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2046 (in English, 2005)

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2015 10:48 pm    Post subject: 2046 (in English, 2005) Reply with quote

Still in the Mood for a Collaboration
Wing Shya/ Sony Picture Classics
Tony Leung Chiu Wai in Wong Kar-wai's "2046, " a sequel to "In the Mood for Love."

Published: August 7, 2005
New York Times

IN Wong Kar-wai's sublimely funny "Chungking Express" Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays Cop 633, the world's most lovable policeman. When his flight attendant girlfriend dumps him - what was she thinking? - he cheers himself up by commiserating with his weeping dish towel (it drips) and lecturing his shrunken bar of soap on the importance of maintaining appearances no matter how miserable you are. He even has a brisk chat with a couple of large stuffed animals left behind by the merciless dame.

None of this is cloying or twee, because even as Mr. Leung mocks his sadness, he lets us feel it, too, lurking like a low-grade fever just behind the jokes. With 65 movies under his belt, Mr. Leung is not only one of the biggest movie stars in Asia, he's also among the most expressive and versatile actors anywhere. Mr. Leung starred in two high-profile imports that opened here last year, the undercover cop thriller "Infernal Affairs" and Zhang Yimou's martial-arts costume epic "Hero." But he made his strongest impression on American art-house audiences - and won the best actor award at Cannes - as the lovelorn journalist Chow Mo-wan in Wong Kar-wai's "In the Mood for Love" (2000). An emotionally scarred Chow returned to screens here on Friday in "2046," Mr. Wong's lavish sequel, and Mr. Leung visited New York recently to mark the occasion.

Appearing for tea at his downtown hotel in a white T-shirt, khakis and thick white cotton socks, he radiated not the electric charisma of a superstar but the casual serenity of a Zen monk on holiday. Instead of tea, he drank hot water and offered to share. "Very good for you," he said. Fine-featured and soft-spoken, he looked much more youthful than his 43 years and his current onscreen persona. Indeed, the character he resembled most is one we've never seen on screen, a younger, freer Chow.

Mr. Leung has been a muse for Mr. Wong, appearing in all but two of the brilliantly off-beat director's eight features. Mr. Wong, who has been compared to Jean-Luc Godard, has a way of working that is notorious among actors: no advance script and only the barest need-to-know information about plot and character, with Mr. Wong writing the next day's scenes as they're inspired by the ones just shot.

His and Mr. Leung's collaboration began on a suitably odd note with "Days of Being Wild" (1991), to which Mr. Leung serves as a kind of gnomic coda. He's introduced into the story without explanation in a single, wordless scene - both he and it look great. In a shabby, underfurnished room with a ceiling so low he has to keep his head down, he grooms himself with practiced ease until he looks a good deal more prosperous than his surroundings. In his last gesture, he pockets a deck of cards, and with that, we understand that he's a professional gambler about to go looking for a mark. Both Mr. Leung and the scene are sufficiently provocative that when "The End" comes up on the screen, it feels like a multilayered display by the director: a wink at the audience's ever-ready appetite for story and character, a virtuoso expression of his own talent and a tip of the hat to the power of cinema itself.

"Tony doesn't have to speak a word," Mr. Wong said over a recent dinner in New York. "You feel you know this person perfectly. So I just put that scene at the end of the film, and it's become one of my favorite endings."

Originally, Mr. Wong said, there were plans for "Days of Being Wild" I and II, and the sequence featuring Mr. Leung was meant to be the opening scene of the second movie. But two things happened, both mundane and dramatic. The mundane one was that "Days of Being Wild" didn't do well in Hong Kong, so the producers said, "No Part 2." The dramatic one occurred during filming and involved a mysterious act of violence that fans of Mr. Leung and his longtime companion, the actress Carina Lau, still buzz about in Internet chat rooms. (Ms. Lau plays a hard-bitten party girl Chow likes in "2046.")

