Trish Maunder is the national film editor of Fairfaxís CitySearch website
and a contributor to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
When I met Hong Kong actor Tony Leung, I wouldnít have known he was tired
if Iíd not been told beforehand. Just arrived that day in Melbourne, where I
was the last stop in an epic series of interviews, he had done the same thing
the day before in Sydney. He had also been mobbed at the Sydney preview of In
the Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000) that he introduced. There was no sign
of this fatigue and stress in his face, which was calm and intelligent with kind
brown eyes that made even the last journalist in his two-day ordeal feel
And itís not as if Leung is so new to the business of cinema that such
promotional obligations would have any kind of buzz left. Americaís People
magazine may have voted him one of the sexiest human beings around last year
but, like other Asian actors the West is just catching on to, the 38 year-old
actor has been around for years. In excellent English and a thoughtful, relaxed
mood, Leung reflected on his career, which includes films such as Bullet in
the Head (John Woo, 1990) and Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1994).
* * *
Trish Maunder: In the Mood For Love is the fifth film you have
done with Wong Kar-wai, not including 2046, which was being shot
simultaneously. Wong is notorious for having chaotic sets and shooting
schedules; why have you been willing to cope with this so many times?
Tony Leung: The first thing is itís quite challenging working that
way. For an experienced actor like me whoís been working as an actor for 18
years and, actually, Iím still trying to improve my acting, my target is to
act like non-professionals. His way of making movies helps me to break through
that because we cannot prepare anything because we donít have any script and
we know only a little hint about the character at the very beginning. So you can
do what ever you want, thereís no boundaries and you can use your brain to act
because thereís nothing, no guide line, nothing. So you have to act by
instinct, you have to use your heart to feel the environment, so itís good for
TM: What was that hint about the character? Just how much were you
given to prepare with?
TL: The only thing I know from the very beginning is my name and
occupation, and itís a love story with Maggie (Cheung), and thatís all.
Thatís why we take that long to finish.
TM: But some of Wongís films have been made at express pace, such as
TL: My part is only 12 days. Sometimes he can do it really fast, but
sometimes, you know...
TM: How did you develop your character in In the Mood For Love?
TL: I wanted to do something different from my previous work, I wanted
to do as minimal as I could this time round without any facial expression and
not much dialogue. I tried to project a character like that with very minimal
expression, but I found it quite difficult at the very beginning. Itís quite
hard, itís quite painful, that you can not release your emotions. I couldnít
find a reason why this character wants to get close to Maggieís role. At first
this character is normal working class, a very decent and gentle person, he
keeps everything inside, very good at hiding his emotions, so thereís no
facial expression, you cannot see any emotion on his face. In the middle of the
movie I thought I could make it more complicated. One day I spoke to Kar-wai and
said: "Can I play a bad guy?" The reason why I want to get close to
this woman is I want to make a revenge on her, try to manipulate this woman. So
it ends up I feel quite sorry for what I did to this woman. So at least I have
something to get hold of to make this character more complicated, not just a
victim of the adultery.
TM: Wong has said that In the Mood For Love is something of a
companion piece to Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai, 1991). You and
Maggie Cheung were in both films, so does it feel that way for you?
TL: I only appeared in the last scene, so it seems like itís not
related. I think because Kar-wai has a great compassion for the Ď60s and both
movies take place in the Ď60s in Hong Kong, so some people might feel that
itís a sequel of the first movie, but I donít think thereís any
relationship between these two movies.
TM: The evocation of Hong Kong in the Ď60s in In the Mood For
Love is powerful, with nostalgic cues such as Maggieís cheongsams and the
music of the period. Were you in Hong Kong in the Ď60s? Did the film capture
the authentic mood of the time and place?
TL: Actually, I was born in Hong Kong in 1962 so at that time I was
still a kid, but I still have a lot of memories of my childhood. So I can still
remember how my mother dressed, and the relationship between neighbours is so
close: we knew each other very well, we never closed our doors, we always knew
everybody in the building and we used to hang out together. We donít have that
kind of relationship nowadays, I donít even know the name of my neighbour; we
TM: But you are a major celebrity in Hong Kong, so your experience
would be very different to that of most people. Have things become so impersonal
TL: Everything has changed, people are more wealthy and they will
protect themselves. People have become more isolated than before. At that time
in the Ď60s most people are working class people, most of them are very poor
and canít afford an apartment so they have to share everything with other
people, not only the apartment but also their privacy.
TM: You still do commercial films, like Tokyo Raiders (Jingle
Ma, 2000), which was the highest-grossing film in Hong Kong last year. Do you
enjoy making popular films like that, or would you rather spend more time making
TL: As an actor I love to work on different projects, not only the
art-house movies but also some mainstream movies.
