Tony Leung: Hong Kong Talent in China’s Film Industry

A thorough analysis of Tony Leung's current status in the film industry through the changes occurring in China's cinema


Written by Mark Gallagher. The article was initially published on the webpage of the China Policy Institute.

Since the early 1980s, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai has been one of Hong Kong’s most prolific talents. While Leung’s acting output slowed in the 2000s, his work on collaborative productions, particularly in mainland China, offers insights into Chinese film-industry practices and suggests strategies successful film workers have used to navigate that fast-growing industry.

Leung gained popularity in the 1980s thanks to lead and ensemble roles in a series of long-running dramas on Hong Kong’s TVB network. Alongside and following his television work, he starred in scores of Hong Kong romantic comedies, dramas and martial-arts films, most targeting the territory’s film-loving domestic market but also circulating within East Asia and to the international Asian diaspora. He also starred in regional productions from Taiwan and Vietnam, and earned international visibility thanks to roles in films from Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, long celebrated in global art house circuits though without a strong presence at the Hong Kong or mainland-Chinese box office.

Leung remains active in local Hong Kong issues, for example pledging his support for the pro-democracy Occupy Central protesters in 2014. Like many of his fellow Hong Kong film actors, though, in the past decade his career has pivoted toward the mainland. Following the 2003 signing and 2004 implementation of the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Act (aka CEPA), Hong Kong filmmakers gained preferential, quota-free access to the mainland market, particularly for films with mainland co-production elements such as financing, casting and location production. The exponential growth of China’s film exhibition sector in the 21st century has meant that many Hong Kong performers now reach their largest audiences by far in Mandarin-language mainland releases, typically with native Cantonese speakers (such as Leung) dubbed by other voice actors in post-production.


In his recent work, Leung has balanced roles that allow him to embody aspects of the relaxed cosmopolitanism characteristic of Hong Kong culture, with roles that explicitly promote Chinese nationalism of ethnic, cultural and political stripes. From 2007’s "Lust, Caution" to the upcoming holiday-season release "See You Tomorrow", Leung has starred only in co-productions with mainland companies. (He also played a small role, masked, in the 2016 Bhutanese drama "Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait".) The Hong Kong/China co-production "The Great Magician" (2011) casts him as a charismatic ladies’ man, and of course magician, who teams up with proto-revolutionaries to outwit Japanese adversaries in the period before the Second Sino-Japanese War.

In "The Silent War" (2012), Leung plays a blind man with exceptional hearing, recruited by a Chinese-government counter-espionage unit in the wake of 1949’s Communist revolution, and this time seeking to thwart the efforts of murderous KMT agents. Then, in "The Grandmaster" (2013), Leung takes on the now-trendy role of martial-arts master Ip Man (the subject of at least five other popular China/Hong Kong releases since 2008, including three vehicles for US-born star Donnie Yen, now a top earner at the mainland box office). With the film tracing in part Ip Man’s migration from Foshan in Guangdong (aka Canton) province to Hong Kong, and with Chinese cultural nationalism celebrated throughout, "The Grandmaster" offers an uncontroversial, philosophically-oriented version of Chinese history. The film moves Leung’s ability to perform thoughtful restraint and Wong’s interest in Hong Kong’s history toward a register in accord, if not in lock-step, with contemporary Chinese Communist Party ideological guidance.

All of the films performed strongly at the box office in mainland China, while few garnered particular success outside East Asia. ("The Grandmaster" played in more than 800 US theatres, for example, but barely cracked the top 150 releases of the year there, and neither "The Great Magician" nor "The Silent War" received theatrical releases in North America or Europe beyond festival screenings.) Each of these roles too echoes in ways the contested politics of Leung’s most internationally successful engagement with the mainland, the 2002 hit "Hero", with Leung as a one-time revolutionary who in the film’s final act embraces nationalist sentiment and supports China’s imperial ambitions (if in the space of the historical past, separated from contemporary concerns by more than 2,000 years).


