World cinema knows Tony mostly as the romantic lead from Wong Kar-wai’s intoxicating movies but little did they know the range of roles this superstar plays, from arthouse to international blockbusters. Whether it's broad comedy, action, or serious drama, he always delivers enchanting performances and is one of the most beloved actors among Asian audiences.
He holds so many awards and honors, all of them very much deserved, because any movie can be elevated simply by his presence. Speaking from my personal experience, Tony is a director's dream. There is something in his eyes that's electrifying, not just his physical eyes or skill(s) but the soul that shines through them. He can say more in one look than many actors can with a full monologue. That's a soul that can entice you to dream and imagine through him.
He's the kind of actor who lures the best and the worst out of you, which for a director is actually the same thing. It's hard to articulate, but it's like your secret self, even a struggle and confusion that you're hiding, comes to life right in front of your eyes that forces you to deal with it honestly. The deeper he dives into a role, the more he seduces you to push for more, and that takes a part of you. I can only imagine that he likes suffering as an artist.
There was a day on set on my movie "Lust Caution" when I had a meltdown because of an emotional scene. Tony walked up to me, he touched my shoulder, whispered in my ears, "Director, we expose skin, you expose something else, you have to take care of yourself." We always think that directors help actors, but sometimes it's the other way around. That really gave me strength. It's both terrifying and meaningful when someone that good and genuine embodies a hidden part of you.
His willingness to constantly share that vulnerability is what makes him so great. It appears to me he doesn't do it for the credit. He's like water, filling the lowest places without striving, and he serves. He facilitates the creative force, not just for the director but the whole cast and crew. He does his own stand-ins for lighting because, you know, this saves time. Instead of going to his trailer in between setups, he will stand around on set to watch people work.
One time I asked him, "Why don't you go rest?" He said, “I want to see how I can help.” I told him, “Don't waste your energy, because I need you to shine on camera.” He said, "Chatting or gossip wastes Chi, reading makes my eyes lose their luster, and sleep is boring, so I watch people to see where I can help."
There was another time he got to our cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. We were staging a shot where Tony opens the door and looks in, and the camera pulled focus from the opening door to a close-up of his face. It was an extremely difficult shot to get right technically and with the sparkling performances. Rodrigo came up to me with tears in his eyes because Tony had asked him, "Where should I be?" He said, "I've had a long career and shot all around the world. Nobody ever asked me that question. People just don't know how hard that shot is." If that's not a filmmaker's dream, what is?
When you're that talented and you have the natural look, that's a gift. But to share it with kindness and to facilitate it in others, time and again, that's a lifetime achievement. Being a great actor demands a love of the craft, and being a star requires you to function as inspiration for others, like a kind of modern royalty. Tony does both outstandingly well. He provokes our imagination that we can all dream through him. It's a certain spirit I wish I could articulate and present to you, but I can't because it's beyond words.
I just feel so lucky to have been a small part of that magic, that bigger picture that we're here to celebrate today. It is my great joy to present this Lifetime Achievement Award on the 80th birthday of the Venice Film Festival to Tony Leung.
Ang, I know you will make me cry. Can you give me a minute? Thank you so much, Ang, for such lovely compliments, especially coming out from my most respected director and a very good friend of mine. And, uh, thank you, Venice International Film Festival. This is really a great honor.
First and foremost, I would love to express my gratitude to my dearest wife, Carina Lau, for her love and constant support, my family, my friends, and fans all over the world. I am so grateful to have been raised in Hong Kong as well as being nurtured later by the Hong Kong movie industry in general, where my acting career began. And I also want to share this honor and give thanks to all those wonderful people who I have worked with over the past 41 years because this is a tribute to them as well. And of course, to Hong Kong cinema. Thank you very much. Gracias.