It's time for another post about the book I'm currently reading, Cong Ling Kai Shi (for an introduction on the book, refer to this link).
One of the things that I actually forgot to mention in the introductory post to this book review series: one reason why I decided to write about the Cong Ling Kai Shi books is because many of the interviewed artists are 'big names' from the 80s and 90s (many of whom are still active in the industry today) and with me being an 80s/90s girl, I have a lot of nostalgia for the HK entertainment industry from that era (the "golden era" of HK entertainment). But it's not just about the nostalgia....I also wanted to provide some insight into how the HK entertainment industry has evolved (or, more fittingly, how the industry has 'deteriorated') and also highlight some of the struggles that those artists -- most of whom are still famous even now, 20+ years later -- went through on their paths to stardom. I guess you could say that this is my way of showing support for the artists from my generation and also sending a message to today’s generation of artists and fans on how ‘good’ they actually have it right now compared to before (so some of them can stop being so arrogant or have a false sense that fame and fortune come easily).
Ok, so moving on to the featured artist in this post: Tony Leung Chiu Wai (梁朝偉).
Tony is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and naturally talented actors on the planet (and yes, I mean ‘on the planet’ because Tony is definitely an international star now). He is also one of the most well-respected actors in the industry as well as one of the most ‘decorated’ (in terms of awards). However his road to fame was definitely not easy and after reading his interview in this book, I have so much more respect for him (he has always been one of my favorite actors, even from back in his television days).
Below are a few highlights from the interview (again, my disclaimer – this post does not cover everything that was talked about in the book – to find out more, I suggest that ‘Tony fans’ actually read the book!):
Tony grew up in a single parent family, which is no surprise, since he has talked about this in past interviews. It’s also ‘public knowledge’ that he has a very introverted personality and doesn’t like to talk much or socialize much with people (which I also already knew about him). But what I didn’t know was the reason why he became so introverted – his father was a prolific gambler who left his wife and kids and never returned. So at the young age of 9 years old, Tony had to ‘grow up fast’ and become the ‘man of the house’, taking care of his little sister (who was only 1 year younger than him) and helping out around the house, since they didn’t have much money and his mom had to work all day in order to put food on the table.
Every day, Tony would get up early, make a simple breakfast for himself and his sister, then, holding his sister’s hand, the two would leave for school. In the afternoons, for lunch, he would go buy bbq pork rice bowl (which only cost a few dollars) for his sister (and himself), then after school, they would go home and do homework – he would always help his sister with her homework first and make sure she understood it and finished it before sitting down to do his own homework. In the evenings, when his mom got off work, though tired, she would cook a nice dinner for them to eat. This pretty much happened day in and day out through Tony’s childhood up until he graduated from high school.
CAREER: the TVB days
The story of how Tony entered TVB’s 11th year acting class is actually quite humorous – pretty much it was because of $10HKD!
As the story goes, Tony actually was friends with Stephen Chow – who at that time, had not yet entered the industry – and together, the 2 of them decided to apply to TVB’s 11th Acting Class in 1981 (Tony was 19 years old at the time). At that time, trying to get into acting class was a huge affair – hundreds of people would apply, but only a few were accepted. Tony was called in for an interview and when he reached the location, there were hundreds of people already in line – when he saw how many people there were, he wanted to give up and go back home, since he also wasn’t too confident that he would be able to pass the interview and exams anyway (silly him..LOL!). But then, he thought about how he had paid $10 HKD for the application fee and that money would be wasted – so he decided to be patient and wait it out. (Luckily for us because if the application was free, Tony probably would have left and the HK entertainment industry would not have the big star that it has today!!)
Tony was accepted to the 11th Acting Class at TVB. I guess we could say that this class was the one that produced the most talents, as 3 Best Actors in Film (Tony Leung, Francis Ng, Stephen Chow) and 1 Best Actor in Television (Bobby AuYeung) came out of this class!
As most of us know, Tony started his career hosting children’s programs (along with his classmate Stephen Chow), but it was obvious from the beginning that he had talent (the book goes into great detail about the scene that he did for his graduation exams – from seeing how that scene played out, it’s quite obvious Tony was born for this industry!). Not too long after that – in 1982 – he was recruited to the drama department and participated in his first series, “Soldier of Fortune” (he played Kent Tong’s younger brother). In comparisons…Stephen Chow remained in the variety programs department and continued hosting children’s programs for another 4 years.
When asked why he decided to go into acting, Tony replied: “It’s fun! I really like acting – even during the acting class days, I never feared getting up in front of a lot of people and performing. A lot of people had told me that whenever they film with Chow Yun Fat, they are afraid to look straight into his eyes…but I am not afraid!”
One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing artists who have no respect for the industry or their own jobs and instead let fame and fortune get to their heads as soon as they achieve just an ‘inkling’ of success. This is why I like most of the 80s artists so much – partly because they were truly talented, but mostly because they don’t have the ‘problem’ I described above – most of them had to go through a lot to get to where they are at today and so they don’t exhibit those ‘arrogant’-type attitudes that a lot of the younger people nowadays (who pretty much got stuff ‘handed’ to them and so didn’t have to suffer like their predecessors did) are notorious for exhibiting.
