Change of key for lover-boy Leung

He has thrilled women - not to mention a few men - with the sight of his bare body in Jean Jacques Annaud's The Lover, but now it would seem Tony Leung Kar-fai is issuing an invitation for his fans to return the favour.

The reluctant sex symbol releases his debut album, Tempt Me For A While, simultaneously throughout Asia next week, and fans will be able to decide if his vocal talent is as seductive as his acting.

Leung's closest claims to a studio recording are the few songs he did for the soundtrack of the retro hit 1992 Legendary La Rose Noire, more goofy than heart-rending renditions.

As one would expect from 'The Lover', the Mandarin album will be a collection of romantic ballads but the 36-year-old actor has no unrealistic expectations from his new foray.

'In fact, I have no expectations in anything I do,' he said.

'I don't hope to. I guess it is just an idiosyncrasy.

'Besides, this is not my career. You cannot make money from singing unless you have sung for a very long time and are very successful. It never happens at the beginning.

'Whether or not it raises my social status, I don't know. Songs will inevitably have an effect on people wherever they may be. But at the moment, I cannot think of it as a new career.' His attempts at warbling, however, have given him his first taste of a different kind of leading man - that of music television videos. 'Actually, I'd been in videos before but never my own,' he said. 'It's nothing really special, just that you have to concentrate all your feelings and emotions in a very short span of time.

'But I just think of myself as a performer. It doesn't matter whether I do it physically, with language or with songs. They are different levels of performances. I take the songs that people write for me and act out the meaning and feelings.' Fortunately for Leung, he might not have to do much acting; his album will be as close to 'the real Leung Kar-fai' as possible.

'In the movies, it is different,' he said. 'I play different characters with different images. But the album image will be more like the real me. I mean the look is about the same. But for the person's texture, you will have to listen to the songs.

'I know it sounds a little hard-sell, but I found that the songs were written about things that were close to my own feelings.' Tempt Me For A While, which took four months to record, has actually been in the pipeline for more than two years. Leung signed the recording contract with Rock Records three years ago, about the same time as kung-fu star Jackie Chan.

'At the time I was doing a lot of filming, so it was put on the back-burner,' he said. 'Songs were chosen and then had to be changed again because [the production] dragged on.

'Then when production started, they had to take longer with the arrangements and everything because I am new to all this. But the company gave us a deadline so we had to finish it within four months. It was a lot shorter than I expected.' Still, Leung has given himself a 90-plus grading for his singing efforts. In fact, popular singer-songwriter Emil Chau Wah-kin has already offered to produce the actor's next album. 'I think what I have put in and what I have received is quite satisfying so far,' Leung said.

Even before Leung started working on his album, he had dropped out of the limelight for some time, giving rise to rumours that he was 'poison' after a contractual disagreement with producer and actress Sharla Cheung Man over the film Dream Lover. Leung explained it was not so, although he does admit that the incident had a small effect on him.

'It made me see the conditions and the professional problems that existed in this business,' he said. 'There were other factors. I was feeling very tired; I felt there wasn't much more I could do within the constraints of the existing film genres, or any breakthroughs I could achieve.

'So I decided to stop and take a rest if there weren't any good projects on offer. I needed to have my own time and space. I missed out on a lot of things because I had so little time. I also needed to recharge my batteries.

'I have done work in the middle, such as this album, the results of which will not be seen until later, of course. And I have been looking at a lot of scripts but I've not been the kind of person who announces things before they are confirmed. I can only say, in that time, I did not come across a single script which offered me something I wanted to do.' Until now, that is. Once his album is out and the promotion work is over, Leung will be returning to the grind of filming in September. He has two films lined up, one of which is still pending final negotiations.

The first will be a Taiwanese production in which he will star opposite Joan Chen and the second, The Moving Earth, might just be Leung's ticket to the big-time in Hollywood.

Leung has yet to sign on the dotted line but said he had given them the nod. 'We have been discussing this film for almost 11/2 years - a lot of time, it takes this long to work out the details,' he said.

'I had some problems with the script and we had an amicable discussion about it and some changes were made. Everything seems OK now but I have accepted the other film so it has to wait until November. We're just waiting to see if they can work out the schedule. I don't want it to drag on too much longer.' If he does take on the film, which will be directed by a woman director from the mainland who has emigrated to the United States, Leung will play an interpreter with the government of Chiang Kai-shek who falls in love with a Western woman and brings her back with him to China.

Leung conceded there were echoes of The Lover in The Moving Earth although he maintains the basic context is different: 'This is set during the revolution and the man is a high-ranking official. So his social status would affect his work and his love life.

'As for the East-West love affair, I don't know, maybe people think that it is easier to accept Leung Kar-fai with a foreign woman.' Leung is not overly excited about 'breaking into Hollywood', but that is to be expected since The Lover, despite being made in France, had all the trappings of Hollywood productions.

'Hollywood has the most money and the biggest market for returns, that's why there is a trend,' he said.

'I do not think Hong Kong is that organised over planning an assault on Hollywood. The biggest market where they are spending most money and effort is China.' Despite that, he thinks that Hong Kong film people - whether they are directors, actors or just technical crew - should grab whatever opportunities they can.

'It's like working in a large organisation or a small organisation . . . it doesn't mean you are better if you work for a large company or that you are any less if you don't,' he said.

'But the kind of experience you gain will be significantly different in these two organisations.' Just like, if he had the chance, he would like to experience the different kinds of work that make up the production of a movie: 'I was thinking what I would do if I didn't want to act anymore.

'In film every person on the team is so important that it would be difficult to choose.

'But then, suddenly this singing offer came along. So I don't have time to think about such things anymore.'