Do you remember Leslie Cheung?
He was one of the most popular Hongkong actor, and showed unforgettable performances for cinephiles. He captivated the audience with his image of a beautiful and bright boy when he debuted, but in the latter of his career, he left a great mark in the history of the film with his unique lonely and gloomy performance. He was the most colorful actor in Asia in the ’80s and ’90s, but he was also the most lonely actor.
Today marks 17 years since the death of Leslie Cheung. On April 1, 2003, he committed suicide by jumping from the 24th floor of the Mandarin Hotel, which made many fans feel sorry for him. It seems like he was left alone in the world and struggled to survive against the world. Sadly, however, he couldn’t stand the depression and left us. Now he’s not in this world, but his films are always in our hearts.
Today, I’m going to introduce five images that represent Leslie Cheung.
#1 A Chinese Ghost Story – Ning Tsei-Shen
He didn’t have a strong masculine image when he debuted. Back then, in Asia, gangster genre and martial arts films were popular, so macho male characters were in vogue. Leslie’s appearance at this time was really refreshing. He showed off his unisexual charm. His image in A Chinese Ghost Story, which stimulates other people’s protective instinct, is his signature image at the time. He gained popularity for his image of a beautiful and lovely boy, though not masculine.
There was an interesting story about his name. His English name, Leslie, was taken from Leslie Howard, who played Ashley in Gone with the Wind. He said he liked the name because it was unisexual name.
#2 Farewell My Concubine – Dieyi
This character is Leslie’s most famous image. A sad actor who puts on heavy makeup and plays Beijing opera seems to express Leslies’s life itself.
In particular, there is an impressive scene in this film that shows Leslie’s sadness. Dieyi performed Beijing opera in front of the Japanese army to save his loved one, Xiaolou from prison, but Xiaolou spitted on Dieyi’s face and left him because Xiaolou thought Dieyi sold their tradition. The moment that Dieyi is looking at Xiaolou sadly is the saddest scene in this film. This moment is made of wax figure, and it is displayed in the Madame Tussauds Hong Kong. Madame Tussauds seems to have decided to remember this moment as Leslie’s representative image. This, I think, is because his face at this moment in the film is one of the best scenes that expresses Leslie’s sadness.
The face of Dieyi is Leslie’s hunger for love and sadness.
#3 Ashes of Time – Ouyang Feng
Wong Kar-wai’s meeting with Leslie is a great moment in Hong Kong’s film history. They created three masterpieces, starting with Days of Being Wild. These beautiful and sad masterpieces cannot be created by Wong Kar-wai alone without Leslie. This fact makes our hearts hurt even more.
Wong Kar-wai took Leslie’s characters outside of Hong Kong and left him alone. Wong directed unforgettable performance from Leslie by creating situations that maximized the loneliness and sadness Leslie felt. Especially, In Ashes of Time, Leslie’s character is left in the middle of the desert. He struggles alone there. Just like Leslie was really depressed and struggling with the world by himself.
Ashes of Time redux changed the ending of the original film. It was Wong Kar-wai’s choice. The changed ending is like a letter from Wong to Leslie, who passed away. In the changed ending, Leslie constantly fights alone against countless enemies. This image seems to show Leslie’s real-life psychology when he’s alive, which makes fans feel more sorry. Like this image, Leslie was constantly fighting against invisible enemies.
#4 Happy Together – Po-Wing
Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai were Wang Kar-wai’s personas. These two actors made various masterpieces with Wang. Happy Together, the film starring two of them as lovers, shows two representative human figures from director Wong Kar-wai. Wang Kfar-wai said that Po-Wing played by Leslie is like an airplane and Yui-Fai played by the Toni is like an airport. In fact, Wong Kar-wai always uses these two actors for this image. This is the image of two people he sees.
Po-Wing was a constant wanderer. He can’t love someone forever, so he’s always wandering around, but he’s always looking for love. He leaves his lover first for fear of being abandoned, but eventually he wants his love. So in this film, the last scene in which Po-Wing cries missing his ex-lover makes pathos. He becomes left alone again in a remote place. He feels absolute solitude again. The feeling Po-Wing had suffered is similar with what Leslie had been through all his life. Especially, Po-Wing’s last scene, who tries to live his daily life somehow but suddenly cries in sorrow, reminds us of the last moment of Leslie Cheung.
#5 Days of Being Wild – Yuddy
Leslie’s dance with his underwear in Days of Being Wild shows his narcissism well. He loves himself too much. However, the behind of his narcissism, there is a huge sadness. Yuddy has always been abandoned. Especially, the fact that his natural mother rejected him is a huge trauma for him. He is always afraid of being abandoned, so he leaves someone first and can’t settle anywhere. Before someone rejects him, he leaves. The only one whom he can love is himself.
“I’ve heard that there’s a kind of bird without legs that can only fly and fly, and sleep in the wind when it is tired. The bird only lands once in its life… that’s when it dies.”
It is one of the most impressive dialogue in Days of Being Wild. The fate of the bird, which is forced to wander alone forever, makes a lonely emotion. If there is only one image that represents Leslie, it would be a bird without legs. He had to endure alone in the world, and he wasn’t involved in anywhere, but he was constantly craving love. It is similar with a bird without legs.
This movie is the first collaboration between Wong Kar-Wai and Leslie. After this film, Leslie’s image began to change.
Leslie Cheung was a spokesperson for the weakest and most painful place we had. He was completed with the addition of loneliness and sadness to his pure and lovely image. He had an image of an irreparable wounded boy, and the is now sealed forever. Whenever I reminisce about his performance, I miss him. He was friend who can treat my sadness.
How do you remember him? Why don’t we watch his movie today?