"The Grandmaster" also capitalises on the mainland market’s continued appetite for historical martial-arts films, a form that since 2000 has attracted many major Chinese diasporic filmmakers, many whose work otherwise has not involved wuxia or martial-arts content. As for the US-based Ang Lee with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000), the mainland’s Zhang Yimou with "Hero", and later, Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-Hsien with "The Assassin" (2015), "The Grandmaster" shows that mainland and regional filmmakers and investors continue to regard the historical martial-arts form as a space for creative expression as well as a site of likely return on investment.

While China’s film industry and policymakers have supported historical and martial-arts films with strategies such as locking foreign imports out of key holiday-season release windows, wuxia and other period films have not recently topped the mainland box office. Animated films such as 2015’s "Monster Hunt", comic fantasies such as Stephen Chow’s 2016 mega-hit "The Mermaid", and imported Hollywood sequels such as "Furious 7" (2015) and "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (2014, nominally a US/China co-production) have instead dominated exhibition, as have domestic comedy/dramas such as "American Dreams in China" (2013), "Finding Mr. Right" (2013, aka From Beijing to Seattle) and its 2016 sequel.

In this climate, then, we find, perhaps unsurprisingly, actor Leung and filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai once again. Leung next stars in "See You Tomorrow" (aka "The Ferryman" as of this writing), the first adaptation of stories from mainland writer Zhang Jiajia, a prolific author of web-based fiction who also debuts as director. The film and its producers seek to capitalise on China’s current vogue for online stories, while also playing to moviegoers’ interest in stories about contemporary, young (or at least for the 54-year-old Leung and 43-year-old co-star Takeshi Kaneshiro, youthful), urban professionals. The film also avowedly hybridises mainland and Hong Kong cultural materials, with writer-director Zhang claiming that the film ‘tells a Wong [Kar-Wai]-style story using the approach of Stephen Chou’ (i.e. Stephen Chow, the mainland-born comedic actor-director who rose to fame particularly through a series of so-called nonsense comedies in 1990s Hong Kong). Leung’s broad, mugging performance seen in the recently released trailer makes use of comic skills displayed extensively in 1990s film comedies though not much in evidence in his prior mainland work aside from "The Great Magician".

Wong, originally rumoured to direct though finally named just as producer, has also framed the film as not a break from his past interests but as a return to form of sorts, marking the 25th anniversary (or so) of his Jet Tone Films production company, whose first release was the 1993 action-comedy "The Eagle Shooting Heroes", also starring Leung. The 1993 film was made to provide cash flow for Jet Tone as Wong delayed completion of the film eventually released as "Ashes of Time" (1994). "See You Tomorrow" represents a perhaps more notable industrial milestone, as the first production of the recently formed Alibaba Pictures, the film division of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Alibaba has also become involved in distribution of US studio sequels—including Paramount’s "Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation" (2015) and "Star Trek Beyond" (2016)—and is developing projects with US producers.

Closer to home, its next production will be the sequel to Stephen Chow’s "Journey to the West" (2013), this time with direction from Hong Kong’s Tsui Hark, who has also recently overseen mainland hits, particularly 2011’s "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate", which set records for a Chinese IMAX-format release. With "See You Tomorrow", Alibaba invests in other human resources that have proven saleable in the fast-changing Chinese market and culture: a popular web-fiction creator and a mobile star who represents the bridging of traditional and contemporary sensibilities, and who represents a Hong Kong that seeks to accommodate its now culturally dominant neighbour.


"See You Tomorrow" may also be notable for keeping its star’s Cantonese identity off-screen. As a report from state-run broadcaster China Radio International (CRI) remarks, ‘Leung said he practiced Mandarin Chinese a lot, as this is the first film he’s done that’s required him to speak Mandarin only’. Whether an emerging trend or a single actor’s one-time effort (or an inaccurate assertion from a state media organ), a move to Mandarin filming rather than post-production dubbing suggests another way mainland China’s film industry might use, or limit, performers from Hong Kong’s highly developed screen industry.

