Jin: You mean I could die?
Payne: No, it’s unlikely you’ll die. But it could damage your brain tissue or you could be paralyzed or…
Jin: Or what?
Payne: Or it’ll cause permanent brain damage and you could lose your mental capacity.
Jin: No, I don’t want that.
Payne: You can’t be negative. I’m a doctor. This is what I do. Trust me.
Jin: How much time do I have?
Payne: Every time you have an attack, you face death. You must have the operation.
Jin: If I can’t live with dignity, I would rather die…
Payne: That’s insane.
Jin: No, It’s not. There is an old Chinese saying, “Shi Si Ru Gui”, death is like returning home.
-A Time To Remember
The Last Chinese New Year Film
January 1998, on the location shoot for “Ninth Happiness”, Raymond Wong Bak Ming continued his collaboration with Leslie Cheung. More than half of Leslie’s films were made in collaboration with Wong’s Mandarin Film Company Ltd., and previous to that, the Cinema City Film Company Ltd. As such, it was understandable that Wong said he understood Leslie very well. For Wong, Leslie was not only a good actor as well as a great singer, but possessed the most important attributes of a popular actor - calibre and character. In this aspect, Wong rated Leslie Cheung with a score of a perfect ‘10’. Wong also noticed that Leslie was never late getting to a film location. Wong could also see that all Leslie’s co-stars who had worked with him were full of praises for him. Wong’s business partners, the bosses of Mandarin Film Co. Ltd., liked Leslie immensely too because after he had completed a film, he was absolutely willing to go everywhere to do promotional work for it. Moreover Leslie made it very cost effective for the bosses on these trips for he never went with a big entourage; he usually went on his own! He also had extremely good judgment on newcomers and was most willing to promote these ‘freshies’. He once told Wong to pay attention to a certain ‘newie’ and predicted that he would be very successful in the future. The person he recommended was Louis Ko. But no matter how good his relationship with Wong Bak Ming, Leslie had decided that “Ninth Happiness” was to be his last Chinese New Year film. The film was really silly, Leslie sang a parody of the song “Red” and he wore a strange wig. This funny film was probably the only musical-comedy film of Hong Kong. Beside the parody of Leslie’s “Red”, there were many other renowned Chinese songs featured in the film. The cast also included singers like Kenny Bee, Amanda Lee, Eliza Chan, and Gigi Lai. A lot of fun, but Leslie wanted to do films with more meaningful messages for the audiences. He also wanted the audiences to see a different Leslie Cheung every time they saw his movies.
Leslie said, “I would be delighted if I could make a comedy that has a ‘message’. In fact comedies can be movies with substance, but popular comedies in Hong Kong are usually those which are just good for laughs but without much substance. I don’t like to give people a false perception that I would only accept those serious and difficult films. This is not true. I am there! I am waiting!”
"Ninth Happiness" opened on 14 February 1998 and was quite successful at the box office.
The 48th Berlin Film Festival
Between 11 and 22 February 1998, Leslie served as one of the jurors of the 48th Berlin Film Festival. The full list of jurors were as follows:
Ben Kingsley (Actor, UK, chief)
Senta Berger (Actress/Producer, German, member)
Leslie Cheung (Actor, HK/Canada, member)
Helmet Dietl (Director/Producer/Script writer, German, member)
Annette Insdorf (Columbia University Lecturer/Critics, U.S.A, member)
Li Cheuk-to (Critics, HK, member)
Maurizio Nichetti (Director/Actor/Script writer, Italy, member)
Hector Olivera (Director/Producer, Argentina, member)
Brigitte Rouan (Actress/Director, France, member)
Maja Turovskaja (Film Historian/Critics, Russia, member)
Michael William Jones (Producer, UK, member)
When Leslie arrived at the venue for the opening ceremony of the Film Festival, there were big cheers from the audience when they saw him dressed in a tuxedo looking very handsome and a perfect gentleman. German ladies gathered around him, and were heard saying to each other, “Who is that handsome juror?” It was his first time in Berlin and he attracted lots of attention upon entering the venue. When all the jury members were up on the stage, Ben Kingsley introduced him as “The star of ‘Farewell My Concubine’”, and Leslie received a big applause. Leslie got excited and grabbed the arm of the lady standing next to him, Annette Insdorf, and he hugged her. Ben Kingsley continued to tell the audience, “He’s the actor who showed us a perfect act in ‘Farewell My Concubine’!” During the festival Leslie volunteered as an interpreter for a journalist who wanted to interview a Chinese actor, who spoke only Mandarin.
There were 30 films in competition, selected from around 200 films screened since October 1997. The winner of the highest award, the Golden Bear Award, was “Central Do Brazil” directed by Walter Salles from Portugal/Brazil, the second prize was “Wag The Dog” directed by Barry Levinson from U.S.A. The awards ceremony for the festival was held in the ballroom of InterContinental Hotel Berlin. Leslie presented the Golden Bear award to Water Salles. On that night he dressed in a traditional dark brown Chinese style costume, with a black silky scarf around his neck as well, looking very handsome.Leslie admitted that he enjoyed seeing films in ‘wide-screen’, and liked classic films like “Doctor Zhivago” and “Casablanca”. At the same time Hong Kong reporter and script writer Edward Lam was a judge for the ‘Gay Teddy Prize’, part of Berlin International Film Festival presented by the ‘Projections’ - An International Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals and Organizations. A Hong Kong film about a lesbian relationship entitled “Hold You Tight” won more than one award at the ‘Gay Teddy’ Prize. Leslie’s old friend Jimmy Ngai, the script writer of the film, and Chingmy Yau Shuk-ching, the leading female character, were both present to accept the awards. Leslie and Maggie Cheung (she flew in from Paris) were there to present the awards. Later that night, Edward, Jimmy, Chingmy, Leslie and Maggie drove to a coffee shop in East Berlin for coffee. There were only a couple of wooden tables and chairs. The floor was worn but the ceiling was high. After he had settled himself in a chair, Leslie told Edward that this was how his ideal coffee shop should look.
When he was in Berlin, Leslie was interviewed by Michel Ciment and Hubert Niogret on 21 February 1998. Later the interview was published by French Magazine “Positif” no. 455 in 1999. In the interview, Leslie talked about the Hong Kong film situation, and how Hong Kong directors never have storyboards except for Tsui Hark and John Woo. An actor had to improvise a lot. But for mainland China’s Chen Kaige it was different. Leslie had got the script three months before. Leslie also said that he liked working with John Woo. John was very kind so he could talk with him more easily. Tsui Hark was more dictatorial, like Chen Kaige. And about Wong Kar Wai, Leslie said that he loved him very much and hated him terribly! An actor is an instrument in Wong’s hand. Chen Kaige gave Leslie freedom, contrary to Wong Kar Wai, and he talked a lot with him before reaching the set. Leslie watched some of Kaige’s movies when he trusts himself enough to watch. On the set, he liked to have a monitor to watch what he was doing. He talked a lot with a director, if he trusted him enough. He would ask a lot of questions: Does a better point of view exist? How must he do this? Why must he do this? And Leslie wanted to become a director because the director is the soul of the movie.
All These Years
Leslie and Rock Record released the Cantonese EP “All These Years” on Valentine’s Day, again the focus was on quality rather than quantity. In this album, Rock got the best talents from Taiwan to support Leslie: featuring Lau Chi Yuen and Lau Chi Wan, the duo who produced smash hits in Taiwan; the hottest lyrictist Lin Xi; as well as the fastest rising Taiwanese composer Chen Xiu Xia, and not surprisingly Leslie himself! Chen Xiu Xia’s wrote, “My God” and Leslie’s composed, “The Future”. To show his appreciation towards the fans that had supported him all these years, the MTV of “The Future” was to also be included in this EP. All these years, around 20 years in the music industry, when numerous talented new comers debuted every year, Leslie still excelled and surpassed them all. And his fans were witnesses to his legendary years in show business.
A Time to Remember
After Berlin, Leslie went to Shanghai to shoot a film by mainland China director Ye Da-ying. You need to understand the history of China first before you see “A Time to Remember”. There were long term conflicts between the Chinese Nationalists and Communists. The film’s maker was smart, the story’s narrator was a foreigner, an American, rather than either a Chinese Nationalist or Communist. There are three central characters in the film: a young beautiful Qiuqiu, a consort of revolutionary hero Jin, who suffers from seizures caused by old head wounds, and an American doctor, Dr. Robert Payne. Director Ye Da-Ying graduated from the directing department of the Beijing Film Academy in 1986. Later he independently directed “Heavy Breath” in 1988. And in 1994, Ye directed his breakthrough film, “Red Cherry”. The Forbidden Film Co. invested 30,000,000 in the movie. This was the first time that Leslie acted as a communist (again he was the first among Hong Kong actors to do so).
The synopsis of “A Time to Remember” is as follows: “A Time To Remember” is told entirely through Dr. Payne’s point of view. Payne met Qiuqiu when she seeks his medical expertise. Payne falls in love with Qiuqiu at first sight but it is an unrequited love. Qiuqiu is the consort of revolutionary hero Jin, who suffers from seizures caused by old head wounds. As a child, Qiuqiu witnessed the execution of communist party members, carried out by her father Hao Ming. She disowns him and is sent by her mother to live in a missionary orphanage. Soon after, her mother commits suicide. Qiuqiu’s tragic fate provides her with a completely fearless dedication to the communist cause.
At first Payne doesn’t understand Qiuqiu’s love for Jin, but he finally realizes that they are following their heart and their ideals, even if it costs them their lives. Jin lost his wife who jumped from a high place to save Jin from the Guomindang’s trap. An extract from an Russian anthology: “The sun rises, an eagle flies up towards heaven and suddenly stops, almost as if it’s frozen in the blue sky… No one knows why the eagle flies, what he needs…” is a constant reminder to Jin of his late wife. He has at least five wounds on his body which he got during the war. One piece of shrapnel was left lodged in his skull, causing him to suffer regular epilepsy attacks. During these attacks, Jin hallucinates about his wife, and he thinks that Qiuqiu is his wife.
Meanwhile Hao Ming has become the brutal chief of the Guomindang secret police. In his hunt for the communist leader Jin, he discovers that Qiuqiu is his long lost daughter. Instead of arresting her, he uses Qiuqiu to ruin Jin’s reputation with his comrades in the underground. At a lavish father-daughter reunion Qiuqiu gets her revenge and shoots Hao Ming, and she is arrested. She is pregnant with Jin’s child. It is then that Jin finally realizes just how much she loves him and the price she is willing to pay to protect him, so he offers to give himself up in exchange for commuting Qiuqiu’s death sentence.
Their love transcends all the conflict that surrounds them. Jin is executed as his daughter is born in the prison hospital. Qiuqiu dies at childbirth. Her child, Pearl, is raised by Payne who loves her as his own.
Several times before shooting process, Ye Da-ying wanted to find an overseas actor who was English-speaking, has a special charm, with the makings of a revolutionary, to play the role of Jin, an enthusiastic communist. A friend of his suggested Leslie Cheung for the role, and urged him to talk to Leslie. His sole impression of Leslie as Cheng Die-yi in “Farewell to My Concubine” was that he was too feminine for the role, hence he had no intention of asking Leslie to play the role of Jin. Ye’s friends, however, urged him to talk to Leslie. So, he agreed to meet him.
Before the meeting, Ye said he could never have imagined that Leslie, with such gentle appearance, was in fact strong-minded and manly.”Oh! That’s the man I want”, Ye thought. Ye remarked that Leslie had no knowledge of communist history, and what a revolutionary should be. When Ye explained the communist history and the plot to him, he stared fixedly at Ye with the eyes like a child’s. After that, Ye repeated many times that Leslie was a good man.
Mei Ting who played the role of Qiuqiu was born in Nanjing in 1975. In 1988, she entered the people’s Liberation Army Institute’s Department of Dance. After graduation, she worked in QianXian Dance and Song Group, in Nanjing. In 1994, she began studying in the Department of Performance at the Central Theatrical Institute. American actor Todd Babcock, born in 1969, was chosen as Dr. Payne, somebody with a certain amount of innocence and a certain amount of intelligence. His acting credits included almost a dozen appearances in television and film production. Just before coming to Shanghai, he appeared in “Frasier”, the hit American television sitcom.
Todd Babcock felt it was a good chance to go to China for three months, so he sat with Ye Da-Ying when the director met him in U.S.A., together with the script writer and first assistant director, to talk about the movie, China and the other actors. That is when Todd learned that Leslie was in the film. Todd had already known of Leslie’s work from “Farewell My Concubine” and perhaps one or two others.
He agreed to play in the film and soon flew to Shanghai. He thought Shanghai was crazy. He noticed the traffic and that everybody was diving into each other, and all the bicycles were going everywhere! Shooting the film was kind of at the same pace, and everything seemed to be moving forward very quickly. It was very different with the way American’s make films. The Chinese way of making films seems to be very frantic: just get it done and everyone’s shuffling around. And just get it done no matter how and what happens. Whereas in America, it’s organized differently, and there are studios and it’s more ‘developed’.
By the time Leslie was to come onto the film, Todd had already been in Shanghai for two months and had shot a significant portion of the movie. Bob, his friend playing the character of his best friend Clarke, had a lot of time off, so he often told Todd stories of how he would see Leslie on TV all the time there while Todd was on the set. That day, after much anticipation, they heard that Leslie had arrived. Todd was excited because he was finally meeting his co-star, and also Leslie had come a month early so they could wrap the film earlier and get home in 3 months instead of 4.
There was no shooting that day because Ye Da-Ying wanted to greet Leslie properly, and take him to dinner and such. So Todd got a chance to sleep in and meet Leslie later that night. When he got the call, he went upstairs to Da-Ying’s room. Then he saw Leslie who was dressed all in black, in a turtleneck and dark coat. He sat looking very sophisticated on the couch. Todd knew that the energy that was created around him was going to be different from the two months head already worked in Shanghai. When Todd walked in, there were flashbulbs documenting their meeting. Todd walked over all smiles and awkward. Leslie spoke with a distinct British accent that only helped him seem all the more elegant and polite. He asked very deliberate questions about the movie, the experience and his thoughts on the story. They all sat and watched footage from the film as Todd commented on everything like some adolescent kid trying to impress his big brother. Bob would later tell Todd how ‘infant-ish’ he behaved and how he was intimidated. In spite of that Leslie was the consummate model of poise, Todd agreed with Bob.
Leslie got to work right away. Many of his scenes were just with Mei Ting. Chinese actress Joan Chen who has a career in Hollywood (one of the films she directed had just competed in the Berlin Film Festival while Leslie was one of the jurors) came to visit Leslie at his first day of work in the movie, which went very well.
Leslie’s first scene with Todd was to be a rather awkward one. It was the scene where Qiuqiu first brings Todd to her apartment to find the heavily ‘shot-up’ and ill Jin. It was very cold at the time, and Leslie only had a T-shirt to wear, so the crew were constantly throwing blankets on him. Todd had to come in and take his pulse and then after getting out his supplies, tear open Leslie’s shirt to reveal his many war-wounds. The make-up was very delicate on his chest and they only had one shirt, so Leslie looked at Todd and said with a smile, “You better get it right!” Todd held the shirt and Leslie immediately said “Wait… haven’t you ever torn a shirt off before?” Of course Leslie, Todd thought, usually he never bothers with buttons and such. When he gets home, he just tears away and buys a new shirt the next day! Leslie took Todd’s hands and positioned them for the camera, and said not to worry about going too hard. This was the first steps in their relationship on the film: Leslie taking Todd’s hands, either literally or figuratively, and getting through things in the film. The shirt tore open beautifully and it was sort of a christening for their friendship. In the time that followed, Todd would also come to befriend his assistant and his manager. He got the sense that the people that surrounded Leslie were like his family - that they had been with him a long time. They were very friendly, and in time came to start looking after Todd as well.
The next day was the shoot in Payne’s apartment, where Jin comes to Payne and tells of his wife’s suicide and the trade he is willing to make. Leslie, this time, got to wear much warmer clothes and as they sat waiting for the crew to set-up, they chatted. Todd introduced him to Lian Yi, his girl friend, and they talked about film and China, and the States. Leslie then exposed his secret love of McDonald’s cuisine. Todd found it very amusing that he had come all the way to China to learn about its life, history and foods, only to learn that they would be eating McDonald’s on the set. But, actually, that was a rarity. Leslie had it brought it on occasion but they mostly had food with the crew. Leslie actually preferred the Chinese cuisine in Shanghai more that anything like Wendy’s and McDonald’s, but those two places could be accessed easily if they were hungry in the middle of the day and if their food was not yet ready. Todd probably gained ten pounds shooting ‘A Time…’, incidentally.
So at that time, Leslie offered Todd coffee and burgers, and Todd tried to get Leslie to break his resolution to quit smoking. Todd had heard that Leslie smoked quite often back in the day, but Leslie was resolute due to the fact that he had recently begun touring again. Todd had no idea that he was a famous singer before he was an actor. Leslie said he did not mind if Todd smoked, so he proceeded to smoke away. Todd was not a regular smoker before he went to China but when on set he saw that the entire crew, director, translator… everyone smoke around him, so he tended to pick up the habit. It was a way to deal with the pressure of being at the center of such a large project. When they were in script meetings, Bob asked how they could think with so much smoking. Da-Ying responded, “How can you think without!”
After burgers and cigarettes they attempted their scene. They were going to shoot two scenes back to back. Firstly, Jin’s story; and then right into the scene following the flashback. Todd was not at his best that day. The scene went well, but he was not feeling 100 percent. He was a little nervous with his first real scene with Leslie. They shot that scene three times. After that day, Todd got into his groove with Leslie. They had a long shoot in the house that was being used for the scene where he meets Jin as he is looking at the huge map of China. The house was beautiful and much warmer than most of the sets so they were already happier upon arrival. Leslie was wearing a large winter jacket with a fur-trimmed hood and was in good spirits. Mei Ting, Leslie and Todd sat about playing around at the piano. That reminded Leslie and he gave Todd a gift, a VCD of one of his concerts. They then sat down around a large table and had a discussion about the scene. Everyone had a lot of ideas on the way it should sound and the way it worked. They tried it a lot of ways. This was where it truly helped that Leslie spoke three languages. He was the only one who could speak Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Therefore he could negotiate between Todd, the director and the writer very quickly and smoothly. Leslie also did the production a great favour and brought in his own photographer from Hong Kong, who would shoot publicity shots all through rehearsal instead of keeping them hours after the shoot when they were all exhausted!
Todd was discussing certain Chinese films he had seen and at that time he did not know Leslie was in “Once a Thief” and told him it was his favourite John Woo’s film. Leslie said, “I was in that!” and they both had a laugh. That was where they really loosened up and just had fun. Between takes they were both trying to make the other laugh. They joked that they were going to change the story of “A Time to Remember”, and make the relationship about Jin and Payne and leave Qiuqiu behind. All of a sudden the side of Leslie that was the British gentleman that Todd met at the hotel became an energetic kid. They were doing Madonna imitations to tease each other between rehearsals, and just had a ball. Leslie has done so many movies that he was absolutely professional. When the camera was set and they were ready, he knew exactly what to do and where to look, and how to hit his marks.But he had also learned how to relax and just have fun when the camera was off.
One day they did 20 hours of shooting and they were both exhausted. After it was done, Da-Ying wanted Todd to go across town and shoot more scenes downtown. Todd was so tired and begged them not to. Finally, he broke and accepted the task saying that he would be exhausted and would ‘look it’ too. Da-Ying patted his back and said “Thank you.” But after only half an hour later, the director said “Never Mind!”, indicating that Todd would not have to do the scene after all.
Todd was to learn later that Leslie had asked Da-Ying to take it easy on Todd. So Todd knew that Leslie was holding his hand along the way. During lunch that day over at McDonalds, they had a great talk about projects that Todd had worked on, Todd’s thought about the new Hong Kong and the history of China, and the film. Leslie was very open and he wanted Todd’s opinions on his takes, and what he thought about his acting. Todd couldn’t get out of his head how great he thought it was that Leslie cared for his opinion, and he really felt they were working together for something. As for Todd, the best scene of him with Leslie was when Leslie got in his face to confront him (a scene that wasn’t in the movie where Payne sort of challenges Jin). Todd actually had been so relaxed with Leslie at that point that he started laughing. When they cut, Leslie smiled and was confused, and said “Why are you laughing?” Todd thought it was simply because he knew Leslie by then, and they made so many jokes that when he was so close it just made Todd laugh.
It wasn’t long after that that the worst scene to shoot in the film came along: the scene in the rain, where Jin confronts Hau Ming as he holds the gun to Payne’s head. It was terribly cold and they had to pipe gallons of freezing water on their heads on every take. There were no heaters in the rooms so they had to sit forever in between takes in the cold, wet clothes! Leslie’s assistant was so helpful. Leslie asked her to wrap Todd in plastic underneath his clothes so the water wouldn’t go all the way through. Leslie also mummified himself in plastic. He made sure Todd was taken care of. Leslie ordered food, got them hot tea and even if shivering, they discussed the impact the film would have in China and whether it would come to the States. They also discussed Da-Ying’s first film, “Red Cherry” and Leslie agreed that this film caused he wanted to work with Da-Ying, and that he was drawn to this role and that it was something different for him.
There was a day Todd noticed a lot of fans focusing their attention on Leslie. For most of the shoot they were far away from the public eye even when they were on the different sets, so they weren’t constantly reminded that Leslie was a movie star. But since there were so many extras and they were in the middle of Shanghai city, there were a lot of people at the door. Todd thought Leslie was quite good about it. He politely took in anyone who requested an autograph. He agreed to have pictures taken… even while he was wet and cold! Todd also found things got done more easily with Leslie around. They got extra days for shooting in one of Shanghai’s banks because the owners liked the idea of having Leslie around and wanted pictures with him.
The only time Leslie ever seemed put out was when they were at the hospital doing the ‘X-ray’ scene, and a flood of young girls screamed constantly while they were trying to shoot those scenes. Eventually they had to smuggle him out the back door. That type of thing, when it was so intrusive, seemed to bother him. That day Leslie and Todd were discussing the film, ‘Titanic’. Todd was a huge James Cameron fan, and was anticipating that the film would be very good because it had Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet in it. Todd had been boasting that the film was going to be great and found that Leslie had already seen it! Todd had no idea that Hong Kong got films so quickly. Leslie wasn’t too pleased with it as he didn’t like the casting all that much. He compared the relationship of Leo and Kate as being more like that of a sister and her little brother than a love affair. At the time Todd had such high hopes he just said “I hope you’re wrong.” Todd realized that Leslie wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion about the matter. But when all was said and done, they had a great time together. Todd found that Leslie was a gentleman, a professional and a lot of fun!
When the shooting process for “A Time To Remember” was almost finished a reporter interviewed Leslie Cheung. Part of that interview is shared below:
Interviewer: Are you satisfied with your own performance in the movie?
Leslie: I can’t say I’m satisfied because you know I’m quite discontent in some way. I’m always asking for more but this is really a very good start to work with a new director, to work with director Ye. Because this is our first time and I enjoyed working with him and shared some very good moments, and we have some common interests as well as conflicts. But that’s what we’re all required to have. Being an artist and a director, we should have something to bring up for each other so that we can have more inspiration. And this time I think we worked really well and it’s going to be quite a wonderful movie.
Interviewer: I heard that your childhood was not so happy. You don’t have to, if you don’t want to answer that question, but how could you have such a bright career? You know if someone’s childhood is so unpleasant and unhappy, I think it will usually make that person feel depressed when he grows up, then how did you do that? You know you really did a good job in your career both as a singer and as a movie actor.
Leslie: There are only two ways. One, you had a broken childhood. On the one hand you can just like, you know, go wild, you can be very rebellious. On the other hand, you have to struggle for your own living. I chose the second one. Which I think is going to be better for my own life. And I’ve struggled hard all the time, you know. I try hard on everything and I work hard on everything, and that’s how I made it. I make movies and record songs for all the people that like me and in return I like them. I enjoy my career and it’s very worthwhile. On the other hand, I make money out of it.