TM: The films by Wong Kar-wai give you a lot of exposure in the West.
Is that important to you or is it incidental to what you do?
TL: I think I want to share my movies with different people all over
the world, so itís a good thing for me.
TM: Are you interested in making an English-language film?
TL: Of course I want to but I havenít found the right script or the
right character yet.
TM: Other Hong Kong actors, like Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat, have
transplanted their careers to Hollywood. Do you have any plans or wishes to move
TL: No. I have many more choices on the character I can play (in Hong
Kong). The role for Asian actors and actresses is very restrictive in Hollywood
movies. They already have a lot of great actors and actresses, I have no idea
why they need to write scripts for Chinese actors. I will have more space in
Asia and I know my culture very well. I know everybody might have his reason for
going to Hollywood; you want to be more famous, you want to make more money. You
might have your reason, but I canít find a reason for myself to go to
I donít think I need to establish any career there. I want to share my
movies with all the people around the world, some things that belong to my
culture, my country. So I havenít found a reason, but if thereís a right
script or right character or interesting director, of course if you say "Scorsese
wants to do a movie with you", then why not! It would be a very good
experience for me as an actor, but not just sitting there waiting for chances to
make some Hollywood movies. For myself, I love acting, because I do movies for
moviesí sake. From the first day I donít do it for fame or money. I enjoy
the process of making movies and acting, but not for fame or money, that
doesnít mean anything to me.
TM: How did you first get into acting? Was it something you had always
wanted to do?
TL: I never dreamed of being an actor, it was just by coincidence. I
was a salesman selling home appliances before I became an actor. Suddenly one
day I saw on TV they are looking for new talents and I said to myself: "Why
not? Iím still young, I can try something else. They have a training class
that will teach you how to act for a year, so why not give it a try?" So I
get in to the training class and I find a way to express my own feelings and own
emotions in front of others without feeling shy. Itís a kind of relief for me
because actually Iím quite shy and I donít know how to communicate with
I donít know why, maybe because of my background, my father left me when I
was a kid, so I stopped trying to communicate with people. I dared not talk
about my family, I didnít want to tell my classmates that I didnít have a
father. So I didnít know what to do when I was a kid, so I just kept
everything inside, very much like the character in In the Mood For Love,
very good at hiding my emotions and I never cry in front of others. So itís a
little bit sad when youíre a kid, so when I grew up I still didnít know how
to communicate with people and I never cry in front of others. So when I became
an actor I found a way to release all my emotions, itís a kind of therapy.
Thatís why I enjoy acting so much, you can be somebody else, you can cry but
nobody knows thatís your feelings. They will think "Oh, youíre doing
that character very well", but actually thatís my feelings, thatís my
TM: How did you react to winning the best actor award at Cannes for
your work in In the Mood For Love?
TL: After they told me that Iíd won the best actor, I said "no,
this is not a good time to fool me". I almost got that prize when I was
there in 1997 with the movie Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997).
Everybody thought that I would get that prize, and I thought that too, so when
it was announced that Kar-wai got the best director, I was upset that time. I
said Iíll come back again, so I went back in Ď99 and Ď98, and in 2000 with
In the Mood For Love, so I donít expect anything, I dare not expect
anything, I didnít want to be upset. So when they told me, "Hey, you won
the best actor!", I said "No, no way, I donít believe that, unless I
get that prize I wonít believe any rumours any more".
TM: Another honour is that you are the actor-in-focus at the
forthcoming Hong Kong International Film Festival. What does this retrospective
TL: They are showing 10 movies from my career. They show not only (my)
Wong Kar-wai movies but some John Woo movies and some other movies done by other
TM: What ambitions do you have for the future?
TL: I want to produce my own movie. Iíve been an actor for 18 years,
I want to do something else. Being an actor is quite passive in some ways, I
want to be more active in the near future. Maybe I will have some ideas so I can
ask a script writer to write the script and I can do what ever I want, I can
pick the right director to do it, I can decide what style I want the movie to
be. So I think this is fun.
* * *
Tony had an hour until he was to introduce the Melbourne premiere of In
the Mood For Love, so our interview came to an end. He needed a nap. And
after the introduction, where, incidentally, he was mobbed again despite the
earnest precautions by the organisers, he had no time to put his feet up or
party. Before flying back to work the next morning, he had scripts to read for
the three projects he is currently involved in. He is still shooting Wongís 2046,
is about to start on the romantic comedy 1,001st Marriage Proposal with
popular Hong Kong actress Sammi Cheng, and is learning Mandarin in order to take
part in a Zhang Yimou martial arts film with Maggie Cheung.