To illustrate my point above (this is also one of the reasons why I admire Tony and have so much respect for him as an actor and person), I would like to quote one section from the book:
People around him feel that he is lucky, but he [Tony] feels that one cannot rely on ‘luck’ alone: “Nowadays, whether I’m walking or sitting down, I’m constantly thinking about things related to acting. I like to observe people’s day to day actions and from there, derive inspiration to help me with my own acting – for instance, when I see someone drinking water, I think to myself ‘why is it that the person holds the cup in that manner?’ -- even the writers and producers say that I’m over-thinking things. But I can’t help it, as I love ‘thinking’ about things too much – sometimes, when I’m not able to think things through and there is no one to talk to or my friends aren’t available…during those tough times, I just feel like crying.”
Some people may say that Tony naturally had acting talent in him and I definitely agree with this to some extent – but I also feel (based on the above quote) that part of his success was due to his hard work…I mean, even during his own personal time, Tony would constantly be thinking about how he could better his acting and derive inspiration from even the simplest of things. (In comparison, many artists nowadays don’t even bother to practice their lines or even study their scripts for that matter, let alone use their ‘personal’ time to further develop themselves!)
A lot of us view the 1984 version of “The Duke of Mount Deer” as one of Tony’s best works and even now – more than 20 years and a plethora of remakes later – it is still a classic and considered the best version ever made. Tony definitely agrees that this series was his best ‘representative work’ (though I actually think he has too many great series to only consider this one as his best) and was pretty much the series that boosted him to stardom….BUT, what a lot of us don’t realize is this series was also the most ‘draining’ for him – both physically and mentally. And yes, the popularity that he gained from this series was the ‘turning point’ of his career, but he had to pay a price for it – after this series, he had to film series after series, one after another, with little to no rest – not too long afterwards, he started suffering from lack of sleep (he would go days without sleeping) and chronic headaches…some days, he would even have to take pain medication (for the headaches) in order to function properly! During that time, Tony would describe himself as “a dead fish on the beach.”
Of course, any discussion of Tony’s career at TVB would not be complete without mentioning the contract issue between TVB and the 5 Tigers that occurred in 1984 (TVB wanted to ‘keep’ the 5 Tigers and prevent them from venturing out by telling them to sign a 5 year long-term contract). In the interview, Tony goes into great detail about that particular issue and gives his ‘reasoning’ for signing the contract: he needed to provide for his family (he was only making about 4000HKD at that time) and TVB offered to double his salary. His first thought was that at least he would not have to ‘worry’ about being able to put food on the table for the next 5 years.
I honestly don’t blame Tony for signing, as he had a family (his mom and sister) to take care of. And to be honest, the situation with Tony and the other 4 Tigers was a little different – by the time Tony started to become popular in 1984, the other 4 Tigers were pretty much already established actors who had been in the industry for several years and were already doing lead roles – plus they already had quite a few “hit series” under their belts (i.e.: Kent had “The Demi-gods and Semi-devils”, Felix and Michael had “Legend of the Condor Heroes” plus a few other series, and Andy had “Return of the Condor Heroes”). Tony’s series “The Duke of Mount Deer” had not aired yet when the contract issue occurred. In the end, Felix also signed the 5 year contract, so both he and Tony stayed behind while the other 3 (Kent, Michael, and Andy) left TVB.
Note: Tony is well known for his illustrious film career, which is also detailed in the book…however, due to this post already being quite long, I decided to leave that part out (sorry if I disappointed anyone)…
In addition to his acting talent, Tony was also know for his 3 famous romantic relationships with Margie Tsang, Kitty Lai, and Carina Lau. In this section, I will attempt to recap how each of the relationships started and – with 2 of them – how the relationships ended.
Margie Tsang: Broke up 3 times, reconciled 3 times
Margie entered TVB’s acting class 1 year after Tony – even though (ironically) both ended up hosting the same children’s program in the beginning, they actually met at a classmate’s birthday party. Tony was smitten by Margie’s sincere personality and they started dating not too long after that (this was in 1983).
Even though Margie was not Tony’s first love (he had other girlfriends prior to her), he does admit that he “loved her the most….even if I’m talking to someone, I would be thinking about her in my mind, worrying about her…the weather is cold – did she have enough to wear?”
Margie and Tony broke up for the 1st time in October 1984 – the reason? Tony’s career started to take off and he got busier and busier – to the point that he barely had any time to sleep, let alone go out on dates. Margie describes their breakup as follows: “We did not have an argument, did not have a misunderstanding – we very calmly and peacefully separated. Even if you love someone, does not necessarily mean that you will marry that person in the future. I would much rather my [future] husband love me more than I love him.”
One thing that not a lot of people knew is that Margie had a really good relationship with Tony’s mother and sister, so even after they broke up, she continued to maintain a close relationship with them. Indeed, Mrs. Leung liked Margie a lot and actually felt sorry for Margie because Tony couldn’t spend much time with her. She actually expressed that she did hope that Margie and Tony would reconcile…well, 3 months after they broke up, Mrs. Leung got her wish, as the two reconciled and got back together (early 1985). Unfortunately though, it was not meant to be, as the two broke up again later that same year.
