Hard act to follow
Any actor who has worked in Hong Kong knows that filmmaker Wong Kar-wai invests a massive amount of time in his movies. The director has been known to take years to complete any one of his masterpieces. Tony Leung Chiu-wai, who has worked with Wong on six films, can certainly attest to that. However, the award-winning actor also credits these experiences with giving him a higher appreciation of what he does with his time.
'Time plays an important role in all of Wong Kar-wai's films. Timing can often affect many people's fates. It has made me realise I need to make the most of mine,' says the 48-year-old, who is working with Wong for a seventh time on The Grand Master, a biopic of kung fu master Ip Man. 'Once we get on the train of time, there is no turning back the clock. It sounds quite pessimistic but it's a natural cycle.'
Leung's partnership with Wong began in 1990 with Days of Being Wild. The young actor's career was on a meteoric rise then after he built his reputation doing popular TVB drama series and was starting to make a splash with John Woo's Bullet in the Head. Despite the top-notch ensemble cast of Days of Being Wild, Leung held his own and that was to be the start of a two-decade friendship and working relationship with Wong, that included Chungking Express, Happy Together, 2046, and In the Mood for Love, for which he won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000.
Like many other Hong Kong actors, Leung went through a phase during which he was making several films at the same time. But in recent years, he has been more selective with his work. 'When a person reaches a certain age, you naturally adjust to the change in environment, your health and your psychological conditions,' Leung says. 'When I first started, I would use all of my time and effort to try different things. Although it looks like I am slowing down now, I still pursue that aim to make the best use of my time to produce better work.'
He is very conscious of the 'footsteps' he leaves with his work. 'In a movie, every time an action changes or an expression turns, it's recorded forever in the film. This is what we leave behind as actors,' he says. The slower pace of life suits him just fine. 'I can put my heart and time into doing each thing well,' he says.
And Leung has other priorities now, especially after having settled into married life with long-time girlfriend Carina Lau Ka-ling in 2008. 'My life now gives me more time to find myself, to enjoy my life and to spend with my family and friends.'