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Farewell My Concubine



by Kenneth Lyen

Leslie Cheung will not be attending this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival where he is nominated for Best Actor in the film Inner Senses. He jumped to his death from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on April Fool’s Day 2003, probably from the depression that he was reported to be experiencing since his separation from his partner. He was only 46 years old.

He managed to reach the pinnacle in his career as an actor and as a pop star. He appeared in 60 films, winning the Best Actor Award in the 1991 Hong Kong Film Awards for the film Days of Being Wild, and winning the Best Original Song Award in the 1993 Golden Horse Film Festival for the film The Bride With White Hair. He achieved international status with such films as Rouge, Farewell My Concubine and Happy Together.

The youngest of 10 children, Leslie was born in Hong Kong on 12 September, 1956. His father was tailor to the actor William Holden. After the parents’ divorce, he went to Leeds University to study Textile Management. In 1976 he returned to Hong Kong and won second prize in the ATV Asian Music contest. This paved the way for him to work as a pop singer on television, film and the stage. The success of his 1981 album The Wind Blows On made him one of Asia’s most popular singers.

In 1986 he was cast opposite Chow Yun-Fat in the film A Better Tomorrow, directed by John Woo. This was followed in 1988 by playing the lead in Stanley Kwan’s film, Rouge. This highly acclaimed film showed that Leslie was capable of playing both a romantic as well as an action lead.

He was able to work under several of Hong Kong’s most celebrated directors. In 1990, he once again appeared opposite Chow Yun-Fat in John Woo’s Once a Thief. In 1991, he played the villain in Wong Kar-Wai’s Days of Being Wild, and in 1993, he was a romantic swordsman in The Bride With White Hair. But it was his appearance in Chen Kaige’s internationally acclaimed film Farewell My Concubine that allowed him to demonstrate his most sensitive acting skills. He appeared in Wong Kar-Wai’s film, Ashes of Time in 1994, and Happy Together in 1997. The latter was highly acclaimed and is noted for its controversially explicit sex scenes.

In 2002 he played the role of a psychiatrist in Law Chi-Leung’s film Inner Senses, which attracted a nomination for Best Actor in the Hong Kong Film Awards 2003. Sadly he will never know whether or not he won.

A brilliant singer and actor, he will be profoundly missed.