Tony Leung is the “Actor in Focus” in this year’s Hong Kong International
Film Festival. Twelve of his films will be shown: Chungking Express, Happy
Together, In the Mood for Love directed by Wong Kar-wai; City of Sadness,
Flowers of Shanghai by Hou Hsiao-hsien; Cyclo by Tran Anh Hung; Tom, Dick and
Hairy by Lee Chi-ngai and Peter Chan; The Days of Being Dumb by Kor Sau-leung;
Bullet in the Head by John Woo; My Heart is That Eternal Rose by Patrick Tam;
People’s Hero by Derek Yee; and Love Unto Waste by Stanley Kwan. From these 12
films, which were made at different stages of Tony Leung’s acting career, we can
observe his growth from “acting with style” to “acting without style”.
Cecilia Wong: How do you feel about being chosen as the “Actor in
Focus” in the Hong Kong lnternational Film Festival?
Tony Leung: It’s a great honor and I’m very happy about it. In fact,
many of my fellow actors work as hard as I do. I am just luckier because my
efforts ate recognized. It feels great to have others to recognize your efforts
and the films you have made in all these years and to share your experiences
with them. The 12 films so selected will give the audience an overview of my
growth since the first day of my acting career, and how I have changed in the
way I act over the years.
Cecilia Wong: How different is it from receiving an award? What does
it mean to you?
Tony Leung: Is has a different meaning. If it were a film award, it
would be all about one film and everything in it. However, being the “Actor in
Focus”, where 12 of my films will be shown, it enables others to see my growth
in the last 18 years in my career as we I as how I nave changed in the way I
Cecilia Wong: Which of the 12 films would you choose to watch if you
were the audience?
Tony Leung: Actually, many of the audience have grown up together with
me. If they love films and wish to know how an actor has changed and what he has
experienced in his acting career, they would choose to watch all of his film
rather than just one of them. If I like an actor, I would watch all of his
films. To watch only one of his film, you see nothing more than his performance
in that particular film, and will have no idea of his growth. Only by watching
all his films will it be possible to understand his passion for acting.
Cecilia Wong: Can you briefly talk about your acting career?
Tony Leung: At the outset, I had my own way of acting. Then I tried to
forget the “way”, and tried to act like a layman or amateur actor. Such a
feeling was especially strong after City of Sadness by Hou Hsiao-hsien. As most
of the actors in the film were amateur actors, their spontaneity and the fact
that there is not a trace of “acting” in them impressed me very much. As an
actor, I’ve always wanted to progress so such a level. You have to work very
hard, and the difficult part is to give people the feeling that it is “a person
who knows nothing about acting doing it”. It is like Tai Chi, in the sense that
you forget all the styles eventually and do so without style. The transformation
from “acting with style” to “acting without style” is very difficult because our
experience has already established a style in our subconscious, and it is most
difficult to remove that established style and bring out a new feeling.
Cecilia Wong: Is it difficult to put this “acting without style” idea
Tony Leung: It depends on whether there is someone who can work with
you. I mentioned this idea to Hou Hsiao-hsien more than 10 years ago after City
of Sadness. For the last 10 years or so, I’ve been trying to do this but it did
not work out every time! No matter how hard you try to forget the learnt
techniques, you still use them without knowing it because there are a lot of
experiences in your subconscious. It was not until I met Wong Kar-wai then I
began to realize I could continue to try the idea and we could work it out
Cecilia Wong: Is this the reason why you have worked mostly with Wong
Kar-wai apart from the fact that you know each other well enough?
Tony Leung: It can be said that Wong Kar-wai and I have grown up
together. I had already come up with the idea when he started to make films. But
I could find no one at that time to work with me. As most directors would have
the script and everything ready before the shooting, it would give me an idea
about the film, which made it difficult for me achieve the effect that I had
anticipated. To achieve “acting without style”, the basic rule is that there
should be no direction, no preparation, like your everyday life, when you have
no idea as to what will happen in the next second but you will know how to
react... Coincidentally, I got to know Wong Kar-wai. His way of making films
enabled me to my idea. In In the Mood for Love, I started to have a grasp of it
Cecilia Wong: Will you keep it up?
