10 movies where he stole our hearts | Pretty Reel

Born in Hong Kong, Tony Leung Chiu-wai had a complicated childhood filled with financial hardship due to his father’s gambling (via GQ). Although he attended a private school for some time, he had to drop out due to lack of financial means. Additionally, Leung juggled different jobs until he met aspiring actor Stephen Chow, who encouraged him to take acting classes. It was obviously a life-changing decision, considering Leung has since gone on to become one of the most successful and renowned Asian actors of all time.

Indeed, Leung has become a critically acclaimed commercial superstar, working in various international cinemas and across genres. He is perhaps best known for his work in Wong Kar-wai films like In the Mood for Love and Happy Together. Most recently, Leung made a splash in the MCU movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. He’s been stealing our hearts in movies since the ’80s, taking on damaged, sensitive, and deeply emotional characters. With his good looks and humble personality, it is very easy to fall in love with him. Let’s take a look at ten different films where we couldn’t resist his charisma.

10/10 Cyclo (1995)

New Yorker Video

Cyclo is a 1995 film by Tran Anh Hung, starring Lê Văn Lộc, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Trần Nữ Yên Khê in the lead roles. Focusing on the difficult life of labor in 1990s Ho Chi Minh City, the plot centers on an 18-year-old cyclo/pedal taxi driver who has his cyclo stolen and is forced to fall into the world of crime to pay off his debt. He discovers that his crime boss is also his sister’s pimp. Leung plays the brooding gang leader who is also a poet. Bearing a love for the arts and music shows that the crime boss could have been a good person if under different circumstances. As we realized, there’s something magical about Leung playing morally gray characters.

9/10 Happy Together (1997)

Golden Harvest Company

Considered one of the best LGBTQ+ films in the New Queer Cinema movement, Happy Together is a romantic drama directed by Wong Kar-wai and starring Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai as Ho Po-Wing and Lai Yiu-Fai, respectively. The film shows the turbulent romance between Ho and Lai after they move to Argentina to start a better life together. Their dreams quickly turn into fantasy when the relationship becomes abusive, and they each become increasingly lonely. If you’re ready for an agonizing gay love triangle, feelings of claustrophobia, and Leung’s heartbreaking performance, be sure to check this one out.

8/10 2046 (2004)

Again directed and written by Wong Kar-wai, 2046 is a romantic drama with sci-fi elements, starring Leung in the lead role of Chow Mo-wan. This film serves as a loose sequel to Wong’s previous films Days of Being Wild (1990) and In the Mood for Love (2000). The plot spans a few years when a science fiction writer (Leung) has affairs with different women to get over the loss of a woman he once loved. Chow’s novel is set on a train in a futuristic landscape, which takes its passengers to a place where they can find their memories. Wong apparently told Leung that 2046 is his best movie, and we believe him.

7/10 Chung King Express (1994)

Jet Tone Production

Chungking Express is another collaboration between Wong Kar-wai and Tony Leung. It is a romantic crime comedy drama starring Takeshi Kaneshiro and Leung in the lead roles of Cop 223 and Cop 663. These two cops are lovesick and trying to get over their failed relationships. Cop 223 (Kaneshiro) finds refuge in a mysterious drug trade, while Cop 663 enjoys the attentions of an eccentric snack bar employee. The film is filled with allegories and metaphors of the search for love and its closeness. You can’t avoid falling in love with Leung after watching this movie.

6/10 Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Marvel Studios/Disney

Those who didn’t know Leung before definitely knew him from his stellar performances in MCU’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The film follows martial artist Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) who managed to escape the Ten Rings organization led by his father Xu Wenwu. Leung once again plays a morally gray character and avoids the Asian stereotypes of strict fathers that Hollywood likes to portray. With the deep-seated love affair between Shang-Chi’s parents, it’s very clear why Wenwu made all the wrong decisions. The complexity of his character makes him one of the best villains in the franchise (via Collider).

5/10 Red Cliff (2008)

Beijing Film Studio

Directed by John Woo, Red Cliff or Chibi is an epic Chinese war movie starring Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi and many more in the lead roles. The storyline is based on the Battle of the Red Cliffs at the end of the Han Dynasty and just before the Three Kingdoms period in Imperial China. The plot centers on two rival warlords who make a pact to unite China by waging war. Although Leung is not the only main character, he does get a lot of screen time, enough to show off his acting skills.

4/10 Longing for Love (2000)

Jet Tone Production

We are aware that there are a lot of Wong Kar-wai included in this list, but In the Mood for Love is yet another romantic drama from the director with Leung as the lead actor. As the second film in an informal trilogy that includes Days of Being Wild and 2046, In the Mood for Love portrays Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan (Leung) who become close friends and discover that their spouses are having an affair. As this discovery progresses, they gradually begin to fall in love with each other. Watching Leung portray endless despair never gets easier.

3/10 Infernal Affairs (2002)

Media Asia Movies

Co-directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, Infernal Affairs is an action-thriller, starring Andy Lau, Tony Leung and Anthony Wong in the lead roles. As the first film in the Infernal Affairs series, the film follows an undercover Hong Kong cop (Leung), who infiltrates a gang, and a convicted gang member (Lau), who becomes a mole in the police. The two are on a mission to discover each other’s true identity. It’s essentially a story of corruption and morality – a classic for Leung moviegoers.

2/10 Bullet to the Head (1990)

golden princess movie

Directed and written by John Woo, Bullet in the Head is an action movie starring Tony Leung, Jacky Cheung, Waise Lee as gang members. These three gang fighters decide to try criminal activities in Vietnam, but they are immediately captured and thrown into a prison with American soldiers. The film incorporates the genres of war, drama and crime. We deliberately include some of Leung’s older films, as they are worth remastering and paying attention to.

1/10 A City of Sadness (1989)

3-H Movies

Finally, we have a 1989 Taiwanese historical drama directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien: A City of Sadness. It tells the story of a family affected by the “white terror” that was perpetrated on the Taiwanese people by the Kuomintang government after it arrived from mainland China in the late 1940s. The family’s eldest brother (Chen Sown-yung) disappears and ends up in an asylum. His deaf-mute younger brother (Leung) decides to fight the Kuomintang government to get his brother back. This is Leung’s breakthrough role as an actor, and even at the start, it was clear what a singular talent he possessed.

10 movies where he stole our hearts | Pretty Reel