10 Tony Leung Films And Shows That Will Make You Call Him ‘Daddy’ As Well

After 40 years honing his craft and setting the gold standard in the Hong Kong television and international film industry, one of Asia’s leading men, Tony Leung (梁朝伟), is finally making his Hollywood debut in Disney and Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, as Wenwu, the father of the lead hero, Shang-Chi.

And it almost didn’t happen, as director Destin Daniel Cretton revealed that Leung almost turned down the role, if not for a phone call that served to sway the acting legend. In the end, Leung’s participation elevated the film, with Marvel Studios Kevin Feige even calling Leung a living legend.

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So who is Tony Leung? Regarded as “The man who can speak with his eyes”, Leung is widely recognised for his phenomenal acting, with a slew of awards to prove it – Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival, seven-time winner at the Hong Kong Film Awards, and three-time winner at the Golden Horse Film Awards.

While he’s known for his work with Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar Wai, and for his incredible screen chemistry with fellow Hong Kong leading actress Maggie Cheung, audiences have adored him from the early 80s, with his breakthrough roles in several Hong Kong dramas.

If you’ve seen Shang-Chi, and want to learn more about the 59-year-old star, instead of taking the words of consummate professionals and his legions of fans at face value, you can check his filmography out for yourself.

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Here is a list of ten movies and television series with Tony Leung to kickstart your viewing pleasure. Each has played a part in cementing his status as one of Hong Kong’s best actors.

And before you begin, we would highly recommend all of Tony Leung’s movies with director Wong Kar-wai, but rather than populate this list with just those movies, we went for something more extensive.

The Duke of Mount Deer (鹿鼎记) – 1984

An adaptation of Jin Yong’s novel of the same name, also known as The Deer and the Cauldron, this 1984 Hong Kong television series spans 40 episodes and shot Leung to fame. Leung plays the protagonist role of Wei Xiaobao, with fellow superstar Andy Lau playing the deuteragonist role of Emperor Kangxi. Both actors would continue to work together on multiple occasions, though the last time it happened was with 2003’s Infernal Affairs III.

As with most Jin Yong stories, The Duke of Mount Deer offers a mixture of historical fiction and wuxia, with complex and nuanced characters that give actors the space to stretch themselves. In this adaptation, there is also a healthy dose of humour to give the story some much-needed levity.

Wei Xiaobao specifically is not the typical golden-hearted hero, and he relies on his cunning, and often tries to cheat and deceive his way out of his problems. Yet, at his core, he is not a bad person. Leung’s portrayal of the character definitely got more people to notice his acting chops.

New Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre (倚天屠龙记) – 1986

In 1986, Leung took on the role of Zhang Wuji, the protagonist of the television series, New Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre. It is another adaptation of a different Jin Yong novel and this time, instead of a wise-cracking rascal of a character, Leung plays a proper hero.

Zhang Wuji’s journey to martial arts eminence matches the structure of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth. A tragic backstory, several twists of fate, a tooth and claw struggle to survive, and finally actualisation of his potential.

It is fitting then, for Leung to take on the role, considering that his ascension into the pantheon of acting greats is a captivating hero’s journey in its own right.

Mack the Knife (流氓医生) – 1995

In this 1995 comedy film, Leung plays the role of the doctor Mack Lau. As with many of Leung’s roles, the character is layered and more complex than meets the eye.

While seemingly happy-go-lucky and carefree, Mack Lau is a doctor who cares deeply for the underprivileged, and opened up a clinic in the red-light district when he was dissatisfied with the bureaucratic quagmire that is the existing healthcare system.

Leung’s acting makes viewers zoom in on the character, and empathise with what the character goes through, both positive and negative. This is where we see how Leung manages to make his acting emotionally infectious.

In the Mood for Love (花样年华) – 2000

Even the best actor can’t make a great movie alone. Wong Kar-wai, the trailblazer in Hong Kong cinema, is the directorial foil to Leung’s acting, and actress Maggie Cheung is his on-screen better half.

Leung became the first Hong Kong actor to be awarded the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival with In the Mood for Love in 2000. The film is directed, written, and produced by Wong, and it is a romantic drama rife with tension and heart-wrenching emotional aches that the characters can’t articulate.

