9 Best Movies to Watch by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai

Staff & contributors

Called a masterpiece by many and featured on many best-of-the-21st-century lists, Director Wong Kar-wei has created a thing of singular beauty. Every frame is an artwork (painted, as it were, with help of cinematographer Christopher Doyle) in this meticulously and beautifully crafted film about the unrequited love of two people renting adjacent rooms in 1960s Hong Kong. These two people, played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, struggle to stay true to their values rather than give in to their desires, while they both suspect their spouses of extramarital activities. The flawless acting, stunning visuals, and dream-like beauty of In the Mood for Love perfectly captures the melancholy of repressed emotions and unfulfilled love. The cello motif of Shigeru Umebayashi's main theme will haunt you long after you finished watching.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chan Man-Lei, Charles de Gaulle, Cheung Tung-cho, Chin Tsi-Ang, Joe Cheung, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho, Julien Carbon, Kelly Lai Chen, Laurent Courtiaud, Maggie Cheung, Mama Hung, Paulyn Sun, Ping Lam Siu, Rebecca Pan, Roy Cheung, Siu Ping-lam, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tsi-Ang Chin

Director: Wong Kar-wai

Rating: PG

A City of Sadness is a film set in 1945, after Japan is defeated in the war and Taiwan is subject to uncertainties of a changing sociopolitical landscape. It follows the four Lin brothers, who each struggle in this tumultuous period — from Wen-heung, the eldest who gets on the bad side of a local gang, to Wen-ching, who chooses to stand against the Chinese Kuomintang government despite being deaf-mute. 

Instead of turning to the usual machinations of a historical family drama, director Hou Hsiao-hsien shows the vast expanse of Taiwanese countryside through steady, beautiful cinematography. In urban areas, the camera moves in scenes of sudden violence, which it pans toward until it exits frame for us to only hear the screams of people offscreen. There are also quiet interludes that barely last a minute, where dynamics between characters depict the anxiety of the times. Tony Leung, who plays the deaf-mute brother, hasn't refined the craft of subtle acting with his eyes yet, but traces of brilliance are already there. 

The trauma of rapidly changing times, as a nation is exploited from one war to the next, is depicted so clearly. The authoritarian state erodes families, and Hou paints a picture of a society on the brink, a representation of 1940s Taiwan that feels more like a tragic poem than a film.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Chan Chung-Yung, Grace Chen Shu-Fang, Hsin Shu-Fen, Jack Kao, Kelly Ko, King Shih-Chieh, Li Tian-Lu, Mei Fang, Tai Bo, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tsai Chen-Nan, Wu Nien-Jen, 吴念真

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien

Forlorn longing envelops Days of Being Wild, where the act of dreaming is as valuable as its actual fulfillment. “You’ll see me tonight in your dreams,” Yuddy tells Su Li-zhen on their first meeting, and indeed, this line of dialogue sets the film’s main contradiction: would you rather trap yourself in the trance-like beauty of dreams or face the unpleasant possibilities of reality? Wong Kar-wai’s characters each have their own answers, with varying subplots intersecting through the consequences of their decisions. In the end, happiness comes in unexpected ways, granted only to those brave enough to wake up and dream again.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alicia Alonzo, Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Carina Lau, Hung Ling-Ling, Jacky Cheung, Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Maritoni Fernandez, Rebecca Pan, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: Not Rated

"California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas. You will fall in love with that song (if you haven't already) after watching this movie. Two stories, entangling into one; both about Hong Kong policemen falling in love with mysterious women. It was recommended by my friend after I said I loved Frances Ha. I don't know whether you can call this as offbeat romance.. but to me it was, and it's well worth the watch.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brigitte Lin, Chen Jinquan, Faye Wong, Jimmy Wong Chi-ming, Kwan Lee-Na, Lee-na Kwan, Liang Zen, Lynne Langdon, Piggy Chan Kam-Chuen, Rico Chu, Rico Chu Tak-On, Songshen Zuo, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Valerie Chow, Vickie Eng, Wong Chi-Ming, Zhiming Huang

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: PG-13

, 2004

Director Wong Kar-Wai made this loose sequel to one of the best films ever made, his 2000 classic In the Mood for Love. Much of the story is set around Christmas eve.

In the far future, people take a train to the world of 2046, where no sadness or sorrow can be experienced. No one has ever returned from that world except for a lonely Japanese writer, who narrates the first part of the film.