Dr. Mark Gallagher is Associate Professor of Film and Television at the university of Nottingham. He is a Resident Senior Fellow at the China Policy Institute and author of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (BFI/Palgrave: 2017). His current research focuses on contemporary US, East Asian and global cinema and television, with particular interests in East Asian cinema (particularly Hong Kong’s and China’s), American independent cinema, film stars in global context, screen authorship, production cultures, and film and television industries.

COMMENTS

Name

13 Assassins,1,2017,3,A Company Man,1,A few words about us,1,A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawm,1,A Love,1,A Man Vanishes,1,A Simple Life,1,A Single Rider,1,A Stone from Another Mountain to Polish Your Own Stone. Go Shibata,1,A Tale of Love,1,A Whale of a Tale,1,About Elly,1,Adam J. Symchuk,20,Adam John,6,Aditya Vikram Sengupta,1,Adriana Rosati,4,Age of Innocence,1,Akihiko Shiota,1,Akira Kurosawa,1,Akiyuki Shinbo,1,Ale Amout,1,Alex Oost,1,Alexander Knoth,1,Ali Asghar Vadayeh Kheiri,1,Amir Masoud Aghababeian,1,Amitabh Reza,1,Anand Singh,2,Andrew Thayne,4,Andy Willis,1,Anime,1,Animesh Aich,1,Ann Hui,1,Anna Bliss,3,Anshul Chauhan,2,Anurag Basu,1,Aqerat,1,Arang,1,Ariyuki Shinbo,1,Armour of God,1,Arrow,2,Art Film Fest Kosice,1,Article Films,1,Asghar Farhadi,1,Asha Jaoar Majhe,1,Asian Classics,19,Aya Itabe,1,Aynabaji,1,Bad Poetry Tokyo,4,BAMY,1,Bangkok Nites,1,Bangladesh,3,Banjong Pisanthanakun,1,Banmei Takahashi,1,Before We Vanish,1,Behind the Camera,1,Belgium,1,Ben Stykuc,5,Bengal,1,Bhutan,1,Billy Joe,2,Black,1,Bloody Muscle Builder in Hell,1,Bollywood,1,Branded to Kill,2,Breathless,1,Burma,1,Burning Birds,2,Bystanders,1,Cambodia,2,Camera Japan,10,Children Heaven,1,China,6,Chinese Policy Institute,6,Chinese Visual Festival,1,Choi Jin-ho,1,Choi Jin-won,1,Chris Berry,1,Chu Yuan,1,Chungking Express,1,Close-Knit,1,Coffeemates,1,Colette Balmain,7,Competition,1,Confessions,1,Creative Visions: Hong Kong Cinema,1,Crocodile,1,Crows Zero,1,Cyrano Agency,1,Daguerreotype,1,Daigo Matsui,1,Daisuke Gotô,2,Daisuke Miyazaki,3,David Chew,3,David Chew.,1,David Shin,1,Ddongpari,1,Dead Friend,1,Dead Sushi,1,Deadly Outlaw: Rekka,1,Deepak Rauniyar,1,Destruction Babies,1,Diary of June,1,Digger,1,Ding Shen,1,Dismembered,1,Documentaries,6,Documentary,2,Doenjang,1,Don Anelli,18,Double Life,1,Dr. Heo,1,drama,1,Duelist,1,East Winds Film Festival,1,Edmund Yeo,3,Educating Yuna,1,Eiji Uchida,1,Emmanuel Horlaza,1,Erotic Diary of an Office Lady,1,Eureka,2,Exploitation,25,Fabricated City,1,Faye Wong,1,Features,18,Feautures,1,Fel,8,Festivals,5,Filmdoo,6,Fireworks,1,Fireworks Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?,1,Five