Time, a past life, and dear Tony Leung

Tony Leung. Image: Screenshot of the official “Chungking Express” trailer via YouTube / Block 2 Distribution

Tony Leung Chiu-wai, arguably one of the best actors in 20th century world cinema and muse of author Wong Kar-wai, has a Facebook page. I can’t know for sure if it’s really his, a fan or a manager who thinks it’s wise that, since Tony is playing in a Marvel superhero movie, it would be nice to open an account at social networks for him. I posted a comment praising the star on the “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” news, and he responded. I clicked the Like button like I knew him. As if I knew him. When you watch his movies for years, you feel like you are.

It all started with “Chungking Express”. The second time I watched it, I was living alone in Shanghai, China, sharing an apartment with two other people. It was in 2008. I watched the movie in our messy little living room littered with fake DVDs. I slipped the movie while a roommate was on hiatus to watch six seasons of “The Sopranos” as a contemplative exercise in leaving a marriage or not. I didn’t know what to say to him. I think it’s too much pressure, so for what it’s worth, it’s good that she has the series.

As for the movie, I definitely knew what to say to describe it, being better than how I remembered it when I watched it in the 1990s: unplotable, fragmented but touching, one mood. It was an indie and arthouse favorite with Asian faces like mine. Wong Kar-wai knew how to hold someone’s attention and direct it to where he wants you to look. Cop 223 played by Takeshi Kaneshiro looked as good as ever, but was quickly forgotten when Cop 663 Tony Leung appeared onscreen. He wasn’t handsome in the conventional sense of fine symmetry, but attractive in the way he could make a woman’s heart erect with just one look. The characters in the world of Wong Kar-wai knew this, like that of Maggie Cheung in “In the Mood for Love”. And the effect can be the same for men, as with the character of Leslie Cheung Kwok in “Happy Together”. Leung’s natural ability to turn anyone green is a useful talent for someone who started their career in acting.

During this time, I watched a lot of Hong Kong cinema, mostly triad movies where murderous gang members had time to eat a bowl of noodles between shots. There’s a memory of me crouching down from Central to the Mid-Levels escalator like Faye Wong did in the movie and watching where Tony Leung’s character lived. Chungking Mansions was also gritty in real life when I went there with friends and walked past the stalls Bridget Lin encountered as an unlucky smuggler. The snack bar, Midnight Express, where their stories intersected, was then a 7-Eleven convenience store in the middle of the party district, Lan Kwai Fong. These scenes were mixed with other unforgettable Tony Leung films set in Hong Kong, such as “Infernal Affairs” and “2046”.

I even remember eating at the restaurant opened by his wife, another Cantonese royalty, Carina Lau, and seeing her signature scrawled like graffiti against a beige wall. It surprised me how much I still remembered unimportant details, bits and pieces that I had forgotten when I wrote the first draft of a collection of time-based travel essays I worked on. abroad as OFW. Millions of Filipinos leave each year to work outside the country, motivated by the promise of better opportunities, but only part of what they experience is written down. What we know about travel and travel is a privilege usually written from the perspective of the straight white man, armed with passports and coins, welcomed at all borders.

The memories didn’t come back to me chronologically as they happened, but were rooted and connected to each other, based on the scenes that emerged when I handwrote it. Science says that time is a psychological construct affected by the subjectivity of the person who lives there. During the last round of changes before it was presented to printers this year, I couldn’t help but be jealous of the past self I have spoken of in these pages, the one who complained about a 40 hour train ride to Tibet. I took pity on myself in confinement, in a dreaded fear of bad aerosols. What would I give to be in his place again, on a bus, on a plane, anywhere and set off on a new adventure, without a face mask? I read about the places I have been with pathetic regret and sweet longing. Maybe what I was before was better than what I am now. Why was I making fun of her in practice when I was benefiting from the good decisions she was making? This is who I am now and who I will become that has not been tested.

Tony Leung’s films are special to me because they are markers of a momentous time far from living today in a pandemic, where we are all still stuck and already exhausted. People send me old photos from when we saw each other in real life. I send a response from the present, hoping that my future self will remember it: we will meet again. Looking back stretches the past like a rubber band, including things you never thought you had weight and substance on, like sitting near someone else, rubbing against each other. Were they better? Maybe not. It’s just like that because it’s over and you got away with it. Much is better now (regardless of the effects of the pandemic). Most of the time, I am optimistic that things will change.

Last June, the restored version of Wong Kar-Wai’s classic “In the Mood for Love” was presented at an open-air film festival in Bologna. I know because Tony Leung shared it on his Facebook page. It was there, a close-up, was this the scene where Maggie Cheung slaps him like he was her husband? His face is projected onto a screen, larger than life and larger than anything you can watch at home. He will soon be playing the villain in Marvel’s first superhero film with an Asian lead role. At 59, he looks older in photos, but the cinema will forever keep the images of his youth. As his fellow cop 223 asked, “If memories could be preserved, would they also have expiration dates?” If so, I hope they will last for centuries. It would be nice to see the scenes again, projected in a movie theater. We can hope.


Joséphine V. Roque is an arts and lifestyle journalist, Palanca Prize-winning essayist and lecturer at De La Salle University. His first book, “How to Ride a Train to Ulaanbaatar and Other Essays,” was published by Penguin Random House SEA.


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Image: INQUIRER.net/Marie Faro

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