Tony Leung, a Hong Kong legend, tries his luck at Hollywood

Tony Leung, a Hong Kong legend, tries his luck at Hollywood

08.09.2021 Off By manager_1

Hollywood, Los Angeles

The iconic figure of global cinema stars in an American movie now, he comes to the Marvel Universe for the first time. Producer Jonathan Schwartz discussed casting the next Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings with Destin Daniel Cretton. They also talked about his ideal choice to play the villain when he was the film’s director. The film’s hero father, Wenwu was a stylish boss in the underworld, an ancient Chinese warrior and a powerful modern man. Cretton needed someone who could do all of these things. He immediately thought of one his favorite actors. He said that Tony Leung was the best actor he knew. Schwartz responded, “Let’s do it.”

Tony Leung Chiu Wai is the most prominent Hong Kong actor of his time and one of the greatest international stars of cinema. He’s 59 years old and moves with the understated elegance of an old-world matinee idol. His films often feel like their own genres thanks to his performances, be they kung fu sagas or police dramas or love stories in film noir. Over the past 40 years, he has been a muse for some of Asia’s most acclaimed directors, including John Woo, Wong Kar Wai and Andrew Lau. Wong’s films set the stage for Leung’s career. He was known for his debonair personality and pencil mustache, which he cultivated to play a part in Wong’s epic surreal epic 2046. This earned him the nickname Asia’s Clark Gable.

Leung wanted to be a star in a Hollywood movie. He dreamed of working alongside Martin Scorsese or appearing in a Lawrence Block crime book adaptation. He was denied the opportunity. American cinema has historically had very little to offer Asian actors, and Leung did not believe there would be any role for a Cantonese-speaking actor from Hong Kong.

Cretton was the first Asian-American director to direct a Marvel movie. He had a different approach. He says that if we’re going to pursue an actor like this, the character must be worthy of such an ask. “Tony was our guide light before he said yes. We lit a fire under him to create a character worthy of his entertaining the idea.”

How many superhero movies have their villains cast first? Cretton wanted to resolve a unique Asian-American problem by using the source material. Marvel Comics created Shang-Chi, the son of an unredeemably stereotypical Asian villain, in the early 1970s. Half a century later Marvel had lost the rights to Fu Manchu. They didn’t want them either. Cretton and his crew needed a new character.

Enter Wenwu is a father with a criminal past and now he is the head of a modern terrorist group. Leung recalls that Cretton told him in their first discussion that he thought he was a superhero. However, Cretton also said, “You’re not a superman, but your character has many layers.” Leung was intrigued by Cretton’s open and forthright style and the complexity of the villain and spent the two months prior to filming preparing for his part.

He says from his Hong Kong home via Zoom, “Frankly I can’t imagine anyone in the real world having superpowers, but I can picture someone like him, who is an underdog and who is a fail of a father.” Wearing a white T-shirt and a thin golden chain, he smiles at the camera with the charm of a child. A collection of porcelain urns and vase are arranged behind him. He said he knew Wenwu was driven by love and not evil, which gave him a sense of humanity. Leung said that Wenwu was a bad father on one hand, but he is a good father on the other. He also stated that he loves his children deeply and doesn’t know how to love himself.

Tony Leung’s story is very similar to a Tony Leung movie. His father, a manager at a nightclub in Hong Kong, abandoned his mother when he was seven years. This happened in Hong Kong’s late 1960s, when divorced families were common. Leung became a reclusive, closed person as a result. He says, “I didn’t know how I could deal with people after the father left me. When you’re young, everyone talks about your father. Their family. How happy they are. From that point, I believe I stopped communicating with people. I became very suppressed.”

He was able to forget his shame when he went with his mother to the movies. There, Leung fell in love and also fell in love the films of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Alain Delon was his favorite matinee star from the 1960s Paris. His blue eyes were so vivid that they looked like sapphires. He also smoked cigarettes with an almost erotic intimacy as if they were keeping him alive.

Leung had no idea that he would one day become an actor. In 1982, he was 20 years old and was selling appliances when Stephen Chow, an actor, suggested that he audition for the famed Television Broadcasts Limited acting school in Hong Kong. He was surprised to find out that Leung was accepted and trained six days a weeks in all disciplines of acting before he was cast in his first television series. He found a way to express a part of him that he had kept secret through acting. “It was to cry in front others, to laugh, and to let go all my emotions without being shy.”

