Cover Here are Tony Leung's best movies that you should watch (Photo: Criterion Collection)

Smitten by Hong Kong superstar Tony Leung after seeing Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and looking to watch more of his movies? Read on to find out our picks

Hong Kong acting legend, Tony Leung is the current talk of the town. Thanks to his role as Wenwu in the Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings where he makes his Hollywood debut, those who have seen him for the first time, can’t help but become head over heels for the actor.

Leung is a superstar in his hometown of Hong Kong and his status extends to Asia, where he’s considered one of the region’s most successful and internationally recognised actors. He has worked with Hong Kong master director Wong Kar-wai in seven films and has since clinched many international acting prizes from prestigious film festivals. Well-loved by his expressive eyes, quiet demeanour and elusive nature, Tony Leung continues to dazzle throughout his acting career.

If you’ve been smitten by the Hong Kong icon’s acting prowess and want to see more of his work, we’ve got you covered. Here, we list down 10 of his best movies with our Tatler editors giving their take on why they love and what they love about each movie.

See also: 14 Great Hong Kong Movies to Add to Your Netflix Watch List

1. In the Mood for Love

What better way to start this roundup than the movie that the title’s named after: In the Mood for Love. This 2000 romantic drama by Wong Kar-wai follows Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-shen (Maggie Cheung), who live adjacent to each other. Always left alone as their spouses are away for work, the two develop feelings for each other.

The movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to critical acclaim, landing a Palme d’Or nomination and with Leung winning the Best Actor award—the first Hong Kong actor to do so. It’s such an iconic movie that it’s been included in many lists of the greatest films of all time.

What Tatler editors have to say:

Forever and always, this will be a masterpiece. Having first seen this film more than a decade ago, I’m still struck by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung’s quiet yet powerful melancholy, their on-screen chemistry heightened by Shigeru Umebayashi’s evocative musical score.

Among my favourite scenes are Leung and Cheung sharing a meal in Cafe Goldfinch, their profiles mirroring each other as they come to a startling realisation about their respective cheating spouses; in another, Leung relishes a spoonful of wonton in the alleyway noodle bar where he encounters Cheung in the stairwell; lastly, the final coda of the film, where Leung isn’t even facing the camera as he whispers a secret into the hollow of a tree, is one of cinema’s most poignant moments.

— Charmaine Mok, Editorial Director, Tatler Dining

I’ve seen this film a million times, but I never tired of it. This Wong Kar-wai classic, with Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung as the most iconic star-crossed lovers of all time, is simply beautiful. Under Wong’s camera, guided by his longtime creative partner Christopher Doyle, the film is alternately dreamlike to capture the halting romance between Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) whose spouses are having an affair.

There are so many gems in this film: a mix of slow-motion and stunning cinematography to illustrate the repression of feelings between the characters; the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack; Maggie’s elegant appearance in qipao dresses; Tony’s sublime performance...and who can forget that scene when Chow calls Su before leaving Hong Kong, asking: “If I have an extra ferry ticket, will you come and go with me?” The entire scene is so emotional that I always get goosebumps when I watch it.

— Helen Yu, Assistant Editor

2. Chungking Express

Tony Leung’s role as Cop 663 in Chungking Express, undeniably remains one of his most well-loved ones. This 1994 romantic crime comedy-drama by Wong Kar-wai tells two stories, one of which is a lovesick Hong Kong policeman (Tony Leung), who's still not over the loss of his girlfriend. He’s soon approached a quirky, happy-go-lucky snack bar worker (Faye Wong).

Other stories include He Qiwu (Takeshi Kenshiro) who’s still mulling over a breakup and his encounter with a drug smuggler, played by Brigette Lin. Leung for his part won the Best Actor award at the 1994 Golden Horse Awards and the 1995 Hong Kong Film Awards.

What Tatler editors have to say:

The way Tony Leung looks at Faye Wong in “Chungking Express” makes me want to melt. He doesn’t need to say a single thing because his eyes say more than words could express. When he first meets her as a police officer, Leung is stiff and upright, but the way he leans into her to say he likes chef’s salad is subtle but flirtatious. Their passing interactions are endearing, and you can see he adores Wong’s whimsical nature when he keeps his smiles to himself.

By the end of the film when he’s swapped his uniform for the carefree position at the snack shop that Wong used to have, he’s let down his guard and is completely vulnerable yet so much more confident, which you can see from the intensity in his gaze.

