Family & Companions
Chinese film and TV actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai gained some stateside critical attention with the limited release of Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung's "Cyclo" (1996). Describing his character, "The Poet"--a sensitive gangster who suffers stress-related nosebleeds between bouts of ruthless bloodletting--he has been quoted: "The role of the Poet is quite different from the characters I usually play, more introverted, more fragile. I like his sadness, his modesty, his breathtaking self-destructiveness. The Poet is still with me today. I'm not very talkative like him, and I appreciate my solitude as he does." Such an assessment seems somewhat disingenuous in light of the vulnerability Leung Chiu-wai often brings to his characterizations, even in hard-boiled action fare.
With his slender physique, boyishly good looks and full, petulant lips, Leung Chiu-wai does not look the part of a standard action hero. His handsome features seem most natural tightened with concern or softened into dreaminess. Well-paired with ultra-cool superstar Chow Yun-fat in John Woo's over-the-top cop drama, "Hard-Boiled" (1992), he was impressively restrained and tense as a deep undercover operative. Chiu-wai and Woo had collaborated previously on the shattering action-drama "Bullet in the Head" (1990). He proved both credible and moving as part of a trio of friends from Hong Kong who seek their fortune in Vietnam during the war and remains best known in the USA for these two performances.
Like Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-wai has frequently alternated appearances in commercial genre films (e.g., action, fantasy, comedy, historical drama) and "art" cinema. An increasingly celebrated practitioner of the latter, filmmaker Wong Kar-wai has cast the actor well in several of his enigmatic yet compelling features, notably as a dreamy lovelorn cop in the charming romantic comedy "Chungking Express" (1994) and a down-and-out swordsman with failing eyesight in "Ashes of Time" (1994), a metaphysical period martial arts epic. Neither role was traditionally masculine; the former found him spending much time talking to stuffed animals, pining for his girlfriend and passively lounging in his underwear while the latter had him sporting beautiful shoulder-length hair. In contrast, Leung Chiu-wai was shaved bald to play a chaste monk who falls for a beautiful female spirit in the outlandish fantasy sequel "A Chinese Ghost Story III" (1991). He was also effective in the straight historical melodrama "The Actress/Center Stage" (1991) opposite Maggie Cheung.
Leung Chiu-wai has also carved out a singing career as a pop star in the Asian market. Reportedly he favors a bizarre singing style, chained nose rings and skirts. He should not be confused with the other Tony Leung--actor Tony Leung Kar-fai, best known as "The Lover" (1992)--who also works in the HK and international cinemas and with whom he co-starred in "Ashes of Time."
The actor appeared in one of Asia's greatest cinematic triumphs, "Ying xiong" (2002), which was released in the United States in 2004 under the title "Hero." Leung teamed with celebrated writer-director Zhang Yimou--known more for character dramas than kicks and fisticuffs--Australian cinematographer Chris Doyle and Li's fellow Asian martial arts stars Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi, Maggie Cheung, Daoming Chen and Donnie Yen for the big-budgeted tale set at the violent dawn of the Qin dynasty, circa 220 B.C., where the soon-to-be first Emperor is on the brink of conquering the war-torn land and three of his most passionate opponents (Cheung, Leung and Ziyi) are trying to assassinate him, opposed by the indomitable Li as Nameless, a lowly policeman who faces off against powerful forces. The film become a phenomenal hit in Asia and Europe, and was nominated for an Oscar in 2003 in the foreign language category before its North American release in 2004.
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Signed by TVB shortly after graduating high school
Starred in the Police Cadet series; first worked with a then unknown Maggie Cheung
First feature collaboration with director John Woo, "Bullet in the Head"
Reteamed with Woo for "Hard-boiled"
Directed by Wong Kar-wai in two features, "Chungking Express" and "Ashes of Time"
Starred in title role in Trahn Ahn Hung's "Cyclo"
Headlined the Cannes-screened "In the Mood for Love"
Reteamed with actress Maggie Cheung to star in Yimou Zhang's "Hero"
Co-starred with Ziyi Zhang in the sci-fi "2046" directed by Kar Wai Wong
Cast in Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" a thriller set in WWII-era Shanghai; earned an Independent Spirit Award Nomination for Lead Actor