Flavors Festival,2,Five Flavours Festival,3,Flying Fish,1,Forgetting Vietnam,1,France,1,Fraser Elliott,1,Funeral Parade of Roses,1,Fuyuhiko Nishi,1,Gillian Anderson,1,Golden Horse Awards,1,Good -Bye Silence,1,Goro Miyazaki,1,Hanagatami,1,Hanuman,1,Hashiguchi Takaaki,1,Haunters,1,Helsinki Cine Aasia Festival 2018,1,Hidden Gems,34,Hideo Sakaki,1,High-Kick Girl,1,Hindi,1,Hirokazu Koreeda,3,Hiroshi Ando,1,Hiroshi Teshigahara,1,Hong Kong,4,Horror,2,I Wish,1,I-Lin Liu,8,ICA,3,Im Kyeong-soo,1,Imran Firdaus,1,In this Corner of the World,3,Indonesia,4,Interview,1,Interviews,23,Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan,1,Inugami,1,Iran,7,Ishmael Bernal,1,Isora Iwakiri,1,Jackie Chan,2,Jagga Jasoos,1,James Mudge,1,Japan,117,Japan Cuts,14,Japan Filmfest Hamburg,1,Japanese Film Festival Australia,1,Jeong Jae-eun,1,Jess Teong,1,Jimmy Henderson,2,Jithin K Mohan,1,Joe Odagiri,2,Johnnie To,1,Joko Anwar,1,Jonathan Wilson,6,Joo Ji-hong,1,Journey of the Tortoise,1,Jun Tanaka,1,Jung Yoon-suk,1,Junichi Kajioka,1,Junpei Mizusaki,1,K-dramas,12,Kaneto Shindo,1,Kang Je-gyu,1,Kang Yoon-Sung,1,Katsuya Tomita,1,kdrama,1,Kei Chikaura,1,Kei Ishikawa,1,Kengo Yagawa,1,Kenichi Ugana,1,Kill me,1,Killing Beauty,1,Kim Eun-hee,1,Kim Hong-seon,1,Kim Hyun-seok,1,Kim Jee-woon,1,Kim Ki-duk,1,Kim Kih-hoon,1,Kim Min Su kII,1,Kim Min-suk,1,Kim Tae-kyeong,1,Kingyo,2,Kirti Raj Singh,1,Kiss me,1,Kiyoshi Kurosawa,3,Koji Wakamatsu,1,Komiya Masatetsu,1,Kon Ichikawa,1,Konrad Aderer,1,Korea,1,korean drama,1,Krzysztof Pietrzak,1,Kun-Yu Lai,2,Kwak Kyung-taek,1,Kyoko Miyake,1,Kyriacos Kyriacou,2,Lady Snowblood,2,Laos,1,Lee Je-Yong,1,Lee Joo-young,1,Lee Jung-sun,1,Lee Myung-se,1,Lee Seo-goon,1,Leung Wing-Fai,1,Like Father,1,Like Son,1,Lim Sang-yoon,1,Lists,11,Little Big Soldier,1,Live Up To Your Name,1,Loi Bao,1,Los Angeles Indian Festival,1,Love,1,Lovers Are Wet,1,Lowlife Love,1,Lyberis,2,Madman,1,Mahde Hasan,1,Majid Majidi,1,Makoto Shinkai,1,Malaysia,5,Maria Georgiou,18,Mark Gallagher,1,Masaki Adachi,1,Masanori Tominaga,1,Masaru Konume,1,Masato Harada,1,Masatoshi Kurakata,1,Matt Cooper,9,Matthew D. Johnson,1,Maundy Thursday,1,Mermaid,1,Midi Z,1,Midori Impuls,3,Milk the Maid,1,Minoru Kunizawa,1,Miwa Nishikawa,1,Mohammad-Reza Lotfi,1,Mongolia,1,Moon Lovers,1,Mototsugu Watanabe,4,Movie,1,Mr. Socrates,1,My Dad and Mr Ito,1,My Hero Chihiro,1,Myanmar,1,Nanachan,1,Naoko Ogigami,1,Naomi Kawase,1,Naosuke Kurosawa,1,Naoyuki Tomomatsu,3,Neko Atsume House,1,Nepal,1,New Neighbor,2,News,1,Nicholas Poly,3,Nikola Cekic,1,Niwatsukino Norihiro,1,Noboru Iguchi,1,Nobuhiko Obayashi,2,Nobuhiro Yamashita,2,Nobuo Nakagawa,1,Nobuyuki Takeuchi,1,Noise,2,Non-fiction Diary,1,Norman