Interviewer: You once announced that you retired from the stage in the early 90s, and then you came back to the stage. Did you have pressure when you made such a decision? Especially because many new singers and actors have rapidly emerged since then. You have your fans, but maybe they are going to support someone else…
Leslie: Don’t mention the words, ‘come back’, I hate it. I mean, this is what they are calling my ‘return’, and I don’t really care what about how old I was, what they think, or maybe that they thought Leslie is passé or whatsoever. But it’s been proven through my movies, you know box office wise and my concerts; they are still a guarantee of my work, so maybe I’m a lucky person. My fans still support me all the time, over all these years and I have no pressure on this, and everybody knows that right now. I’m doing a ‘semi-retired’ job, I don’t really care much about what people count on me or think about me. I’m just doing the things that I really want to do, what I like to do, and I’m not giving any interviews on TV shows or anything else in Hong Kong. Actually, this is really an exceptional case because I didn’t even go to the radio station for an interview in Hong Kong. I’m doing a very carefree job right now. That’s the way it will be.
Interviewer: Does that mean that you’re going to have more albums and more movies to make if you like?
Leslie: Hopefully, yes. There are still many offers but you never know, it’s a cruel world and I’m aging, everybody knows. Of course I’m still quite young looking and young at heart, but maybe people think that, “Oh, he’s getting too old to become an idol”. In fact, I don’t want to be an ‘idol’ anymore. For the past five or ten years, I’ve gone through that kind of stage and I don’t want to make a fuss out of it, like asking my fan club to come and receive me at the airport or stuff like that. I don’t do that kind of thing. I’m more into like, really do something serious, good movies, good recording and maybe some days later, I want to be a director. This is one of my wishes, and I hope it can come true.
Todd last saw Leslie at the ‘wrap’ party where he had shaved the moustache and beard he had grown for the film. In his own clothing and so cleaned up, Leslie looked ten years younger! According to Todd, Leslie supported the whole party and they had tons of food and fresh lobster. They drank Chinese liquor, red wine and had zillions of photographs, karaoke and laughs. Everybody was having a good time, and Todd finally bid my farewell to Leslie. He handed out cards and left before the evening got totally out of hand. Todd and the rest of crew subsequently left the party and went off to the LA Café where they danced and partied. Todd did not know if he would see Leslie again. Todd was quite happy and impressed with all his cast-mates. He wished the best of luck to his friends wherever they were!
Cherry Blossom in Kyoto
At the end of March 1998, Leslie stayed in Kyoto for 3 days to shoot the MTV for his next new album with Rock Record, “Printemps”, a Mandarin album. Photos that were included in “Printemps” and “Gift” (the Japanese version of “Printemps”) were taken in Kyoto where Leslie enjoyed the cherry blossoms that were in full bloom in Japan. In some photos Leslie was seen wearing a Japanese Kimono, he was sitting at a Japanese garden in a temple, and relaxing in a Japanese hot spring. Other photos were taken at the Kyoto station.
While Leslie was filming in Kyoto, the Japanese media interviewed him. This interview seemed very special because the questions were different when compared to the kind of material the Hong Kong media usually asked him:
Interviewer: Beauty. What is your definition of beauty? What would you consider as things of beauty?
Leslie: Natural things. (turns around and looks at the waterfall behind him). This is not a huge waterfall but it is natural.
Interviewer: Natural things are beautiful.
Leslie: Yeah… that’s beauty that’s right.
Interviewer: Then which part of you…
Leslie: No… not beautiful (laughs)!
Interviewer: OK, let’s not talk about beauty. Don’t you think you’re beautiful?
Leslie: No… not beautiful… (laughs again)
Interviewer: Beautiful … a lot of your fans think you are beautiful, especially in your movies like ‘Farewell My Concubine’…
Leslie: In a reverse role…
Interviewer: Not necessary the reverse role; even when you were playing the male student you were very beautiful. OK, praising oneself as being beautiful may seem a bit disgusting. Let’s put it this way. Which part of yourself are you most pleased with?
Leslie: It’s very difficult to say; sometimes I reckon it is my expression. My expression is quite different from others. Certain expressions… I won’t say my nose or eyebrows or my eyes look good. I feel it is my expression… the special lighting effects this in films, it creates a chemical reaction and the outcome is somewhat different. You’re looking at me now; don’t you think I’m just a normal person like everybody else?
Leslie: Ha..ha..ha .. (punches the interviewer lightly on his shoulder)
Interviewer: No (laughs)… you mentioned lighting effects. The sun’s rays are shining on your face now and the reflection from the sunlight has created a special kind of beauty. Do you realize common people don’t have this kind of beauty? OK, you have met a lot of people. Which part of the body do you usually look at first?
Leslie: I would first… the most important is … I would look at the head portion.
Interviewer: The head portion? From the neck upwards?
Leslie: Yes… from the neck up… that’s my first impression… whether I like the person or not. After this, it is not the person’s facial features but the personality; whether or not you can communicate and get along with this person. This is very important.
Interviewer: Which is to say between friends… what is your attitude towards friends?
Leslie: Friends require the exchange of hearts (points his fingers at his heart) exchange of hearts - ‘kokoro’ (Japanese word for heart) (laughs)
Interviewer: ‘Kokoro’. Since we are in Japan, say a word of Japanese… (laughs)
Leslie: Yes… ‘kokoro’ heart. I feel the exchange of hearts is very important. We also have to sacrifice… and we have to give… in friendship we need to give out a lot and they will also give you back lots in return; only then can good friends be made and an exchange of friendship developed.
Interviewer: Have you ever felt that you have given out a lot and not received anything back?
Leslie: That’s a definite yes. Life is such that there are certain regretful circumstances.
Interviewer: You don’t have to mention names but do you have any true friends in the entertainment circle?
Leslie: Actually I do have but they are not really considered famous people or superstars for example; perhaps this one you would consider a famous star(laughs)… Maggie Cheung. She is a very good friend, we are able to exchange hearts and share matters of the heart with each other. Honestly in this circle I am a very frank person, and I feel there are many in this circle who would very much like to be friends with me.
Interviewer: I would believe so.
Leslie: But at times I do have certain reservations. As the saying goes ‘those in the same line of work are like enemies of a country’. So … because I know myself, I tend to be direct, I don’t have motives so there are times I have been taken for a ride but never mind; like I said earlier, making friends requires the exchange of hearts. You will soon find out if these people have betrayed you or not, but anyway that’s what making friends is all about.
Interviewer: What about your fans?
Leslie: I really feel I have no complains because honestly, my music fans and even those who are fans of my movies treat me very nicely. At times when I have made some very daring performances, they are still very supportive of me. I feel they really care about me, they really know how to love me and accommodate me and this is very important.
Interviewer: The Berlin Film Festival. You recently made a trip there?
Interviewer: On this trip your role was quite different.
Leslie: As a judge. Correct.
Interviewer: What was it like?
Leslie: Very different. This was a good experience because usually people judge me but this time there was an opportunity; a privilege because this is the first time an Asian actor has been selected to be one of the judges; maybe it is because of my movies. It was a very different feeling. I was very relaxed and I didn’t have to get all dressed up like a big movie star. I just carried a knapsack and off I went to watch the movies.
Interviewer: This could be quite stressful.
Leslie: Why? No, not at all. I went there as a normal person to really watch some films. I have to watch other people’s films and to determine the good and the bad points, and then form my own judgment. There were eleven judges on the panel and my views must compliment these ten other judges. Together we selected a few movies which have our unanimous recognition. I felt it was a very good experience for me. A lot of people said that last year’s Golden Horse Award was not very fair because it was not awarded to me, ha… ha…ha… (laughs loudly)…
Interviewer: I would say the same thing too. A lot of people are of the same opinion.
Leslie: But I feel to them (the judges) it is a fair decision because it is the opinion of the panel of judges, which is to say that at the time the eleven judges did not cast their votes for Leslie Cheung. As far as they are concerned, it was a unanimous decision. You can’t say they are not fair. It all depends on the taste of each of the judges. I feel it is absolutely fair.
Interviewer: Some have higher taste and some lower taste??
Leslie: Are you saying your taste is lower? (laughs)
Interviewer: You have acted in so many films. Which film do you think you should have won an award for?
Leslie: (Ponders for a moment) Ahem… I reckon up to this moment it would have to be ‘Happy Together’. You asked if there are any movies I like, I think ‘Happy Together’ because it was a difficult movie and because acting in a Wong Kar Wai’s movie is terribly tough. How can I describe it? Chiefly, it was because he never had a script and this made it very difficult. Most importantly too, was that he would demand a certain mood from you. He would say he wants his character to be in a certain kind of mood. Therefore you would have to work in such a mood and try to grasp other things within this mood. As his actor, you could consider yourself very privileged, but it can also be very painful because you will never know the sequences of the scenes that you have filmed, whether it would be the first scene, the middle scene or the last scene. Every actor usually has some sort of a chart with the lows and the highs in his performance, like which scene should be the climax of a movie but with Wong Kar Wai, you just don’t know where you are so you are not able to go to the extreme but I suppose this is a characteristic of his style. I don’t really know. Coming back to my topic, very often after I have completed a film and having watched it over again, I would hesitate and consider if I were given the opportunity to do it all over again, I would be able to improve on the character by acting in a different manner. I felt this way with ‘Farewell My Concubine’ and ‘Rouge’ and a lot of my other films. However with ‘Happy Together’, I feel that I have played the role… (searches for the right expression) I can’t say I have played out the role accurately but I am very… (still couldn’t find the right word to express himself on this)…
Interviewer: You have no regrets in your performance?
Leslie: Yeah. The way I performed (in ‘Happy Together’) was exactly the way that it should be.
From Kyoto Leslie went to Taiwan to shoot the MTV of “My God”, one of the songs in “Printemps”. And ‘Oh my God’; Leslie injured his leg! He was too active when filming the MTV, he slipped down and both his legs were sprained! He had to get on the plane in a wheelchair to promote “Printemps”. Leslie was scheduled to fly to Japan again.
Friday, 3 April 1998, almost midnight - Leslie came to Shinjuku Mirano-za theater and took part in a talk show. He spoke for about 40 minutes from 11:25 p.m. till 12:10 a.m., even though only fifteen minutes was planned. He walked by himself, when not in wheelchair he did walk but slowly. Leslie came through the audience gate to the stage. He wore black jacket and pants. He seemed to be in a very happy mood on the stage.
The title of his new album (Japanese version) was “Gift”. It would be released on 21st April. There would be a Japanese song “Marshmallow”. At the theatre the audience saw the MTV of this song, other parts of his concert and some photos in the mini photobook. Leslie looked so natural and relaxed in the MTV and photos.
In Japan “Shanghai Grand” was to show on 18 April. So Leslie then had humorous talk with Kuro, the talk show host, which made the audiences laugh:
Kuro: You danced with Andy Lau in “Shanghai Grand”. Who is the better dancer, Tony Leung (in “Happy Together”) or Andy Lau?
Leslie: Tony is better than Andy. Because when we danced, Andy was trembling all over and would not come close to me.
Kuro: Why did Andy act so strangely?
Leslie: Because Andy is BAKA (stupid, in Japanese). (Everybody laughed)
Kuro: What is the selection criteria when you act in movies?
Leslie: First is the story. Second is the co-Actor. Third is the director.
Kuro: How about Nin-Jin? Is she a good actress?
Leslie: Yes, she is a very cute, but a little fat. (Laugh). The ‘acting’ of her eyes is good. I like this movie’s love scene.
Kuro: What girls do you like?
Leslie: I like her height to be about 162-163cm. Not very tall, and slender, a long haired girl.
Kuro: In this album, you sang a Japanese song, do you know Japanese?
Leslie: Not really, I sang out the text while singing. Of course, I know song’s meaning. If I have a chance, I would like to sing a Japanese song with Chage (“Mashumaro”s composer).
Kuro: Why is your skin very beautiful?
Leslie: I do not know. But before I was born, my mother drank a lot of milk, and maybe taking gelatine around fish eyes is good.
Kuro: When will you hold a concert again?
Leslie: This year, I have a few plans to act in movies. So, I hope I will hold a concert next year, and when I hold a concert in Japan, I would like to sing many Japanese songs.
Kuro: You must have a lot of gorgeous stage costumes. Where do you keep them?
Leslie: In the storehouse. But sometimes I sell them at auction. It is mostly women who buy them!
Kuro: Really? They put them on?
Leslie: I don’t know (laugh), probably they hold my clothes tight or smell them (with a gesture)
Kuro: Do you send your stage costumes to the laundry before you keep them in the storehouse?
Leslie: Yes, of course. If not, they would reek of sweat! So my fans would turn their face away.
Before that, on 3 April 1998, Mr.Hiromichi Ugaya, a reporter of “Aera” magazine interviewed Leslie. They could not talk frankly during the interview, but Leslie and Mr. Ugaya talked freely in English before the interview started. “Aera” lent a banquet hall on the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku. It has a great view, and people could even see Mount Fuji on sunny days. The rental fee for the room was 400,000 yen for half a day. Leslie came about 10 minutes late of appointed time. He wore a beige sweater, white jeans and Nike sneakers, he didn’t wear make-up. Mr. Ugaya didn’t feel impressed with his fashion style, it was no different from ordinary people walking downtown. They introduced themselves to each other and started to take photos. Leslie changed poses in every shot. His facial expression changed in every shot. He could clearly express his emotion and Mr. Ugaya realized he is really a great actor.The interview started and Leslie talked very calmly. His voice was very husky because of hard practice of singing. This is the proof of good singer!
Mr. Ugaya asked him his view on his feelings on Mainland China, because he knew that Leslie’s grandfather was killed during the Cultural Revolution. Mr. Ugaya asked him in a friendly manner, “Today, I’d like to ask you about your identity as a Hong Konger. And your thoughts about China.” ‘Beyond imagination’, Leslie said with a smile, “Thank you for asking such a deep question!” He said that he was afraid of China and went to Canada. But he changed his image about China after “Farewell My Concubine”. He would not live abroad again but he would consider living in China. And while Leslie talked about his Peking Opera teachers and friends like dear elementary schoolmates, Mr. Ugaya felt that he opened his heart to him. There are some people who avoid his serious questions, especially about their home or identity. Leslie did not. He said his grandfather had a hard time during Cultural Revolution. But he also said they are old stories and sticking on them are not productive. They should think of the future. When Mr. Ugaya asked him about being a Hong Konger, Leslie answered, “Now all of us are Chinese.” He was optimistic of the future and could be said to be nationalistic.
Actually My Ugaya had attempted to interview Leslie in 1997. His preparation took almost half a year. But on the very day of the appointment, after 10 minutes of the appointed time, Leslie’s manager came to him and said, “I’m very sorry. But Leslie caught a cold and cannot come.” It hit Mr. Ugaya very hard, and felt like death. He could not stand up for 30 minutes! Rock Record Japan’s president expressed his sympathies to him, and she invited him to lunch. They went to a pretty good restaurant named ‘Royce’. They started to eat and she consoled him before suddenly, she shouted out “Leslie!!!” They were very surprised! Leslie himself came with some young men. She introduced them to each other. Mr. Ugaya thought that Leslie felt awkward about meeting the writer he had just cancelled an interview with. But he didn’t, and instead apologized and said he would give Mr. Ugaya the priority for an interview next time. Mr. Ugaya forgave him as he looked very sick, and could not take photos for the cover.
And on 3 April 1998, Leslie’s first words to Mr. Ugaya were, “Sorry about last time.” After interviewing Leslie, Mr. Ugaya remarked that Leslie was an artist, a creator and cannot be satisfied with just following a director’s direction.
Saturday, 4 April 1998 at Shibuya Spain-zaka Studio of Tokyo FM - Leslie was a guest in two programs. Leslie appeared between 15:10-15:20pm, and 16:30-16:45pm. The studio was open to only 100 people who got tickets. Before the radio show, he seemed to enjoy shopping. He was seen at the department store ‘PARCO’, which is situated in the same building with the studio. The two radio shows were “Toyota Weekly Album Top 10” and “Ashahi Wonda Golden Hits”.
In the “Toyota Weekly Album Top 10” segment Leslie said, “I’ve been to Japan so many times. I’ve liked Japan since I was a child. I held concerts here last year. I like to walk around Harajuku and Roppongi at night, and Shibuya for shopping. I don’t mind if people recognize me. I like to say “hi” to them and shake hands with them. “Gift” is a mellow album. The previous one was very aggressive, but it’s spring now so I want to make it relaxed. Chage wrote me a song and it was the first time for me to work with a very established Japanese composer. We worked together very well. When I sang this song, there were lyrics in alphabets. I didn’t study Japanese for this song but they gave me the meaning of the lyric so I could understand what it was about. Chage and Aska are very popular in Hong Kong, too. I had a terrible accident before I came to Japan.
When I shot the MTV in Taiwan, I slipped and got injured. Now “Daijobu-desu” (I’m OK). I like Japan so I’m happy to come here again. I was so touched by Japanese fans who sang with me, danced with me, cried with me. It was wonderful.”
In the “Asahi Wonda The Golden Hits” segment, he told listeners about his last night’s experience: “I wasn’t there for a long time last night but I enjoyed it very much. ‘Shanghai Grand’ was shot two years ago; some parts in Hong Kong and some parts in Shanghai. I’m glad that my fans liked my performance last night, and the photos I took in Kyoto. This studio is very small and cozy, and I can see all my fans’ faces through the window. I like it very much. I did the stunt myself when I shot ‘Shanghai Grand’, and I like the movie because there are action and love scenes. I want to protect my love and my career with all my life. When I love someone, I want to make them happy. I took the photo for the album cover in Kyoto and it was so cold. I like “Marshmallow” because it was a special tailor-made song written for me by Chage. I had marshmallows when I was young. A Japanese actor I like is Ryuichi Sakamoto. I saw “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” and “The Last Emperor”, and I like his acting. As for an actress, you’ll be surprised, I’m always young at heart, I like Takako Matsu. Do my fans like Takako Matsu, too? The place I recommend in Hong Kong is my own coffee shop in Causeway Bay. It’s very small and cozy but it’s a little bigger than this studio. I’ll have a talk show in Shinjuku this evening, and I’ll shake hands with all my fans there. Do you like it? I hope so.”
When the clock showed 18:05-19:10pm, Leslie was at the Shinjuku HMV. Again this was a talk-show about his new album, and a ‘hand-shaking’ party. His talk show appearance took place for only 15 minutes. On these two days, he spoke predominantly in Mandarin with a bit English thrown in, because the interpreter could only understand Mandarin and Japanese.
Leslie wore a casual white cotton jacket, white T-shirt, blue pants, and black Nike sneakers. He smiled in front of 1000 fans who gathered to shake hands with him in HMV Shinjuku. The interviewer that night was a music critic, Mr. Eiji Ogura. Before the interview started, Mr. Ogura said he thought Leslie was a good singer. Leslie greeted them in Mandarin and Japanese, “Konbannwa (Good evening).
I’m grateful for you who have come to see me, yesterday and today. Domo Arigato. (Thank you very much.)”
Mr. Ogura asked the audience before the interview, “Leslie is worried about his Japanese. Do you think his Japanese has improved?” The audience replied it with the applause. “I think the MTV of “Marshmallow” is very good. Do you think so?”
The audience replied it with the applause and some of them shouted “Great!!”
Eiji Ogura: What brought to you to sing “Marshmallow”?
Leslie: Chage knew me from my movies and he offered me his song.
Eiji Ogura: You sang “Riviera in Wintertime” in Japanese in the Tokyo Music Festival long ago. Is it easy for you to sing Japanese songs?
Leslie: It took one week when I sang “Riviera in Wintertime”. But I could sing it without lyric in alphabets at that time. This time it took only 2 and half hours. And shooting the MTV was no problem.”
Eiji Ogura: Why is the title of the Japanese version “Gift”?
Leslie: I was impressed by all those fans who came to my concerts last year. Although the title was brought up by a staff from Rock Record, I think it’s a gift for my fans from me.
Eiji Ogura: “Gift” has a meaning of a thing which is given by God, so it’s suitable for Leslie.
Leslie: I didn’t deserve it.
Eiji Ogura: Is there other difference between “Gift” and “Printemps”?
Leslie: There’s a song I wrote. In the Japanese version, I sang it in Cantonese; and in Taiwan version, I sang it in Mandarin. I hope my fans will get both.
Eiji Ogura: Will you tell us about the photobook?
Leslie: I like Kyoto in spring and they were taken there last month. Those photos are different from the Taiwan version. I like Kyoto very much. I wore a kimono. The photo of me in the kimono was shown last night and my fans seemed to like it. It’s not easy to wear a kimono. It takes long time. I heard that Japanese people don’t wear underwear when they wear kimonos. So I didn’t wear my underwear then!
Eiji Ogura: Women in old times didn’t, but now we wear underwear. Will you tell us how it’s difference from your previous album, “Red”?
Leslie: “Red” was a successful album. It was bold and I tried lots of things; hip-pop, sexy and etc. This time, I tried to be natural. I tried to make an album which would make the listeners comfortable and relaxed.
Eiji Ogura: I think you sound different from “Red”. It was soft and natural. Were you conscious of it?
Leslie: As I have acted in lots of movies, I learned to act naturally, and since making lots of albums, I learned to sing naturally. I want to challenge myself with new things so I don’t want my image to be stagnant or to repeat my old image.
Eiji Ogura: That’s all for now. You’ll have the hand-shaking session from now. Before that, will you give them a message?
Leslie said some sentences in Mandarin, then he also said it in English: “Thank you for coming here tonight. Because I know that from the last night, some of you must be very, very tired. So… did you enjoy the movies? Anyway, it’s my pleasure to be here and I’d love to shake hands with all of you. And hopefully you can control yourself because I have a bad leg this time. Don’t let me fall off again. And thank you very much and I hope that I will come here again, again and again. Domo Arigato.”
At first, 300 people were able to shake hands with Leslie. But then another 700 people came to HMV! Leslie decided to shake hands with another 700 people! During those 40-50 minutes, he shook hands with everyone with a smile on his face. He looked into his fans’ eyes, nodded and smiled at them while they tried to say something to him. After he shook hands with all of his fans, he gave them another message. “I felt happy to shake hands with all of you. All of you could shake hands with me, couldn’t you? I’m looking forward to seeing you again when I come here next time. I don’t need an interpreter now. Domo Arigato. Aieru. Sayonara. (Thank you. I love you. Good bye.)”
Leslie took the opportunity to admire the cherry blossoms at night with Tamasaburo-san (the Kabuki actor who plays feminine roles). Tamasaburo loves watching cherry blossoms which are going to fall, very much. They two admired these blossoms by night under the rain. They were eating and chatted on various matters admiring the blossoms. Tamasaburo said, “Leslie-san is a serious man with a very strong soul.”
Leslie didn’t show up in public at Narita airport on 6 April when he left Tokyo for Taipei. He went through the VIP lane to avoid the fans when he got on the plane. And it was the first time that he did so.
The Mandarin album “Printemps” sold 2.5 million copies. It’s had very good results. But incredulously, there were still news stories in Hong Kong that “Printemps” did not sell well. “Printemps” is French for “Spring”. Leslie made a refreshing effort in all aspects from song selection, style, album portraits to video-clip direction. As reviewers noted, the main themes of this album were sentimentality and sensuality, consisting of 10 Mandarin tracks and 1 bonus Japanese song, highlights included the title track which truly gives the essence of spring. “Keeping Warm” suggests the feeling of imparting warmth during a cold winter. It would appear that there is ample music to the one through the four seasons. Of note is Chage and Aska penned “Love Like Magic” with its slinky lazy vibe. The funky track “Everybody” and breezy pop/rock tune “Electric Fan” are songs that grow on the listener. The fact that Leslie’s Mandarin releases are few and far between makes this set an essential purchase for fans!
At the 17th Hong Kong Film Festival, Leslie lost the best actor award to Tony Leung again. He came together with Tony Leung and Carina Lau. On stage, Tony thanked Leslie for their good cooperation. Leslie clapped and was happy for him. Wong Kar Wai and many other people admitted that Leslie’s acting was not inferior to Tony’s. But they said that Tony experienced more uncomfortable things playing a gay character, and made Leslie think that he should received more awards when he acted with women! “Happy Together” itself was nominated in almost all categories, but it lost out to “The Soong Sisters” directed by Mabel Cheung and “Made in Hong Kong” by Fruit Chan.
Leslie was in Seoul from 14th to 16th May. There was an event for his fans. The ticket cost only less than US$4 and the money was to be used for the Korean boys and girl hosting their families for themselves. The Koreans thought Leslie was an angel!
Koo & Wong’s Concert
From 17 till 25 May 1998, two Hong Kong Music Legends, composer Joseph Koo Ka Fai and lyricist James Wong Jim held the “Joseph Koo & James Wong True Friendship Concert”. They took the stage with all the singers they made famous through their hit songs. Performers included Anita Mui, Liza Wang, Jenny Tseng, Roman Tam, Adam Cheng, Frances Yip, Johnny Ip, Elisa Chan, Sandra Lang, Teresa Cheung and Koo May. Leslie was invited to sing at the opening concert on 17 May 1998 and the last show on 25 May 1998 as the special guest.
