One of the best moments out of the Venice Film Festival this weekend was Tony Leung, a f-cking legend, receiving the Golden Lion Award for his body of work. The work, by now, should be well known globally. In The Mood For Love, Hard Boiled, Chungking Express, Lust, Caution, The Grandmaster, and of course Infernal Affairs


He’s the first Chinese actor to be bestowed the honour and it was an emotional moment for him.


What got me emotional is what he said at the end of his speech. Tony Leung is a profoundly thoughtful artist. He’s not flashy, he doesn’t say much, it was actually a surprise in Venice, at the press conference, when he spoke at length – by his standards – about his career, his experience working with directors like Ang Lee and Wong Kar Wai, and how he prepares for roles (thoroughly, for months sometimes years, but always quietly). So the fact that he concluded his remarks by giving thanks to Hong Kong speaks volumes about how important Hong Kong film culture is to him personally and how proud he is that he is a part of Hong Kong’s film legacy. 


“Hong Kong cinema” – it’s not that it’s not acknowledged, cinephiles are certainly aware, but on a wider scale? I’m not sure all that many people know. That without Hong Kong cinema there would be no The Matrix or John Wick. Or Kill Bill. Or SO MANY of Quentin Tarantino’s films. Without Hong Kong cinema there would be no The Departed. 

Tony Leung is one of the titans of Hong Kong cinema. He does with his eyes what Jackie Chan does with his body. The way Jackie is known for his stunts, the way he throws his body into the wildest situations, Tony’s work is all in his face. Anyone with a Criterion membership can tell you that Tony Leung can deliver pages of dialogue with just his eyes, in a matter of seconds – it is astonishing the stories he can tell with just the top half of his face. 

So it was beautiful to see him recognised in Venice, for him to know how appreciated he is, for him to be able to enjoy the admiration so many of his peers have for his work. 


As for the beginning of his speech, he dedicated it to his wife, Carina Lau. 

She is a star in her own right, and they’ve been together for decades, having met when they were barely out of their teens, working on the same television series in Hong Kong. Which is why I love what she posted for him on Instagram: 


The translation here is “Tiger takes home the Lion”. The Lion of course is Venice’s Golden Lion. The Tiger is Tony, because at the beginning, when he started out, Tony was one of the Five Tiger Generals of TVB. Back in the 80s, TVB was the most popular television network in Hong Kong and there were five young actors who all trained together in the acting academy and then went on to star in the most highly rated series of the time. It was the media that gave them the nickname. Tony was the youngest member. Andy Lau was the second youngest. And look at the careers they’ve both gone on to have. Tony just got the Golden Lion in Venice. Next week it’s Andy’s turn in Toronto where he will receive TIFF’s Tribute Award. 

Hong Kong cinema is getting its flowers this festival season!