England,2,Nurse Diary: Beast Afternoon,1,NYAFF,7,Nyamdavaa Baasansuren,1,Oh In-Chun,1,Old Boy,2,Omar Rasya Joenoes,3,On The Line Festival,2,Ophilia,1,Orson McClellan Mochizuki,1,Osaka Asian Film Festival,4,Osamu Sato,1,Our Happy time,1,Over the Fence,1,Pai Kau,1,Palatpol Mingpornpichit,1,Panos Kotzathanasis,57,Park Chan-wook,2,Park Ki- hyung,1,Park Kwang-hyun,1,Parkpoom Wongpoom,1,Pedro Morata,3,Peerachai Kerdsint,1,Pen-Ek Ratanaruang,1,Peng Xiaolian,1,Peque Gallaga,1,Philippines,1,Pieter - Jan Van Haecke,3,Pieter-Jan Van Haecke,7,Pink Eiga,14,PinkEiga.TV,6,pinku eiga,1,Psychic,1,Pumpkin and Mayonnaise,1,Rabbit and Lizard,1,Railway Sleepers,1,Raja Mukhriz,1,Randy Mckenzie,3,Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead,1,Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2,1,Red Persimmons,1,Rei Sakamoto,1,Reipu zonbi: Lust of the dead 3,1,Reviews,64,Reviews.,1,River of Exploding Durians,2,Roger Lee,1,Ronja,1,Ryu Kaneda,1,Ryuki,1,S. Korea,20,S.Korea,1,Saayak Santra,2,San Diego Asian Film Festival,3,Sanjeewa Pushpakumara,2,Sankha Ray,6,Satan's Slaves,1,Satoshi Kon,1,Say Yes,1,Sayandeep Bandyopadhyay,2,Scarlet Heart,1,Score,1,Sea Fog,1,Seijun Suzuki,3,Sexy S.W.A.T. Team,1,Shake Rattle and Roll,1,Shaw Brothers,1,She's the Boss,1,Shift,1,Shigeru Umebayashi,1,Shikhar Verma,3,Shikhar Verna,2,Shim Sung-Bo,1,Shinichi Fukazawa,1,Shinji Iwai,1,Shinji Sômai,1,Shinjuku Swan,1,Shinjuku Triad Society,1,Shinsuke Ogawa,1,Shinya Tsukamoto,2,Shôhei Imamura,1,Shoot for the Contents,1,Shorts,8,Shuna Iijima,1,Shutter,1,Siddiq Ahamed,1,Sidi Saleh,1,Signature,1,Sinophone,1,Sion Sono,4,Sixth Sense Hooker,1,Sogo Ishii,1,Soichi Umezawa,1,Sompot Chidgasompongse,2,Song Hae-sung,1,Song of the Week,19,Sopawan Boonnimitra,1,South Korea,15,Sri Lanka,2,Still the Water,1,Strange Circus,1,Studio Ghibli,1,StudioCanal,3,Subenja Pongkorn,1,Suffering of Ninko,1,Suicide Club,1,Sunao Katabuchi,3,Sung-hong Kim,1,Susumu Hirasawa,1,Tadashi Nagayama,1,Tae Guk Gi,1,Takaaki Hashiguchi,1,Takashi Miike,4,Take Care of My Cat,1,Takuro Nakamura,2,Tatsumi Kumashiro,1,Tetsuo the Iron Man,1,Tetsuya Mariko,1,Tetsuya Nakashima,1,Thailand,7,That's It,1,The Bad,1,The Boy and the Beast,2,The boy from Ipanema,1,The Crawler in the Attic,1,The Dollhouse,1,The elephant and the sea,2,The Executioner,1,The Forest Whispers,1,The Good,1,The Inugami Family,1,The Isthmus,1,The Kid from the Big Apple,1,The King of Pigs,1,The Man Without a Map,1,The Muse,1,The Naked Island,1,The Night of the Earthquake,1,The Outlaws,1,The recipe,1,The Road Home,1,The Road to Mandalay,1,the Robber's Daughter,1,The Room,1,The Sacrament,1,The Salesman,1,The Snow King,1,The Sower,2,The Story of the Disappearance of Maryam,1,The