Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is muse to Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai in much the same way that Johnny Depp fascinates and inspires Tim Burton. Leung has starred in most of Wong's films, which seem in part to be some sort of drawn-out study of the possibilities of Leung as actor, icon and - it has to be said - sexual object.
In the world of Hong Kong cinema there is another Tony Leung, but here I am talking about "Little Tony," the quiet, intense and effortlessly masculine leading man who has been a feature in serious Hong Kong cinema for more than 15 years now. I am a huge fan, and am fascinated by his bravery, his loyalty to Wong Kar-Wai and his extraordinary lack of vanity. In many ways I see Tony Leung as a method actor in the more typically American tradition - he seems to inhabit his roles with a wonderful fullness, and on-screen he is possessed of the most immense presence.
Part of this has to be attributed to the barely-contained sexuality which always seems to be bubbling under the surface of the characters Leung inhabits. Wong Kar-Wai constantly plays up the homoerotic charm of Leung, but to my mind he is at his most sensuous as the pathetic, repressed and cuckolded anti-hero of Wong's delicious period piece In the Mood for Love. Here the short and sad salaryman becomes obsessed with the statuesque and icy Maggie Cheung, and never was a more believably sex-obsessed couple rendered on the big screen.
I think Tony Leung will go down as one of the greatest Chinese actors of this period, due largely to the incredible challenges that are thrown his way by the constantly adventurous (and frequently outrageous) Wong Kar-Wai. I watch everything he is in, because I always find his presence so magnetic and slyly seductive.