Chiu Wai - Cineaste

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 10:52 pm    Post subject: Lies and An Interview with Tony Leung Chiu Wai - Cineaste Reply with quote

Authors: Nochimson, Martha P.
Source: Cineaste. Fall 2005, Vol. 30 Issue 4, p16-17. 2p. 2 Black and White Photographs.

Lies and An Interview with Tony Leung Chiu Wai

Tony Leung Chiu Wai is part of a generation of extraordinarily versatile Hong Kong actors that includes Chow Yun-Fat, Andy Lau, and Anthony Wong Chau-Sang. Leung, who made his film debut in 1983, has worked with all of the important Hong Kong directors in all of the major film genres. His role as an undercover cop in John Woo's Hard-Boiled (1992), opposite Chow, made him a star, and another undercover assignment, in Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs trilogy (2002-2003), won him Best Actor awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards and the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival in 2003. In Johnnie To's upcoming Election, he plays a vicious, duplicitous gangster.

Internationally, however, Leung is most strongly identified with the films of Wong Kar-wai. He appears in the last scene of 1991's Days of Being Wild (he bowed out of a bigger part when, in a bizarre episode during its production, his girlfriend was briefly kidnapped, then released) and played the Blind Swordsman in Wong's long-in-the making martial-arts drama Ashes of Time (1994). In his standout performances for the director, Leung paints the screen with portraits of loneliness. In Chungking Express (1994) he plays the sweetly mournful Cop 633. In Happy Together (1997), as half of a gay couple, Leung is the long-suffering victim of boyfriend Leslie Cheung's caprices. In In the Mood for Love (2000) and the current 2046, he plays Mr. Chow, a writer who scrapes by making a marginal living from low-culture popular fiction. Although Mr. Chow is a soft, wounded man in In the Mood for Love, unable to claim the woman he loves, and an edgy womanizer in 2046, in both films Leung's manner is reserved and enigmatic. His characters reflect his public persona--shy, introverted, and self-effacing. Leung has spoken about the connection between his low-key manner and the trauma of his early childhood, when his father abandoned his family, after which he became quite withdrawn.

Leung has been widely acclaimed for the subtlety, richness, and layered depths of his sympathetic performances. At the 2000 Cannes Film Festival he won the Best Actor award for his starring role in In the Mood for Love. One of his two Best Actor awards at the Golden Horse Film Festival was for Chungking Express. Four times he has won as Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards, for Chungking Express, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, and 2046.

Publicly, Leung has been reluctant to speak about his opinions since an incident in 2002. B International, an English-language magazine, quoted him as supporting the 1989 crackdown by the Chinese government against protesters in Tiananmen Square. "I didn't join in any demonstrations because what the Chinese government did was right to maintain stability, which was good for everybody." When questioned about this at that year's premiere of Zhang Yimou's spectacular Hero, he claimed to have been speaking from the perspective of his character, the only mercenary opposed to killing the emperor. Leung said, "I am just an actor; my interest is in making movies." During a visit to New York in May 2005, Leung spoke to Cineaste about his longtime association making movies with Wong.

Cineaste: Before you made Happy Together, Wong didn't tell you that you were going to play a man in a gay relationship. He also told you that In the Mood for Love was a revenge tragedy. Does he continue to lie to you when you're working on a film?

Tony Leung Chiu Wai: [Hesitating] He is very good at misleading his actors. He may have a reason and I never ask him. He didn't do it to me on 2046.

Cineaste: But, originally, you were going to play a postman? Then Wong told you that you would be playing Mr. Chow again?

Leung: [Laughs] Yes. He didn't mislead me this time but he asked me to do something very difficult. He asked me to do the same character, but in a very different way. That character was already inside me--his body language, his kind of tempo, his voice. Now with almost the same background, same costume, and same name, he asked me to play somebody else, like a new man.

Cineaste: Did he ever explain why?

Leung: No. He just said the day I arrived on the set, "You do the same Mr. Chow, but you do it differently." A mean, dark, Bukowski kind of man this time. Then I needed a moustache [laughs]. To make myself believe I was a new man, I started with that and I tried to walk much faster than before. It was very hard in the beginning, because I would go back to the first Mr. Chow. When you are acting you are not conscious of your body language and your voice, and I needed Kar-wai to remind me whenever I went back to that original voice. He would say, 'No, no, no, this voice is not right.' This was really challenging. If you revisit the character you want to bring something new to him and that's hard.