Leslie wore a black tuxedo, black pants and a black bow tie on May 17. He showed up as the last guest. Unfortunately, there was trouble with his mike and some people shouted to him…”gay..” and Leslie seemed to get pretty offended. Some of his fans were there too, but compared to the total number of audiences (most of the audience were older people and Leslie was not their cup of tea), it was still relatively small. There were 6 to 7 bunches of flowers waiting to be presented to Leslie, but he only accepted one because he didn’t walk around the stage and so he was not aware of the those bouquets of flowers.
On last night, 25 May, Leslie was ‘perfect’ and ‘shining’. He really stole the show! He wore a black tuxedo and a white bow tie, emerging at the centre of the stage in the midst of the applause and shouts from the audience. The audience that night was a much younger crowd than that of May 17. But even older people also applauded his singing this night. A man of about 60 years exclaimed that Leslie really looked very young and handsome! Another man said, “Wow….so handsome and what a nice guy”. Leslie sang the theme song from “A Better Tomorrow”. After finishing the first song, he talked and praised the two musicians and before he sang the second number, the theme song from “The Chinese Ghost Story”. Then, he said he would get closer to the audience, and everybody in the first row got very excited and got ready to shake hands with him. Everybody who shook hands with him was so happy and he was happy too. He received many bunches of flowers. Then he finished up with “Shining Star” which he really sang with heart but not in a loud voice like the other older singers. Everybody (even non-fans) in the coliseum got heated up by his singing. When the concert was about to end, screams were heard all around the auditorium.
Anticipation of the Leslie’s performance was clearly shown by screams of: “Gorgor… Gorgor”… “Leslie… Leslie…” Indeed Leslie’s performance was different from that of the other older singers participating in the concert. Leslie presented the three songs with his heart. Not shouting out his voice, but singing like he was telling old stories. His fans presented him no less than 10 bouquets of flowers. He even received a bouquet from Mrs. Tung, the wife of Hong Kong CEO Mr. Tung Chee Hwa. He then ended the performance embraced in the applause of the audience. On their way home, one group of housewives still talked about him, mentioning observations like: “handsome”, “beautiful skin”, “best singer of tonight”, and “I even shouted Gor Gor”!
The One Who Works Miracles
Leslie gave Anita Yuen’s boyfriend, Julian Cheung, a camera (the latest model at that time), as his birthday gift. They had a dinner party. Julian was very happy and Leslie said, “This is a good camera, you can take nice pictures with it”. Leung Sze-ho, a radio host who was also a TV artist, was standing next to them. When he saw the camera, he said, “Wow, it’s so beautiful. It would be nice if I could have one”. Leung was a casual acquaintance of Leslie.
Two days later, to Leung’s astonishment, Leslie sent someone to deliver a camera to him, same model, with a little note saying, “There is miracle in this world, only if you want it. I am the one who worked this miracle!” Leung treasured this gift, he treated Leslie as a friend and he never wanted to part with the camera. He also gave a gift to his old friend Hai Chung Man who directed the film “Anna Magdalena”, produced by UFO Film Group. The film is a romantic movie about a love triangle, but on the final half it turned into a bit of a fairy tale fantasy. The cast included Takeshi Kaneshiro, Aaron Kwok and Kelly Chan. Leslie Cheung appeared with Anita Yuen in cameo appearances, the ‘Editor’ and his ‘Assistant Editor’, which as Hai Chung Man said, raises the value of the film.
The Dark Cloud
'Suddenly Weekly' magazine sent their paparazzi out to follow Leslie for a week, but they were not able to prove anything 'wrong' with Leslie. The pictures only showed that Leslie went to have high tea, went to a hairdresser, went to walk his dog; returned home with bunches of flowers given by his fans. It only showed that Leslie was alone going in and out of his home, and he did nothing unusual. Sudden Weekly couldn't prove anything out of the ordinary, but that Leslie was a clean living man living alone - although they never forgot to put pictures of Mr. Tong alongside with Leslie's picture so as to create an impression that they lived together. Another magazine, 'Next' also liked to send paparazzi out to follow Leslie and write abusive things about him. They never gave up on him, although he had almost revealed everything of himself.
Leslie couldn’t attend the “Golden Melody Award” in Taiwan on 29 May because him mother was sick. His Taiwanese fans were disappointed because the TV and magazines had spread news that Leslie would come. Leslie had planned to be interviewed by GTV 28. One song from “Printemps” album, “Everybody” was no. 2 on the Asia Top 20 list; “The Truth” was at first position on Cashbox KTV; “Keeping Company” was no. 2 of best the MTV. Nevertheless, at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, where the “Golden Melody Award” was held, there was a group of girls holding a gigantic version of Leslie’s “Printemps” poster.
Leslie’s mother was sick. She developed chronic cancer of the uterus. Added to the fact that his latest deal with Rock Record had failed, Lesle was near depression. His mom was 78 years old and the doctor predicted that she could not live much longer. Leslie wanted to speak frankly with his mom about her condition, but his brothers and sisters didn’t allow that. They worried that their mother couldn’t accept this fact. Leslie was forced to lie to his mom, he said she would be healed after some treatments. Madam Cheung’s weight was only 90 pounds. And she always vomited every time she swallowed something.
Leslie also later heard that his Beijing opera teacher Shi Yan Seng also developed cancer. After Leslie heard this news, he went to Beijing to visit him. Teacher Shi had to receive nutrition delivered at home. When Leslie came, he held him and called him, “Teacher Shi”. Shi’s eyes watered immediately, no matter that he used to be strong. Leslie’s eyes also turned red, but he didn’t cry as he didn’t want to affect his teacher. With a smile, he comforted his teacher and told him that he would recover very soon. At that time Shi couldn’t eat anything, so Leslie persuaded him, “Teacher Shi, you have to eat, you have to eat properly, like how much I eat. What do you want to eat? I will buy it for you.” Afterwards, he found a small chair and sat by the side, and held his teacher’s hand from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Shi’s wife watched them. A relative told her that after Leslie left the ward, he took three papers and burnt them in the corridor. According to the tradition of Hong Kong people he couldn’t visit patients during that year, but Leslie didn’t mention it to his teachers. May be it was time for Leslie to take a short holiday before back to work.
On 19 July 1998 Leslie started a new movie with director Daniel Li. The movie was a collaboration of Hong Kong (Chaterine Hun is the producer) and Japan investors. Leslie had to play two characters, Tetsuya and Karbo. He was paired with Takako Tokiwa, who was a renowned TV actress in Japan. Takako’s stomach was not well during the shoot, and Leslie especially asked his maid to prepare some soup and to boil herbal medicines for her every day. Takako Tokiwa was very happy because she could act together with gentle and generous Leslie. She even said that because she had gotten this chance, she regretted nothing in her life. Director Daniel Lee commented that Leslie was a great actor. With only one move, when he stared at his own face in the mirror, he could tell the audience what was on his mind.
The press conference of the film was held at the Harbour Plaza Hotel in Hong Kong during an afternoon, one day before shooting began. Leslie wore a brown jacket and slim black pants. He had a suntan, his hair was dyed brown and his beard was unshaved. About 15 fans were waiting for him when he arrived at the hotel. He walked straight to the elevator hall, smiled for some time and signed one or two autographs.
At the Press Conference venue, there were a large number of reporters from Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan. He said he got his suntan after spending more than two weeks in France watching the World Cup, and was very disappointed by his favourite team Brazil. He mentioned that Takako was a very hard-working and clever lady, and that they could communicate in English plus some body language.
The shooting was to start on July 19 and was expected to finish by mid September. During the Press Conference, he did not say too much and humbly said that he was not good at speaking; that he had better stop there and passed the rest of the interview time to Takako. Takako said that she respected Leslie very much, and she felt honoured to have the chance to act with Leslie. When Takako was requested to pronounce some Chinese words, surprisingly, her pronunciation was very accurate. The Press Conference continued with individual interviews.
Then Leslie and Takako were swamped by reporters. One reporter asked if there was any love scene in the movie. Leslie responded that there would be, and he thought that both Japanese and Hong Kong audiences would accept it. He seemed to be annoyed when one reporter asked if he would expose his body via a frontal (nude) shot. He said in a friendly but firm tone, “Is this a question???”, and frowned. When he was asked why he would act in this film (meaning a commercial film), he said not every actor should only act in Wong Kar Wai’s films, which take ages to finish. If everybody just waits to star in Wong’s films, then the film industry in Hong Kong would die. Besides, Daniel Lee is a good director and his previous movies were well accepted in Europe. And lastly, the investors and Takako sincerely requested him to act with her in her very first movie. Being Takako’s friend, he continued, he always wanted to help promote younger actors/actresses.
About one hour later, he walked down the stairs from the 1st floor to the ground floor. About 20-30 fans were following him to the entrance. Again, this time he smiled occasionally and signed autographs for one or two of his fans. Just before he got in the back set of a dark coloured Mercedes Benz, he smiled to fans again. Then he went away.
There was a little ‘fighting’ incident at the press conference between Hong Kong and Japanese photographers. Leslie didn’t exactly know what happened, yet the Hong Kong media wrote that he ‘lacked courage’. Poor Leslie, even he if sat still with his mouth shut, those cheap tabloid hacks would still go after him!!
Promotion in China
On 1 August, Leslie went to Chengdu for the premiere of “A Time To Remember”. He dressed in a black T-Shirt and a pale purple suit, with hair dyed brown, his smile shining under the August sun. Chengdu was the first stop of the premiere. The press conference started at 9 a.m. Leslie looked to be in high spirits. At 2:30 pm, the movie started. But since Leslie would attend the premiere, every time the door opened there was a big chaos. People could hardly wait! Finally, Leslie appeared surrounded by crowds of people. The whole cinema got ‘hot’ after seeing Leslie at that moment! The film moved the entire audience!
In Beijing, many magazines carried articles about the film. “China Screen” and “Performing Arts”, the two most expensive popular magazines in China, both had Leslie on the cover, and there were many reports and pictures in it! On 2 August, Leslie had to attend three premieres of the film. Ye Daying honestly admitted that lots of people came to the premiere of “A Time to Remember” because they were in fact fans of Leslie. At 14:15 Leslie, dressed in black, appeared in Da Hua cinema with Ye Daying and Mei Ting. They answered questions from the audience.
A TV programme in Beijing TV Station covered news about “A Time to Remember”. The Chinese wanted to know whether Leslie could act as a communist. The TV host said that Leslie was brave to act in this role, because this film was not a merely commercial movie, it had contents which related to politics, and these kinds of movies often attract much more criticism. As such, it is a challenge. When the hostess asked him how he could act as a communist, Leslie responded that since Anthony Hopkins, an English actor could act as the president of USA, why could he not act as a Chinese communist? He said this with great confidence.
The whole interview lasted for about 20 minutes. “Time to Remember” was very successful in China. Never before had a movie screened in China been such a focus of so many in the media. It screened in Beijing for around one month, and the response was very hot. It had the second highest box office score in Beijing in 1998 (No.1 was “Titanic”). Critics said that it was a milestone in terms of Chinese revolutionary films. Leslie’s performance in it was highly regarded by both common audience and professional critics. “A Time To Remember” continued to show in some southern Chinese cities like Shen zhen. It was to screen in Shanghai in September of that year. Then it would be released in Hong Kong. “A Time to Remember” gained the Silver prize at the Egypt International Film Festival.
Whenever he was in Beijing, Leslie never forgot to visit his old friends such as Lei Han and his godson Ren Lei. He also visited the eight students from an art academy in Beijing who danced in his concert in 1997. Those children were very happy when Leslie came to see them.
Every time he was in China and interviewed, a number of radio DJ’s always commented that Leslie’s command of the Mandarin language was the best among Hong Kong actors. Reporter Eunice Lam told Leslie that his talent in languages was extensive! Leslie humbly replied that he was only good in Cantonese, Mandarin and English. On another occasion, when a reporter praised his English, Leslie replied that his Mandarin was better. He was in England for five years, but he learnt Mandarin in only five months when he shot “Farewell My Concubine”.
Moonlight Express (Continued) and The Kid
At the end of August Leslie was in Japan to shoot some scenes for “Moonlight Express”. A reporter asked Leslie what he thought of Takako Tokiwa, and Leslie said, “She’s pretty, and her smile is sweet”. When Takako heard from the translator that Leslie said she was pretty, she ‘hit’ him. They had fun together.
On 31 August, Leslie came to the Cantonese School in Shibuya, Tokyo. And he played 5 or 6 scenes from the movie. Takako Tokiwa would shoot the scene of her character taking Cantonese lessons in the School. Leslie arrived at 8:45 and he went up into the school to prepare. Thirty minutes later he went down to the street, and he began to shoot the scene where his character Tetsuya waited for Hitomi (Takako), standing by a car and smoking. A Leslie fan was very lucky to have had a chance to play a small part in that scene.
On Tuesday, 1 September the movie crew went to Hakkeijima Sea Paradise in Yokohama. There were many fans waiting for him early in the morning. He shot 6 or 7 scenes with Tokiwa, in which his character proposed marriage to her. Before Leslie appeared in Japan, the weather was very bad, a typhoon was expected to hit the Tokyo area. But when Leslie came, the weather turned out nice!
Back to Hong Kong, Leslie was in talks with director Jacob Cheung about the movie “The Kid”. Because of the economic downturn and the problem of copyright piracy, the local film industry was getting from bad to worse! Therefore five Hong Kong directors joined hands together to form a ‘Coalition’, each would direct one film at a low budget but would not sacrifice their film quality in the hope of revitalizing the film industry. “The Kid” was the first film to be made in this manner, and was to be directed by one of the five director’s, Jacob Cheung. Jacob Cheung then chose Leslie to be the male lead. Actually, they had problems when they discussed pay with some actors, but Leslie was very supportive. He accepted the role and to their surprise he even ‘re-invested’ his pay into the film! “Just put $1 on the contract. We have to put a number on it”, Leslie said. They were all very excited because, first of all, he had good acting skills and drawing power. He had international market appeal too. Moreover, he set a good example which would certainly help when they discussed future projects with other actors. As working partners, Jacob and Leslie could communicate freely, exchange their views and Leslie had lots of good ideas. Leslie then suggested that they approach Tommy Ti Lung, his ‘brother’ in “A Better Tomorrow” to get involved in the film. Leslie understood their problem of a tight budget, and saw things from the production angle. He also helped Jacob a lot, for example, in arranging accommodation for the shoot in Shanghai, borrowing a limousine from his friend etc.
Jacob thought that Leslie and the ‘kid’, played by Erikson Yip Tuen-lam did really look like father and son in the film. Leslie paid particular attention to the little boy. He wanted him to work to the best of his abilities, and give the best performance. Not only would he care about the kid, but did so with everyone involved in the film. In his mind, they were working together as a team. He wanted to see that everybody was working happily together. That was why, when someone was upset he would stay with him for a while to comfort him. This was his key to success. Besides, Jacob noticed that he was a very sentimental and conscientious person. He would strive hard to finish a task if he considered it the right thing to do. Lam Ka-tung was an up and coming artist working for a TV station. “The Kid” was his first movie. To him everything seemed new because making a film and TV series were totally different. It took some time for him to settle down.”Leslie was very nice to his juniors and taught me a lot of filming techniques. It really helped”, said Lam, “He gave me useful advice too. There are many newcomers in this film and we all feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with Leslie”. The other casts of “The Kid” were super model Qi Qi and Carrie Ng.
Jimmy Wong, the cinematographer of “The Kid” said, “Leslie had very good body language. His features were sharp in his close-ups. He was sparkling and versatile in front of the camera, an absolute enchanting model for photographers”. In his opinion Leslie was most suitable for those ‘unconventional’ roles.
Just few days before Leslie’s birthday, his mother’s condition worsened. She was now seriously ill and was staying at the hospital. During this difficult time, Leslie learnt a lot about self-introspection. Under such a situation, he thought, one should meditate to deal with changes, rather than changing to deal with the changes. He broke a lot of precepts that year, and did a lot of divination and consulted many oracles. Hence, he realized that when a person needs a lot of foresight he is actually doubtful about himself…
Though doubtful of himself, Leslie got encouragement during this period of time. “Every time I consulted oracles, they always said that my life would be very good. More than ten years ago, I went to see Uncle Tung (a renowned oracle), and he told me that there was no need to see him anymore. He said, ‘You will be very fine’. But people are always like that. When you are in some stage and rise from one level to another suddenly, actually you are much better than many others, but you always feel there is something wrong one way or another. Now I know to be introspective and realize that it is not bad to have low ebbs, which make me cherish things more. Let me give an example. I haven’t made as many mainland movies before, as lately. I remember that Hsu Feng invested lots of money in the film ‘Farewell to My Concubine’. It gave me the first chance to set foot on the mainland and advance to the international arena, where I was given honour. But when shooting ‘Temptress Moon’, things did not work out very well, which made it a more valuable experience to me. I even thought that if I didn’t shoot it, who would? Now I understand that the world is not as I expected. The earth is round. I used to take too much for granted.”
Dealing with life with a positive attitude is one reason why Leslie has lasted so long in show business. In 1998 his career was at a standstill, and he experienced many unpleasant things. Leslie found himself in a tight corner. How was he to extricate himself from such a difficult situation? “It would be best to take no action at all, and don’t do anything sedulously just because you are in dilemma”.
Leslie was the main ‘prop’ as some family members still need his help. “Actually, a lot of artists take care of their families, and I am just one of them.” Leslie has four sisters, two of whom had divorced and were being financially supported by him. He did not think of it as a heavy burden. “You can choose your friends but not your family. Blood is thicker than water. But I have my principles. I can provide them with daily necessities but not luxurious things. I hope they can read this story, so they understand that every dollar I earn is earned by hard toil and cannot be given away and used casually. It is my turn to take care of my brothers and sisters. Though what they ask for is not beyond my limit, when you have such a big family, it really gets on your nerves if all of them ask for your help.”
His two elder brothers had no problems at all. It was his sisters, who were not so successful in their careers or did not have jobs. He was supporting his two elder sisters. One of them went on to live a positive life. She lives in Canada and works in a bank. All he did was to buy her an apartment. He didn’t regret helping her at all, because she used to help the family members when she was young.
Leslie still considered himself very lucky, “No matter what, it is better to help instead of being helped by my family. It would be awful if they are the ones that help me. So I consider myself a very lucky person. But sometimes I would wonder why they said that what I gave was not enough. Then I would give them a warning. I calculated and know what is enough for a woman. She doesn’t know how to drive, so a car is not necessary. A house, plus the money to pay for water, electricity and gas, and a certain amount of petty cash, as long as what I give keeps her from borrowing from others, that would be enough.”
"Actually I am a man of integrity and have strong sense of self-respect. It would be the last thing for me to ask for help. Through my life, I preferred eating less than asking for help. Once I took up a law suit against an agent who had taken away my money. When I was a little bit short of money, someone happened to offer me a singing job, which enabled me to last for a few months more."
At that time one of Leslie’s friends told him that a Japanese writer named Chitose Shima wanted to make a photobook of him. As he had a tight schedule, Leslie planned to meet her at the Conrad Hotel at the end of month.
On 18 November, Mrs. Cheung left this world. Once more Leslie experienced the saddest moment of his life after he lost Luk Che, also because of a disease called cancer. Leslie often dreamt about his father and Luk Che, who both had died. His dreams of Luk Che were something pleasant, but he noticed that his father was sorrowful and regretful in his dreams.
Mrs. Cheung’s funeral was a Buddhist style ceremony. Leslie and his siblings were all there in black suits. Mr.Tong, Mrs. Cheung’s godson, arrived there together with Leslie. Leslie went with his brothers into the inner room to gaze upon their mother for the last time, and when he came out he looked sad and haggard. There was an unshaven moustache on his face. Mr.Tong stood beside him most of the time although they didn’t say much to each other. And Tong’s flower wreath was placed together with those from her family members. He also stood together with the family to make paper money for Mrs.Cheung. Leslie didn’t want to be bothered by the media, and when the reporters took photographs he would step away.
It added to Leslie’s sadness when he found out from his uncle that it was actually his mother’s wish to send him abroad for studies, and his father was only granting it on her behalf. Leslie didn’t have the opportunity to thank his mother for this, and felt regret as he finally realised how much his mother loved him! But it was too late.
Later while speaking about his mother, he was sometimes moved to tears. He had complex relationship with his mother. His thoughts and feelings about his mother ran deep, and was so complicated that he sometimes became cool, sometimes hot, and sometimes resentful. But above all, he loved his mother deeply. He remembered when he finally became successful in his career, and bought a nice apartment beside the beach. He started living with his mother. However both of them felt uneasy, and there was no conversation between them. So Leslie bought a present for her every day and took her to expensive restaurants, but she felt daunted by that and started to behave with an air of remoteness towards him. After thinking about that Leslie realised he could not buy love.
Leslie lost his mother a few days before Chitose Shima met him for the first time. When she heard the news she thought they should postpone their meeting. However he thought differently.
At the end of November 1998, around 7.00 p.m., Chitose Shima met Leslie in the coffee shop within the Conrad Hotel. Leslie said “Nice to meet you!”, extending his hand out for a handshake, while his eyes were staring at Shima without blinking, cold and sharp, as if he were tying to see through the lady. Then suddenly, a calm and carefree smile appeared on his face and he asked her, “Have you had your meal?” Chitose Shima had dinned with her staff and answered as such. Then Leslie said, “I am starved! May I have supper?” He called a waiter and ordered a chicken curry. He asked Ms. Shima a lot of questions, one after another, such as “When did you come to Hong Kong?, Yesterday?, The day before yesterday?”, “Which airline did you use?”, “Was the flight OK?”, “Which hotel are you staying in?”, “Did you sleep well last night?”, “How many times have you come to Hong Kong?”, “Did you go up to the Peak?”, and so on. When the chicken curry was served, his eyes lit up and he started eating happily. In spite of his gentle feature, he ate the dish in a very manly manner and it made Ms. Shima smile.
He said, “I have been asked to make a photo book several times, but I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel anything which pushed me to go forward. Besides, I published a photobook once 10 years ago and I love the book very much. So I wonder if I could make this book better than that book.” Leslie started speaking frankly and showed Ms. Shima the photo book, “Stark Impressions”, which was made 10 years ago. It was the last copy he had with him. “Ten years have passed and my mother passed away, then you asked me to do this project with my revered friend’s recommendation. So I feel this is some kind of fate.” “The previous photo book was a commemoration of my farewell to myself as a singing ‘idol’. This one, I may say, will commemorate my new life, as my mother’s death made me free from a lot of complex feelings I have had.”
What impressed Ms. Shima a lot during their time working together later was Leslie’s quick decision making, and his management ability. He was very smart, had a good memory and made decisions on the spot. During their work, there were a lot of things which required their decisions, but Leslie never once said, “Let me think for a while” or “Give me some time”. He always considered the matter and made the decision on the spot. However his prompt decision making was not always a good thing. In fact, he also changed his mind and plans without any previous notice, which surprised and confused Ms. Shima. Their first meeting took about 3 hours, and Ms. Shima saw Leslie’s unfriendly face only once. When their meeting was over and Leslie stood up to walk, two young girls who noticed it was Leslie, came running towards him with a loud cry.
They asked for Leslie’s autograph. Leslie hesitated for a second and stood there to wait for them. While standing, he was staring forward with surprisingly expressionless eyes. After signing his autographs without a word on the paper they handed him, Leslie left the shop quickly. Ms. Shima later saw the same expression several times after their first meeting. His eyes were so peculiar, and it could be said they were sorrowful rather than cold. They were out of focus; certainly looking at something but it seemed as if they were not seeing anything, the sorrowful eyes were one of her unforgettable memories of Leslie’s features aside from his friendly smile.
The interview and photo shoot took 3 weeks. Leslie also had another project, to make the movie “The Kid”, so they also went to the film set to report on it as well as carry on with the interviews and photo shoots for the photobook. The biggest change of the plan was the new chapter, “Leslie on Holiday”. At first he said, “I don’t want to disclose my private life to the public, so don’t take photos inside my house.” However after working together for several days, he changed his mind and offered to them: “Let’s take pictures in my house!”
