Leon Lai’s 5 best film roles, from Fallen Angels to Forever Enthralled
Canto-pop star crossed over into movies more than 20 years ago, and had some of his biggest hits playing a hitman for Wong Kar-wai and in romance and horror roles for Peter Chan
Leon Lai-ming returns to the big stage this month, for an eight-show run at the Central Harbourfront Event Space from April 28 to mark 30 years in show business. As well as a beloved singer of Canto-pop, Lai has been a star of the big screen for more than 20 years. Here are five of his most potent performances.
Fallen Angels (1995): Lai’s acting experiences had mostly been confined to TV dramas before auteur Wong Kar-wai cast him opposite host of young lovelies (including Takeshi Kaneshiro and Michelle Reis) is this whimsical follow-up to the director’s Chungking Express (1994). It arguably has even less of a coherent narrative, but there’s joy instead in its portrayal of fleeting inner-city encounters – and in Lai’s mature performance as a hitman who doesn’t really know which woman he should turn to.
Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996): director Peter Chan Ho-sun’s touchstone romance has never really been topped in local cinematic terms. It sees Lai play opposite Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and mostly he basks in her glow. They’re star-crossed Chinese lovers looking for a better life in Hong Kong and then beyond, and mostly they’re at the mercy of the fates – but the steely, often silent resolve Lai brings to his role would become his trademark.
City of Glass (1998): more romance – this time with on-again, off-again real-life partner Shu Qi, a fact that no doubt added to the film’s appeal to cinema-goers at the time. Of more interest now is director Mabel Cheung’s use of Lai as a sort of Hong Kong-raised pre-handover “everyman” staring towards the (uncertain) future of his city.
Three (2002): Chan again turned to Lai for his contribution to this horror triptych (Going Home). The strength of the performance here is how Lai’s character – a local doctor convinced his dead wife would return to life – slowly unravels. The power of the performance earned Lai a best actor nod at the Golden Horse awards, despite his relatively limited screen time.
Forever Enthralled (2008): Lai expands his range – in terms of subject matter at least – by playing controversial Chinese opera star Mei Lanfang in director Chen Kaige’s biopic. He enters the story when Mei reaches middle age, a time when outside forces and conflict threatened to deny him his destiny away. Zhang Ziyi then appears as the lover who helps restore Mei’s passion for all things in life. Would that we were all so fortunate.