best film:   In the Mood for Love is a film that improves with close study. It is almost too cinematically and stylistically rich for one viewing. This is approximately the tenth (10th) best film of all-time – and is Tony Leung’s best film. But this is a very packed, masterpiece-laden category for Leung – a strength of his for sure. Chungking Express, Flowers of Shanghai, Hero, and 2046 are all masterpieces. Leung has been front and center for two (2) of the best films of the 1990s, and three (3) of the best films of the 2000s.


best performance:   Tony Leung’s restrained work as Chow Mo-wan in WKW’s love trilogy wins here if one were allowed to cheat and included an actor’s best character (Leung plays the lovelorn Chow Mo-wan in three times, in Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love, and 2046). Forced to pick just one, it would be In the Mood For Love, but there is certainly a strong case for 2046. Leung has to share more of WKW’s attention (with the luminous Maggie Cheung) in In the Mood for Love, whereas he is center stage for 2046. Either way, Leung is a master at the slow burn. Leung is such a gifted, subtle actor.


Tony Leung here in In the Mood for Love – the film’s form is as good or better than any film in cinema history – in fact, it may be my textbook example – visual theme and variation. Other options include Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, Ozu and Tokyo Story, and the combined oeuvre of Jim Jarmusch. In the Mood for Love is a combination of Peter Greenaway’s stylistic maximums Jarmusch’s formal repetition.


stylistic innovations/traits:   His nicknames (at least here in the West) are the Asian Clark Gable or calling him the Bogart and Bacall of the east (with Maggie Cheung – they have five (5) archiveable films together).  Leung is a star and has charisma like Gable and Bogart of course – but his approach may be closer to a Montgomery Clift. He is more delicate than the booming Gable. Leung can get a little louder in his performances with John Woo (his work with Woo adds such a great layer to his resume) but Tony Leung will ultimately be remembered for his collaborations with WKW – seven (7) films in the archives together and Leung is not exactly Mr. Gregarious in those films. He plays melancholy – the shade of a pained midnight blue – as well as an actor in cinema history (think maybe Bill Murray in Lost in Translation). Leung is five (5) years younger than Daniel Day-Lewis, making him now the youngest actor here in the top 12 (twelve) actors of all-time. The action and crime movie work (Internal Affairs, Woo, Hero) give him depth and versatility rounding out that work with WKW.


Four years after In the Mood for Love, WKW’s follow-up is the third and (so far) final film in the unofficial Love trilogy (Days of Being Wild from 1990 being the first) featuring Tony Leung as Chow Mo-Wan and Maggie Cheung (here only as a cutaway memory really) as Su Li-zhen.


from 2002’s Hero – Broken Sword (Tony Leung)  and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung).  Leung and Cheung working together yet again just two years after In the Mood for Love.


directors worked with:  WKW (7), John Woo (3), Hsiao-Hsien Hou (2), Yimou Zhang (1)


from Chungking Express – Leung’s achievement is on the same level as Faye Wong’s. The scene where he comes by and asks her out (the owner of the snack bar calls him a “smooth operator”) is a complete wow – a movie star moment.


top five performances:

  1. In the Mood for Love
  2. 2046
  3. Chungking Express
  4. Flowers of Shanghai  
  5. Happy Together


Tony Leung plays Wang Lingsheng in Flowers of Shanghai.  Leung also worked with Hsiao-Hsien Hou on A City of Sadness (1989). Leung is just a phenomenal actor – a star’s charisma without being a prima donna and having to preen like a peacock, even in a crowded room he shines like a beacon. Like Montgomery Clift, he has an instant undertone and nuance – he is an actor that looks like he always has a secret. This is such a key role for Leung’s body of work. He does not ask for the camera’s attention (he is often facing the opposite direction in a large gathering) – but it comes his way anyways as he goes through the meticulous ritual of preparing his pipe. He is often inebriated – but a sullen drunk.


archiveable films

1989- City of Sadness
1990- Bullet in the Head
1990- Days of Being Wild
1992- Hard Boiled
1994- Ashes of Time
1994- Chungking Express
1995- Cyclo
1997- Happy Together
1998- Flowers of Shanghai
2000- In the Mood for Love
2002- Hero
2002- Internal Affairs
2004- 2046
2008- Red Cliff I
2009- Red Cliff II
2013- The Grandmaster