I’m an insane fan of Tony Leung Chiu Wai. He portrays his characters quite soulfully, leaving a long impression on me. That being said, not everything he does is a hit … he’s had some real stinkers over the years … but he has surprised me with some performances. Bullet in the Head (1988), an early John Woo film, comes quickly to mind. I was NOT expecting the emotional intensity that Leung portrayed there. I watched that film after seeing all of Wong Kar-Wei’s films and already having a strong impression of Leung’s range as an actor. The rawness of Leung’s work in Bullet is worth checking out. It’s unstudied, un-sculptural.
I finally just watched Anh Hung Tran’s 1995 film Cyclo today while it sleeted outside. What an elegantly brutal film. So collapsing. This is the mode that I’m most accustomed to seeing Leung in. Disenchanted, weary. Heart sore, locked in, a bit beyond us. Some of the expressions on his face — like when he first lures the sister into prostituting herself and he climbs out onto the windowsill to eavesdrop — has that calmness of a catastrophe’s wake.
Here’s a great interview he gave about a decade ago in which he discusses how he approaches acting and what it was like working with various other directors and stars.
You can see how soft spoken he is. I bet that in life his charisma is unremarkable. But on camera, something else happens. Maybe because the camera has trained our eyes to look for subtleties, to love the detail.
I wonder about that quality in some actors that transmits so certainly in this way. Performers, generally, really impress me. I feel like I would disappear before a camera. How does one even imagine inviting that sort of scrutiny? Everything about you becomes a channel for something else guided through you. And what is that like.
The best actors, in my mind, have a translucency about them. It’s an innocence.