Don't call me sexy, says Lover man

THE past year has been like a professional homecoming for Tony Leung Kar-fai.

After the surge of international attention that greeted Leung following his steamy role in Jean-Jaques Annaud's The Lover, the actor finds his home-town shining the spotlight on him once again.

Quite simply, Hongkong has rediscovered a favoured son. With mature good looks to back up his acting talent, Leung is the hottest male star on the circuit, and at Friday's Hongkong Film Awards ceremony, he looks likely to prove it.

He has been nominated twice in the Best Actor category for his roles in King of Chess and '92 Legendary La Rose Noire, and Leung's range and versatility could not be better demonstrated. While King of Chess was a critically acclaimed drama, La Rose Noire went to the extreme in its riotous spoof of 1960s melodramas.

Despite the double nomination, he remains characteristically modest about his chances of attaining an HKFA statuette.

''I'm quite worried, actually,'' Leung said. ''I think it's bad because I have two nominations. Maybe some of the people will like King of Chess and maybe the others will like La Rose Noire. So, maybe I'll get 10 points for one film and five for the other when really I need 15 on one to win - so I'll probably lose!'' Although the accolades began three years ago when Leung won Taiwan's Golden Horse award for his performance in Farewell My China, it was not until Annaud cast him in The Lover that he became a hot international property.

Annaud was not the first Western director to seek Leung's classic good looks for the silver screen. Bernardo Bertolucci wanted him to play the title role in The Last Emperor, but Leung turned it down due to previous commitments. The role went to John Lone.

''I'm waiting for other chances to come up,'' Leung said. ''I'm waiting for directors to call me up or scripts that appeal to me.'' Leung puts his success down to his flexibility as an actor rather than his looks. His nominations seem to prove him right.

''I liked both [nominated films] because they were two very different movies. One was a comedy and the other was very serious drama,'' he said. ''But I'm just lucky to have many choices. Other actors and actresses work only on one style of movie. They don't have the chance to change. They don't have the chance to be another character.'' Leung's competition for the Film Awards is stiff. Also nominated for Best Actor are: Jackie Chan in Police Story III - Super Cop, Heung Wah-keung in Arrest the Restless, and Stephen Chiau Sing-chi in Justice, My Foot! BUT even if Leung does not capture the award, he is bound to reap the rewards if '92 Legendary La Rose Noire, which has been nominated for Best Film, Best Director (Joseph Chan) and Best Screenplay (Kei On), wins any of the awards.

Also nominated for Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay are Centre Stage (directed by Stanley Kwan, screenplay by Chiu Da An Ping), King of Beggars (directed by Gordon Chan, screenplay by Chan Kin-chung), and Cageman (directed by Jacob Cheung, screenplay by Yank Wong, Ng Chong-chau and Jacob Cheung).

Once Upon a Time in China II was nominated for Best Director (Tsui Hark), and Justice, My Foot was nominated for best screenplay (Sandy Shaw).

This year's Best Actress nominations are Chingmy Yau in Naked Killer, Lin Ching-hsia in Swordsman II, Maggie Cheung in Centre Stage and Dragon Inn, and Anita Mui in Justice, My Foot! Hongkong's Oscar-equivalents have been notable in the past for mismanagement and lack of star power due to the hectic shooting schedule of those involved.

''It's difficult for all the actors and directors, producers and film crews to attend the awards all on the same night,'' said Leung. ''That should change this year because somebody suggested that nobody should work that night so they can all go along.'' He brushes aside the controversy and antics that have become the ceremony's trademark, and stays focused on the issue at hand: winning.

''I take all award ceremonies seriously,'' Leung said. ''I am very proud of the awards I've won.'' He said trying to play down his sexy on-screen image occasionally left him frustrated.

''I don't want people to remember me as a sex symbol all the time,'' Leung said. ''It's only the story and the lighting and the camera movement that makes me look sexy. It's not me personally.

''I'm just the actor Tony Leung.''