This is a powerful film where Leung manages to externalise the rich interiority of his character, Chow Mo-wan, even without saying much. It’s little wonder why Leung’s collaborations with Wong have since become a mainstay of Hong Kong cinema.

Infernal Affairs (无间道) – 2002

Many films that Leung starred in can be considered classics, but Infernal Affairs, released in 2002, is a cultural touchstone. 

Playing the role of the undercover cop Chan Wing-yan, Leung engages in this game of dual identities, uncertainties, and simmering violence with his criminal counterpart, played by Andy Lau, on the other side. Infernal Affairs tapped into the anxieties of the populace at the time, when uncertainties and the unpredictability of life was rife.

Leung’s character is ultimately a tragic character, and viewers are going to feel strongly for him, given the visceral performance that Leung delivers. No wonder this role netted him three Best Actor awards within that same year.

Western audiences would be more familiar with the Oscar winning Martin Scorsese American remake, The Departed, where Leonardo DiCaprio takes on the role as the undercover cop.

2046 – 2004

2046 is a loose sequel to In the Mood for Love, with science fiction elements that make for a trippy, moody film. This is Wong Kar-wai at his best. The characters in the film are lonely people, and in seeking out human connections to soothe the loneliness, they end up lonelier than ever.

Leung reprises the role of Chow Mo-wan, carrying that complexities and internal struggles of the character deftly. The character’s lack of awareness as he trudged on day by day, along with the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film makes for a subtly charged emotional gut punch. 

At times, the line between actor and character is blurred too, and it doesn’t seem like Leung is acting. Isn’t that what the best kind of acting should be like?

Lust, Caution (色,戒) – 2007

A 2007 film adaptation of Eileen Chang’s novella with the same title, Leung plays Mr. Yee, the target of a honey trap. 

The character is one who is cautious, poised, ruminative, and burdened with secrets. Leung delivers the air of mystery and danger in spades, and the feeling of the character dancing on the knife’s edge is palpable. This makes the bursts of passion and sensuality highly convincing, which resulted in much discussion over the authenticity of the raunchier parts of the film.

This is not just a modern classic of Chinese literature brought to life, but also Tony Leung at his most iconic.

Red Cliff Parts I & II (赤壁) – 2008/2009

This is a historical epic that spans two films, based on the Battle of Red Cliffs, a turning point in Chinese history that happened right before the Three Kingdoms period.

Leung’s star power shines in his role as Zhou Yu, and he proves his immense range by proving that he has what it takes to carry an epic, which isn’t a genre many would associate with him. 

The films were released in two parts, first in 2008 and then in 2009 due to the long runtime (288 minutes). Outside of Asia though, there was an abridged version totalling just 148 minutes released. Still, why deprive yourself of about half the story, and more chances to see Leung doing what he does best on screen?

The Silent War (听风者) – 2012

In The Silent War, which is a 2012 film adaptation of a novel titled In the Dark, Leung plays He Bing, a blind man with super-hearing. 

He works for a government unit, trying to track down spy networks using his hyper-sensitive hearing. While taking care of the hidden enemies, there is more subterfuge and romance also going on in He Bing’s tumultuous life. 

Set during a politically tense time in China in the 1950s, Leung sells us the story of an underdog being dragged into a world bigger than he wants in spectacular fashion. Once again, Leung makes a role that requires a light and sensitive acting touch look effortless to master.

This is a good range of works to get you familiar with one of Hong Kong’s acting giants, from the early years of his career, to his iconic roles, but believe us when we say this barely scratches the surface of his movies you need to catch! 

And if this isn’t enough to quench your thirst for the man who can speak with his eyes, there are many more works out there for you to discover and drool over.

Bonus: The Grandmaster (一代宗师) – 2013

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings isn’t the first time Leung has kicked some major ass. In 2013’s The Grandmaster, Leung plays Ip Man, the titular grandmaster of Wing Chun, showing that he has an action hero in his acting bones as well. 

Martial arts films of this ilk are typically the domain of martial artists such as Donnie Yen (who shot to international fame with his take on the same character in the Ip Man films) and Jackie Chan, due to the stamina and precise control over one’s physical strength required. Yet Leung manages to communicate the impact and force of every strike and kick.

Given all the genres and types of roles he has played over his decades-long career, it seems like there’s really no role this man can’t fill.

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