His house was near Kowloon Station and was in an exclusive part of the city. The area is owned by a famous rich person in Hong Kong. Leslie rented the house from him. Andy Lau and Tsui Hark also had houses in this area, and Karen Mok lived in an apartment near his house. When Ms. Shima and her crew visited his house for the first time, he together with his pet dog, Bingo, welcomed them. Bingo barked at Ms. Shima and bit her hand albeit not seriously, but Leslie took it very seriously and was terribly upset. He asked Ms. Shima, “Are you OK? Oh, what should I do!?” He asked her this again and again while anxiously stroking her hand. Then he scolded Bingo and beat it’s head several times. Ms. Shima said, “I am OK; I am not hurt at all!” However Leslie called his maid and had Bingo taken away. He did not allow Bingo to come into the room until midnight. Two maids and a chauffeur were living with Leslie. The maids came from the Philippines, one of them was in her 50’s and the other was in her 30’s. It was very common for the affluent in Hong Kong to hire maids. Both of the maids were very diligent, they also had good manners and care. What surprised Ms. Shima most was Leslie’s attitude towards the maids. As they didn’t understand Cantonese, Leslie always spoke to them in English. His English was always very polite. To hear them speak, the conversation didn’t seem to be one between a master and his maids.
Leslie’s English was that of the Queen’s English which he learned in England. His pronunciation was very beautiful, and use of words was very refined. “In friendly pleasantries, he spoke in an intimate way using casual words. However when he spoke to his maids, he always used Gentleman’s English”, she noted.
The chauffeur was an elderly man. He was always at Leslie’s house: washing and cleaning his cars (at that time Leslie had 2 cars, a Range Rover and a big Mercedes), taking care of Bingo or doing some carpentry work in the garage. Leslie used both cars depending on the occasion. He seemed to make it a rule to drive the Rover when he drove himself, and to use the Mercedes when being chauffeur driven. There was one more young man who came to Leslie’s house to work every day. His name was Man Chai. He was around 20 years old at that time. He had been working for a film company as a part-time film making assistant. After the term of his contract ended, Leslie hired him as his private assistant. Though Mai Chai was a nice and cheerful boy, he was still very childish and didn’t possess good manners. Leslie was taking care of him all the time. Leslie was redressing every movement Man Chai made. So Ms. Shima would tease him, “Both of you look like father and son!”, then Leslie laughed and replied jokingly, “Yes, to tell you the truth, he is my illegitimate son I had when I was 20!!”
He said, “As for an assistant, I think a female assistant is better. Actually my very first assistant was a woman. She was an extremely competent assistant and I liked her very much. However the mass media began fabricating a lot of rumours (fake stories) about us and it became impossible for me to keep her in my employ any more because she was a single woman. I have had enough!! So I decided to use a male assistant but then they started making up scandalous stories about us again. After all they want is to write something about me regardless of the sex of my assistant! I gave up.” Leslie said scornfully with a wry smile.
As Ms. Shima later recalled, “Leslie’s house had a unique layout. It seemed that the height of the roads were on different level between the front and the back of the house. There was the entrance, a garage, and the rooms for housework on the ground floor. On the first floor, there was a living room, a dining room for guests, a small private dining room for Leslie, a kitchen and a toilet. The main dining room was quite large. On the second floor, there was a private bed room, a bath room and a study room for Leslie. The private pictures of Leslie’s awaking in ‘Leslie’s Holiday’ were taken in these rooms. The shoot for these photos began in the early morning, so the pictures of Leslie brushing his teeth, shaving or eating break fast were quite similar to his real private life.”
The maids prepared the dishes with Leslie’s help and according to his instructions. Since the day of the photo shoot began early in the morning, Leslie decided to invite the crew to have lunch in his house. He said, “I will cook a light lunch, so let’s have lunch together! It will just be ordinary dishes which I often make. Is it alright with you?” Then he went into the kitchen and began to cook lunch with the maids. He came back into the living room every now and then while cooking, but he seemed to be concerned about the cooking and went back to the kitchen. After about one hour, Leslie and the maids cheerfully brought the dishes to the dining room. The menu was rice gruel with chicken and scallop, chow mien and some other dishes. The rice gruel was so delicious.
Several days later when they visited his house again, Leslie had a stern face. He was opening and closing the windows, and he was also checking all locks in his house with Man Chai. The previous night, a woman fan had sneaked into Leslie’s bedroom. There were some big trees in the back yard which faced the living room. One of them was very big, with a huge trunk and some big branches that almost reached into Leslie’s bed room. The girl seemed to have climbed the fence from the back road and then she had climb up the branches, opened the window and had sneaked into the bedroom without being noticed by the maids. Leslie had come home at night from work. After relaxing in the living room for a while, he went up to his bedroom. The bedroom was in complete darkness and there seemed to be nothing wrong, but when Leslie switched on the light he caught sight of the girl’s eyes. She was crouching at the corner of his bed. She seemed not to have any knife or such kind of weapon, but she seemed transfixed on something with an obsessed look in her eyes. From past experiences, Leslie knew it was no good to raise an alarm. So he started to talk to her calmly. As he had expected, she with her bloodshot eyes began to cry out, “You are a liar! You promised me we would get married!!” After shouting for a while, she began to weep. Leslie listened to her rattling on in silence. When the girl calmed down a bit, Leslie persuaded her not do things like this any more, and let her go back home. Ms. Shima asked Leslie, “Do these incidents occur frequently?” He answered, “Yes, occasionally. Last night’s case was not so dangerous, but during the days when I was an idol there were such incidents in which I felt that there were possibilities I could have been killed on several occasions.” And he shrugged his shoulders.
Later Leslie was in a blue mood. He seemed to be depressed on this day and his comments tended to be very negative and pessimistic. That day, Ms. Shima finished the interview well ahead of time. What Leslie said at the end of the interview was so sad that it was painful to listen to his words. He said, “I sometimes think I cannot love anyone. Considering my life, perhaps I might not have loved anyone seriously. I thought I loved the person at that time, but once I became calm, I felt I was alone.” Ms. Shima asked him, “How about now? Don’t you have anyone whom you love? Are you still feeling lonely?” He answered, “No, I don’t have anyone. I have always been lonely, even now.” Obviously Leslie was feeling very low on that day.
On 18 December Leslie went to Shanghai to serve as a judge in a singing contest. Then he continued the shoot for his movie, “The Kid”. Ms. Shima and her crew were waiting him in a small park in Square Street. Two boys, aged around 5 or 6 years, were playing on swings when they sighted Leslie. They immediately dashed towards him when director Jacob Cheung and Leslie were walking past these swings, discussing the script and making various arrangements. The two boys frantically dug into their back pockets of their shorts but they could not find anything appropriate. They looked at each other rather awkwardly. Right at this moment, Leslie pulled out some tissue paper from his pocket and unfolded two pieces of the tissue neatly. He then borrowed a pen from the director and autographed his name on the papers that were carefully laid on a piece of stone, and then handed them to the two boys. They ran away happily waving the papers.He had intended to play his role in “The Kid” with a beard all through the movie. Leslie was fond of his beard and he demanded that all pictures in this photo book should be taken with his bearded face. But Ms. Shima wanted to take pictures of Leslie without a beard, with that smooth skin by all means. Leslie refused to be persuaded by her. One day however, Leslie asked Ms. Shima whether they could do their second interview in her twin-room at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Hong Kong Island, “If you don’t mind, I would like to visit your room!” Ms. Shima relented to his request.
They made an appointment to meet at the Hotel lobby at 5:00 pm in the afternoon. Leslie and Man Chai came earlier because Leslie wanted to give Ms. Shima a surprise. Leslie decided to shave his beard! “The entire scene of Wing (his character in “The Kid”) after losing his job finished today. We are going to film the scene of Wing working as a stockbroker from now on. I asked the director to film this part without a beard. The part we have already finished can be filmed over again so don’t worry!” Ms. Shima was deeply moved by his wonderful planning and production.
Leslie was also very courteous, at the interview that day, he also told Man Chai not to sit on other people’s bed (he told him this when Man Chai sat on the bed), and ordered him to sit on the sofa. That day’s interview focused on the topic of his days as a pop idol. Before starting the interview, Leslie told Ms. Shima, “I want to amend the statement I gave you at the previous interview, a little bit.” Just as she had expected, it was about his last statement, “I have never loved anyone!” He said, “I went too far, I think.” and he went on to explain, “It might have come from my selfishness, which means that I am always not content with the present situation and tend to seek something better and more acceptable.” And he continued, “Now that I reflect on my present situation, I think it is quite satisfying. I have a lot of good friends and I am able to love others. My problem is that when the other people can get 100% satisfaction, I can only get 76%. I don’t know why, but that is what I am.” When talking about homosexuality, Ms. Shima asked Leslie if the question of homosexuality was taboo. Leslie said it wasn’t taboo and actually he was not gay! His explanation was hard to understand. Leslie was very cheerful, open and honest in that meeting. He drank some room service coffee plus 2 bottles of mineral water in the refrigerator. He opened a box of chocolate which was in the room, asking if he could have it. There were 12 pieces of chocolates in the box. At first he made his selection carefully saying, “I like this, well I don’t like this.” But in the end he had eaten all of them by himself. Before they were aware of it, Man Chai had already fallen soundly asleep on the bed. Gazing at his sleeping assistant, Leslie smiled bitterly with love as if he wanted to say, “I honestly don’t know what to do with you!”
The film shoot after Leslie had shaved his beard commenced at Discovery Bay. After having a bite to eat at the MacDonald’s, they headed to the yacht marina where the movie was supposed to be filmed. It was getting darker and colder on the road along the sea. When they went into the lobby of the marina, Leslie came close to Ms. Shima and whispered into her ear, “You had better go to the washroom. It is cold here and there will be no toilet from here.”
Ms. Shima used to smoke in those days. Leslie said that it was 3 years since he had given up smoking, though he used to be a heavy smoker. When he saw her puffing away, he would suggest for her to stop smoking. But whenever she was looking around restlessly with nothing to do, he would bring an ashtray from somewhere, put it in front of her and say, “How about a smoke?” Returning from the washroom Ms. Shima was shivering from the cold, Leslie brought an ashtray from the reception desk and put it in front of her. Leslie advised her, “You had better smoke. Although I recommend that you stop smoking, having a cigarette will make you feel relaxed when your body is stiff because of the cold and tension.”
The film shoot at the marina was also held in a deluxe yacht borrowed from a rich Englishman. It was the scene in which Wing, who was an elite stockbroker, lost all his money because of a plunge in the stock market and out of desperation he took to the bottle in his yacht. Leslie acted his role by gulping down real wine and whisky! He had to act out this scene several times until the director said “OK”, and each time he drank every drop up. Ms. Shima thought that he was totally drunk, but he only acted.Among the Hong Kong actresses, Leslie’s most favourite actress in those days was Karen Mok. From his words, Karen is extremely intelligent and she has a charming character. Later on with Leslie’s recommendation, Ms. Shima interviewed Karen for a chapter in the book, entiled “Talking About the True Leslie”. She was indeed a very gentle and honest girl, and Ms. Shima became her fan after she finished the interview.
Initially, Ms. Shima had thought that Leslie was a difficult man. All the people she met said it would be impossible to ask Leslie to agree to doing a photo book. Gradually she began to think this plan would be impossible and decided to give up. It was the beginning of 1998. Thanks to the introduction from his close friend, Leslie was happy to accept Ms. Shima. It was as if they had been long term friends at the very first meeting between them. Ms. Shima thinks it was destiny!
"I really have a liking for Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) because, after all, he is the loser. Contrary to Lai Yiu-Fai, Po-Wing is neither able to suffer nor willing to quit. Somehow or other, a sort of animal instinct keeps him alive." - Wong Kar-Wai (Jean Marc Lalanne et al., Wong Kar-Wai)
Leslie had stopped smoking since the year before. He was a good son of Hong Kong who would only give his best, and his best was to be the pride of that region. He had performed memorable shows to start off 1997. He was paid HK $1 million per show for his stunning stage performances, breaking all Hong Kong records. The media had hurt his feelings, but he was determined to continue giving the best of himself. Florence Chan was very familiar with Leslie’s frank style of speaking to the audience on stage, so she warned Leslie once again that his task was only to sing. But all his fans loved the concerts, despite the negative claims of the Hong Kong media.On one occasion, Leslie had invited Shi Yan-sheng and his wife Zhang Man-ling to his concert, and then to his home for dinner. Zhang told Leslie that they could take a taxi or the MTR, both of which could later get them conveniently back to their hotel. However, Leslie insisted on driving them to the hotel, and waited to see them stepping into the building before saying goodbye. Zhang had noted that their working relationship with Leslie had totalled just a little over a month, and their engagement had finished! Furthermore, she was just a person working for the Beijing opera, and she was ‘aged’. She could not think of what benefit Leslie could possibly gain from a long-standing relationship with them! But their friendship was to last until death separated them.
January fourth 1997 was the date of his final show in Hong Kong.There was a full house for the concert, which lasted more than three hours. Leslie was still able to give his very best at that last show. The run down of the concert left none of his followers upset, especially since he sang a whole spectrum of his songs dating back from the early 80s to half of the songs from his new album, “Red”. The most amazing thing about this repertoire must be the fact that even though the time period he covered spanned across almost 15 years, the songs didn’t even sound out-of-date! It was partly due to the new musical arrangements, but more to the fact that Leslie was now more mature and could handle all the songs in the best possible fashion!
Leslie stressed that his concert had 4 themes: ‘attractiveness’, ‘beauty’, ‘stylishness’ and ‘superior taste’. He fully understood that the audience had expected more than a strictly song-based concert, and he had presented his glamour and style in the above 4 ways. So from a purely entertainment point of view, the audience was very satisfied with the visual and audio effects - the flexible stage design, the subtle use of lighting, the varied musical arrangements, the appropriate appearance of the dancers, and above all, Leslie himself right from his clothing, to his dancing and singing.
There were 3 guest appearances: the academic Karen Mok, sexy Shu Qi and ‘laid-back’ woman, Winnie Hsin. Karen’s song-and-a-half presentation was a nice break, and it gave a chance for the audience to see and appreciate Leslie from the point of view as a more experienced singer in contrast to Karen! Shu Qi’s appearance was kind of unexpected, and did not do much except fuel media exploitation of the show’s so-called “Category 3 contents”. Taiwanese Winnie Shin’s performance was just ordinary.
Leslie claimed the son of one of his acquaintances, a boy named Justin (Ah Jen), as his godson. Justin would frequently go to the Hong Kong Coliseum to watch Leslie’s Concerts. When he saw his ‘god-dad’ shaking hands with his fans, Justin would also go near the stage, pretending to be one of Leslie’s fans and shook hands with his ‘god-dad’. And when he succeeded, he would shout happily, “I got it! I got it!” Some people said to him, “Oh, be nice, let those fans that waited the whole night shake hands with him, you always see Leslie anyways!”
Justin was a student in England at that time, and Leslie was paying all of Justin’s tuition and allowance. When a reporter asked Leslie if he saw his god-son shaking hands with him at the concert, Leslie answered, “No, but I did remember seeing someone familiar.”
That final night Leslie continued to dedicate the song “The Moon Represents My Heart” to his mother and Mr. Tong, who looked very happy when listening to the song. The audience had gone to see Leslie on stage simply because he was “Leslie”! Now that the Hong Kong concerts had finished, Leslie would take a rest for a while before continuing his world tour.
In its first edition on January 1997, a French magazine, “HK - Orient Extrême Cinéma” (France), in its pages 14-19 wrote about Leslie’s status as an actor. Amongst the contents of the article about Leslie, the magazine wrote: Gangster, knight, priest, teddy-boy, rock star… Leslie Cheung has put on all dresses, has gone through all ages. Inaccessible, almost infallible, he slides over the roles and the fashions with the ease of a man who knows he is above others. Since not long he is forty and yet his look was never so delicate as it is today, almost fragile. He’s got a teen-age gait but eyes full of maturity, an angelic face but a seductive smile: Leslie Cheung is a star. He is a myth like the ones Hollywood only had created before. Myths who transcend the movies in which they act and the life they live. The fact that he started his career as a singer, and today he is still one of the male pop stars the audience adores most, is not unrelated to his popularity as an actor. In spite of an ever-growing desire for westernization, Hong Kong has always been able to produce its own dream-machines. Men or women, they have been dominating for a long time the two leading industries of the colony: music and movies.
By alternating dramas and comedies, epic movies and thrillers, little by little Leslie Cheung has become one of the most important personalities of Hong Kong cinema of the last ten years. Though today Leslie is almost the absolute king of Hong Kong cinema, too often he can’t find roles as extraordinary as his talent. Let’s hope the movie he has just finished shooting - another movie directed by Wong Kar-Wai (“Happy Together”) - gives him the chance to explore his complex personality in a new way, because it is difficult for another star to shine with so many different lights in the Chinese firmament.
It cannot be denied that Leslie’s reputation in Europe had significantly contributed to lifting the profile of his new film “Happy Together”, and it being chosen to compete in the Cannes Film Festival this year. Actually Leslie had helped to introduce this upcoming film to the press when he attended the Cannes Film Festival in 1996.
25 and 26 January 1997 - Tokyo International Forum Hall, Tokyo, Japan
The world tour has begun in Tokyo. Leslie stayed at the Park Hyatt Hotel in the city. His Japanese concert was very successful. Leslie held his concert at the International Forum (Hall ‘A’), which is the biggest venue among the places commonly used by Hong Kong’s singers. Hall ‘A’ has 10 floors and can accommodate over five thousand people. The long queues for Leslie’s concert spanned 3 hours! Fans were divided into 4 rows. Leslie was very popular in Japan! Cine City is a special shop that specially sells souvenirs of the Hong Kong stars. Since the film “Temptress Moon” screened in Japan, the second floor of the shop was converted into a place which only sold Leslie’s products. At the biggest CD shop in Japan, the Tower Record store in Shibuya, two from among the 5 newest Hong Kong CDs displayed at the store entrance were those of Leslie’s music.
Leslie’s concerts on January 25 and 26 in Tokyo were almost the same as the Hong Kong Concerts. Again, Leslie opened the show with a medley. Karen Mok was his guest and she sang two songs. When Leslie introduced Karen, he said “Tenshi-no-namida-no Karen Moku-san" (It means Ms. Karen Mok of the movie "Fallen Angel"). He spoke in Cantonese, Mandarin and English on 25th, but on 26th he used English and Mandarin, since he was informed that most Japanese understood Mandarin. In the two days, there were hand-shaking sessions. He asked "Do you want to shake hands with me?" and the Japanese fans could not believe this. In Japan, it is prohibited for audiences to go to the front of the stage. But Leslie said, "Come on!”, and the audiences flew into a panic of excitement and many people rushed to stage. He shook hands while singing. On the 26th Leslie said, "Thank you very much for giving me such great opportunities!".
28 January 1997 - Osaka Festival Hall, Osaka, Japan
In Osaka on the next two days, Leslie tried to make eye contact with the audience, and even shook their hands about halfway through his performance. The concert was two and a half hours long. Although he must have been exhausted, he really thought of his fans and gave a great performance. He kept the so-called “Category 3” style, and was really attractive and interesting in his red high heels and made-up face!
Like in Tokyo, Karen Mok was his guest star, and they did a duet together. He teased her in a funny way and they seemed to have a friendly relationship, even if Karen called him ‘uncle’. She sang a song in Japanese, and her Japanese sounded better than Leslie’s! When she left the stage, she said goodbye in Japanese but with the Osaka dialect: “Okini.” (“Sayonara” is the standard Japanese for it.) Karen was also fluent in French. Besides Karen Mok as his guest, he only had 4 male and 4 female dancers that night in Osaka.Leslie used the English and Mandarin languages during the concert. He tried to say some Japanese words from time to time, although sometimes he had great difficulty remembering and pronouncing these words. But when he did it, the audience really enjoyed it. And as a bonus song that wasn’t included in the programme, he sang “A Thousand Dreams of You”.
"The Wind Blows On" was originally sung by Momoe Yamaguchi. Leslie sang the original lyrics as follows: "Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for your tenderness. Thank you for your smile. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your everything. Sayonara no kawarini (instead of saying goodbye)”. He told the audience that Momoe Yamaguchi was his idol.
Before the “Farewell to My Concubine” theme song, one dancer dressed in black appeared and danced waving a big, red flag. At the time, the audience was so excited to watch Leslie on the stage that they gave the number a big applause, even to the boring dance choreography.
Introducing the song “RED”, an announcement was made in Japanese stating that the next performance would not be suitable for children under 16, and if there were any in the hall they should be accompanied by adults. The announcement was very sarcastic, so the audience couldn’t help laughing and looked forward to it. It was just great!
After Leslie left the stage, almost all the people present would not leave the hall voluntarily and demanded encores, but in vain. They waited about 20 minutes, but all they listened to was the repeated announcement that the concert had ended and they should leave as soon as possible. The people of Osaka had been longing to see Leslie for so long. They were so excited to be able to see Leslie this time.
31 January and 1 February 1997 - Singapore Indoor Stadium, Singapore
Leslie arrived in Singapore on 30 January 1997. Of course Leslie’s Singapore concert, organized by J. P. Entertainment, was a great performance, very successful and unforgettable. He had full support from the audience and sure won many hearts. The audience was emotionally charged and cheered at every song. It was years of restrained emotions, as Leslie never bade them farewell years back when he announced his retirement. Nonetheless, after so many years away from the concert stage, he was still as natural in showmanship, and his ‘live’ voice was still the same, if not better. A new fan who watched the live concert for the first time was very impressed and charmed by Leslie’s singing and dancing.
On the February 1st concert; Leslie said that he might not be back for a concert again. It really made the audience feel very sad. They hoped that he would be back very soon, and not make them wait for another 10 years! “Next time I do a show here, I want the stage to be closer to the audience,” he announced in Cantonese. “Maybe Singapore is too polite a place. They are afraid that the situation will be too messy if we are closer together.”
Understanding that his fans loved him very much, he could not understand why there were local media who wrote bad reports about the concert. There must be a reason behind it. The media wrote that he had made empty vows, and it seemed likely to be the act of certain persons who did not like to see Leslie back on stage. As Leslie said, it is only a matter of coming back to sing, not to steal or rob, so why had the media treated him like a criminal? Leslie left Singapore on 2 February 1997.
"Viva" at Berlin
"Viva Erotica" was chosen as one of the films which competed in the Berlin Film Festival in Germany in February 1997. This was the first time in this entire world that a "porn inspired" film could compete in a prestigious film festival!
From the very beginning when the camera shot Leslie’s naked back till the film’s end, there were so many shots that made this film a “Category 3” film. But the film had given the subject a different treatment; it was not a sex film but a satire of the making of sex films. “Viva Erotica” was a satire on the state of Hong Kong films, which had begun to show unhealthy signs. Derek Yee commented that all Hong Kong’s directors were under pressure to make commercial films. If they didn’t compromise and acquiesce to the studio’s wishes then they could not make a film. Yee based the movie on the experiences of a “Category 3” director, Bosco Lam, who was unhappy when he made his films, but ironically society treated all “Category 3” moviemakers as “bad men”. Leslie’s role also described Derek’s own idealism from when he became a director for the first time. This reflected the feelings of many young directors who had faced similar problems of creative compromise. Yee hoped that when they watched this film it would hopefully make them consider their own situation, and allow them to feel more contented with it. Leslie’s acting in “Viva Erotica” was so natural, and he was nominated as Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Festival in April of that year. He could have easily won, but the jurors preferred to give the award to another actor, Kent Cheng.
9 and 10 February 1997 - Zhong Shan, China
Leslie went to about 3 southern cities in China altogether. It was far too few venues in comparison to the huge number of fans he had there. The tickets sold out very quickly after news of the concerts got out, and it was said that the Auditorium sold more tickets than the venue itself could accommodate.
11 and 12 February 1997 - Shan Tou, China
The concert programme in Shan Tou was largely the same as that of Tokyo, except that there seemed to be more old songs, and less of his new songs. Leslie didn’t sing “Love by Stealth”, and he sang “Shanghai Shore” from the soundtrack of “Shanghai Grand” as a newly added act to his concert. He dressed a little more traditionally in those concerts, and was not as “exposed” as in Hong Kong.The highlight in the concert was when Leslie sang “The Moon Represents My Heart”. The entire audience sang along with him and the scene was quite moving. He said a sincere “Thank you” in Mandarin at the end of the number, and the great applause and bravos he received literally drowned out his words. Leslie controlled the atmosphere skillfully throughout the concert. The reaction of the audience was extremely passionate. Leslie said, “This is an old song I sang when I was young. Now, I am old, and you are young.” All the fans replied, “No, you are not old at all.” He then said he liked his nickname “Gor Gor”, since it sounded intimate and asked the audience to call him “Gor Gor”. After they responded, Leslie kiddingly said, “Good boy, grow up soon. Be strong and happy!” He used both Mandarin and Cantonese in the concerts. His dancing was great. In “Red” he danced in a feminine way and was extraordinarily charming. Yet in “Profile”, “No Mood To Sleep”, “Whisper of Love” and “Abandons” his dance was strong and wild, like his well-known former style. He was surely a miracle, to be able to present such totally different styles with such perfect ease.
