Tony Leung Chiu-wai is best known for his collaborations with Hong Kong film auteur Wong Kar-wai, having starred in almost all of his critically acclaimed films, such as In the Mood for Love, Happy Together, and 2046.
The multiple best-actor award-winner has been called “Asia’s Clark Gable” and was named one of “Asia’s 25 Greatest Actors of all Time” by CNN.
Leung started his career as a trainee actor with TVB, together with his good friend Stephen Chow Sing-chi, and made his name in popular television series such as Police Cadet ’84 and The Duke of Mount Deer.
After leaving TVB, he made a quick transition into films with a stellar performance in 1986’s The Lunatics and quickly established himself as one of the most bankable and talented actors in Hong Kong.
The 1990s were a prolific time for Leung and he did some of his best commercial work then.
As the actor celebrates his 56th birthday on June 27, here are eight of Leung’s films from that era that you may have missed, which demonstrate his versatility as an actor.
Bullet in the Head (1990)
Set in riotous 1960s Hong Kong and war-torn Vietnam, Leung stars as Ben, who accidentally kills a triad member and flees to Vietnam with his buddies, only to find that escaping the Vietcong is much tougher than eluding a Hong Kong gang.
This is said to be director John Woo’s ultimate “ballet of bullets”.
Hard Boiled (1992)
Long before he charmed audiences as an undercover cop in 2002’s Infernal Affairs, Leung stood out in this John Woo actioner where he teams up with the legendary Chow Yun-fat as an undercover officer working to bring down a ruthless triad head.
Those familiar with John Woo’s work will revel in the explosive showdown that takes place in a crowded hospital.
The Days of Being Dumb (1992)
Despite his reputation as a character actor, Leung’s comic timing has always been wonderful.
In this Blackie Ko film, Leung and Canto-pop god Jacky Cheung play two hapless wannabe triad members who end up jinxing every boss that recruits them.
Silly, fun and, at the same time, touching!
Tom, Dick and Hairy (1993)
It’s not often you see both Tony Leungs (Chiu-wai and Ka-fai) in the same film, but this is one of them. In this hilarious comedy, both play childhood pals Tom and Dick who, together with Hairy, bumble through life trying to find true love, but still can’t change their philandering ways.
Mack the Knife (1995)
Leung is compelling as the grungy, seemingly sarcastic Dr Mack, who actually has a heart of gold and does good helping the underprivileged in a red-light district in Hong Kong.
His brilliance in the medical field raises the jealousy of his former schoolmate, who tries to frame him for a crime.
Eagle Shooting Heroes (1995)
A parody of Wong Kar-wai’s Ashes of Time, Eagle Shooting Heroes takes all the pretension of Ashes and stomps it into a delightful romp that is classic frenetic Hong Kong comedy.
Leung pulls out all the stops as the crazed Au Yeung Fung, who tries to steal an imperial seal. He is joined by a stellar Hong Kong cast.
This award-winning Vietnamese crime drama is perhaps one of Leung’s early attempts at international art house fare not directed by his frequent collaborator Wong.
Although Leung is not the lead character, he leaves an indelible impression as a melancholic yet ruthless gang leader called Poet.
The Longest Nite (1998)
Set against the turbulent gang war days of pre-handover Macau, this dark, nihilistic and brutal thriller takes viewers to the edge.
Leung plays a bad cop in the payroll of gang leaders who are trying to protect their turf from a returning rival.
It’s a bumpy ride but Leung’s performance makes it an unnerving pleasure.