Leslie Cheung

Probably one of the first great Hong Kong movie stars I ever found out about was Leslie Cheung.
In the 90s Leslie was stellar - easily one of the most famous people in Asia, he seemed to be everywhere.
A singer/actor in the usual Hong Kong mode, Leslie's star quality moved him up into the next realm, and he became a superstar. His charming affability and boy-next-door good looks made him a great favourite among teenage girls, and he never failed to be anything but courteous and modest in his public appearances. He also established a huge gay following, and indeed became something of a role model for young gay men in Hong Kong and Taiwan who were looking for someone who represented fame and success but also managed to avoid the usual masculine stereotypes that male actors and singers frequently fall into.
Leslie showed enormous daring and courage when he accepted the role of Cheng Dieyi, the flamboyant transvestite Peking opera singer in Chen Kaige's international blockbuster Farewell My Concubine. His performance was incredible, nuanced and subtle - people began to realise that Leslie was not a mere pop idol, but an actor of real substance.
However, taking on such a role was, in effect, Leslie's public coming-out. His legions of teenaged fans moved onto someone newer, and this gave him the freedom to pursue more challenging roles and to live his private life more freely.
He reached the pinnacle of his career in Happy Together, Wong Kar-Wai's scandalous 1997 film. In this he played Ho Po-Wing, a nasty, narcissistic gay boy leaching off his gullible lover as they struggle to eke a living among the Chinese diaspora in Argentina. To say the film is gritty is to understate things, and both the lead actors (Leslie and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai - also taking a risk with his reputation as a man's man) play their roles with incredible honesty, and a startling lack of vanity. It is a brilliant film, one which remains a cult classic today, adored by film-afficionados the world over.
Sadly, in 2003 at the age of 46 Leslie committed suicide, leaping from his hotel room in Central Hong Kong. He had been suffering from depression for some time.
He is still adored in Hong Kong, and every year there seems to be a re-package of his albums and his greatest hits.
He was a beautiful, courageous and talented man.
So today I say a little prayer in memory of Leslie.


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