The 3rd time that Margie and Tony reconciled was in April 1988 (he had just broken up with Kitty Lai earlier that year) – the press found out about them reconciling when Margie was spotted at the airport with Tony’s mother (both were there to pick Tony up from the airport). At the end of that year (November 1988), Margie and Tony broke up once again – this time, for good. During that time, Tony explained the break up this way: “Margie is still the woman I love most, but because both of us have grown up now and matured, it is no longer possible to capture the feelings that we once had.”
Kitty Lai: From dislike to love
Tony’s relationship with Kitty actually started in 1986 when they were filming “The New Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre” together. At first, Kitty did not have a good impression of Tony at all, but after getting to know him better during their few months of filming together, they eventually fell in love and started going out.
Unfortunately, the public never really gave these 2 a chance, as everyone had already accepted Tony and Margie as a couple and felt that only they matched each other the best (the book described Tony and Margie’s pairing as 金童玉女)….so from the beginning, there was already a strain on the relationship.
In November 1987, Kitty participated in the filming of the series “The Book and the Sword" and rumors started to fly, linking her to the series’ other co-stars, including Simon Yam, Shek Shau, and Lawrence Ng. Around the same time, Tony was rumored to have been seen with newcomer Fiona Leung (Kitty’s co-star in “The Book and the Sword”) at a disco. Despite the rumors, Kitty insisted that her relationship with Tony had not changed.
Not too long after that (in early 1988), Kitty and Tony were slated to star in the series “The Two Most Honorable Knights” (aka “Chuet Toi Sheung Kui”) – at the costume fitting for the series, it was obvious that something was wrong, as Tony and Kitty seemed very ‘cold’ toward each other and did not come across like a couple at all. Shortly afterwards, Tony and Kitty officially broke up and not too long after that, he and Margie got back together.
Carina Lau: the woman who changed Tony’s life forever
Even though Tony already met Carina back in 1983 and the 2 collaborated on a few series throughout the next couple years (most notably, the series “The Clones” in 1984, “The Duke of Mount Deer” in 1984, and the “Police Cadet” trilogies in 1984, 85, and 88), their relationship was only one of friendship, as Tony was dating Margie at the time and Carina was just getting her career started in HK. It wasn’t until the two of them collaborated in a charity stage performance for the HK Artiste Training Alumni Association (which they were both members of) that they actually fell in love. However, their relationship was not made public until May of 1989, when they were spotted at the airport together.
As many of us know, Tony and Carina have very opposite personalities – Tony is very introverted, doesn’t like to talk much, and is constantly thinking about his work. Carina, on the other hand, is very extroverted, optimistic, and pretty much was a social butterfly. I guess this was the ultimate case of ‘opposites attract’, as these two seemingly incompatible people ended up finding each other. Over the years, Tony and Carina have had their fair share of ups and downs – and just like any other couple, they had arguments and disagreements on things….but at the end of the day, they continued to remain together because of one thing – Love!
Back in 1986, after 2 years of suffering from sleep deprivation due to filming series back to back without rest, Tony had made a commitment to himself that he would end his career and leave the industry in 5 years. This continued to be a major goal of Tony’s throughout the rest of the 1980s…until he started dating Carina – indeed, it is Carina who is credited with helping Tony turn his life around and caused him to make the decision to stay in the industry. Tony states: “Since we [Carina and I] started dating, we saw each other almost every day. Whenever she would see me with a ‘black face’ , she would automatically know that I was upset about my performance [in acting] again – she would reprimand me and tell me that if I continued on like this, I will go crazy someday. I thought to myself – ‘in this world, there isn’t another person who understands me as well as she does and who cares so much about me.’ From that moment on, I set a rule for myself – every day, I would completely relax for at least 5 hours a day and not think about work or acting at all. As a result, I became a much happier person.”
Despite the various rumors that were rampant throughout their 20 year relationship, Tony and Carina pretty much ignored what others would say and continued to live their lives together the way they wanted to. This well-known celebrity couple finally tied the knot on July 21, 2008 in a brilliantly (and smartly) arranged wedding ceremony in Bhutan.
Of course, there is much more to Tony and Carina’s relationship than just what I described above (they’ve been together for 20 years, after all) and there were plenty of ‘sweet’ moments described in the book, but in the interests of time, I only chose a few highlights to include here.
Hopefully, after reading this LONG post, you have better insight into Tony as a person – and also have a better understanding of why he has long been one of my favorite HK entertainers!
I am curious to know who you guys (everyone reading this post) would be interested in reading about next...therefore, I added below the list of celebrities featured in this particular book:
*Tony Leung 梁朝偉
*Maggie Cheung (Man Yuk)張曼玉
*Andy Lau 劉德華
*Cherie Chung 鍾楚紅
*Chow Yun Fat 周潤發
*Faye Wong 王菲
*Danny Chan 陳百強
*Shu Qi 舒淇
*Stephen Chow 周星馳
*Anita Mui 梅艷芳