Tang Chiu Wing, who is also a songwriter in Shen Zhen, was the person in charge of the Leslie 1997 World Tour in China. He met Leslie for the first time in Hong Kong a while ago. Although he was new to Leslie he spoke to him a lot. But what impressed him most were Leslie’s jokes with him at the dinner: “We both have the same character ‘Wing’ in our name, so should I call you Mr. Tang or Brother Wing?” asked Leslie. He met Leslie for the second time when he had his concert in Shan Tou. This time he had closer contact with Leslie, as he was the manager of the Shen Zhen Entertainment Company that was responsible for all the arrangements for the tour - from accommodation to food, and transport for his concert. “He impressed me as an easy going person. Perhaps he’s not the Alan Tam’s type who would hang around fooling about with people. He’s more of an introvert, but you won’t feel nervous when you’re with him. He won’t give you pressure. You’d only feel relaxed working with him”, he said.
Leslie also gave Tang the impression of being a very ‘clean’ person, who cares very much about his image. “He is very clean; you may even say too clean, that is next to godliness! He is choosy about food but eats very little”, Tang said. Each time Leslie appeared in public he would behave decently, as if he was on stage. None of the paparazzi were able to take a single photo showing him acting or behaving inappropriately or disgracefully. “Because of this he lives in tension”, Tang exclaimed. He also said that amongst Hong Kong’s male artists, Leslie cared most about keeping his face pretty.
Leslie cared very much about his image and his position in his fans’ hearts. The 1997 concert was the first concert after his comeback to the music field; Tang could obviously feel Leslie’s disappointment when he found only a few fans waiting for him at the hotel. He seemed to not be in a good mood. When dinner time came, Leslie suddenly offered to have dinner in a restaurant downstairs and refused to have it in his room. Tang was worried that he would be disturbed by fans but he said, “I don’t mind”. Later, after some fuss, Tang and his team arranged an isolated place for him inside the restaurant. After dinner, Leslie took photos with some fans who had gotten the inside news that he was there. He didn’t stay in his hotel room for meals the next day and a half. He was always happy to satisfy the requests from fans for his autograph, and to have him take pictures with them. Tang said he had come across many stars, and Leslie was the only star who would not fence himself off, and was willing to have his meals in a public place.
That night, while Tang was having dinner with Leslie and Florence, a few young ladies from the hotel ticketing office came to the restaurant hoping to take photos with Leslie. They were refused permission by Florence Chan. Later on when they left, Leslie found a very beautiful girl waiting outside the main door. Leslie asked Tang if she wanted to have her photo taken with him. Tang said yes, and then Leslie volunteered to take a photo with her. This was the first time Tang had ever met a star who actually offered to take photos with his fans. And more surprisingly, he even wanted a copy of that photo. Tang joked with Leslie and asked if he was attracted to her. Leslie smiled without saying anything. Regrettably all the girls had left the hotel early in the morning of the next day to go back to school. Upon hearing this, Leslie was very disappointed and said he should have asked earlier!
Though the Shan Tou concert had good tickets sales, the organizer had suffered some loss but nonetheless felt happy because they acknowledged that Leslie had a good personality. Before he left Shan Tou, he told Tang that he would visit him again the next time he came to China. Tang thanked him as a matter of courtesy.
14 February 1997 - Fo Shan, China
The concert in Fo Shan took place on Valentine’s Day. Then Leslie would perform in Zhan Jiang, after which he would be on his way to the States. He stayed in China till the beginning of March, and did several more shows. At the hotel in Zhan Jiang there was a fan lucky enough to get an autograph on her concert ticket and also a photo with Leslie as she stayed in the same hotel!
29 and 30 March 1997 - Trump Taj Mahal Casino, Atlantic City, USA
Richard Corliss and his wife Mary joined Norman Wang (their guide in all matters cinematically Chinese), for a Leslie Cheung concert at an Atlantic City casino. Richard saw Leslie expertly woo the staid audience until they danced en masse in front of the stage: “votaries to the pop god”. Richard called Leslie “the most widely adored and admired male diva of the late 20th century”. He had started to notice that Hong Kong pop stars tour all over the world, entertaining thousands of fans at every site, and perform all their material - the songs, the patter, the works - in Cantonese. But that Easter Eve, Leslie switched to English and said he was dedicating the next song to Mary and Richard. It was the theme from “Temptress Moon”. Richard and Mary floated home that evening!
Leslie managed his time for a lunch date in New York with Richard Corliss and the Taiwanese director who had a chance to direct Hollywood films, Ang Lee. Ang said he was hoping to get to do his long-delayed martial arts project, and Leslie practically auditioned for the part! Finally Ang Lee did not ask Leslie to play a role in the film, “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”. But it is for sure that the film would have been better if Leslie had acted in it!
5 April 1997 - Varsity Arena, Toronto, Canada
7 April 1997 - Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, Canada
In the early ’90s, Leslie had established residence in West Vancouver and he now held dual citizenships. Canada, the country with the lowest crime rate in the world, was his country too. In Vancouver, Leslie was 25 minutes late! Most of the audience were in their late 20s. In the beginning the audience was rather quiet. Many could not believe Leslie still looked that young. Leslie began with lots of his old songs: the first song that he sang was “Criss-Cross Love” and the last one was “Chase”. He threw his blue tie into the audience at the very beginning of the show, and gave several kisses to members of the audience who had brought him flowers. After an hour into the show, more people shouted and yelled in response. The latest songs seemed to be the hottest for most of the audience. Most people stood in joy and appreciation! The show lasted two and a half hours! Most of Leslie’s clothes were the same as in the Hong Kong concerts, very sharp and shiny, still with the red high heel shoes and wearing red lip-stick when he was performing “Red”. The dancers made several costume changes, and their clothes were very beautiful too. He sang exceptionally well, better than even on his “Red” album! The stage was quite small, therefore he didn’t dance a lot. Leslie said something about a “deer lovely Bambie”. And he talked about his house in Vancouver, too. He said that when he went back to visit his old house (which had already been sold!) on the day before the show, he found that the house was not the same as before.
The audio equipment in the theatre was not very good. It was hard to hear the words he sang during the fast paced songs. “Afraid We Won’t Meet Again” with Karen Mok won lots of applause from the audience. The audience loved “The Wind Blows On”, too. Actually, people applauded for quite a number of his songs. He also received many very beautiful and huge flowers. The ticket costed CDN $238.
9 April 1997 - Masonic Hall, San Francisco, USA
Fans felt as if Leslie was singing songs to his good friends for the whole of that night, rather that putting on a performance. They gave his performance two “thumbs-up” of approval. The way he performed and his attitude… everything was just like the old Leslie that they loved before he retired in the early late 80’s. “The Moon Represents My Heart” won much applause. Many just could not believe a man could sing this song that well! At the last few lines of the song, he just simply let the audience sing the words, and indeed everyone joined in to sing. Even though the flow of the concert was more or less the same as the ones in Hong Kong, the way Leslie performed was uniquely and completely different.
The security seemed to be more lax in San Francisco. Cameras were allowed in and everyone kept taking photos! The Masonic Hall, located in Downtown San Francisco was not big. A fan who bought a $100 ticket for a seat on the main floor, even if not actually in the first couple rows, was still able to see him clear as day - no binoculars needed! There were two ticket prices: US$75 and $100. There were at least 10 girls, and even little ones (aged as young as 5) who gave him flowers, and kisses were exchanged each time. Leslie even walked off the stage into the audience for one of the songs… everyone just swarmed over him. That was one unforgettable concert!
11 April 1997 - Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, USA
Leslie was a bit tired during the latter part of the show. He had been standing, singing and dancing for two and a half hours! The audience thought it was absolutely understandable that he was unwilling to give an encore. To cut the concert short may have been a way to keep its quality high. He sang an old Mandarin song “Transparent You”, after the opening medley of fast numbers, in a see-through shirt. The audience reacted with floods of yells and screams. His voice was kind of affected by the dry weather in Los Angeles, and he had to keep drinking water. But just as he himself said, “It also sounded more sexy.” He sang most of the ballads very well. He sang the theme song of “Phantom Lover” more passionately than on the CD version. And he performed the Beatles classic “Twist and Shout” in wild and unrestrained style. When he sang the old Mandarin classic, “The Moon Represents My Heart” his voice was so smooth and moving. Leslie was such a skillful performer. He could easily earn applause from the audience, and could make them crazy whenever he wanted. Many fans stood outside the venue doors, waiting for him when leaving the auditorium. Some of them seemed to be in their late 20s. They must have been his old fans who could not forget Leslie.
A girl who went up to give him flowers (a few other girls did so too, but this one was the funniest) asked him if she could kiss him, and Leslie said in English, “You wanna kiss my what?”, but then he let her peck him on the cheek. That girl thought Leslie was a very humorous guy because when she had first approached him, he was giving her the “why are you giving me flowers” kind of expression! When she asked him if it would be okay to kiss him on his cheek, he asked her “You want to kiss me on my what?” Since everybody was laughing, she was a little embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. Leslie gave her this very handsome smile, and let her peck him on his cheek. She felt really lucky to be able to get on stage, shake hands with him, talk to him, and of course kiss him. Oh, one more thing, Leslie looked totally young and gorgeous in her eyes. She thought he looked much better in real life. There was another lucky person who caught his tie that night.
A Career in ‘Full Plume’
When Leslie was touring in Los Angeles, Kevin Thomas wrote about him for the “Los Angeles Times”, June 22nd, 1997, page 6. In Los Angeles, Leslie stayed at the presidential suite of the Biltmore Hotel in the city.
Leslie Cheung, the Hong Kong superstar and pop singer, has never been busier. He has a new film, Chen Kaige’s exquisite “Temptress Moon.” He is in the midst of a worldwide singing tour marking his return to the concert stage after a seven-year hiatus. And he is reaping international acclaim for his remarkable acting talent, which spans giddy classic screwball comedies, to martial arts fantasies, to the epic tragedy of Chen’s 1993 “Farewell My Concubine.”
It comes as a surprise to learn that Cheung is 41, for he’s so often described as boyishly handsome and looks at least a decade younger. What’s not so surprising is that he’s a world-class charmer, secure in his stardom. He can focus on you with the intensity of a Kirk Douglas, establish an instant rapport and regale you with so many off-the-record remarks you have to steer him back on course.
25 April 1997 - Taipei City Stadium, Taipei, Taiwan
The crowd was about 5000 strong (around 60-70% capacity) at the Taipei City Stadium. It was an open air concert, and thank God the weather was fine! It was a relatively simpler stage-set compared to what had been used in Hong Kong, but all things considered it was no less a stunning concert which lasted a solid 2 hours. There were relatively more Mandarin songs.
27 April 1997 - Taichung, Taiwan
The concert in Taichung was a very special one, better than in Taipei. So many people attended the concert and they were extremely passionate. Leslie’s facial expression gave the impression that he had not really expected this either, and he was very happy that night. He performed with great strength and passion, and the audience reacted crazily in return. When he sang “Red”, some guys in the audience commented, “My God, he is even more attractive than the women”!
His moves, gestures, dancing, and voice were all perfect. Yes, this is the only word to accurately describe his performance - perfect! He cried when he sang “The Moon Represents My Heart” near the end of the concert. It did not happen in Taipei, so he was really impressed by the audience in Taichung!
29 April 1997 - Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Leslie’s had such beautifully attractive and expressive eyes that seemed to speak to you when he sang. His old fans, who had not had the chance to watch him in concert before, really appreciated this occasion. Leslie’s popularity in Taiwan was not as extensive as in Japan or Korea, but he nonetheless had a great name there as well. He was chosen as the 6th sexiest man among Hong Kong’s and Taiwan’s actors.
6 May 1997 - Nynex Arena, Manchester, UK
The concert started at around 8.40pm. Many present in the audience commented that the concert was excellent! It bought tears to their eyes to able to hear the old songs again, from the legend himself! His performance was indeed exceptional, especially when Leslie sang the old song “Dong Nin Ching” (“Past Love”).
The atmosphere was overwhelming, the sight of Leslie on stage gave everyone the ‘high’ that they had come all the way to experience. Leslie broke into his prologue of old songs, many of which didn’t seem outdated by current standards. This set ended with Leslie talking to the audience, sharing how it was a real pleasure for him to be able to come to Manchester to sing to all present, and how he regretted not being able to have come sooner. He also joked around with the crowd, making the most of the tabloid reports that he was gay, which made everyone laugh.
After joking with the crowd, he performed some of his best songs. This bought an instant reaction: the crowds present were overwhelmed! The songs he sang really brought the audience back to the mid 1980’s, to a time of Leslie’s most excellent songs which to this day seem timeless and incomparable. He sung the theme to “A Better Tomorrow 2” very well, and during the instrumental section he talked about his part in the film, and about ‘Fat Gor’ (Chow Yun Fat) and John Woo, and how they had finally made a tomorrow for themselves in Hollywood - which was touching. He also went on to perform “Red” twice, once during the early stages of the concert and again at the end of the show. The first version allowed him to just flirt with the crowd, wearing nothing but his cycle shorts and a dressing gown. After a glorious entrance he sang “Red”, which was met with wild reactions from the floor especially since he had added blasts of hot air rising from the stage to the act which made the dressing gown float up to show his sexy lower half, making the crowd go even wilder! During the end of the concert, he came on stage wearing a tuxedo and bow tie, which was fitting. He talked to the crowd, wishing everyone a peaceful life and thanked everyone for making it possible for him to come and sing to them. He also made a joke about how Chinese people around the world should be able to speak Cantonese, if not they could fall into the ‘banana’ class! He was very friendly and polite to the crowd, he never denied how old he was, and that he was very honoured that people still wanted to see him after so many years. He still sang his songs with the same pace and energy as he did in the old days, but with an added maturity. He spoke good English also. Inevitably the concert came to an end, with a big number which everyone enjoyed. It was so good and heartening to see how an artist like Leslie still valued his overseas fans, who had waited for so many years for him to come over.
11 May 1997 - Wembley Arena, London, UK
When Leslie was performing in London, it was a much bigger crowd. Even after an absence of seven years, it was still refreshing to hear that Leslie hadn’t lost any of that energy and light heartedness in his performances. He was and still is a legend in his own right!
It was therefore ridiculous that Hong Kong magazines reported that the UK concerts were not successful. It was reported that tickets for Leslie’s concerts in England were more expensive than Michael Jackson’s. A ticket to Michael Jackson’s concert was HK$370, while Leslie’s was HK$700, and that these did not sell well even though there were advertisements on local television. But they then also reported that his ticket sales were better than Lai Ming’s concerts.
When Leslie was in England performing his 97 Concert, his god-son Ah Jen also went to watch his show. After the concert, he and Leslie stayed in the same room at the hotel. Leslie said to Ah Jen at that time, “Ah Jen, you have to go to school tomorrow, you take a bath first.” But Leslie was left there waiting, and he waited and waited, and waited and waited. Until finally … “Waaa, what took you so long?”
"We do not have this kind of bathtub and shower in school, so I just wanted to stay there for a little while," Ah Jen replied. Leslie pondered this for a while and said, "Oh yes, you are absolutely right."
After Leslie became hugely popular, everyone did exactly what he requested. It must have been the first time in his life that, after the concert, he had to wait for almost an hour before he could get a shower, and even had to agree with Ah Jen about why he took so long, “Oh yes, you are right!”.
Leslie asked his god son, “What do you want to study when you get into university?” Ah Jen replied, “Probably Law”. Leslie said, “You are so honest and kind, how can you be a lawyer?” Ah Jen was only 16 years old, and of course he could not respond to Leslie’s comment! Leslie said, “Ah Jen, if your marks in school are like the ratings I have in the music industry, then I would say you have succeeded.” Later, Ah Jen talked to his mom, “I am dead! How can my marks be like god-dad’s standing in the music industry? Hong Kong has so many singers, but how many Leslie Cheungs? Only one! He must think I have failed!”.
The last concert in Europe was held in Amsterdam, Holland, before Leslie returned back to Hong Kong, and then continued on to his concerts in Australia.
Wong Kar-Wai at Cannes
Leslie didn’t attend the Cannes Film Festival this year when Wong Kar-Wai was crowed Best Director for his work in “Happy Together”. “Happy Together” posters were displayed along the streets of Paris, but disappeared half of hour of being put up as they were immediately stolen by people! “Happy Together”, a tortured story about two male lovers who travel to Argentina, grossed millions of dollars at the box offices across Europe thanks to its stars, Leslie Cheung who was already very well known in Europe, and Tony Leung Chiu-wai. Walking down the prestigious red carpet for the first time, Tony Leung raised his profile at this years’ Cannes Film Festival. From that day onward the world was to count him as a ‘great actor’ from Hong Kong. This ‘world’, with the exception of some film critics and Leslie’s faithful fans, did so because of the ‘affair’ between Wong Kar-Wai and Tony Leung that began in Buenos Aires, initiating the gradual marginalization and overlooking of Leslie from his previous ‘favoured’ status in the directors eye. Don’t really know what made some people perceive Tony’s acting as better than Leslie’s. But because Leslie chose not to attend Cannes, the ever ‘imaginative’ Hong Kong media took the opportunity to write about Leslie again. This time the reports were that he was seen at a restaurant with Mr. Tong and a woman friend of theirs, and that he did not care about “Happy Together”.
25 May 1997 - Perth, Australia
30 May 1997 - Sydney Entertainment Centre, Sydney, Australia
2 June 1997 - Melbourne, Australia
Leslie sang more Cantonese songs during his Australian concerts. Leslie had quite a number of fans in Australia, partly because there were Hong Kongers who immigrated to this country. An Australian film reporter, Philippa Hawker was interested in Leslie, whom she referred to as one of cinema’s “most luminous and compelling stars: a beautiful, gifted actor and singer”. She didn’t manage go to one of his concerts or interview him, and this has been her regret to this day!
A fan of Leslie’s went to Chinatown very early on the first day the concert tickets went on sale. Most of the shops were still closed when she arrived in Chinatown, and she was probably the first person who purchased tickets for his show. It was a pity that the first four rows of the venue were not on sale, being reserved for the companies providing sponsorship for the event. At the concert, she sent a bunch of flowers to Gor Gor, and asked for his autograph. However, Leslie refused and explained that he couldn’t do it on the stage. But he was very nice to say, “Let me do a pose for you” when she asked if she could take a photo. Then they shook hands. Leslie said that he was very happy to see many more in the audience than when he came 7 years before. For the last 40 minutes of that concert, a very kind security man let fans sit on the floor in front of the stage just so people could take photos with ease. So one fan was only about 2 metres away from Leslie and could see him very closely. He was the most good-looking man she had ever seen: extraordinarily handsome and graceful!
Po Wing and Yiu Fai
30 May 1997, and… this is the most awaited film yet to be seen: “Happy Together”. People in Hong Kong talked about it most. This day was the premiere of Lai Yiu Fai (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Ho Po Wing (Leslie Cheung Kwok Wing) “starting over” their relationship, after quite a number of breakups. This time they left Hong Kong for “the end of the world”, Buenos Aires. Po Wing is like an airplane, he comes and goes, to and from Yiu Fai’s life, as he has an airport whenever he likes. Sometimes the airplane lands, and then it takes off. Yiu Fai is more quiet, more faithful, suffers more, is sadder. He is the airport for Po Wing, as well as his chef, his nurse, his servant, his (reluctant) lover and his partner in dancing, whatever Po Wing needs him to be. But they face unavoidable separation. There is an addition to the story: Yiu Fai meets a work mate, a Taiwanese teenager named Chang (played by Chang Chen), whom he starts to spend time with. The film begins and ends with the journey to Iguazu Falls, the mystery of which pushes Yiu Fai to leave Buenos Aires for Taiwan, to Chang, to his family and his home. The audiences were served a story about two men entangled and then released from love. Wong had many a time stressed in interviews that “Happy Together” is not “gay” film: only the story on how two different men fell for each other and then could not tolerate each other. A common story, but it was bound to be quite different in Wong’s hands.
More details about the film “Happy Together”:
* Wong Kar-Wai named the main characters (Ho Po Wing and Lai Yiu Fai) after Christopher Doyle’s assistants. Lots of jokes used to float around during the shooting of the film.
* Wong Kar-Wai wanted to use Frank Zappa’s version of the “Happy Together” song (the original version was by The Turtles) for the last scene, but couldn’t get the authorization. So he used the Danny Chung version.
* The original cut of “Happy Together” was 3 hours long, featuring singer Shirley Kwan Suk-Yi in one of the main roles. After the last cut, her character was all on the floor, along with lots of other subplots. It seemed that Wong Kar-Wai wanted to use some of the lost scenes in a CD-Rom about the making of “Happy Together”.
* First draft of the script was loosely based on “The Buenos Aires Affair” by Manuel Puig. And it was very different from the completed movie.
* Because of its glamorous yet controversial subject, “Happy Together” was banned for over 8 months in South Korea, a country where Wong Kar-Wai seems to have a crowd of hard-core fans. It was only after the elections in the beginning of 1998 (the Democratic Party won) that was it ‘freed’ and officially released by the people’s demand.”Happy Together” was also banned in the South East Asian countries.
* What inspired Wong to come to Argentina to film “Happy Together” was not necessarily a quest for a more exotic setting than a Kowloon subway station, but the literature of Manuel Puig. The original title of “Happy Together” was “Buenos Aires Affair”. Wong was obviously sympathetic to the unorthodox narrative structures in South American literature. “In Chinese literature,” says Wong, “the most important thing is the theme, what the story is about. But how to tell the story, I learned this from Puig and Marquez, because the form is sometimes very much related to the theme, and the theme can sometimes be the form and the form can sometimes be the theme.” Still, he didn’t quite get what he expected in Argentina. And this is how a planned six-week shoot turned into four months and over 400,000 feet of footage.
"It’s really hard to choose between Leung’s resigned quietness and Cheung’s defeated passionateness." ("Il Mucchio").
In writing on “Happy Together” we must first speak of two films: the 97-minute version, released theatrically in 1997, and a second one, roughly three hours long and never publicly screened. Footage from this second version would be shown in the documentary “Buenos Aires Zero Degrees: The Making of Happy Together” and a few frames of the deleted material have been posted on the internet along with sketchy descriptions of what was removed. The first version is by no means inauthentic since all of the footage was deleted by Wong Kar-Wai himself. But this has not prevented the missing footage from acquiring the near-mythical status of a lost object. Indeed, all of Wong’s films provoke this cult-like devotion for not simply what is up there on the screen but for what is also not there. Made in an atmosphere of chaotic improvisation at both the shooting and editing stage, these films have created their own category for one of the most fetishized areas of cinephilia: off-screen space. In Wong’s films, however, what is frequently masked is not simply reality or another space but another film. In this cinema in which nothing ever seems quite finished, a certain intoxicated cinephile discourse has come into being, often drawing attention to these magical fragments which are not there.
Leslie was very angry with the rumour claiming that he had asked for an additional allowance to resume work for “Happy Together”. Lin Bin interviewed him:
Lin said to Leslie, “You didn’t want to see the movie until the very last moment, when many of us praised your performance. You didn’t want to see it because you’re not happy with Wong Kar-Wai, and you’re worried that a lot of your footage would be cut. You don’t want to make yourself unhappy.”
"Yes, I went to the cinema with Siu Ching but I was late and missed the opening love scene with Tony. I am not worried that Wong will cut my part because he’s unwilling to do so since my performance is too good to be wasted. I am unhappy with Wong simply because I don’t like his style of working. Actors are like chessmen under his manipulation. You don’t know what you did, and which scene is the opening and which is the end. I like to have a script and know exactly what I’m doing."
"But he can always bring out the best of you in his movies. Right now there are so many directors who want to work with you, and I think this has something to do with several of your Wong Kar-Wai’s movies," Lin said.
"Not just Wong, Chan Kaige is also able bring out the best in me."
"But still, you need more good movies to prove you’re a good actor. People would consider that you are just lucky if you only succeed in "Farewell My Concubine".
"You’re right. But don’t forget that Wong Kar-Wai’s success is the effort of many, including the film editor Cheung Suk Ping, cinematographer Christopher Doyle and all the actors and actresses."