— Amalissa Hall, Style Writer

3. Lust, Caution

Lust, Caution remains one of Leung’s most challenging roles where he played Mr Yee, a special agent recruiter for the government to get up Japanese occupation in China. He forms a relationship with a university student, Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei), who's actually a spy sent out to kill him.

Directed by Ang Lee, the 2007 erotic espionage period movie won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival and Leung won the Best Actor award at the Golden Horse Awards as well as the Asian Film Awards.

What Tatler editors have to say:

All types of love – possessive, authoritarian, passionate and gentle – are delivered simply from the way he looks at her.

— Zabrina Lo, Associate Features Editor

4. Infernal Affairs

Some may not know but Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is actually a remake of Hong Kong movie, Infernal Affairs which Leung stars in opposite Andy Lau. It tells the story of Chan Win-yan (Leung), an undercover cop who infiltrates a triad. At the same time, gang member, Lau Kin-ming (Lau), becomes a mole in the police force.

Leung won a Best Actor award at the 40th Golden Horse Awards as well as the Hong Kong Film Awards, beating out co-star, Andy Lau for the award.

What Tatler editors have to say:

My favourite is definitely “Infernal Affairs!” I mean…no Hong Kong movie can compare to this one. Two lines can bring me back to this classic movie: “I want to be a good person ” and “Sorry, I am a policeman.” Tony Leung’s acting in different periods of the movie are just right. He plays a disputable role—appointed as an undercover by the police system. No matter how many times you have watched this movie, it cannot be relieved because he doesn’t have a chance to do justice in a fair and honest way. It not having a happy ending makes me eager to watch over and over again.

— Hayley Yu, Digital Writer

Police and gangster dramas have a long-standing history in Hong Kong cinema, yet few films have as much emotional and cultural impact as “Infernal Affairs.” While it has a stellar cast, Tony Leung’s powerful performance as undercover cop Chan Wing-yan still inspire intrigue, even after dozens of rewatch: his portrayal of someone living with a broken identity, and the turmoil that it comes with, are deeply gripping. And who could forget that iconic rooftop scene, where the two protagonists—Chan and Lau Kin-ming, portrayed by Andy Lau—finally come face to face?

— Andrea Lo, Editor, Tatler Homes

5. The Eagle Shooting Heroes

The Eagle Shooting Heroes is one of Leung’s more relatively lesser-known works.  This 1993 comedy movie by Jeffrey Lau is a parody of Louis Cha’s novel, The Legend of the Candor Heroes. It’s a classic example of the mo lei tau comedy or slapstick humour associated with Hong Kong popular culture.

What Tatler editors have to say:

As a Hongkonger who loves the comedic masterpieces of Stephen Chow, Tony Leung surprised me with his natural slapstick humorous acting and over-the-top energy in “The Eagle Shooting Heroes,” a parody of Louis Cha’s novel “The Legend of the Condor Heroes.” Tony, who plays Ouyang Feng, is like a typical villain from a vintage 60s and 70s silent Cantonese film. It’s rare and interesting to see Tony reverse his quiet, serious and handsome image.

He broke the burden of an idol and turned into a smart bad guy who appeared in front of the camera with a sleazy moustache, a sly smile and an overdubbed hyena laugh. Even 28 years have passed, who could forget Tony Leung’s funny appearance of big “sausage lips” in this classic “mo lei tau”(which means nonsensical in Cantonese) comedy?

— Cristen Tsoi, Digital Writer

6. Hero

Hero by master director, Zhang Yimou remains an underrated gem. The 2002 wuxia film is one of the most expensive projects in China but also, one of its highest-grossing titles which also earned positive reviews from critics.

Shedding his dramatic role in In the Mood for Love, Leung stars as Broken Sword and together with Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), remain as the only assassins to ever infiltrate the King’s palace. The movie is based on the story of Jing Ke's assassination attempt on the King of Qin, sometime in 227 BC.

What Tatler editors have to say:

In this stunning and totally underrated wuxia film by Zhang Yimou, Tony Leung proves that his physicality as an actor not only encompasses the slightest gestures and meaning-laden dart of the eyes but extends to the grand, balletic fight routines of fantastical airborne martial arts.

That’s not to say that there’s no shortage of his signature smouldering looks—released just two years after “In The Mood For Love,” Leung starred opposite Maggie Cheung again as a pair of lovers and expert assassins. If that’s not worth watching this film for, I don’t know what is!