Cineaste: Does he ever let you make a suggestion about how things should be with the characters?

Leung: He is a very good observer. He used to observe me a lot while we were not working together. So he learned a lot about me, which he uses in the movies. He explores some qualities inside me that I don't even know I have, which is frightening, but also very interesting. He always surprises me. I see the film and say to myself, 'Did I do that? Do I have those kinds of qualities?'

Cineaste: What's different about working with Wong, John Woo, and Andrew Lau and Andy Mak?

Leung: Kar-wai gives you very little at the beginning. You don't know what the story is about. He never gives you the whole script or the whole story. If he did tell me the whole story, I would not take him seriously, because he would change it. He gives you a story that's a fake, because he's that kind of director. He gives different hints to different characters, and when they put them together it's a movie.

John Woo is very well prepared. He respects his actors very much. I don't mean that Kar-wai doesn't respect his actors, but Woo gives you a lot of freedom to create your character. So I improvise a lot. Sometimes, however, he tells you to do it this way and he won't move.

Working with Alan Mak and Andrew Lau is really fun, because I can take part in everything. We worked out the Infernal Affairs story together. There was originally a 'good guy, bad guy' fight at the end, which I didn't think made sense. I said [to costar Andy Lau], 'We can't shoot the scene this way,' so I changed the whole ending. You can do things like that with Andrew Lau. It's very relaxed. But not with Kar-wai. You can't even change a word [laughs].

Cineaste: You've been in some explicitly sexual scenes. When do you think such images are necessary? In Happy Together there are gay lovemaking scenes.

Leung: I don't know why Kar-wai needed to do that scene. Maybe he did it for me because at the beginning I wasn't sure I could play a gay character. Many years ago a television show asked me to play one, and I said, "No, I don't think I can do it." I was quite worried about it, so he cheated me into the character. We did the kissing scene in the kitchen on the first day of shooting. After that day, I was kind of relieved. I could do it. It really helped me to get into that relation ship. But I don't know why he had to show it to the audience.

Cineaste: You've said that you want to be an actor without style and that your acting secret is that you listen, which makes the actors you work with listen to you. Is this true?

Leung: Yes. Acting is not a competition. Acting is helping each other. You make your costars good and you become better. The reason why I wanted to become an actor is I wanted to find a way to express my emotions. Because of my family background, I have very low self-esteem. When I was a kid, every time I came home from school I would go and lock myself in the toilet, take out the washcloths, and talk to them, like my character in Chungking Express. I am a very lonely kind of person. That's why I wanted to be an actor. And I feel good about it.

Cineaste: You've said that working in Hollywood doesn't interest you.

Leung: As an Asian actor, I would like once in my life to do just one Hollywood movie. It would be a memorable experience. [He mentions Martin Scorsese, who is re making Infernal Affairs, as a director he would like to work with, and Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Nicole Kidman as favorite actors in American cinema.] But I would not develop a career there. Why do they need me? They have so many great actors from all over the world. It's hard to find a script that suits a Chinese. I can do more roles and find more variation in characters in Asian films.

Cineaste: What's next for your career in Hong Kong?

Leung: I used to just let things happen. But I think I will try to be a producer. Things are more under your control.

Cineaste: Will you continue to act as well?

Leung: Yes. I've been an actor for twenty-five years, but I think being an actor is quite passive, because you have to follow the director's instructions. I want to create my own movie, one that really belongs to me. I can decide on the director and the script, or maybe take an idea from my everyday life and develop it into a story. I could write the script myself.

Cineaste: Would it be a gangster movie?

Leung: A love story. That's what I want to do next. And, of course, I still want to work with Kar-wai, and I hope in a few years I will have a chance to do an English-language movie. But I have to wait until my English is better. If I do a movie in New York I have to stay here a few months and explore the city. I really want to do one in my lifetime. As an actor, what else can you ask for? [Leung's publicist brings his cell phone over with a call from Wong. They speak in Mandarin.]

Leung: [Finishing call] That was Kar-wai. He wanted to know how things are going.

Cineaste: Did you tell him the truth?

Leung: [Laughs] Yes.
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