Tony Leung is the first Chinese actor to ever receive a prestigious Golden Lion for the Lifetime Achievement award, which he accepted with tears in this year’s Venice Film Festival.
The ongoing 80th Venice Film Festival started on August 30 and will end on September 9. This year’s event has a roster of 23 films contending for the coveted Golden Lion award, as per Prestige. These include Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things, and David Fincher’s The Killer, to name a few. One of the highlights of the festival was actor Tony Leung Chiu-Wai—more popularly known as Tony Leung—receiving a Golden Lion for Venice Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award on September 2, Saturday.
The Hong Kong star is best known for his quiet yet powerful performances in films by equally esteemed directors like Wong Kar Wai and Ang Lee. Three of the films Leung starred in, namely A City of Sadness (1989), Cyclo (1995), and Lust Caution (2007), all won top prizes in previous editions of the Italian film fest, according to Reuters.
Director Ang Lee himself presented the Golden Lion trophy to Leung, praising the actor for his work and dedication.
In his speech, Lee shared an anecdote about how Leung would use his downtime on set to watch people work, rather than rest. It was the actor’s way of watching how he could help the production.
“It’s both terrifying and meaningful when someone that good and genuine embodies a hidden part of you. His willingness to constantly share that vulnerability is what makes him so great. And … he doesn’t do it for the credit,” Ang shared in his speech, as per Los Angeles Times.
Training During the Golden Age
Leung accepted the Golden Lion with tears in his eyes and a long standing ovation from the crowd, clearly moved by Lee’s words and the accolade. He thanked the director and praised his talent as well. Leung also made it a point to thank his loved ones, and the Hong Kong film industry. More specifically, he credited his training during the “golden age” of Hong Kong television and film, stating that it helped him become the versatile actor he is today.
During an interview with Variety, Leung revealed that he started his career in a TV station in Hong Kong. This allowed him to immerse himself in different forms of genres—like drama, action, and comedy. Afterwards, he started his shift to Hong Kong cinema, working with directors and learning to perform in more drama and art movies.
Fans of filmmaker Wong Kar Wai may know Leung best for his leading role as Chow Mo-wan in 2000’s In the Mood for Love, alongside co-star Maggie Cheung (who plays leading lady, Su Li-zhen). Both actors have an undeniable yet quiet chemistry fueled by longing glances, as their characters grow close amid the infidelity of both their spouses.
A Man of Emotion and Action
Indeed, it seems like Leung often plays characters of very little words, yet their personalities shine through his in-depth understanding of their emotions and actions.
During his speech, Lee added that Leung is one of those actors who can communicate “more in one look than many actors with a full monologue,” as per Los Angeles Times.
Perhaps the most touching part of Leung’s career is how it shaped him as a person. His quiet persona isn’t very far from his real one. Leung shared that he often doesn’t reveal his feelings in front of others, and tends to suppress them. However, acting gave him a conduit for self-expression.
“After I got into acting class, I found a way to express myself in front of other people without being shy, because they don’t know that [it] is me. They think I’m playing a character,” he explained to Variety.
Intense Study and Dedication
Leung spends a great deal of time studying every facet of his characters. His dedication to the craft is no doubt why many great directors love working with him. During the festival, Leung talked a bit about his upcoming films—both of which will bring him outside of his comfort zone in more ways than one.
The first is a Hong Kong crime thriller entitled The Goldfinger. Here, Leung will be playing the role of the bad guy, something that he’s still not quite used to. Of course, he recently played the antagonist in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a nuanced performance that garnered him acclaim. Yet Leung admits that it’s still “challenging […] to play the bad guy,” according to Reuters.
He’ll also be starring in his first European film directed by Hungarian filmmaker, Ildikó Enyedi. In it, Leung will play a brilliant neuroscientist. To prepare for the role, he intends to spend eight months learning as much as he can.
“I had no idea what neuroscience is. So, I have read a lot of books, and I have gone university hopping,” Leung told Variety. “I told the director, I need to do this little-by-little, so I just scan into the characters, unconsciously, after a certain period of time.”
Though Leung added that he “can’t handle more than one role at a time,” and has “no particular career plan,” it’s clear that fans are happy enough to see his talent shine in any project he decides to join.
Banner photo via Instagram @tonyleung627.