Hong Kong Heartthrob

Photo: Neil Wilder/K2/Gamma

It was horrible,” Tony Leung says with a wince, recalling the last-minute scramble to get 2046 (August 5) finished in time for its festival premiere. “We were still in Thailand dubbing the film. At one point, I said to Kar Wai, ‘You need to let me go back to Hong Kong to pack so I can get to Cannes on time!’”

Leung, a soft-spoken superstar in his native Hong Kong, had little to worry about: His latest collaboration with director Wong Kar Wai is an achingly beautiful meditation on love and loss that’s one of the most compulsively watchable films in their collaborative history—think Alfie, only in Cantonese, and with subtlety and compassion. And fans of Leung, who nabbed a Best Actor award at Cannes for his portrayal of a betrayed husband in Kar Wai’s 2000 film, In the Mood for Love, won’t be disappointed.

In 2046, he revisits Mr. Chow, although the similarities essentially end with the name. “It’s more like a continuation of that character,” Leung muses. “On the first day, I arrived on set and Kar Wai wanted me to play a new character with the same name, same hairstyle, same posture as the original, but he wanted him to be a very dark, very Bukowski type of man, a playboy. That’s why I asked if I could have a mustache. I need something to grab hold of that makes me believe I’m somebody else.”

If only facial hair could help every actor so much: Leung’s performance as a joyless ladies’ man rivals his best work. As in all of Kar Wai’s films, the cast of 2046 worked without a script and no understanding of the whole story. When other actors asked Leung what the heck was going on, he responded, “I don’t know, but you have to trust him.” After seeing 2046, you will too.

Hong Kong Heartthrob