He used to talk to himself in front a mirror as a teenager but not to anyone. Later, he turned that technique into his art. He plays the role of a lovelorn cop in Wong Kar Wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express. He spends three minutes talking with a bar soap, Garfield the Cat and a shirt that he left on the ground. He speaks to them as if they were his friends and needs to cheer them up. He makes jokes about their weight, cleanliness, and even some confessions. This performance left an indelible mark on Cretton, Shang-Chi’s director.

Wong and Leung would make seven films together, including The Grandmaster in which Leung plays Bruce Lee’s legendary martial art trainer, Ip Man. 2046 was a surreal picture that had no script and lasted four years. Wong’s 2000 film In the Mood for Love was what brought Leung to a global audience and earned him a Cannes best actor award. Leung plays the role of a writer whose spouse travels extensively. He then begins to spend time with Maggie Cheung’s neighbor, who also travels extensively. To their mutual dismay, they fall in love as they discover that their spouses have an affair. It is a film of great tone and Leung’s performance is amazing. His ability to move in one scene from desolation to lust to tenderness, quiet fury to lust, all while sitting in front of the camera, is remarkable.

Leung played a rare role as a villain in Ang Lee’s 2007 World War II-era drama Lust, Caution. He was a Chinese government official living in Japanese-occupied Shanghai and embarks on a wild affair. Leung was surprised when he saw the film. Leung didn’t know the origin of the character. He saw the performance as a kind of ideal. It was like he had discovered a part of himself that he hadn’t before.

Leung is extremely private, in ways that are unusual for 2021. Although his wife Carina Lau is active on social media and almost never sees him there, Leung is still very private. His 58th birthday photo on Instagram shows him alone skateboarding in an empty lot. It captures his essence perfectly. In 2008, Wong Kar Wai, a Bhutanese ceremony, organized their marriage. They have appeared together in many films over the course of their relationship. Most recently, Leung was in 2046. Leung greatly appreciates having a partner who can act with him, understands his craft, and does it all herself.

Leung and Lau do not have children. Leung has also never played the role of a father onscreen. Leung says that someone approached him to play the role as a father who failed. “But I declined it because I don’t want to be reminded how my dad treated us.”

He relates happy memories of being alone in Tokyo and Hokkaido. He remembers riding his bicycle for hours and going to museums and art galleries alone. He also recalls drinking sake and eating the liver, intestine and ox tongue. He prefers extreme sports like skiing, snowboarding and surfing to exercise. He quickly describes these as hobbies that he pursues because of their solitude. He says, “Maybe it was because of my childhood. Which made me distant myself from people.” “Since then I have found something I enjoy doing alone. You can’t always depend on people to make you happy.

Leung was dressed up and ready to go on the first day of Shang-Chi’s Legend of the Ten Rings set in Sydney. He asked for his chair near the camera. He did this every day. Cretton says that he would not be using his phone and he would sit and watch all of our activities, including what shot we were setting up, how we were using the stand-ins.

Simu Liu, a 32-year-old Chinese Canadian actor, plays Shang-Chi. He is adamant when speaking about Leung’s stature. “One day, you’re on a network comedy program that’s doing well and the next day, you’re in Australia with Tony Leung, someone you grew up admiring and watching.”

The most striking thing about Leung was his unassuming demeanour. “If you had the chance to meet him, even if it was difficult, which is not easy if you are from Asia, you would think that he was like any other street kid. He was kind and gave me an Asian dad vibe that I am very familiar with.”

Liu quickly found himself in a confrontation with Leung he didn’t even imagine, thanks to his incredible eyes that he grew up seeing. Liu said, “He can convey so much with one look.” It’s one thing to capture that onscreen. It’s quite another to have those eyes looking at you, reaching into your soul.

Liu would listen to Leung’s stories between takes. He shared his TVB experiences with Liu, noting the differences between his stunt safety Marvel days with harnesses, special effects, and his Hong Kong days doing stunts on wires that seemed like they might snap.

Leung is both amused and moved by the impact Hollywood has had on his Hong Kong fans. He says that his TV career started in the 1980s. “A lot of my fans are grandmas and grandpas and treat him as their son. It’s almost like saying, “Oh, you went abroad to study at a very prestigious college.” Bravo! You are a great person. You are a proud person.”

Leung finds that he gravitates towards playing more villains. It’s possible that this is the beginning of a new phase for him. After a long career, it’s still a vast unknown territory, with many challenges that can still scare me. He says, “They often have a more complex personality and motivations. It’s difficult to live with one in real life because there are often consequences. You can explore the story in movies without worrying about consequences.”