"Which do you think is your best movie?"
Leslie thinks for almost two minutes and said, “Rouge.”
"Really? Are you unwilling to say "Days of Being Wild" because you don’t like Wong Kar-Wai? Will you accept his offer again?"
"Let fate decide for us."
Lin told Leslie a rumour about “Happy Together”. “It is said while you were in Argentina, and they hadn’t finished shooting your part but you had to go back to Hong Kong to prepare for your concert, they asked you to stay a bit longer and you said your schedule was full and refused. Finally you agreed to finish your part on condition that you be given an additional allowance of $500,000 for the extra days. So they think it’s not a matter of schedule, you just want extra money.”
"Definitely not true!", Leslie denied immediately. Lin wrote in her article that Leslie put on a long face and spilt some coffee over his napkin, and that Leslie seldom behaved like this.
"Where did you hear this? You can always ask to see the books. If I did receive any allowance there should be a payment record of some sort."
Leslie’s strong reaction had once led Lin Bin to suspect he was hiding away the $500,000 secret. However, she later on checked with Jetone and confirmed that it was just a rumour. There was not such an allowance!
As Leslie was angry, Lin turned the conversation to the topic of his godson, Justin. Leslie said Justin was a good boy who would listen to him. “He’s doing great in his exams. I am responsible for his school fees. He comes home three times a year (from England), lucky boy. In my time, I rarely have chance to go home.”
"Justin is good looking, cool, and 6 ft tall (quality of a star). Will he follow you into show business?"
Leslie disapproved of this idea, and said that he was not allowed to.
"You sound like a dictator. Justin’s parents haven’t said no yet," Lin made fun of him.
"He’s doing well in school; therefore, he should go to school and not go into show business."
Lin then turned to the subject of Hollywood. She said that in comparison to Hollywood stars, Leslie looked relatively small and not tall enough. She asked Leslie if this had affected his chance there. This question seemed to irritate him and Leslie said in a rather agitated voice. “We’re not talking about weighing goods, we’re talking about acting! Do you know how tall Tom Cruise is, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman? Do you know in “The Way We Were”, they have to build a trench for Robert Redford when he was walking along with Barbara Streisand?”
Lin said she loves talking to Leslie as he always speaks his mind and reveals his inner feelings.
5 and 6 June 1997 - Tokyo International Forum Hall, Tokyo, Japan
9 June 1997 - Osaka Festival Hall, Osaka, Japan
Again, Leslie achieved a milestone in history. He became the first foreign singer to travel to Japan to hold 2 concerts in the span of half a year. He landed in Tokyo for the first time in January, and then travelled backed to the Tokyo International Forum Hall in June. The concert was really fantastic. He spoke English most of the time, and was very happy on stage. He said again and again that he loved Tokyo and his fans in Tokyo. He also said he liked Tokyo fans because they were crazy! All those words made them crazier! Leslie sang “Bright Star” and “The Wind Blows On”, again with the last parts of the original lyrics sung in Japanese. The Japanese thought that his Japanese was good. He also said “Thank you” and “I love you” in Japanese and a few other words. And he promised them that the next time he holds his concerts in Japan, he would speak Japanese for half of the concert. Leslie also told the audience about his coffee shop in Hong Kong. If fans were to go to Hong Kong and decided to visit his coffee shop, they’d better show their concert ticket from that night and tell the waitress that they were from Japan. That way, they could get a free drink there! He also taught his Japanese audiences some Cantonese. One sentence he taught them was “You are handsome!” Then he cheekily asked the audience to repeat that sentence to him. He was such a naughty boy!
On June 6, he wore a tuxedo and appeared with dancers, and a big balloon. The balloon went around the audience. When he sang “The Moon Represents My Heart”, which was the second last song, he suddenly stopped singing and looked down.
Lots of fans shouted his name again and again. Leslie couldn’t believe his ears at first, when he heard the Japanese audience singing along with him! And then he stopped for a while and turned the microphone to the audience. The audience started to sing louder and louder, and finally the entire audience at the Tokyo International Forum (totalling 6000 people) were singing together, very strongly. Leslie was touched to see and hear his Japanese audience singing this song in Chinese, and he started crying, which made it difficult for him to continue singing.
Many of his fans in Japan wanted to learn the lyrics when they heard about his reaction in Taiwan (that he was happy to see the audience sing along to “The Moon Represents My Heart” with him), in order to make him feel happy. That was why his Japanese fans did their best to learn the lyrics of the song for his June 97 concerts in Japan. It was a surprise present to him from them. One of the fan clubs wrote the ‘pin yin’ of the song in their fan club newsletter. Others sent a request to a radio program (which featured Chinese pop-songs) to play Teresa Teng’s song, and recorded it on a tape, and then played it over and over again to learn the lyrics!
When Leslie looked up, his eyes were wet. And he couldn’t finish the song at that time. The fans were so touched that their eyes were wet, too! He wiped his eyes and then started to sing “Chase”. In the middle of the song tears came to his eyes again, but he wiped his tears and sweat away, and sang the song through to the end. There were no guests this time.
A Japanese fan later testified, “It was our very first time, we were so quiet. I guess, as I only knew of Leslie’s existence through his movies at that time, we had no idea what his performance was going to be like and how to react to it. Besides, most of us did not know his songs, and could not understand what he was singing, but I can tell you that even from the first line I was gradually moved by his songs, especially his ballads. I felt that no matter what nationality he was, and what language he spoke, tonight proved that his music definitely captured all our hearts! And I want to believe that Leslie also felt the same way, and that made him perform here again this time and will ensure that he comes back”.
More than 95% of the audience at his concerts in Japan were Japanese and not Chinese, unlike other artists from Hong Kong. Leslie and the Japanese promoter (Promax) didn’t have to depend on Chinese residents in Japan for ticket sales. He was the only one who could fill all the seats with a predominantly Japanese audience. Some fans from Japan also went to Taipei and other places to see Leslie in concert. He had had his concerts in Japan earlier in January (twice in Tokyo and once in Osaka), and since the reaction in Japan was overwhelming with all the tickets selling out right away, the local organizer soon decided to hold a ‘return’ concert. That was why he came back to Japan in June in 97 (twice in Tokyo and once in Osaka) after such a short period of time. It was said that even Michael Jackson could not have achieved the accolade of coming back to hold more concerts in Japan within such a short span of time. Japan is a very difficult market to succeed in, and that is why this was a record!
13 -15 June 1997 - Guang Zhou, China
The concert in Guang Zhou was unique. Leslie changed and changed his stage gear like a chameleon. Leslie wore his transparent shirt, used a wig a la Michael Jackson’s, and he even appeared in a Tarzan costume!
Tang Chiu Wing was the person in charge of Leslie’s 1997 World Tour in Guang Zhou. Tang Chiu Wing said he met Leslie about 10 times, and 3 from among these were person to person meetings. He maintained a rather good relationship with him. According to what Florence Chan and her husband said, Leslie seldom talked that much with newly met ‘friends’. He normally said a few words, and returned with a polite smile. Tang felt rather special since Leslie talked quite a lot with him. In Tangs’ eyes, Leslie was very different from many big stars in Hong Kong. “He was a real artist. He didn’t sing merely for money. He had ideals in his music and performances,” he said. Leslie had personally told him that even though he was a pop singer he actually despised pop music because many pop-songs are rubbish! And his biggest dream in music was to stage a musical for his most satisfying movie “Farewell to My Concubine”.
Leslie at the Airport
Understandably, 1997 was the year that Leslie made numerous trips requiring him to travel to and from Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport many times. On one occasion, a fan of his had just come back to Hong Kong with her mom and her baby sister. They brought a large number of luggage with them at the time. When they arrived at the baggage claim area, there were only a few people around since it was very early in the morning. Her mom told the fan to go to the front to see whether their bags have arrived, since she needed to watch over the fans’ baby sister. When the fan got to the carousel, she saw one of their pieces of luggage approaching. She tried to wave at her mom… but she didn’t see her. So she tried to pull the bag off the carousal by herself. It was too heavy and she just couldn’t do it. She was hoping someone around her would help her. But unfortunately no one did. So she had to give up trying to get her luggage that time, and waited for the next round. When the bag came round the second time, she tried to pull at it the hardest she could. Suddenly, a man next to her helped her pull the bag. When she raised her head she was so surprised! It was Leslie Cheung! She was speechless. Then she just screamed at her mom, “Mommy, it’s Leslie!”. Her mom came quickly and was really excited. She thanked Leslie.
Leslie smiled at her and asked, “Do you have more bags coming?” Her mum said yes! Leslie replied, “Okay.” He stood there and waited. While he was waiting, Leslie took off his sunglasses and tried to play with the baby by making funny faces. The fans’ mum was so happy to see Leslie and said, “My daughter loves you very much. You’re her super idol!” Leslie smiled and said, “Thank you!”
The fan really wanted to talk to Leslie but for some reason her mind went blank. She couldn’t move her lips. She just stood there and didn’t dare look up at him. Her mum watched him playing with her baby daughter and asked him whether he liked kids a lot. Leslie just smiled. Then another bag arrived and Leslie helped them carry it to the cart. Her mum told Leslie that she would like to treat him to a meal. But Leslie thanked her and said he had to go. So the mum asked him to sign an autograph. When they got home the fan’s mum was so excited! She told her husband, “Guess who we saw today?”, her husband asked, “Who?” The fan said “Leslie!” Her mum cried out, “It was Cheung Kwok Wing! He was so handsome and sweet. He helped us carry the luggage. Ay, he was such a gentleman. I didn’t know superstars are so nice. Ahh, I just can’t believe it, ar!!!”
For the next few days, the fans mum kept telling her husband how handsome Leslie was. Indeed he was the most attractive person many people had ever seen in their entire lives. He was skinnier in person than on TV. After that day, whenever the fan’s mum and her friends met for afternoon tea, her mum would always request that they go to Leslie’s coffee shop in Causeway Bay because she always tells them that they have to support the “Gentleman Cheung Kwok Wing”.Whenever the fan’s grandma thinks that an actor from some TVB series is handsome, her mum would always say, “Aiya, they can never compete with Cheung Kwok Wing! He is the best looking man!”
On 1 July 1997 Leslie was in Beijing on the night of the Hong Kong hand over. Hong Kong became the “Special Administrative Region of People Republic of China” with Tung Chee Hwa as its first CEO.
At the same time, Hong Kong theatres and many other theatres in many cities in the People Republic of China simultaneously premiered the film, “All’s Well that End’s Well 97”. Stephen Chow, Francis Ng and Raymond Wong were lead actors in the movie. Leslie made a cameo appearance at the end of the film, playing himself. It was rumoured that the film’s producer Raymond Wong paid Leslie HK$ 5 million for his two or three minutes’ appearance. On the other hand it was also reported that Leslie had generously lent his luxury car for use during the shoot.
The biggest question for all Hong Kong actors regarding the hand over was what the fate of Hong Kong’s film industry would be afterwards. On 20 July 1997 the cartoon version of “A Chinese Ghost Story”, produced by Tsui Hark, premiered in Hong Kong. Actually Leslie had been approached to dub for Ning Choi San’s voice in the cartoon, but he didn’t have time to do it. Nonetheless, he attended the premiere. Leslie knew much about the Hong Kong film industry. Tsui Hark was a person who influenced his career a lot. Leslie took note that, even at the end of the 70s, he was the leader of the avant-garde. About Tsui Hark, Leslie had commented, “He directed a lot of important movies at that time. He was the master of Hong Kong cinema. He loves politics very much. Every Tsui Hark’s movie talks about politics. In “A Chinese Ghost Story” (Tsui Hark was the producer), monsters of the trees corresponded with the power of China who controlled the poor ghosts. They were all manipulated. The same thing could be seen in “The Banquet”. He was so anti-communist as to be very upset by possible change. You can find this thing also in his kung-fu movies like “Once Upon a Time in China”.” We don’t know if Tsui Hark would still lead many changes after the hand over.
A Testimony About Leslie
What follows is a testimony about Leslie by a Taiwanese friend of his named Chiu Hung Ping. Again, it tells us about him through his friend’s eyes. To Chiu Hung Ping, his old friend, he did not show any sign of supremacy: Once, I had to do a special on Tsui Hark for the ‘Taiwan Year of Films’ organized by the News Authority, I suddenly remembered the Ning Choi San in the “A Chinese Ghost Story”, so I picked up the phone and asked him if he could come to Taiwan to cut the ribbon, in order to add some highlight to the activities.
He readily agreed and flew to Taiwan to support without demur. Those few days, we drank in our friends’ houses and chatted, always until very late at night when we reluctantly parted and said goodbye. He was very comfortable and relaxed among the cultural workers, and was interested in many topics, this was the one thing that made him differ greatly from other Hong Kong movie stars. At that time, he had already mentioned his plans to be a director. His ambition to create was relentless. I had no doubt at all after I watched him in “Happy Together”. The self-styled dispirited guy in “Happy Together” was self-exiled from Hong Kong to Argentina. Leslie’s igniting the cigarette and his side-glance displayed his dispirited esthetics and the dissolute rebel to the extreme; there was a kind of self-abandonment like falling into a dark abyss without return. It looked like he was affecting Wong Kar-Wai, and had his sense of loss and loneliness melted into a kind of invasive and aggressive burning enthusiasm. Tony Leung of course was good, but undoubtedly, the success of “Happy Together” was mainly linked to the annotation by Leslie.
Victoria Lam Kin Ming “Life on Screen” on ATV
Below is the extract of the conversation between Victoria Lam, host of “Life on Screen” with her three guests Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Kar Fai.
Victoria: So… what do you consider a friend. Or how do you go about making or choosing friends?
Leslie: It definitely cannot be someone who is nosy. Some people choose their friends by “labels” or “titles”. I want to be your friend because you are Leslie Cheung or Maggie Cheung, or Tony Kar Fai, super star. I find those people very ‘cheap’!
Victoria: How do you know if they are or not?
Leslie: You can tell just by being around them. You can tell if you ‘click’ with that person. I hate those people who when they first see you, they look you over from head to toe to see what you are wearing first. I think those people are very ‘cheap’. Actually, I am a very difficult person. I have very high expectations for myself and those around me. So, to be honest, I am not a person with many close friends.
Victoria: The three of you’re planned this interview together. So, I am assuming you are good friends. I want to know how much of good friends you are. The kind who see each other all the time, only really get to talk on the phone, or the kind who shows up when the other is in need?
Leslie: Actually, I think Maggie and Tony Kar Fai are even closer friends than I am to either of them. They see each other for family functions. But I have worked with both Kar Fai and Maggie a few times.
Kar Fai: Yes, I do not see Gor Gor that often; because we have very different lifestyles. I have a family to care for, and am more of a home person.
Leslie (interrupting): I am a home person too. Just not the same kind of family as you… (he smiles)
Kar Fai: Yes.. that is correct. I actually have children and a home life to care for. While Gor Gor likes to spend his time at home doing the things he enjoys. But there was one picture where we spent a great deal of time together. I mean, we had more down time than actual film shooting time. We were abroad in this foreign place… and we spent a lot of time together and got to know each other very well.
Leslie: (interrupted again) Yes, a place where all you could see was sand. And behind this mountain you would see yet another mountain. In fact, the first person to come knocking at my door when I got bitten by the scorpion was Leung Kar Fai! He came in asking ‘Gor Gor, are you okay?’ (Leslie mimics his slower speech and concern facial expression… very funny).
Kar Fai: Well, it was very scary. Here we are in this foreign place that we are all not accustomed to. And one night I hear that he got bitten by a scorpion.
Victoria: Do you all know what happened? I want to hear this story.
Leslie: Well … Brigitte Lin and I were lounging in these hammocks… chit chatting into the night and I had to go pee. As I was walking back… I felt something land behind my neck… (just above his collar. Leslie was acting the whole scene out. He was very animated during this interview, lots of gestures and hand movements) and so, I tried to swipe it off. But it would not come off! And then ‘ouch!’ it bit me. So, I tugged it off and threw it on the ground and that is when I realized it was a scorpion. Lucky for me it was a baby scorpion, it was still very translucent/white in colour. If it had been a mature one… it would be black and I would be ‘bye bye’.
Victoria (to Maggie): Do you ever want to get married?
Maggie: Yes, but I am not so anxious it has to be right away.
Leslie: You know it really is difficult to share you life with someone and expect that person to share his life with you? I mean… like me… you wake up and you have bad breathe or sometimes you have to pass some gas. I mean, when you share your life with someone… you expect them to share in your life. And there are times, when you wake up and you just think… I can’t stand how bad your breath stinks.
Victoria: So, all you have to do is tell them to brush their teeth next time.
Leslie: No… don’t you understand? There are times when you reach a point where it is beyond brushing their teeth. It is like ‘at times’ (he said this in English) you find you cannot stand it.
Kar Fai: What he is saying is that you do not have to try to stand them but accept them. It is like when a woman has a certain time ever month. And during this month, they will be irritable, have stomach cramps… and often she will tell me that she is in a bad mood. But you have to accept this because that is how it is. It is part of them…
Leslie: Exactly, see it really is difficult to find someone who can stand you and you can stand them. For example, for my Gor Gor (Leslie called Daffy his ‘Gor Gor’) we have to connect (by phone) at least once a day just to see what the other is doing. It would be like, “Hello, so what are you doing? I am doing this… blah blah blah” and then we both would be happy with that. And when we get home at night we would say, “So, what did you do today? How was your day?” I find this very comforting and it makes me very happy.
Maggie: See with you two (pointing to Leslie), one call a day is enough. There are some men who require me to check in every minute and I cannot stand that. Then there are those with whom a whole day will go by and they do not even care where I am… and I cannot stand that either.
Leslie: Actually, I just realized that I really do understand Maggie very well. She is actually a very easy woman to love. (Leslie turns to Maggie and asks her)… Remember we talked about this? I said, if I ever were to have the chance, I would love you. I would marry you? (Maggie smiles to acknowledge Leslie but makes no comment) I just think Maggie is a very easy woman to love. And I know her so well… I would be able to love her very well, in fact, if I was to love her she would die in my arms.
Maggie: But if I knew you were manipulating me into loving you, I would not love you back or fall into your arms!
Leslie: Of course, you would know I love you honestly and was not trying to manipulate you. I just meant I would know how to love you well.
Victoria: (asking Leslie) What about your comment about doing nudity in movies?
Leslie: If you asked me what is the one thing Cheung Kwok Wing will not do? This would be it. I could not let everyone see my complete frontal profile. I mean, this would be where I draw the line. My back side is fine. I mean… you see it, so what? No big deal! But I cannot accept everyone seeing my ‘everything’ from the front view.
Leslie would always encourage Justin to study hard. He brought Justin to Brigitte Lin’s husband’s store (Esprit) to purchase a lot of clothes for him to take back to England. He brought so many clothes that even Justin’s real dad could share them! Leslie is very patient with Justin.
This August Justin was on summer holiday break in England, so he went back to Hong Kong. When Justin had vacation time, he would always go back to Hong Kong to visit Leslie. “God-dad, where will you be on August XX?” “Why?” “I want to visit you.” His god dad knew it was Justin’s birthday, so he went to a Japanese restaurant to be with Justin’s aunts and uncles and others to celebrate his birthday.
Leslie really treated his godson well. Justin also loved his god-dad very much in return. Every time he heard his god-dad say that making a movie required so much energy and was backbreaking, Justin would immediately respond, “Don’t make movies!” Leslie said, “Don’t make movies? Who is going to send you to England to study?”
Leslie liked to ask Justin, “Will you look after me when I grow old?” “Of course!” “And who will you live with?”, “I will live with you, my mom and dad.”
Justin also asked his god-dad if he would leave his large house for him. Leslie said, “Yes.”
But Leslie had sold his dream house at No 2 Kwai Pui Wan in June 1997 and was planning to rent a place instead. Then he found a new house and happily moved into his new home. He was seen enjoying shopping at furniture shops. Hong Kong paparazzi knew many things about him. Like the fact that his favourite restaurant was the “Fu Yau Seafood Tavern” in the Tsim Sha Tsui area; that he liked salty fish with ginger soup and salty shrimp. They also knew the voice message recording on Leslie’s telephone: “I’m not at home now, but I will be back soon. Just leave your name and your phone number. I’ll call you back”.
He was catnip for the voracious paparazzi. “They follow me everywhere,” he said. “They know my car numbers, so they’re there whether I’m at the Mandarin Hotel Coffee Shop or at Propaganda (a hip new club). I don’t even put my litter outside the house. People try to find things and sell them.”
This was also the year that Leslie domesticated a German shepherd dog named Bingo. He loved German shepherds since they are very loyal, protective of their masters, listen well and are not naughty. “I live in a house, whenever there is some stranger outside my house, Bingo will bark until they leave,” Leslie said.
Leslie would always bring Bingo out for a walk in the evenings. Some of his neighbours often saw him, and he always nodded and smiled to them.
"Next" interviewed Leslie
Leslie was nominated at the Golden Horse Film Awards but Tony Leung was not. At last, Leslie only got one vote for his nomination despite the fact that his acting was the best among the nominees.
At the end of the year, Next Media interviewed Leslie. After 5 years without an interview (with Next), Leslie’s appearance was indeed full of surprises. He was without a glittery sequined shirt and tight shorts, or his star bright red high heel shoes, or his flowery sunglasses. The real Leslie was someone who personally brought two water cooler bottles, to which he asked the hotel waiter to add warm water. He was someone who wears a U2 cotton short jacket, a tight Esprit T-shirt, and a pair of regular Nike sneakers. Someone with no makeup or gel in his hair, no cell phone, no wallet, no credit card, someone you would think is the brother who lives next door to you! A 41 year old brother. Not an uncle! Leslie said currently he was very happy, someone who still lets his true self out. When he had time, he played mahjong. “I play for small amounts! You can afford it too!” Leslie said.
The “Next” interview - Some Excerpts
Next: What kind of attitude do you have towards work?
Leslie: The most important part is that the entire crew is pleasantly working together. Why do I have to choose the director? Why do I have to choose the script? Because I have to guarantee my work, I have to guarantee whether or not I will be happy with this group of people. Why spend two months with people you despise? Life is too short, this is an idea I buy into. But sometimes during a movie you will encounter directors who make working on the set really hard, both physically and mentally, like during “Happy Together”. I was unbelievably sick and the shoot was very long. I felt very bored. I am not saying Wong Kar-Wai is bad, he is a master director! But honestly I say, I was very unhappy when I made “Happy Together”.
Next: Did you have a lot of expectations of “Happy Together”? After its release it was rumored that Wong Kar-Wai edited a lot of your scenes out, did you even mind?
Leslie: I had no special expectation. Wong Kar-Wai asked so I did it. Basically I am an internationally recognized personality. “Happy Together” had a lot of investment because of Leslie Cheung. On this end I was a definite help to Wong Kar-Wai. Wong Kar-Wai at that time had a lot of problems with the production house in Argentina, so work stopped for three months. Although I was sick and also had to rush back to Hong Kong for my concert tour’s press conference, after the press conference in Hong Kong I still flew back to Argentina to give Wong Kar-Wai more than 10 days for the movie. I didn’t charge a cent for those days. I am not that kind of actor. Basically, within what I could have done, I have satisfied Wong Kar-Wai’s request.
Next: Outside critics have said Leung Chiu Wai’s performance was better than yours, how do you feel about that?
Leslie: I feel it’s all made up, I don’t know if it was because I was unwilling to promote the movie. Nevertheless I feel it’s made up. To be honest Wai Jai did great, but critiques from Japan for “Happy Together” weren’t like that. They liked every part of the movie and every actor a lot, they also liked me a lot. Wong Kar-Wai and I aren’t enemies, but perhaps our signs conflict, whenever I work with him there is always some shocking event that happens to me. Basically I don’t have any roles that I won’t play. Not being nominated in Cannes (for Best Actor) doesn’t represent anything. I don’t want it that bad. I have already stepped on Cannes’s red carpet twice. Now, I am still nominated for a Best Actor Golden Horse Award.
Next: In recent years Wong Kar-Wai has named Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung Chiu Wai as actors he is promoting. Does that mean there are problems between you and Wong Kar-Wai?