Tony Leung: Yes. I’m sure it is the ultimate wish of all actors to
reach that level — where no trace of acting can be found in them. This is the
supreme level. I used to like Robert de Niro and Al Pacino a lot. Being both
“method acting” masters, they have developed a certain style — rhythm, method or
reaction, and seem unable to act without it. Everything can be anticipated. This
is not what I’m after as far as acting is concerned. I wish to do something more
by utilizing more feelings in the acting.
Cecilia Wong: Only Wong Kar-wai has been able to meet your demands in
last 10 years? Is there any other director who can?
Tony Leung: In Hong Kong, directors usually have the script ready
before shooting. Wong Kar-wai is an exception! All he has is an idea and nothing
else. Acting in his films is like doing an experiment, and only in this way can
you explore new things. If I already have a good control of the “acting without
style” technique, of course there should be no problem working with directors
who have scripts ready before the shooting like Hou Hsiao-hsien or Tran Anh
Hung. The fact is that I am still working on it and have not had a good control
of the technique, which is why there is only Wong Kar-wai who can meet my
demands for the time being.
Cecilia Wong: There has been one occasion on which you felt confused
and wanted to give up acting. After you had watched yourself in Days of Being
Wild, you found your direction again. Has there been any other occasion?
Tony Leung: On my first day of acting, I knew acting was an endless
pursuit, and there must be occasions when you will improve or stray. This is a
plain truth and I do not think it is an issue, If you think that you have done
well enough and will never make mistakes, you will never improve. Acting is like
life, in the sense that you learn from mistakes and continuously re-examine
yourself. Acting is not a win-or-lose game. The most important thing is
participation, and to learn every day. I see an award as a conclusion of a stage
rather than something that tells me I have done good enough. I believe I will do
even better at a later stage.
Cecilia Wong: Can you talk about the films and your impressions about
the respective directors?
Love Unto Waste
Tony Leung: It was made a long time ago. I was young. Stanley Kwan
trusted me and let me do things my way. It is a pity that we have made no other
films since. Maybe it’s because he prefers to make films about women.
Tony Leung: Derek Yee used to be an actor, which is why he understands
actors. He is easy-going, and it s a happy experience to have worked with him.
My Heart is that Eternal Rose
Tony Leung: Patrick Tam is a very good director but we argued a lot.
He wanted everything to be exactly the way he wanted them to be, e.g., the
movement, the lines, etc. As I was young and did not know much about acting and
films, we tended to argue a lot. But after I had watched the film, I had to
admit that he really did a good job.
Tom, Dick and Hairy
Tony Leung: I made a lot of films for UFO. Lee Chi-ngai and Peter Chan
are very nice people. I could do whatever I wanted in their films. Gradually, I
became out of control. It was so pleasant and comfortable acting in their films.
The Days of Being Dumb
Tony Leung: Kor Sau-leung is a very humorous person. It was fun acting
in the film. Jacky Cheung and I would improvise a lot of things on the spot, and
Kor was willing to take them. Actually, my most spontaneous acting and lines can
be found in The Days of Being Dumb and Tom, Dick and Hairy. Maybe it was because
I know these directors well, so I dared to try new things. Actually, these
everyday life comedies are closer to my nature.
Bullet in the Head
Tony Leung: It’s hard to imagine that such a nice and gentle person
could make such a romantic film, John Woo was so stubborn that it was impossible
to convince him. Even when I had told him my views, it could not affect his
decision. The explosion shots in the film did make me worry because no absolute
safety could be guaranteed due to limited time and shortage of funds. Having
said that, there is no question that his action films are wonderful.
Chungking Express, Happy Together and In the Mood for Love
Tony Leung: These three films by Wong Kar-wai feature three different
stages of myself. For example, I was less reserved in Happy Together than in In
the Mood for Love. In In the Mood for Love, bringing out the personality of the
character without too many facial expressions was a new and difficult challenge.
I had to be fully confident of myself to play the role well.
City of Sadness and Flowers of Shanghai
Tony Leung: I felt myself growing up from City of Sadness to Flowers
of Shanghai. Hou Hsiao-hsien is a director whom I admire a lot. He loves films,
and never uses films as a means of making money. There is no better word to
describe him than “stubborn”.
Tony Leung: The role in this film is similar to Chow Mo-wan in In the
Mood for Love. I was not able to explore toe role deeper. As a result, the
effect was not strong enough and, indeed, rather superficial.