Strange Saga of Hiroshi the Freeloading Sex Machine,1,The Suicide Chain,1,The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue,1,The Weird,1,Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan,1,Tokyo Heaven,1,Tokyo Idols,1,Tokyo Vampire Hotel,1,Tolerance Film Festival,1,Tom Waller,1,Tony Leung,1,Toronto International Film Festival,1,Toshiaki Toyoda,1,Toshio Matsumoto,1,Toshiya Fujita,1,Traces of Sin,1,Train to Busan,1,Tran Ham,1,Trinh T. Minh-Ha,3,Twilight Dinner,1,Twitch: You Are My Toy,1,Uncovered,1,Vampire Clay,1,various,2,Victor Vu,1,Vietnam,2,Vikram Zushi,1,Violated Angels,1,Vital,1,West North West,2,Whispering Corridors,1,White Sun,1,Whore Angel,1,Wiman Rizkidarajat,1,Without Memory,1,Wol-Ha: Very Bad Moon Rising,1,Woman of the Lake,1,Woo Ming Jin,1,Yamato (California),3,Yang Ik-june,1,Yang Jong-hyeon,1,Yeon Sang-ho,2,Yiu-wai Chu,1,Yoshishige Yoshida,1,Yoshitaka Mori,1,Yoshiyuki Kishi,1,Yosuke Takeuchi,2,Yotsuya kaidan,1,Your Name,1,Yu Aoi,2,Yu Irie,1,Yûji Tajiri,2,Yuki Tanada,1,Yusaku Matsumoto,2,Yutaka Ikejima,3,Yuya Ishii,1,Zen,1,Zhang Yimou,1,Zoo,1,Zuairijah Mou,1,
ltr
item
Asian Film Vault: Tony Leung: Hong Kong Talent in China’s Film Industry
Tony Leung: Hong Kong Talent in China’s Film Industry
A thorough analysis of Tony Leung's current status in the film industry through the changes occurring in China's cinema
https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-bO8Fdj8CyDY/WOTSdp7lgII/AAAAAAAALIg/cEysYdL5VgUmG-rQ0q5iG9FH30X7aTH5QCLcB/s320/tony-leung.jpg
https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-bO8Fdj8CyDY/WOTSdp7lgII/AAAAAAAALIg/cEysYdL5VgUmG-rQ0q5iG9FH30X7aTH5QCLcB/s72-c/tony-leung.jpg
Asian Film Vault
http://www.asianfilmvault.com/2017/04/tony-leung-hong-kong-talent-in-chinas.html
http://www.asianfilmvault.com/
http://www.asianfilmvault.com/
http://www.asianfilmvault.com/2017/04/tony-leung-hong-kong-talent-in-chinas.html
true
3944800929692556231
UTF-8
Loaded All Posts Not found any posts VIEW ALL Readmore Reply Cancel reply Delete By Home PAGES POSTS View All RECOMMENDED FOR YOU LABEL ARCHIVE SEARCH ALL POSTS Not found any post match with your request Back Home Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat January February March April May June July August September October November December Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec just now 1 minute ago $$1$$ minutes ago 1 hour ago $$1$$ hours ago Yesterday $$1$$ days ago $$1$$ weeks ago more than 5 weeks ago Followers Follow THIS CONTENT IS PREMIUM Please share to unlock Copy All Code Select All Code All codes were copied to your clipboard Can not copy the codes / texts, please press [CTRL]+[C] (or CMD+C with Mac) to copy