Leslie: Our relationship is limited to a ‘professional level’. I am a fair person. I definitely will tell you my request before hand, if you feel there is no problem then I can definitely do it. You can ask (Charles) Heung Wa Keung, Chen Kaige, even Wong Kar-Wai. For every movie, they will also go over time, but I definitely will give them extra time to work with. I am not someone who has to go by the contract, there must be a way around things with me. So when they say the reason I didn’t go all out to promote “Happy Together” is because I want an extra $500,000 from Wong Kar-Wai who turned it down, I say “Bullshit… who fucking cares about $500,000!”. To me, the most important part of making a good film is as simple as talented people getting together to make a good film. I don’t have to socialize with him, even rarely to talk on the phone. Work is work, but perhaps now my fate of working with this person has to temporarily stop, so then we just stop working together for now. We are just as busy, having just as many people offering to work with us. It’s no big deal!
Next: Popular artists of the 80s have one after another gone to Hollywood. Why don’t you have such plans?
Leslie: No one ever approached me. Hollywood only allows action stars to develop. That’s not my strong suit. I am not Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I am not a big guy, where can I stand? In Hong Kong and Asia there are at least some people who recognize Cheung Kwok Wing, why should I go over and be an extra!
Next: Because you are afraid if you start all over, there is too much to lose?
Leslie: Actually I am very lazy. Years ago I already had offers, asking me to make movies with no depth. The story was about vampires, but the role I was offered wasn’t a vampire, I could easily be sucked dry. John Woo asked me if I would leave. He could bring me with him to Hollywood. I’m happy, but I am even more satisfied with my position in Hong Kong. I am someone who is easily satisfied. It’s not that there is too much to lose. I feel Hollywood still looks down on Chinese people. Someone said to me, when they saw the “Tomorrow Never Dies” trailer in U.S. theatres, Michelle Yeoh wasn’t even in one scene, but in Hong Kong and Asia, the promotion focused on her. That’s the way Hollywood treats Chinese actors. At the very least, now they know me in America and Europe. The Berlin Film Festival invited me to be a jury member, previously I was one for Tokyo (festival), which proves I have my standing. On top of that I am not a new comer anymore. I have already been in this business for 20 years. Why should I go to someone else’s place to be a new comer? You can ask Leung Chiu Wai and get the same answer, don’t think about wanting too much. Hong Kong is enough.
Next: Stepping into your 40s, do you feel there is any change in your life?
Leslie: I enjoy life more. Outsiders kept talking about lamb placenta injection and bullshit like that, it’s stupid. I didn’t go through that, I rarely go and hang out, going to bed every night at midnight. I work out at home, practicing Chi Kung, and invest in my own health. If you don’t focus on your health you will be old sooner, especially as an artist. As for my thoughts I am very relaxed. I won’t compete with others anymore. Back then Alan Tam Wing Lun and I busted our heads in competition, when I was out I would be yelled at like mad. Now the outsiders are very nice to me. My life is very pleasurable, I am not after anything, especially thanks to Brigitte Lam Ching Ha for sponsoring all of my wardrobe (Esprit), there is no longer any outrageous request in life. No matter what, I can’t make as much money as Lee Ka Sing. Everyone says I have money, what is money? The bank interest on Lee Ka Sing’s net worth is way more than mine. I don’t like the media comparing who has more money than who, who has a Ferrari, who has a Lamborghini. My car (Porsche) is a little better, because I feel safer. If there is an accident there is metal protecting my. Now I am not as courageous, I am afraid to die.
Next: Can money give you more security?
Leslie: Money doesn’t come first, but it’s better than not having any. When I play mahjong I don’t play for a lot of money. When I eat it doesn’t have to be a banquet at every meal, McDonald’s is okay too. I feel God has been really good to me. My education wasn’t too high. From my first job in the business until today, no one has ever fired me. That’s more than what I have ever expected. I don’t have much to complain about. Now there are steady family gatherings, with my whole family getting together in a warm atmosphere. I really enjoy that.
Next: Now the media has talked about your relationship with Mr. Tong, do you feel any pressure?
Leslie: No! Not even a bit! As long as you don’t talk about it, there is no pressure. Whatever others (media) say I don’t care, as long as they don’t injure my privacy then it’s ok. My entire family’s relationships haven’t been as planned, my brother and sister have remarried. Usually it’s others mistreating us, so I know how to protect myself. When two people are together, the important part is to learn to respect each other.
Cheung Kwok Wing’s interview is limited to being completed within an hour, 15 minutes for pictures. No question about romantic relationships is to be asked. The most personal topic was about hair growth formula. Cheung Kwok Wing said in order to prevent hair loss, the most effective method isn’t hair transplant, but early to bed and early to rise, a happy attitude lowers pressures of life. The most important part is to use the proper medication, thus he introduced a hair growth formula to everyone, a gift to all middle aged man.
"It’s only available in America! It’s hard to buy, I have to ask a friend to buy it for me in America! The name of the drug is… Phil…" Shoot! It’s forgotten! It’s useful to you, but useless to me. Mr. Cheung Kwok Wing! Please reply as soon as you see this. There are 500,000 men in Hong Kong hoping you can grant them the name of the miracle cure! Wish you happiness everyday in life!
On 30 December 1997, Leslie attended the wedding banquet of Simon Yam and super model Qi Qi. At that time Hong Kong was attacked by the bird anthrax epidemic. There was no chicken on the menu, only fish and other seafood dishes were served to the guests. The Hong Kong government decided to slaughter thousands of chicken and other birds. And by the middle of 1997, the Asian economies were at the height of the financial crisis.
Moon at Suzhou
As was created by God since the beginning, the moon - moreover a bright shining moon - is always beautiful, and it may even tempt us to seek out more beautiful things. As did Chen Kaige’s “Temptress Moon”, which tempted Richard Corliss (the renowned film critic), and his wife Mary to fly to Suzhou, China, to spend serious time with its star, Leslie. During his life, Leslie granted Richard and Mary an audience over five times during the course of five years, and in five far-flung cities: Suzhou, Atlantic City, New York, Hong Kong and Las Vegas. Each encounter gave them a tantalising glimpse of ‘uncut’ celebrity magnetism. He flirted (with Mary) and flared (at the mention of other Chinese stars). He was at ease with his often-dogmatic petulance, and unburdened by the world’s acknowledgement of his luster. Richard wrote that Leslie did not manufacture star quality, or trouble much about radiating it. He was star quality. He embodied more charisma, more purring sexuality, more danger and need, than any Hong Kong or Hollywood actor that Corliss has ever met.
They first met Leslie on a four-day visit to the Suzhou, China, on the set of “Temptress Moon”. Leslie was no prima donna, at least with them. Gracious, witty, instantly intimate with two strangers from halfway across the world, he gabbed and gossiped in high spirits and style. Then, just before a scene was about to be shot, he would retreat a bit, curl himself into his character and take his place on the set. Richard Corliss remembered a scene that required Leslie to burst through a door, cast an eye on some domestic mischief, and escalate onto a higher level dudgeon. He did it perfectly, and at the end bowed to the crew’s applause. “One Take Leslie!” he announced proudly - the honorific of a gifted professional.
Richard’s writing was published in TIME, International Magazine Volume 147, No. 5, January 29, 1996 with the title “Chinese Movie Magic”. He started his writing in springtime in Wu Jiang city, 16 km from Suzhou in South-eastern China. Rain soaked the courtyard of a handsome old villa being used as a location for “Temptress Moon”, a sultry romance set in ’30s Shanghai, where Gong Li and Leslie Cheung were waiting for their next shots in the movie. Richard called Leslie an all rounder, a Hong Kong movie idol who can play comedy, kung fu and high drama with equal deftness. Leslie and Gong Li could be the models for two approaches to film acting: ‘total pro’ and ‘total method’. Where he purrs, she prowls.
"Temptress Moon", which was expected to have its world premiere in May at the Cannes Film Festival, could serve as a microcosm of the melting-pot of cinema in the "three Chinas". The leading actors were from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Mainland. The director is a born-in-Beijing intellectual. The producer, Hsu Feng, is a former Taiwanese actress who married a Hong Kong business tycoon in the ’70s and went on to run Tomson Films with a velvet voice, and a steel will.
Christopher Doyle, the cinematographer, is a leprechaunish Australian who knows every sweet subterfuge of the movie camera, and every naughty word in the Mandarin language! The tight team of 20 or so artisans had come to Wujiang city to work amid state-of-the-art film technology and plumbing facilities that might be from the Ming dynasty.
Richard also wrote about the condition and expectation of Chinese films from the People’s Republic, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Directors from all three regions had cause for concern as these interlocked industries faced an uncertain political future, and a sure threat from a familiar foe across the Pacific: Hollywood. And there is a big copycat trend there. In one of his articles, Richard also wrote about Leslie’s plan to stay in Chinese cinema, and not move to Hollywood. One reason may have been his suspicion of racism against Asians in Hollywood. “At the parties people are nice, but below the surface you feel the tension.” Another was his curiosity in sharing “new lives, new experiences”. Besides, he said, “I am Chinese, and I want to do something good with Chinese culture. I want to be a great actor in China. I’m hanging on.” The P.R.C. has acquired the mercantile reach of Hong Kong and perhaps put its identity at risk. “We have lost our roots,” Chen Kaige said, “lost our cultural base. We are going to be a poor people with a lot of money.”
Gong Li was running on the spot to get that ‘out-of-breath’ look for her next scene. Leslie was deep in conversation about his Art Deco collection. Chen peppered the cast and crew with orders, analysis, and encouragement. “Kaige gives lots of instructions,” said Taiwanese actor Kevin Lin, “like on why I would hit my head against a wall. And he’s a great actor: he showed me so well that he was dizzy for hours afterward.” Chen’s friend Leslie Cheung whispered melodramatically, “Kaige is a very miserable guy. He is always saying that besides directing and movies, ‘I have nothing.’” Chen, whose conversation often surges into confession, agreed, “I don’t know how to relax. I don’t know how to enjoy life, except by working.”
One night, Leslie was scheduled to shoot with veteran actor Shie Tien in the Mei Lung restaurant. They came at midnight, they had to wait as the owner closed the restaurant. It was the scene when Leslie was very sad and Shie Tien tried to comfort him. The two of them cried tumultuously. The crew who saw this couldn’t stand to hold their tears back because of their excellent acting. But Leslie is a professional actor. Once the director said ‘cut’, he would stop crying immediately.
When the shoot was finally completed, Chen was working in a Tokyo editing room, finishing “Temptress Moon”. He hoped that a film set before the 1949 revolution would evade the Chinese censors. One certain thing was that “Temptress Moon” was chosen to compete in 49th Cannes Film Festival this year.
Many Leslie Cheung films were released in 1996. After finishing “Temptress Moon”, Leslie played a Catholic pastor in the Chinese New Year film “Tri Star” directed by Tsui Hark. The location report on “Tri Star” again revealed the tolerant and attentive personality of Leslie Cheung. There is also an interesting report of how Leslie was ‘attacked’ on the rooftop, when an actress of “Tri Star”; unintentionally kicked out at Leslie’s ‘most important organ’. There were some scenes shot at 4.00 a.m.; and some scenes were even shot in Macau. The screening of “Tri Star” began from 15 February 1996. On Chinese New Year day, Leslie gave out many red envelopes to the hotel employees, and he also gave them “Tri Star” movie tickets (two tickets for each person). Working on the movie with actress Anita Yuen, whom he treated as a sister, was a pleasure of Leslie. He planned to direct a movie about ‘Lin Feng’ with Anita starring as ‘Lin Feng’. He also agreed to star in the sequel to “He is a Woman, She is a Man”, entitled “Who is the Man, Who is the Woman?” Then he also travelled back and forth to Shanghai to star in “Shanghai Grand” with Andy Lau and mainland actress Ning Jing. Director Derek Yee had been waiting for him for his project, “Viva Erotica”.
Poon Man Kit, director of “Shanghai Grand”, talked about Leslie in an interview. Speaking about the many superstars he had worked with, for example Stephen Chow who is often reported as being ‘too dominating’, Poon said superstars are always like that. They have their own way of thinking, and seldom listen to views and opinion from others. As a superstar, Leslie was in fact the easiest one to work with. He listened to advice with an open mind. Though he has his own views, he would often compromise to carry on work in the best possible way that would make both sides happy. He is not like other ‘big names’ who are often full of pride and unreasonable.
Wei Ni Zhong Qing Cafe
In April 1996, during a break in the shoot for “Shanghai Grand”, Leslie opened his coffee shop, which he named, “Wei Ni Zhong Qing”. The address of the coffee shop was, Wei Ni Zhong Qing Coffee Shop, Shop C & D, G/F Sung Lan Mansion, 17-21 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Tel. (852) 2893 4681. Fax. (852) 2891 3032.
Leslie provided a cup of free coffee especially for his faithful fans, as long as they could show the ticket from his farewell concert. But most of his fans felt such affection for the torn pieces of ticket, and many chose to pay the price of a cup of coffee: HK$28. That day, the coffee shop was full of people: Leslie’s mother, his sister, Ophelia Cheung and her daughter Ayesha; director Chen Kaige; actresses Valerie Chow, Carina Lau and Rosamund Kwan; Hong Kong and Japanese fans. The visitors at the coffee shop that day also included westerners; and the huge number of flowers and bouquets made it difficult for visitors to move. Leslie ran the coffee shop with an entrepreneur called Yi, who had experience in running restaurants. After the opening ceremony Leslie could not stay any longer since he had to be back in Shanghai for the movie shoot. That night, Leslie phoned Yi and asked about their business that day. When Yi said the café collected HK$500,000 that day, Leslie proposed extending the opening hours till 2 am so that he and his friends, who would have just finish their work at midnight, could relax and chat at the café. Special menu items at the café included German Cheese Cake, and the Lamb Set dinner. And of course, Leslie paid attention to the interior design of his coffee shop “Wei Ni Zhong Qing”. Leslie was quite serious as a café owner. He also attended the ‘Yum Cha’ Club Party. He was a keen admirer of food and taste, and yet he did not mind eating at outdoor food stalls.
Moon at Shanghai
When they were shooting the movie in Shanghai, Andy Lau organized about 50 of his Hong Kong/China fans to visit him on location one day. Prior to the visit, Andy Lau invited reporters from Hong Kong and Shanghai to see him on location on that pre-arranged day as well. Of course Andy was surrounded and cheered on by his fans, while Leslie was sitting quietly playing his gameboy. The very next day some magazine published headlines: “Andy Lau is so popular and well supported by fans in China, while Leslie was all alone by himself, and having no fans”. The news made Leslie’s fans wonder, since they knew that Leslie actually has many, many fans in mainland China.
Andy Lau put in ‘hard work’ also, as he wanted to reach Leslie’s position. During the shoots, Andy would push Leslie with his elbow and deliberately block Leslie from the camera. He had tried to make his name appear before Leslie in the movie credits, in order to make other people think that he was ahead of him. He did this indirectly, and had asked someone else to talk to Leslie. Furthermore, Andy had sung both of the songs in “Shanghai Grand”. It was very important for him to get the rights to sing the songs. Leslie never cared about such minor things, and he did not fight for such an opportunity. Leslie said he is never beaten by rumours. He only warned Andy to not ‘play with fire’ outside of the shooting process. It is dangerous!
A reporter asked actress Ning Jing, the female lead in “Shanghai Grand”, which guy was more handsome, Leslie or Andy?
Immediately Ning Jing praised Leslie, stating that he was very handsome and did not even mention Andy at all. When she was asked who had better acting skills, she replied without thinking, “Needless to say, it is Leslie!” A French reporter in the French Magazine “HK-Orient Extreme Cinema” wrote that a display of pure virility emerged again this year in “Shanghai Grand” by Poon Man Kit, where Leslie looks more brilliant than ever. It was as if he needed to desecrate his own image once again, and make good use of a new character.
On 13 July 1996 “Shanghai Grand” was screened in Hong Kong and broke box office records. But the film critics didn’t give the film good reviews. Rosamund Kwan and Anita Mui attended the first premiere of the film. Andy Lau walked hand in hand with Rosamund Kwan but he didn’t give any attention to Anita Mui. He left Anita alone. Luckily, her true friend Leslie came along at the right time. He reached out for Anita’s hand and guided her into the theatre.
Moon at Cannes
"Temptress Moon" was screened in Hong Kong from 9 May 1996, at the same time when the movie competed at the Cannes film Festival. A reporter interviewed Chen Kaige in Cannes:
Reporter: What story do you want to tell with the character Yu Zhong Liang played by Leslie Cheung?
Chen Kaige: Zhong Liang is a gigolo in this film, but in deepest of his heart he still remembers the innocent time of his life, when he was a boy. When he was 15 years old, he was forced into an intimate relationship with his sister, who was under the influence of opium. Then he ran away to Shanghai. When he met Ru Yi, he realized he was facing himself. In describing the very heavy psychological struggle of Zhong-liang, Leslie Cheung’s skill was really drained.
Reporter: How about Ru Yi, Gong Li’s character. Who is she?
Chen Kaige: For her, sexuality is a strength which gives her the enthusiasm to live, and she let herself be full of spirit. At the end, sexuality becomes something which destroys her. From the beginning of the film she was smoking the opium, her destiny has been decided. I don’ want to describe Ru Yi as a perfect person.
Leslie was in Cannes together with Chen Kaige and Gong Li from 9 till 20 May 1996. They stayed at the Carlton Hotel for several days. “Temptress Moon” competed with 20 other films, the film gained nothing except the honour for the team who had once before won the Golden Palm. Even while eating his salad, Chen Kaige should receive news of the fact that the Chinese government forbade “Temptress Moon” from premiering in mainland China because of its sexual ontent, and the use of opium as a subject in the film. But Miramax bought the film, which was to be premiered in United States of America.
"Yang-Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema"
Leslie and director Chen Kaige also appeared in short documentary film called “Yang-Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema”, directed by Stanley Kwan. This documentary was intended to welcome 100 years of film history. The investment came from England. Beside Leslie and Chen, this film was also supported by and featured Allen Fong, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Ang Lee, Tsai Ming Liang, Tsui Hark, John Woo and Edward Yang. In the film, Stanley Kwan put some questions to Leslie for him to respond, they were as follows:
Stanley: When Shanghai fell after Japan’s invasion, there were many changes in Chinese films, there were some influences from Hollywood horror movies. In 1995 there was a remake of one of those old films, that is “Phantom Lover”, which starred Leslie Cheung. Leslie is a handsome man. In that film, he played someone with a scarred face. Which version is better Leslie, the new ones or the old ones?
Leslie: I feel the script of new version lost some opportunities. Especially about the characters’ feeling when his face turns into the terrifying one. It’s not too deep. There was too much emphasis on romance. So the old version has more messages.
Stanley: Appearing with an ugly face would omit one’s narcissism. Leslie Cheung has played many narcissistic characters. Is Leslie, in reality, narcissistic himself?
Leslie: Absolutely! Certainly! (laughs)
Stanley: Which came first, Leslie’s own narcissism? Or the ‘feminine’ of the characters?
Leslie: I have some unique quality. The audience identifies with it. May be a kind of sensitivity, especially in romance. Something soft.
Stanley: In “Farewell My Concubine”, Leslie played a female role, how did audiences react to him in the role?
Leslie: In terms of Chinese morality it’s much easier for a woman to play a man than vice versa. When a woman plays a man, every one is indulgent. If she seems 60% masculine she’ll be appreciated. But if a man plays a woman and seems 80% feminine, people will still be hostile. That’s typical of Chinese morality. If you ask if Brigitte Lin is believeable as a man, I think not. I’m sorry. Too bad. She is a very good friend of mine, but I have to say she’s not convincing as a man. But she’s pretty.
Stanley: Actresses in male drag are popular. Universally accepted. But when an actor dons female drag there’s always trouble. His sexuality and dignity come under question. Do these things bother Leslie Cheung?
Leslie: Most of my parts project an image of delicacy. And so there’ve been many rumours about me from the very start. But times have changed. These things matter less now than they used to. Why should anyone care? They pay to see you look handsome on screen. And that’s enough. But it should be more equitable. If they can accept a woman playing a man, then a man playing a woman should be OK too.
Stanley Kwan and Leslie had known each other since 1984. It is Stanley’ opinion that, “Leslie was an intelligent and sensitive person. We did not have to see each other very often and yet we understand each other very well. We both knew that just a telephone call once in a while was enough to show that we cared. I am very happy to have him as a friend. As an actor, he put narcissism and self consciousness behind him. He did not mind how people looked at him so that his acting was not restrained. This was a phenomenal success for an actor.”
Anita and Anita
Anita Mui had joined Leslie and Anita Yuen in “Who’s the Woman, Who’s the Man” following the success of “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man”. For this film, Leslie wrote the famous theme song “A Man of Intention”. The two Anitas were just like sisters to Leslie. For the first time in Hong Kong, a comedy, “He’s A Woman, She’s A Man”, was considered brilliant! No vulgarity, no whirling nonsense’s, but an amusing and-all things considered-romantic story, but its sequel unfortunately was much less convincing.
"Viva Erotica" was categorized as a ‘III class’ movie because of its ‘hot’ scenes. But it was not the usual soft porn film, it was a good, witty and thought provoking film. Derek Yee’s films usually raise our thinking. In the film Leslie played a character named ‘Sing’, a frustrated young director since his previous two films had made losses in the market. Under pressure from his producer, he makes a porno movie. Leslie Cheung was made the greatest porn star in "Viva Erotica". The reason Leslie accepted a role in this movie was because he liked the script, and he had confidence in its director, Derek Yee. And he felt very comfortable and natural while he was shooting the love scenes in this movie. Derek Yee said that for the love scenes, Leslie was the best among Hong Kong actors. It was reported that that the original actor for the role was not in fact Leslie.
Jacky Cheung had been chosen, but he refused to act in it because it was too daring. Then Stephen Chow was the second actor to be approached, but he got into a clash of opinions with the director. Then at last they got hold of Leslie, and he accepted the role. Derek explained, “At first, I wanted Leslie to act, but he didn’t have time for me, so I asked Jacky and Stephen, but was not successful. Finally Leslie was free, so the role came back to him as was intended. He was the most perfect actor among the three.” When Leslie heard this, he laughed and responded, “Was it true? After I agreed to do this movie, they said I am the best among them!” And Derek also gave Leslie a chance to direct one scene in the film. A two-minute bed-scene, if in the hands of any ordinary directors, should be completed within 2 hours. But as it fell into the hands of Leslie, in the end it took a total of 7 hours! It is no wonder, even an experienced Category III film actor like Tsui Kam Kong would have to bow down. The scene involved Tsui Kam Kong and Shu Qi’s passionate love scene, Derek handed the director’s chair to “The Great Director” Leslie, who finally accepted this 2 minute scene after 7 hours of work. Tsui Kam Kong while on the set, commented on the Leslie Cheung directed scene, “Cheung Kwok Wing did his homework before the scene. He even wrote the story on a board, teaching us how to act, then he turned on a Japanese Art film to show Shu Qi, saying that she has to learn the feeling of the film. When everybody was ready, he would turn on the music for me. Finally after 7 hours, everything was filmed in detail.” Tsui Kam Kong had never seen anyone make a Category III film like this. After the completion Shu Qi said, “Gor Gor filmed us as beautifully as Adam and Eve!” As for the director Derek Yee, when speaking of Leslie’s two-minute scene he said with a smile, “Directed by him (Leslie), it must be beautiful. When he was filming, I actually left it to him and went home to sleep. What? After 7 hours someone is complaining? No way! When I am not here he is the director, he has all the say, who would complain?”
Leslie rated the two ‘babes’: Shu Qi and Karen Mok. Who was more erotic? On the first round, who was more erotic on screen?
very good figure
better gain more weight
can be better
very western, superb
Leslie said, “Based on the love scenes, which were shot by imagination and by real life, there is a great difference between performances. On the whole, I rated that Shu Qi is more erotic on the screen.”
The second round: How did Leslie choose the woman?
Leslie answered, “If based on the character, of course Karen is more suitable for me! If I have to choose, I will pick her.” So, Karen was his girlfriend in the movie.
After the shoot Leslie, Derek Yee and Bruce Lo Chi Leung (the other director of this film, the film was his directing debut) had the same feeling, that they wanted to work together again in the future. Director Lo Chi Leung felt that Leslie had treated him, a new director, well. He also treated all new actors very kindly. “He was the type of person who would go to any length and means to help other actors to develop their roles to the best of their ability. He was not like some pretentious movie stars, who often hope that the acting of others would be inferior compared to them”, Lo said.
