One of the most sought-after actors in East Asia, Tony Leung Chiu-wai made his mark on world cinema for his work with high profile directors like John Woo, Wong Kar-wai, and Hou Hsiao-hsien. He got his start as a television actor and children's show host, and quickly made the jump into Hong Kong's thriving mid-'80s film industry, where he proved his versatility in a string of movies by Hong Kong heavyweights like Stanley Kwan (Love Unto Waste), Patrick Tam (My Heart Is That Eternal Rose) and Sammo Hung (Seven Warriors). But it wasn't until his first foray outside of Hong Kong's movie industry -- a moving portrayal of a hearing-impaired photographer in Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's historical epic A City of Sadness -- that the full range of his talent became apparent.
International recognition began to come Leung's way in the 1990s, thanks to roles in Woo's operatic action thrillers Bullet in the Head and Hard-Boiled, and to a fruitful long-term collaboration with the acclaimed Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai, with whom he has made five films. His gently humorous performance as a lovesick policeman in Wong's international cult hit Chungking Express won him a Best Actor Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards, as did his turn as a depressed homosexual exile going through a stormy breakup in Happy Together. He and Maggie Cheung both won top honors at the Hong Kong Film Awards for their performances as neighbors who suspect their spouses of having an affair in the sumptuous chamber romance In the Mood for Love, for which Leung also won the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Leung's relaxed charm and matinee-idol looks make it easy to overlook the complexity of his performances. His most memorable ones are the result of working with directors attuned to his talent for suggesting the conflicted inner lives of his characters through introspective silences and subtle gestures. In Hou's Flowers of Shanghai and Anh Hung Tran's Cyclo, entire scenes seem to revolve around his melancholy, nearly wordless performances. While he is known worldwide for his high-profile work with Hou, Wong, and Woo, he is an even bigger star in Hong Kong, where he continues to star in everything from B-movies to glossy, big studio productions.