"I was doing the shoot," Mr. Leung said, "and a friend came and told me, 'Your girlfriend has just been kidnapped.' And I told Kar-wai I couldn't do any more, I had to go find her." The thugs who grabbed Ms. Lau set her free several hours later, and it is now believed that the man behind the kidnapping is a show business entrepreneur with whom Ms. Lau was having a financial dispute. Mr. Leung said she has never wanted to talk about what happened in those missing hours with anyone, including him. "I told her that was fine, I had no right to ask," he said. "I was just glad to have her home safe." He then told Mr. Wong that he didn't want to go back to work anytime soon. "A human being is more important than a movie," he said.

In "2046," Ziyi Zhang, the exquisite ingénue in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and star of the forthcoming "Memoirs of a Geisha," plays a trying-to-be-tough young call girl who makes the mistake of falling in love with Chow. A lot of their scenes together are spent either squabbling or having memorably wild sex, but Ms. Zhang, who was in her teens when Mr. Leung became a star, spoke of him with reverence. "I feel blessed to have worked with Tony," she said in an e-mail message. "He helped raise the level of my acting, and off set, he's quiet and very sweet to everyone."

Ms. Zhang's comments jibe with those of a less starry-eyed colleague, the surprisingly outspoken Maggie Cheung, who plays the conflicted married woman from "In the Mood for Love" who breaks Chow's heart. After the movie screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, Ms. Cheung and Mr. Leung gave a press conference (one of the enjoyable extras on the deluxe DVD edition of "In the Mood").

Ms. Cheung admits she is not comfortable with Mr. Wong's unstructured method, and after she and Mr. Leung spar about that for a bit, she's asked what he's like to work with and suddenly gets serious.

"Tony's very laid back and quiet, while I'm boom-boom-boom, let's go!" she says. "And he can relax me a little. He's a very sensitive guy, and that's important, especially when you do a lot of improvising. You don't want to have this macho guy who's just there looking great and standing on your foot."

Mr. Leung makes as many movies as he does, including formulaic action pictures and disposable comedies with names like "Tom, Dick and Hairy" (1993), because, he said, he loves acting so much that he can never get enough of it. He also spoke frankly about where that love comes from. When Mr. Leung was just turning 7, his father left their house in Hong Kong one day and vanished without a trace. This was deeply humiliating for his mother, who, unable to discover anything about her husband, got a job to support Mr. Leung and his little sister.

"But we never spoke about it," Mr. Leung said. "Not to each other or anyone else. You don't know what happened, just one day your pop disappears. And from that day on I try not to communicate with anyone. I'm so afraid to talk to my classmates, afraid that if someone says something about family I won't know what to do. So I became very isolated. So that's why I love acting, because I can express all my feelings the way I couldn't for so long."

After high school, Mr. Leung was selling household appliances when a friend showed him a notice from a Hong Kong television station inviting would-be actors to apply for its training program. In three years, he was a star. And a few years after that, he told someone about his father for the first time.

Mr. Leung has worked with many fine Asian directors, in movies like Anh Hung Tran's "Cyclo" (1995) and Hou Hsaio-hsien's "City of Sadness" (1989) and "Flowers of Shanghai" (1998). Later this year, he expects to be tracking a serial killer for the directors who made the "Infernal Affairs" series, in whch Mr. Leung managed to imbue his battle-weary undercover cop with considerable pathos and a rough, seen-it-all sexiness reminiscent of Clark Gable. He's looking forward to that project, but he really lights up at what will follow it, a seventh movie with Mr. Wong for which, he says delightedly, he has to study kung-fu.

For all of Mr. Leung's accomplishments elsewhere, his continuing collaboration with Mr. Wong is the spine of his career. Time and again, Mr. Wong gets something invaluable from Mr. Leung that no one else does: the power to surprise even himself, whether it's the furious gay lover in "Happy Together" (1997) - Mr. Leung has never been so butch - or the fatalistic blind assassin in "Ashes of Time" (1994) with his grim, unshakable cool. And he chalks it all up to Mr. Wong's serendipitous brand of filmmaking.

"I like not knowing from one day to the next," he said. "It keeps me from thinking and allows me to just be in my character. Too much information restricts your creativity."
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