— Gavin Yeung, Editor, Tatler Dining

7. Happy Together

Leung stars in yet another movie by Wong Kar-wai in Happy Together. It follows the on and off romance of Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung), a gay couple from Hong Kong. Wanting to mend their relationship, they travel to Argentina but things didn’t go as plan.

Happy Together was nominated for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and eventually clinched the Best Director award. It’s well-received by critics alike and is considered as one of the best LGBTQ films in the New Queer Cinema movement.

What Tatler editors have to say:

There’s something so intimate, comforting yet also deeply raw about watching “Happy Together.” Leslie and Tony’s characters and their turbulent romance appeals to a hopeless romantic like myself. The feeling of longing, regret and love are all shown through Leung’s eyes.

The themes of confinement, marginalisation and identity all hit close to home. The beautiful visuals filled with grainy and high contrast colours is also a star in the movie for me. Such wonderful performances of its lead stars—the scene of Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung slow dancing in the kitchen is forever etched in my mind.

— Jianne Soriano, Digital Writer

8. 2046

A loose sequel to Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love, Leung reprises his role as Chow Mo-wan in 2046. The movie follows what happens after Chow’s failed relationship with Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung). He becomes a ladies’ man as a way to overcome his pain and eventually meets Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi) who becomes his lover. The movie has other story arcs presented in non-chronological order.

2046 was nominated for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival while Leung won Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

What Tatler editors have to say:

The way Tony Leung carried Chow Mo-wan’s pain after the events of “In the Mood for Love,” makes this an instant favourite. It’s a melancholy movie that explores unrequited love and loneliness—reminding me of my own moments in life where I left the same but was unable to express them. Shigeru Umebayashi’s score—a frequent Wong collaborator—made it much more endearing to watch.

There’s also a sense of reassurance to see emotions portrayed without needing words to show them. The sci-fi element here might be jarring or even out-of-place to some but it further amplifies the alienation and other themes in the movie. There’s always been praise about Leung’s ability to express without saying much and while that’s seen in most of his movies but I particularly feel that in “2046”.

— Jianne Soriano, Digital Writer

9. Confession of Pain

Yet another hidden gem is Confession of Pain, a 2006 crime drama directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. The movie follows Lau Ching-hei (Leung) and Yau Kin-bong (Takeshi Kaneshiro), police inspectors who are on the side of justice. But later, we learn that may not be the same, at least for one of them.

Though the movie didn’t bag many awards, it did earn Leung a Best Actor nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Critics also praised Leung and Kaneshiro’s performance.

What Tatler editors have to say:

Tony Leung returns to familiar territory in this slow-burning crime drama by playing a cop who is not who he seems to be. Starring opposite Takeshi Kaneshiro, Leung portrays a seemingly upstanding detective who is revealed to have darker ulterior motives over the course of the movie.

Naturally, only someone with the depth and calibre of acting chops that Leung possesses is able to convincingly bring to life a complex character with many layers and motives, roping the audience in before ultimately making them question their own ability to perceive right from wrong.

— Gavin Yeung, Editor, Tatler Dining

10. Tokyo Raiders

You might not remember or have seen Tokyo Raiders, but this 2000 action comedy sees Leung playing a detective who finds himself in Tokyo. Watching it is surely an excuse to see Leung in action or in a role that contrasts his more dramatic ones.

The story is about Macy (Kelly Chan), whose fiancé, didn't show up at their wedding. She travels to Tokyo to find him and hires a private investigator to find them.

What Tatler editors have to say:

I have a soft spot for this one since it was one of the first Tony Leung films I ever saw, which actually blasted into box offices the same year as “In the Mood for Love”. “Tokyo Raiders” (by director Jingle Ma) is a ridiculous action comedy that sees Leung playing a savvy detective who finds himself an inexplicable target of the Yakuza. No matter—he’s capable of taking down a group of thugs in his three-piece suit, armed with just his wits and an umbrella while helping bereft bride Macy (played by Canto songstress Kelly Chan) track down her fiancé, who is not who he seems.

It’s a complete contrast to his deeper work with Wong Kar-Wai (the 5.8/10 score for this film on IMDB is telling) but it’s no less satisfying to watch—especially the scene where Leung escapes yet another gang ambush by zip-lining down a spiral staircase with his grey trench coat flowing behind him with a jaunty salsa tune as the backdrop.

— Charmaine Mok, Editorial Director, Tatler Dining

This article was originally published on September 15, 2021 and was updated on January 26, 2022.

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