Lo Chi-Leung said in the film “Viva Erotica”, Leslie Cheung and Karen Mok had to perform a ‘bed-scene’ at the very beginning. He had hoped to shoot the scene in a comical and exaggerated manner so as to avoid making the scene too erotic. However Karen Mok, who did not have any experience with this kind of scene before, was not totally relaxed. She had no idea how to perform in an exaggerated manner, and thus she could not get the feel of the scene. In order to help loosen up her tense disposition, on the side Leslie Cheung had to tickle her toes, even the sole of her foot continuously until she laughed out loud. Finally she became very relaxed and the effect of her performance was extremely good. In fact, whenever any actor on the film set had difficulties with his performances, Leslie Cheung would certainly be there to help him out with all his efforts. On 28 November 1996 “Viva Erotica” was screened for the first time in Hong Kong.
Moon at Buenos Aires
Voice of female interviewer: Oh… oh… Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung seem like lovers dancing this intimate dance of the tango. Are they in love? No, this is just the requirement of their newest movie plot. Yesterday these two superstars appeared at a bar in Lan Kwai Fong at the pre-production party and news press conference for their new movie together. And these two ‘big’ men are dancing the tango because it will be a part of the movie.
The screen showed Leslie in a black suit with midnight blue shirt and black tie. He looked very elegant, very comfortable and relaxed.
Interviewer: Usually dancing is with a man and woman. This time it was with two men. What do you think of that?
Leslie: What do I think? Nothing much. It is just work.
Screen shows Tony Leung answering the same question: he looks a bit uncomfortable.
Tony: In the past these dances were men with men. The tango.
Interviewer: Really? Have you danced with a man before?
Tony: Well… no, never. This kind of dance… dancing so intimately… really gives me that heated feeling.
Wong Kar Wai’s seen on screen.
Interviewer: Why are we seeing two men dancing here?
Wong: Because this will be in the movie. We will be shooting in Argentina and it will be a love story about two men.
Interviewer: Will there be any really intimate scenes?
Wong: What do you consider intimate scenes?
Interviewer: Do you think these two men dancing the tango here in the bar are intimate?
Wong: Yes… very intimate.
Interviewer: Will there be any further more intimate scenes?
Wong: We will have to wait and see.
Interviewer’s voice-over: Well, the director (Wong Kar Wai) was very secretive about the plot of the movie. But we have learned from our undercover sources that the movie will be shot in Argentina. And will be a love story about two homosexual men played by Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung. I think there will be so much more intimate scenes in the future for our two superstars.
Leslie’s seen on the screen.
Interviewer: Have you learned to dance the tango before?
Leslie: Yes, in the past, I have learned the tango and other social dances before.
Tony Leung’s seen on screen: answering the same question.
Tony: I have never been a very good dancer. I never had much confidence. But Wong Kar Wai said when we go to Argentina he will hire a very talented tango dancer to teach us.
Interviewer: You are very confident that you will be able to learn the dance? Are you sure you will be going to Argentina?
Tony: Yes, definitely going to Argentina. And I hear that the life style there is very laid back. And there will not be a lot to do after work everyday! And I think I am pretty confident because I won’t have much to do.
Leslie’s seen on screen.
Interviewer: Who would you choose to be your female partner?
Leslie: I think the most important thing is… she needs to know how to dance and be pretty. (He smiles).
Interviewer: Is this, dancing pretty or being physically pretty.
Leslie: I think dancing artistically pretty is more important.
Interviewer’s voice-over: Both our male lead actors say that the tango dancing will not be a problem.
Leslie is seen on screen.
Leslie: Many viewers have admired the scene from “Days of Being Wild”, the dancing scene in front of the mirror, the cha cha.
Interviewer: Do you like this scene?
Leslie: Yes… I like this scene very much.
Interviewer’s voice-over: Hey, the thought of Leslie in “Days of Being Wild” doing the cha cha made me envious, and I did not want to miss out. So I quickly asked Leslie to dance a few steps with me. And the screen shows the interviewer in Leslie’s arms ready to dance and then the interviewer said: Don’t we look good together?
Interviewer’s voice-over: Leslie Cheung always looks so handsome… Do you think it has anything to do with being a graceful dancer?
Leslie: Actually, no. I do not really have any beauty regime for looking young. I think what it is, is that my life style is very quiet and normal. I like to eat very simple, plain foods. And I think sleep is very important.
Interviewer: How do you get enough sleep during a production?
Leslie: Well… during filming production it is a little harder but even now I have restrictions in my contract for how many hours I can and cannot work. Hey, how often do you hear that Cheung Kwok Wing is out at the nightclubs all night? You never do. I really think that sleep is essential.
In Mid August 1996 Leslie flew to Argentina, spending thirty six hours on the flight to Buenos Aires, to star in Wong Kar Wai’s “Happy Together”, a gay love story inspired by the writing of Manuel Puig. In Buenos Aires, Leslie and Tony lived at a five star hotel, while Wong Kar Wai and his team rented a place to live.
Leslie’s relationship with Tony Leung Chiu Wai became closer due to the filming of “Happy Together”. Leslie called Tony ‘Wai Jai’, to him Tony was a difficult person to really get close to although he is a very kind person. Leslie knew that Tony loves rock and roll. He often went to his house to play mahjong with Carina Lau (Tony’s lover who lives with him), and Tony would have the stereo blasting in the next room. Leslie’s head would be ringing from the noise when he played mahjong. When Leslie first arrived in Buenos Aires, there were no scenes to be filmed as Wong Kar Wai still did not know the story he wanted to film. So Leslie had some time. He thought about trying out the local food. But by the third night, he began to feel unwell. His stomach was bothering him. He had diarrhea. He knew that because of his sensitive stomach, he would have stomach problems if he ate anything a little too fatty or oily and as such he really did not think much of it. He just thought that it was because he could not really tolerate this type of food well. Around the same time Tony Leung Chiu Wai flew down to Argentina, about three days after Leslie had arrived. At that time Leslie had the runs (diarrhea) about 2 or 3 times a day. He told Tony about it. And Tony told him, “Gor Gor, don’t worry. I have some good medication for that.” Leslie took it and it worked. But once he stopped taking it, he would get the runs again. After around 3 weeks, Leslie made plans to go out to eat Italian food with Tony and William Cheung. That night Leslie told Tony, “Something is not right. Do you think it is possible for me to have gotten the amoeba virus? Because, I have had the runs about 7-8 times a day for the past 2½- 3 weeks!” Tony replied, “Crazy! Amoeba virus is only found along creeks or riversides. We are in Buenos Aries”. That night, Tony had to do some night shooting, he told Leslie not to worry about it and go to bed. Tony was also going to call his buddy, Tim, who was a doctor in Hong Kong. So, Leslie went to bed. And the next morning at 6 a.m. Leslie woke up to loud banging at his door. It was Tony, and he said to Leslie, “Oh, Gor-Gor, you have the amoeba virus!” Leslie lost about five kilograms because of the virus.
On 10 September 1996, Wong Kar Wai was sure that sex should be the opener of the film. Leslie and Tony should be seen having passionate sex, only on their last night as a couple. Tony was reluctant. When they tried to shoot the sex scene it really shocked Tony, and he refused to do it. For two days he was miserable, lying on his bed. So Leslie went up to him and said, “Look at me, Tony, I’ve gone through so many scenes kissing, touching girls, grabbing breasts, do you think I really enjoyed it? Just treat it as a job, a normal love scene. I’m not going to fall in love with you, and I don’t want you to really have sex with me. You’re not my type.” Finally Tony agreed to do the scene. Cameraman Chris Doyle was watching them. Both tried to touch and feel their way around the bed. No idea why, but Tony was on top. Chris took his camera to record the beautiful and sensual scene. Tony was devastated when the scene was done. He complained to Wong.
Wong Kar Wai said Leslie Cheung had no problem doing the scene. Although he used to be a super singer and his albums dominated Hong Kong’s music market, he explored the acting world and played many challenging roles, which other actors have not dared to touch. There are not many people who have the talent and bravery to do this. In that Latino country, Leslie and Tony learnt tango from a professional, during a tight schedule.
Zero Degree Celcius in Buenos Aires was not friendly, but all the crew had to work. And when they worked it was been better, as there were many days when there was no shooting at all. Many of the crew-members felt bored. Wong Kar Wai had done it again, exploring the intricacies and tragedies of a relationship that has gone wrong with the powerful and sensitive performance of his two of Hong Kong’s top actors. Bringing to life all the sadness, despair, longing, and unhappiness of a doomed relationship struggling to be saved. This was made possible by Wong Kar Wai’s stunning visuals, creative camera shots, and sensitive story-telling. Leslie’s acting was quiet, subtle, sensitive, and brilliant.
12 September 1996 was Leslie’s 40th birthday. Leslie took photos with all of the crew, one after the other. Amos Lee and Kwan Pun Leung recorded this in their documentary film “Buenos Aires Zero Degree, the Making of Happy Together”. Chris Doyle also recorded the making of the film on his journal book “Don’t Try for Me Argentina”. Chris wrote about Leslie in high heels, walking like a trick-tired whore. He looked great as a redhead, but his makeup looked pasty: a bit like a weekend cross-dresser, hiding a five o’clock shadow. But Leslie was worried: “Am I convincing enough? Not just camp?” He really wanted to know. Actually, he needed more to be convinced than convincing. And so they preened and powdered, and switched to a modified bouffant and mother-of-pearl glam-look. “Am I woman? A real woman?” he asked his mirror more than them. Their nagging suspicion was that they were finally making the “Days of Being Wild” sequel, which so any have expected from these filmmakers for so long, and it clicked when Leslie started humming the theme from “Days” as he prepared for a shot today. Checking his costume and make-up in a wall mirror, he turned exactly like Carina Lau in “Days” and mimicked her glorious “How do I look?”
Leslie never paid attention to what Chris Doyle did because he didn’t know what remained in the movie. Nobody knew it. Only that , you must do things Chris asks you. In “Happy Together” Leslie gave him a lot of choices, as he liked. If Chris wanted 6 different points of view, Leslie gave him 6 different shots. Leslie also changed the dialogue by himself. And because Wong and his team could not finish “Happy Together” on time, Leslie had to leave them to go back to Hong Kong because he had to prepare for his concert at the end of this year.
The Hong Kong Popular Lifestyle & Entertainment magazine, in its September 1996 issue, featured a story on Leslie, “Leslie Cheung- Man in His Forties”.
Only true Leslie fans know that September 12, 1956 is Leslie Cheung’s birthday, which means that he will be moving into the stage of, “Man in his Forties” from this month onwards. Since Leslie sang “American Pie” and won his first award until now, he is not only the idol of young girls and aunties, even boys will admit that he is beautiful and fascinating.
Leslie is generally recognized as handsome, but this handsome man doesn’t have any pressure on his beauty. He said: “Being well dressed at public places, besides looking and being beautiful I have to respect the occasion and the people who invite me. As I am growing older, it becomes harder for me to say that I still can maintain being good looking all the times.” Therefore, Leslie, at the age of 40, will think of becoming a director after being a leading actor for all these years. A month ago, Leslie was shooting two movies together, “Who’s the Woman, Who’s the Man” directed by Peter Chan and “Viva Erotica” directed by Derek Yee. Although Derek directed “Viva Erotica”, Leslie himself directed one of the scenes too. I asked him: “Will you be addicted to directing movies after the grand scene?” He answered: “It was fun and I gained interest in it, but I still have to wait for other people to give me chances.”
The scene that made Leslie become addicted to directing was a grand scene. There were more than twenty naked actors acting in that scene… Leslie participated in daring scenes too. According to tips given by Leslie, it is not daring but if you are interested to see it, please don’t be late entering the cinema.Leslie has continuously had daring love scenes in his recent movies, “Shanghai Grand”, “Temptress Moon”, “Farewell My Concubine” and “Happy Together”. But, Leslie is not afraid of being ranked as a “Grade Three Actor”. He feels that love and sex are indisputably normal since every mature person will have this experience. As long as it is not obscene when shown in movies, it won’t be disgusting and ugly.
There will continue to be superb movies from Leslie; his singing career is also on the rise. He has planned to hold concerts during this year-end, after that he will continue with his world tour concerts. Singing, dancing, acting and directing, he is capable to do well in everything. Don’t you think he is envied by other ‘men in his forties’?
On 4 October 1996 Leslie held the “97 concert” conference. This was the first concert by Leslie since 1989. Rock Record initially wanted to be the promoter of the concert but Leslie asked Florence Chan Suk Fan and her company ‘Fun Entertainment Limited’ and ‘Yiu Wing Entertainment’, his old partners, to be the producers of the concert. Rock Record again had to give freedom to Leslie, and it was not a problem for them, but the media as usual wrote a bad report about the issue. The HK Media reported that Rock treated Leslie as the ‘enemy’. This news was opposed by Rock through it’s director Lu Sao Kang. Lu explained that Rock is a company with a wide perspective, and they won’t treat Leslie as the ‘enemy’.
Leslie asked William Chang to be the fashion designer for the concert, and Chu Wing Lung to be the dance choreographer. For those who missed his stage presence, the upcoming concert was yet another event that would definitely justify the long wait. Besides being a legend, Leslie Cheung also allowed us to understand the ultimate meaning of deferred gratification. Thousands of people shed tears at his farewell concert seven years previously. In 1996, he was still a super star, but he was more of an actor than a singer now. Nonetheless, he was Leslie Cheung. Absence from the music business for more than seven years did not lose him any of his fans.
Leslie released the eagerly awaited brand new Cantonese album ‘RED’. Still in good shape, Leslie was still the charismatic breath-taking performer he used to be, only better and more contemporary. The Red album was very innovative and it had a variety of songs ranging from smooth Jazz / R & B temptations to up-tempo dance floor favourites, he managed to deliver these sentiments every time he performed. New tracks like the energetic “Whisper of Love”, the sexy “Love by Stealth” and the romantic “Red” all suggest that the passionate music of Leslie continued to seduce every listener. This was in fact a season for thanksgiving.
November 1996, when the album was released. Yee Chung Man and Double X Workshop (Ellen Selbie and Wing Shya) did the artwork. The cover of the album was fully in red, with Leslie’s name in Chinese character appearing in one corner. ‘Red’ (heung) is categorized as one of Leslie’s best album. In the Chinese language, besides meaning ‘red’ the word ‘heung’ also means ‘famous’. Fans hoped that they would not have to wait for another seven years for his next new album. The MTVs “Red” and “Love By Stealth” were directed by Derek Chang, with guest stars Karen Mok and Jimmy Wong.
Since 1995, Leslie Cheung’s comeback was received with enthusiastic responses, confirming the fact that he might just be the only living legend in Hong Kong who embodies the kind of everlasting charisma that never fails to bewilder and impress his admirers.
Leslie went to Argentina. Did some scenes till the time he had to be back in Hong Kong for his concerts. Christopher Doyle was still having problems with lightning, and Wong Kar Wai still didn’t find the story. William Chang transformed Leslie’s five star room in the Kempinski to be Tony’s room in the film. He re-wallpapered and Chris added a lot of orange to the flourescent light in the bathroom. Chris said Leslie’s come back to Argentina was not long enough to make the trip to the place Wong planned, until Leslie was gone again they still needed him for this shot or that. “Compromise Chris”, exhorted Wong, “It won’t matter how good or bad the light is if we don’t have an actor to stand in it.” These days Wong was regretting his preference for working with stars. He grumbled, “They consume most of the budget and energies, their coming and goings force us to change story lines and even dictate how much sleep we get, we have to accommodate their schedule and pamper their moods. The only consolation is that we get the last words.” From this time onward Tony Leung Chiu Wai occupied Leslie’s position in Wong Kar Wai’s heart.
By the end of November 1996, Leslie began rehearsals with his dancers for his concert. He used an aqua bottle as a mike, and rehearsed seriously. Leslie decided he had to sing the theme song of “Farewell My Concubine” in his live concert. He asked his ex-opera teacher Zhang Man-ling to look for eight students in the art academy to loop the loop. Leslie didn’t forget to invite Zhang Man-ling and her husband to attend his concert.
Leslie’s friend Brigitte Lin welcomed Zhang and her husband to her home when they went to Hong Kong. Brigitte held Zhang’s hands and said, “Teacher Zhang, in show business not many artists are so kind like Kwok-wing.” Zhang agreed with her. Leslie was full of love in his heart. He treated people with kindness, be they children or the elderly. When Zhang and her husband dined with him and someone wanted to take photo with him, he was sure to satisfy his or her request, one after the other, from waiters to cooks. He didn’t make friends according to status. This was true. Zhang thinks that a person, no matter in terms of art or as a human being, should be ‘Honest’.
Time Magazine chose “Temptress Moon”, the opening film of New York Film Festival, as one of the world’s 10 best films of year in 1996. Like “Farewell My Concubine”, “Temptress Moon” was also screened in US theatres. At the Taiwan 33rd Golden Horse Awards Leslie presented the best actress award to Josephine Siew Fong Fong. Leslie was a double nominee at that year’s Golden Horse Awards. As best actor for “Temptress Moon”, and for the Best Movie Theme Song “Man of Intention” from the movie “Who’s the Woman, Who’s the Man” (music by Leslie Cheung, lyric by Lam Tsik, sung by Leslie Cheung). It was heartbreaking to see him waiting with lots of anticipation and hope when his name was called out as one of the nominees, but then seeing the award going to someone else. As usual he was such a good sport, and even graciously joked about it when he next went on stage to present the award for Best Actress to Josephine Siew Fong Fong. He spoke ‘cute’ and terrific Beijing Mandarin, charmingly addressing his co-presenter Gong Li (via long distance telephone) as ‘precious’ ‘Bao Pei’ (lover). Siew Fong Fong almost lost her footing, and said something to the effect that at her age she can only go downhill. After his movie “Temptress Moon”, Leslie helped his friend Gong Li sign a contract with a record company in Hong Kong.
The Moon Represent My Heart
Let’s go to the Hung Hom stage at the start of the Hong Kong legend’s World Tour ‘97. The concerts would continue until January, after which Leslie Cheung would tour various world capitals. The Hong Kong concerts were held from 12 December 1996 till 4 Jan 1997, all of 24 days. He would probably sing until September next year. He would not be able to rest even during the Chinese New Year.
Leslie is the first Hong Kong singer to ever hold 100 concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum. Leslie’s ‘World Tour ‘97’ was sheer spectacle from the start, with the stage a vast pyramid that opened sky wards, revealing both orchestra and singer. Obviously many people were involved in the shows. There were numerous costume changes, each more audacious that the previous, and even the supporting dancers wore gowns or costumes designed to tease, with slits and openings that revealed as much as the rest of the garb tried to conceal. William Chang designed a suit which had 70,000 diamonds (actually they were glass), and weighed at least 10 pounds. “Am I too hot to be handled?” shouted Leslie from the stage. The most daring number came in the closing sequences when Leslie, complete with tailored red high-heels, did a provocative duet with a macho youth Chu Wing Lun, clearly illustrating why he was so natural in his portrayal of the concubine in the award-winning film. When he pretended to be a woman, his dance and gesture were so charming. Another beautiful number had a cast of children made up to look like budding Beijing Opera characters.
Leslie deliberately set out to flirt with, and shock, his audience in a show heavy with sexual undertones. One of his guest stars Shu Qi sat on his lap, and gave everyone including Leslie himself a reaction. Even when the concert was over and the stadium lights switched on, most of the 6,000 attending the opening show refused to leave, firm in their belief that their idol would return and sing for them.
The media reported about the concert in negative tones: “Leslie’s costume at concert arouses criticism”, “A Controversial Concert of Leslie Cheung”, ‘A Category 3 Show”. A fan decided not to read the newspapers. It was a good decision. He went to see the concert on 15 December 1996. He saw a concert that was very touching and full of entertainment, and Leslie was deadly beautiful. It was never ‘Category 3’. He had never watched such an excellent show before. Leslie surely did put his hand in his shorts, but it was a kind of performance. Leslie dancing with red high heel shoes? This was unforgettable for him. GREAT! Only Leslie could have performed and given such an impressive, artistic concert. Unfortunately, the public at large in Hong Kong are those who easily believe what they read in the papers, that is written by the critics, without seeing it with their own eyes.
Miss Cheung, head of HK radio station, was almost cheated by media about the so-called ‘Category 3’ show. She finally decided to see the concert for herself, and said that it wasn’t a ‘Category 3’ show. “I know it is not Category 3,” Miss Cheung said. She almost decided not to come to watch your show. But after she watched it, she said it was great!”, a reporter told Leslie backstage. “Yes. She came to watch me finally and she said she liked it a lot.” “Then why did you cry that night?” the reporter asked. “No…a little fan gave me a toy car and I was suddenly very touched… I don’t care what he said! (The “he” being the person who accused Leslie of making a ‘Category 3’ show). My fans love me.” “Yes, you don’t need to care about what those people say,” the reporter replied. After watching the show herself, the reporter felt that: Gorgor is Gorgor. He has perfect confidence in himself on the stage, and he is very charismatic.
Leslie was also very humorous on the stage. Every night when he shook hands with his fans, he was almost always hurt by his fans’ passion. That night when he was about to shake hands, he yelled, “OK, here I come to shake hands with you monsters!” Ha… then suddenly a bunch of fans came forward to be ‘monsters’ in order to shake hands with him. Another night, when he came out, he said, “Is there anyone here watching the show for the first time? Yes? Ha!; you are so lucky to be able to see such an old man singing again after 7 years of absence!” On another night, he showed his leg to an old lady and said “Isn’t it beautiful?” He was using jokes to make fun of himself.
After the concert, the reporter went backstage to look for Leslie. He was in a very good mood and hugged the reporter again, “Let’s go to have dinner.” The reporter had observed his injured hands due to over-jealous handshakes. Cheung Yiu Wing, the producer of the concert said, “Wear gloves tomorrow.” Leslie replied simply, “No.” The reporter also agreed with Leslie. One has to be sincere to his supporters.
About being accused for doing a ‘Category 3’ show, Leslie said, “Long time ago, Madonna and Michael Jackson already did that. And at that time, no one blamed them, and now they blame me. They are outdated.”
On their way to the restaurant, the reporter saw that Leslie was frequently sneezing. She said, “Wow, you got a cold? How can you sing tomorrow?” “Yes, I got a cold when I wore the bathrobe to sing, and having wind blow from a fan underneath. I think I need to go to the doctor tomorrow.” In the restaurant, he continued to sneeze. Florence Chan said, “You really need to see a doctor tomorrow.”
Leslie always thought about improving his show. He talked to one of this performers, Karen Mok, about how to set her hair; he talked to another performer, Shu Qi, about her being a bit slow on the stage; he talked to Florence about how to push the camera to get the best shot. Leslie told the reporter, “Every detail, we pay attention to it.” The reporter felt that he was like a leader of the army. When they left, there was a bunch of tissues on the table; he really needed a doctor.
Leslie launched a charity campaign with the concert. Fans could support it by buying ‘RED’ cards with Leslie’s photo, designed by his ex-school mate. ‘R’ is for Regain, ‘E’ for Extended, and ‘D ‘for Dream. Leslie managed to raise one million (actually it was $40,000 short, and his promoter, Mr. Cheng Yiu Wing, donated the rest) for the Children’s Cancer Fund. Leslie raised the “flower fund” worth 1 million HK$ from fans: he received no flowers from fans, and instead suggested for fans to contribute the money for the charity. Plus a contribution of his own worth HK$ 1 million, he donated a total of HK$ 2 million to Children Cancer Fund at that concert.
And Leslie said, “I’m not a good son, after years of being a singer, I rarely sing for my mom.” Leslie’s mom attended the concerts with her daughters and her son in law. Leslie added, “Mommy, how did you manage to have son as handsome as this, you had to be tat pig high (very exciting) with daddy.” His sister Ophelia could not help but laugh when she heard this. His mother looked at him with love and smiles. And he also thanked Mr. Tong who had accompanied him for years, through good days and bad. He sang Teresa Teng’s hit “The Moon Represents My Heart” and dedicated it to his mom and Mr. Tong, the two persons he referred as the most beloved persons in his life. He looked absolutely stunning in that black tuxedo, sang beautifully, with heart and class.
31 December 1996, Leslie was counting the seconds to the New Year. His guest stars Karen Mok, Winnie Hsin and Shu Qi, all his dancers, his hair-dresser, plus Florence Chan and Cheung Yiu Wing went upstage. When he was counting down with the audiences in the HK Colesium, everything was under his control, he was so caring about everyone on stage, he was so happy, full of vitality. Everybody was excited. On these last days of 1996, with Leslie’s concerts Cantonese music had moved to new era, which never happened before. He had revitalised and brought renewal to the Hong Kong music world. When Leslie shouted, “Happy New Year”, Hong Kong started to enter 1997, a real New Year for its citizen because it would be handed over by English authorities to mainland China by 1 July, 1997.