There are four acts to the story and as is common to Wong Kar-Wai, they are listed in non-chronological order. Not that you will care but 2046 is far from confusing. Instead, it functions as a dazzling visual poem on unreciprocated love.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Akina Hong, Akina Hong Wah, Ben Yuen, Ben Yuen Foo-Wah, Benz Kong To-Hoi, Berg Ng, Carina Lau, Chang Chen, Chen Chang, Ching Siu-Lung, Dong Jie, Farini Cheung, Farini Cheung Yui-Ling, Faye Wong, Gong Li, Jie Dong, Li Gong, Maggie Cheung, Ping Lam Siu, Ronny Ching Siu-Lung, Siu Ping-lam, Takuya Kimura, Thongchai McIntyre, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Ziyi Zhang

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: R

While produced by Wong Kar Wai, Chinese Odyssey 2002 isn’t a moody, melancholy drama that we’re used to. Instead, the Ming Dynasty-set adventure directed by Jeffrey Lau comically spoofs plenty of the beloved genres that captivated Chinese audiences– wuxia epics, musical dramas, and historical romances. The ludicrous crossdressing plot is played in such an over-the-top way, with Lau visually delivering his jabs, with a narrator providing droll commentary on the events, and with intercuts of faux interviews and excerpts from everyone, even including the disgruntled innkeeper spying on the crossdressing princess and the confused restaurant owner. It’s actually quite impressive how the ridiculous plot leads to such a wholesome, moving conclusion.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Romance

Actor: Athena Chu, Chang Chen, Eric Kot Man-Fai, Faye Wong, Jeff Lau Chun-Wai, Ning Jing, Peter Chan Lung, Rebecca Pan, Roy Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Wang Wang, Wang Xudong, Wong Wing-Ming, Zhao Wei

Director: Jeff Lau Chun-Wai

During wartime, war supersedes everything, including love. Wartime would have people ending relationships, forgoing potential dates, and seducing enemies to lead them to downfall, all in order to win, but sometimes, this rarely goes as planned. Lust, Caution is one such story, with the novella’s emotional repression making it a great match for director Ang Lee, main actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai as Japanese informant, and main actress Tang Wei, who made her breakthrough here. It’s not an easy watch. There are moments that falter and the film is a tad too long. But the smoldering stares shared by the two leads, with the lush production design and the beautiful direction, makes Lust, Caution a difficult contemplation of love and sexuality as Wang’s, and the nation’s, double-edged sword.

Genre: Action, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Akiko Takeshita, Anupam Kher, Cheng Yu-Lai, Chih-ying Chu, Chin Ka-lok, Chung Hua Tou, Hayato Fujiki, He Saifei, Jacqueline Zhu Zhi-Ying, Joan Chen, Johnson Yuen, Johnson Yuen Tak-Cheung, Kar Lok Chin, Ko Yu-Luen, Lawrence Ko, Lawrence Ko Yu-Luen, Lee Hom Wang, Leehom Wang, Lisa Lu, Liu Jie, Saifei He, Tang Wei, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tou Chung-Hua, Tou Tsung-Hua, Ven Kao, Vince Kao, Wang Lin, Wei Tang, Yan Su, Ying-hsien Kao

Director: Ang Lee

Rating: NC-17

Written like a stage play, directed like the viewer is a fly on the wall, and shot with a love for deep shadows and warm candlelight, Flowers of Shanghai is about as immersive a chamber drama as one could ask for. Having most of the "action" take place off screen, director Hou Hsiao-hsien draws our eye instead to how his characters (including one played by an exceptionally stoic Tony Leung) continue to negotiate for their own freedom against patriarchal norms, pushing against cultural notions of proper decorum. It's a film brimming with repressed emotion, but without ever raising its voice. The vibes, as the kids say, are immaculate.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Annie Shizuka Inoh, Carina Lau, Jack Kao, Michelle Reis, Michiko Hada, Moon Wang, Pauline Chan, Rebecca Pan, Stephanie Fong Shuan, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Vicky Wei

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien

Happy Together is a beautifully devastating tale about a gay couple, portrayed by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Leslie Cheun, who struggle with maintaining romance and fidelity in their relationship. Despite their efforts, they find the emotional distance growing between them, especially as they leave their home of Hong Kong for Buenos Aires.

Filmed and set in the late 1990s, Happy Together explored the depths of queer love in a way most films hadn’t. 

Since its release, it has touched the souls of many and caused tears to be shed. It serves as a reminder that love isn’t perfect, but it’s always worth the effort.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chang Chen, Chen Chang, Gregory Dayton, Law Shu-Kei, Leslie Cheung, Shirley Kwan, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: N/A